REALTORS® Support Land Use and Zoning Reforms on Beacon Hill!

A group of Berkshire REALTORS went to Boston on June 10th, 2015, to meet with our legislators about issues affecting private property rights and home ownership in the Commonwealth and in Berkshire County.

REALTORS® Support Land Use and Zoning Reforms:

Due to the short supply of housing in Massachusetts, potential homeowners continue to face increasing housing costs. One of the many issues driving the reduced housing stock is the presence of barriers to production, many of which are found in current zoning laws. Filed in conjunction with the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, S.119 The H.O.M.E. bill, seeks to make numerous changes to Massachusetts zoning laws. Below are some of the proposed changes to the law.

  • The H.O.M.E. Bill promotes smart growth by requiring that cluster development be allowed by right in residential zoning districts, at the density permitted in the underlying zoning district. Additionally, these sections prohibit cities and towns from requiring a “proof permit” plan in connection with a cluster development application.
  • The bill also promotes multifamily housing construction by requiring that cities and towns permit multifamily development by right on at least 1.5% of the community’s developable land area that is suitable for multifamily residential. This section would also establish a minimum density of 20 units per acre for by right multifamily development.
  • Promotes affordable in-fill housing by requiring that accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”), sometimes referred to as in-law apartments, be permitted by right in all single-family residential zoning districts. These sections also prohibit zoning ordinances and by-laws from unreasonably regulating the location, dimensions, or design of an accessory dwelling unit on a lot.

The bill seeks to ease the burden on property owners to obtain dimensional relief for minor improvements by creating a two-tiered variance approach. Under this structure, the existing substantial hardship standard would apply only to use variances and a less burdensome practical difficulty standard would apply to all other variances.

  • The bill replaces the supermajority vote requirements for variances and special permits with a simple majority standard. They also establish that the granting of a variance or the reversal of any order or decision of any administrative official would require a majority vote of the members of the board then in office.
  • Creates consistent wetlands requirements by restoring uniformity across Massachusetts by prohibiting local wetlands requirements unless: (a) the local regulations are more restrictive than those established by state law; and (b) DEP approves the local regulations upon a finding that they are scientifically-based restrictions, are necessary to protect unusual local resources, and do not conflict with the State Wetlands Protection Act and DEP regulations.
  • Creates consistent sewage disposal requirements by establishing a DEP review and approval process of local sewage disposal systems regulations to ensure they are scientifically-based restrictions, necessary to protect unusual local resources and do not conflict with Title V.

Action: We asked our legislator to the support S. 119 and urge the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business to report the legislation out of committee favorably.  This will help build smart, build green, and develop tracts of land consistently in our region.