Resolution Supporting a Strong and Productive Role for Cities and Towns to Promote Effective Planning and Land Use Policies and Practices (2017)

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Whereas, planning for growth and development is a fundamental responsibility of local government, necessary to ensure that the public health, safety and well-being of citizens is protected as the Massachusetts economy grows and changes; and
 
Whereas, effective long-term planning for all forms of development requires a participatory process through which ordinary citizens and all stakeholders have a meaningful voice in impactful decisions regarding the land-use framework that will guide development in their community; and
 
Whereas, the financial health and vitality of cities and towns and local economies across the Commonwealth depends upon careful planning and up-to-date zoning and other development rules that provide a responsive land use framework for housing and business needs as economic and demographic conditions change; and
 
Whereas, policy development and implementation concerning land use should be a collaborative effort between state and local government through which the state promotes and provides support for accepted sound development principles such as “smart growth,” transit-oriented development and other similar policies; and
 
Whereas, cities and towns across the Commonwealth have used the increasingly outdated planning and zoning statutes, as best they can, and the variety of other tools available to them to guide and support responsible and sustainable development, including adoption of local-option “by right” districts under Chapter 40R, raising local property taxes through the Community Preservation Act (CPA) to fund housing initiatives, and adopted expedited permitting under Chapter 43D; and
 
Whereas, cities and towns are seeking new planning and land use tools that are workable and effective in facilitating local planning and zoning efforts, including: statutory authority for inclusionary zoning, which is an effective and workable way to ensure that more affordable workforce housing is built; specific authority for impact fees to help pay for the cost of water, road and other infrastructure impacts of development; and the ability, by local-option, to adopt different voting thresholds for approval of certain local land-use bylaw provisions, ordinances, rules or permits;
 
Therefore it is hereby resolved that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should follow the following principles concerning planning and land use, and should provide cities and towns with the tools they need to craft effective policies and practices:
 
• The Governor and the Legislature should reject any proposal to pre-empt local authority and should support the fundamental right of cities and towns to make land-use decisions at the local level in order to protect the public health and safety and guide growth;
 
• The Governor and the Legislature should establish clear statutory authority for cities and towns to adopt inclusionary zoning bylaws and ordinances as an effective way to ensure that developers build workforce and other affordable housing in their communities;
 
• The Governor and the Legislature should provide statutory authority to allow cities and towns to adopt “impact fees” structured pursuant to locally adopted ordinances and bylaws to require developers to contribute to the cost of providing public services and accommodate infrastructure requirements made necessary by new developments;
 
• The Governor and the Legislature should support local participation in local-option initiatives to facilitate local development initiatives, such as Chapter 43D, Chapters 40R, and 40S, and other examples such as the establishment of local-option Workforce Housing Special Tax Assessment zones in order to provide effective incentives for locally supported development;
 
• The Governor and the Legislature should establish clear statutory authority for municipal site plan review, which enhances and expedites development procedures and improves outcomes;
 
• The Governor and the Legislature should create a process of land-use dispute avoidance and resolution in order to ensure that zoning board differences can be resolved prior to formal permit approval or denials, and that zoning boards of appeals are a last resort for disputes, rather than a starting point;
 
• To facilitate local development projects, the Governor and the Legislature should assess and streamline state-level permitting and review procedures across agencies to meet crucial development-related municipal needs around infrastructure, wastewater and other environmental impacts, and others, while allowing municipalities the authority to expedite and improve permitting practices at the local level;
 
• In order to ensure the integrity of local zoning hearings, any language creating a new process for changing the local quantum of a vote on zoning matters must be through a local option, not through an override of local voting rules via state law;
 
• Any effort to create consolidated permitting guidelines must be a local option, and should accommodate the reality of local timelines and all-volunteer boards by avoiding language that would grant “constructive approval”;
 
• 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.