Resolution Ensuring a Strong and Productive Role for Cities, Towns and Community Residents To Promote and Ensure Effective Land Use and Housing Policies (2014)

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As adopted by the members on January 25, 2014.
Whereas, the health and vitality of local economies and prosperity of the entire Commonwealth depends upon sustainable growth and development; and
Whereas, each of the state’s 351 municipalities has a unique landscape, history, character, design and set of economic needs; and
Whereas, cities and towns have broad authority over local land use policy through the long-established principle and constitutional right of home rule; and
Whereas, local government is best positioned to regulate land use in a way that will most effectively reflect the needs and vision of local residents and promote a sustainable and high quality of life; and
Whereas, local planning for land use and growth requires a comprehensive, thoughtful and community-driven vision for development; and
Whereas, Town Meetings, city and town councils, planning boards, zoning boards of appeal and other local land use agencies are best able to make long-lasting and impactful decisions as to whether a regulatory change or proposed development project would be consistent with the economic and environmental needs and long-term goals of the community; and
Whereas, the Commonwealth has announced a collaborative development strategy called “Planning Ahead for Growth” that relies upon a local, regional, and state partnership, calling for the identification of priority growth and preservation areas, the investment of public resources in identified priority areas, and the creation of a prompt and predictable permitting system to allow projects to move forward; and
Whereas, the principles of smart and sustainable growth, including the practice of building community centers with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools, are increasingly important on a local, state, and national level; and
Whereas, Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to establish a state-set multi-year housing goal, with a target of 10,000 multi-family housing units a year through 2020, located near transit, municipal centers, and employment centers; and
Whereas, cities, towns and local residents must be empowered with essential responsibility, authority and decision-making power to ensure that development is economically and environmentally sustainable and in the public interest;
Therefore it is hereby resolved that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should follow these principles concerning zoning, land use and housing policy:
• Cities and towns must retain the fundamental right to control land use decisions and regulations at the local level;
• Cities and towns must retain the right to plan and create land-use frameworks for the development of a broad array of housing choices to accommodate future increases in population in the region and statewide;
• Policy development concerning land use and housing should be a truly collaborative effort between state and local government that recognizes local primacy in decision-making;
• The state should develop incentives for participation in opt-in programs around housing production and land use reform;
• To strengthen local development capacity, the state should assess and streamline state-level permitting and review processes across agencies to meet crucial development-related municipal needs around infrastructure, environment, and wastewater, among others;
• The state should make a broad array of tools available to cities and towns to realize ambitious housing goals, and should not use penalties or mandates to induce local activity that may be contrary to local needs;
• Municipal plans for land use should be regarded as the highest standard when the Commonwealth considers whether sites qualify for discretionary site-based designations, such as Smart Growth Overlay District designations;
• State permitting guidelines should accommodate the reality of local timelines and all-volunteer boards, and must not infringe on local processes;
• The state should establish statutory authority for local practices that enhance or expedite development processes and outcomes, such as the process of site plan review and the assessment of development impact fees;
• In order to recognize the diversity of municipalities across the Commonwealth, state guidelines for infrastructure projects should incorporate contextual design standards rather than mandating fixed guidelines irrespective of local needs;
• The state should strengthen incentives for new housing production and for the renovation of existing structures to create housing, such as the Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, which encourages the adaptive re-use of existing buildings to meet current and future housing demand;
• The state should complement local participation in opt-in initiatives to expedite development, such as expedited permitting in priority development districts under Chapter 43D, with a parallel process to expedite and streamline all requisite state permits necessary for the progression of that development;
• The state should provide technical assistance and dedicated planning and zoning funds to allow all cities and towns to prepare, adopt and revise their local land use controls, as well as to examine land use changes to allow for sustainable development consistent with modern demands as well as local plans and needs; and
It is further resolved that a copy of this resolution shall be provided to the Governor and members of the General Court of the Commonwealth.