[Editor’s Note: The following article from the Boston Globe describes the extreme measures of the expedited permitting bill, although it quotes only Beacon Hill sources that believe strongly that power must be taken away from communities. The article gives no indication that there may be differing opinions. Nor does the article suggest that the municipal permitting process may be playing an important role in protecting the public from predatory development. It notes that the current bill, developed by Democratic legislators, “goes further” than the proposals of the Romney Administration, but indicates that Romney is happy with this. Note that one corporate lobbyist is cited as an authority because he “worked on the bill”.]
March 7, 2006
Bill aims to speed development permits
Goal is to address claim that state hinders business
By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff
Legislators in the Massachusetts House today are scheduled to release details of a sweeping bill designed to speed the permitting process for new development and address a history of complaints that the state is antibusiness.
If it becomes law, the bill — a more aggressive version of a proposal made by the administration of Governor Mitt Romney over a year ago — would expand a previous pro-development law that sponsors say hasn’t worked.
It would add judges focused on development and environmental law to the Superior Courts and would force communities and state officials to make faster decisions on permits.
”We’ve been hearing from businesses that want to relocate or expand that in North Carolina the permitting process takes six months,” said state Representative Michael J. Rodrigues, a Democrat from Westport who is chairman of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee. ”In Massachusetts it takes three years.”
The bill, with a dozen or more provisions intended to simplify Massachusetts’ complex permitting process, goes further than the Romney proposal in that it would shorten the appeals process, which opponents of a development can use to slow or stop it.
But Romney yesterday seemed enthusiastic to see the House embrace one of his top economic development priorities. ”This is something we’ve been fighting for,” he said. ”I don’t know why it has taken as long as it has.” There is also a Senate version of the bill.
Romney said that although he has not seen details of the House proposal, he expected to support most or all of its provisions.
The bill, at an initial cost of $6.6 million, would:
Create a Massachusetts Permit Regulatory office, designed to manage the needs of large companies that want to locate here, as well as coordinate the approval process of various state agencies.
Alter an earlier law, Chapter 43D, so that cities and towns could designate single sites or buildings — not just whole communities — as ripe for development, and provide them with up to $100,000 for staff or consulting assistance.
Require communities that participate in the program to act on building permits within 180 days.
Give $500,000 to the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development to list and advertise development sites, and give regional planning agencies $1.85 million to help cities and towns struggling with a maze of permitting rules. MassDevelopment would get $500,000 to provide specialists in permitting.
Create a division of the trial courts to focus solely on land use and environmental appeals.
”Once you get your permits your problems only begin, because of the appeal process,” Rodrigues said. The bill would eliminate a state regulatory provision that allows 10 citizens to hold up licensing of development on waterways and harbors. And it would allow projects to proceed even when they are being appealed.
”The courts in many cases have held onto these decisions for a year to three years, adding a lot of uncertainty and a lot of time to an already difficult process,” said David I. Begelfer, chief executive locally of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, who worked on the bill.