Eldridge Proposes Comprehensive Zoning Reform Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                  5/18/2011

BOSTON – Comprehensive legislation designed to overhaul the state’s decades-old zoning laws filed by State Senator Jamie Eldridge was heard today by the Joint Committee on Municipalities.

The Comprehensive Land Use Reform and Partnership Act (CLURPA – S1019) would be the first major update of the Commonwealth’s zoning laws in over 35 years.  The bill encourages communities to adopt or update their local master plans and provides them the tools necessary to implement zoning regulations to reach their planning goals.

These goals might include:

  • More vibrant, higher-density downtown business districts
  • More diverse and affordable housing stock
  • Better protection of open spaces and natural resources
  • Healthier, more walkable, bikeable communities

“This bill will make it easier for cities and towns to plan and build the kind of communities they want to have,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “By updating our zoning laws, we can make it easier for cities and towns to proactively invigorate our downtowns and residential areas, promote sustainable and responsible development, create diverse and affordable housing, protect open space and agricultural land, and create healthier, more pedestrian- and bike-friendly communities.”

Our state’s current planning and zoning laws are among the most out of date in the nation. As currently written, our zoning laws are unclear and restrictive, laying down a series of impediments that make local planning ineffective, and even discourage it.

Rather than put another band-aid on an already outdated, much amended set of statues, Eldridge’s zoning reform bill completely reframes our existing laws into clear, understandable language based on smart growth principles that are widely accepted and used across the America.

“Our communities’ goals and needs have changed dramatically over the past few decades, as have planning best practices – and yet none of this is reflected in our current zoning laws, which haven’t been updated in over 35 years,” added Eldridge.

CLURPA, which was given a favorable report by the Joint Committee on Municipalities at the end of last session, is based on the work of many stakeholders whose ideas and contributions have informed the effort to update Massachusetts’ zoning laws for over a decade, including regional planning agencies, municipalities, advocates for the environment, affordable housing and smart growth, and public health organizations.

Organizations testifying in support of CLURPA today include the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the Mass Audubon Society, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, CHAPA, the Smart Growth Alliance, and American Planning Association (MA Chapter) and the Massachusetts Public Health Association.

The bill offers a balanced, two-tiered approach to zoning reform – offering benefits to every community while reserving even more benefits to the communities willing to “step up” and embrace the Commonwealth’s Smart Growth objectives.  This dual approach was first suggested by Secretary Bialecki in the Land Use Planning Act (LUPA) but has been fine-tuned in CLURPA. The bill also blends in aspects of the Community Planning Act (CPA) and other zoning reform legislative proposals from over the years.

Key provisions of CLURPA include:

  • Providing communities with new master plan implementation tools, including impact fees, inclusionary zoning, form-based codes, and natural resource protection zoning.
  • Providing incentives to plan according to state sustainable development principles. If a community agrees to a more demanding planning process and regulations that are in alignment with smart growth principles – including compact development zoning, promoting housing and job creation near transportation options, protecting natural and cultural resources – the town will be offered priority in state financial and technical assistance, and additional zoning tools.

  • Closing loopholes and ends restrictions that undermine local planning, including “grandfathering” protections and Approval Not Required land divisions.

  • Improving and streamlining local regulatory procedures by extending the duration of permits granted to developers, providing a clearer extension process for special permits, and tightening up the time frame for towns to grant site plan approval for by-right projects.
  • Increasing flexibility in zoning and permitting, including newly crafted variance and special permit language

  • Including $11,000,000 in municipal and regional planning assistance, which would be made available to help municipalities undertake the planning and regulation development that is needed to become a smart growth partnership community.

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