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Sustainable Communities Act H-1859

The MAPD Board has voted a position in favor of supporting passage by the 188th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts of H.1859 during the 2013-14 legislative session.

The Board believes that adoption of the proposed legislation would result in an improved framework for planning, land use regulation and development in the Commonwealth. A panel of municipal planners in Massachusetts provided supportive testimony at the public hearing held at the State House by the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government on May 14, 2013.

MAPD was one of many supporting organizations attending a pre-hearing rally in the State House.

Rally in support of H.1859 on May 14, 2013 in the Massachusetts State House

Summary of “AN ACT PROMOTING THE PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT OF SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES”(House Bill #1859)

Sponsored by Representative Stephen Kulik & Senator Daniel Wolf

  • Statutory Authority: Defines and explicitly authorizes the use of some planning tools, including impact fees, inclusionary zoning, natural resource protection zoning and transfer of development rights.
  • Zoning Vote: Allows communities to lower the required vote down to a simple majority to adopt zoning changes.
  • Vested Rights (grandfathering): Provides reasonable and standardized zoning protections for development projects proposed in building permits, special permits and subdivision plans, and creates a more level playing field between developer and municipality. Eliminates some excessive grandfathering provisions.
  • Special Permits: Amends current statute to address unreasonable burdens on both applicants and local boards.
  • Site Plan Review: Authorizes site plan review in statute and establishes standardized procedures for its use.
  • Development Impact Fees: Currently unavailable in Massachusetts in most cases, this section authorizes impact fees in statute and establishes standards for its use.
  • Inclusionary Zoning: This new section in the Zoning Act authorizes and provides parameters for adopting zoning measures that require the creation of affordable housing in development projects.
  • Land Use Dispute Avoidance: Offers an “off-line” avenue for applicants, municipal officials, and the public to work through the difficulties in a prospective development project by using a neutral facilitator.
  • Variances: Rewrites the current variance statute to create more reasonable procedures and criteria for variances while still maintaining a community’s discretion to condition or deny a variance.
  • Consolidated Permitting: Helps to ensure that for larger, more complex projects, local boards receive common information about the project and have the opportunity to bring all decision-making bodies together at the beginning of a project for more timely review.
  • Master Plans: Updates and simplifies the master planning process, divides the plan elements between those that are required and optional, incorporates the state’s Sustainable Development Principles, makes master plans optional, and allows for more flexibility in creating a plan based on local needs.
  • Approval Not Required (ANR): Allows municipalities to replace ANR with minor subdivision regulations, enabling greater regulatory oversight. Current ANR is practically unregulated and is a great sprawl generator.
  • Parks and Playgrounds: Gives municipalities the ability to require parks and playgrounds in new subdivisions.
  • Appeals: Streamlines and reforms the appeals language for site plan review, special permits, and subdivisions.
  • Planning Ahead for Growth Act (opt-in): Provides strong incentives for smart growth that promotes housing, economic development and natural resource protection. In exchange for adopting measures that embrace these state goals, communities are given enhanced planning