In New England, the local permitting boards
of cities and towns form a vital line of defense for the local
community. They ensure that hit-and-run developers do not leave
communities struggling with overdevelopment, unaffordable housing,
air pollution, and a degraded landscape. And they give local
citizens, who are most affected by development, a real voice
in determining their own future. But Massachusetts real estate
interests, aided by cooperative legislators, are mounting a sustained
assault upon the ability of local citizens to guide development.
A major thrust is the so-called “expedited permitting” scheme
contained in the Chapter 43D bill passed in 2006. This legislation
creates a new comprehensive permitting process that allows a
majority vote of a city council to subject all municipal permitting
authorities to a new permitting scheme that
– Imposes an inadequate 180-day time limit to evaluate and remedy
economic, housing, environmental etc. impacts on the local community.
(If an application is not acted upon in 180 days, it is automatically
– Imposes a 120 day review period for state reviews under the
Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and Massachusetts
– Uses special permits and appeals to state boards to undermine
– Pressures cities and towns to adopt “expedited permitting” through
coercive financial incentives. Grants and assistance are tied
to the willingness to surrender local planning rights.
– Allows a majority vote of a city council to undermine the effectiveness
of other municipal boards.
The expedited permitting scheme is part of a broader legislative
willingness to assist real estate interests in undermining both
local democracy and good land use policy. Efforts are being made
to link local aid and state grants to the willingness of municipalities
to give developers what they want. Citizens who want to protect
their rights to guide their communities toward just and sustainable
land use must be on guard for the intrusion of expedited permitting
schemes into their community.
• 180 days is often not sufficient time to fully understand the consequences
of approving a major project. Problems with the site can become clear only after
several months of investigation. You cannot ask for more time once the process
starts unless the developer makes major changes in the project. Chapter 43D specifically
states “An issuing authority may not use lack of time for review as a basis for
denial of a permit.”
• Decisions of your local boards can be overturned by a developer appeal
to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals. This is more likely to occur if
the review has been rushed and the Board has not been able to put together a
solid case for the denial.