Bill to speed privatization of state lands stalls in House
by John Andrews
Community activists are celebrating the withdrawal of a House bill that would have set aside community planning rights under “Chapter 7” and expanded the power of state agencies to convey public lands into the hands of corporate interests.
The bill was scheduled for a vote on July 21. The basis of the bill was H.3840 ( “Jones-Stanley”). However, less than 24 hours before the scheduled vote, significant changes to the text were revealed. A quick inspection by MCHC showed that it contained all the flaws of Jones-Stanley but “took disempowerment of communities to a new extreme.” Like the original Jones-Stanley, the new version excluded community planners from meaningful participation in land reuse planning. But in addition it gave the inside track for land acquisition to Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, a quasi-public agency formed to assist business development. Under the provisions of the bill, Mass Development could bid for the property on behalf of prospective corporate occupants – even going so far as to enter into “turnkey” development schemes.
The bill would have allowed leasing of land to corporate clients for up to 99 years as a means of furthering business activity. The bill provided further incentives for private development under Mass Development’s management, such as a five-year exemption from payments in lieu of taxes for large companies leasing surplus land that create 100 or more new jobs. Another provision required that communities allow permitting for research and development facilities – including “limited manufacturing” – to within 50 feet of residentially zoned sites.
According to Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities (MCHC) board member Nat Fortune, the last-minute release in mid-summer was calculated “to get the bill passed before there can be a public response.”
But thanks to MCHC’s statewide electronic network, there was a response. Press releases went out to alert the media, and over 2000 emails were sent to community activists across the state. Legislators began to hear from people who were upset with the attempt to end-run the current Chapter 7 safeguards.
By the end of the day, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi decided that the bill should be withdrawn to give legislators more time to consider its implications. According to legislators who spoke to the Berkshire Eagle “ DiMasi told Democratic House members in a caucus that the bill was too controversial and that it could be reworked and brought up for a vote in the fall”.
The tabling of the bill was good news for communities, according to MCHC President Jill Stein who said “The bill should be abandoned and regional hearings scheduled to allow communities to participate in shaping a policy that promotes just and sustainable community-based development. We need a bill that will serve our communities, not exploit them.”