Dear President Travaglini and Honorable Senators, February 27, 2006
The organizations listed below ask your help in safeguarding irreplaceable public assets that are critical to the future of our cities and towns. At issue are public lands that may in the future be declared ìsurplusî by state agencies. Such lands are currently protected by Chapter 7 laws that foster transparency, accountability and a balanced state-local disposition process. These safeguards would be dismantled by H 4491, the ìJones-Stanleyî revision of Chapter 7 passed by the House of Representatives on November 10, 2005. As H4491 is now before the Senate for consideration, we would like to alert you to serious problems with this bill and recommend provisions to restore and strengthen essential safeguards currently provided under Chapter 7.
H4491 promotes speedy privatization as its highest priority, and in the process disrupts ongoing local planning, sacrifices democratic safeguards, violates principles of sustainability, and works counter to the just use of scarce public land resources. In order to speed delivery of public lands to private entities, it undercuts checks and balances among the different levels of government, and steeply tilts the playing field against municipalities and other local public-interest stakeholders in the planning process. It strongly biases towards most-lucrative use, which will usually preclude the use of public property to help meet urgent public needs for affordable housing, open space protection, or community-based economic development.
Specific key problems with the bill include that it:
• Effectively precludes community acquisition of land for local affordable housing and open space needs by pricing surplus parcels out of the purchasing range for cities and towns.
• Takes away existing community planning rights under Chapter 7. It virtually eliminates meaningful municipal participation in the planning process, moves key decision-making into the hands of gubernatorial appointees, and limits the role of community representatives to testimony at non-binding hearings.
• Undermines local and legislative accountability by allowing legislative approval of land sales without local legislative sponsorship of the sale and without a specific disposition plan.
• Lacks effective safeguards for smart growth and the environment.
• Puts up to 42,000 acres (5-7% of state lands) at risk for poorly planned, potentially harmful development.
The concessions the bill purports to make to affordable housing, smart growth and the environment are inadequate:
The allotment of a portion of cash proceeds to the Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund is a tiny fraction of the true value of the property if used directly to meet affordable housing needs. Local communities giving up their public land are allowed to compete for dollars in the Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund, but have no guarantee that they will actually receive these funds.
The “Smart Growth Review” is not binding, and not conducted until after the legislature has already disposed of a property. Likewise, the Surplus Land Coordinating Committee (SLCC) which purports to bring smart growth considerations to any surplussing decision does not participate in the disposition process for any MassDevelopment or municipal acquisitions. For properties that do fall into its limited purview, the effectiveness of the SLCC as a smart growth safeguard is highly limited because Jones-Stanley requires the SLCC to chose a reuse plan from among three ìhighest and best useî (i.e., most lucrative use) plans previously chosen by DCAM. The effectiveness of the SLCC as a safeguard for smart growth is further limited by the fact that over two-thirds of its members are gubernatorial appointees.
To ensure that public lands will be used sustainably and justly for the public good, we urge you to preserve, and strengthen where possible, the current safeguards provided in Chapter 7 by adding the following provisions to H4491 or to any other legislation intended to revise or replace Chapter 7.
• PRESERVE MUNICIPAL PARTICIPATION AND PLANNING. Municipalities should continue to have a strong planning role in the early stages of land disposition discussions. Local reuse committees, which traditionally consist mainly of local citizens and planners, should determine the reuse of any significant state property recommended by DCAM for disposition. To ensure proper representation of public interest stakeholders, it is suggested that the composition of the reuse committee parallel that of the Community Preservation Act Committee, with the addition of a representative of the Regional Planning Authority. (Reuse committees are currently allowed under Chapter 7, but are not required.) Formation of such a committee should be required for larger properties or whenever requested by the municipal executive body. As typically practiced under Chapter 7, the recommendations of the reuse committee should be the basis of any transfer legislation.
• PRIORITIZE AFFORDABLE HOUSING, OPEN SPACE PROTECTION AND OTHER PUBLIC-INTEREST USES. Municipalities or their non-profit designees should be able to acquire local surplus state property at low or no-cost for public interest use. This includes the preservation of existing open space and the redevelopment of existing buildings for affordable housing or community-economic development. (In past years, low cost transfers to municipalities for public purpose were not uncommon under Chapter 7.)
• PRESERVE LEGISLATIVE ACCOUNTABILITY. As traditionally practiced under Chapter 7, legislative action should require the local legislative delegation to sponsor legislation with a specific plan for disposing of public land in their district. For properties with a reuse committee, the reuse plan should form the basis of any proposed legislation. A roll call vote should be required for all transfers.
• PROTECT SMART GROWTH PRINCIPLES. Land with significant conservation value should not be surplussed for uses other than conservation. Smart Growth evaluations should be conducted as an open, joint effort between local and regional planners, and should be used to define reuse options. Disposable state lands requested by the Department of Conservation and Recreation for preservation should not be ìsoldî to the agency by reducing its capital budget authority. As provided under Chapter 7, any disposition should be consistent with ongoing municipal land use plans.
Without these protections, H4491 is a major step in the wrong direction for land use policy in the Commonwealth. The history of public land disposal makes it abundantly clear that when public interest safeguards are abandoned, land disposition is vulnerable to undemocratic influences that run counter to the just and sustainable use of these irreplaceable resources. We urge the Massachusetts Senate to give this matter serious consideration and to provide strong safeguards for public lands that are key to a sustainable, just future for the Commonwealth.
Belchertown Residents for Responsible Growth, Kate OíConnor, Chair
Boston Mobilization, Eve Lyman, Executive Director
Boston Natural Areas Network, Vidya Tikku, Vice President
Brookline Neighborhood Alliance, Executive Board, John Basset, Executive Board Member
Brookline, Chestnut Hill Village Associates, Inc., Lee Rachel Jurman, Co-President
Brookline PAX, Frank Farlow and Marty Rosenthal, Co-Chairs
Center for Democracy and the Constitution, Adam Sacks, Executive Director
Cape Codders for Peace and Justice, David Agnew
Coalition for the Reform of 40B, John Belskis, Chair
Cohasset Action, Michael Westcott
Concerned Residents for Orderly Westminster Development, Jen Shenk, Chair
Franklin County, Valley Community Land Trust, Scott Reed, Board Member
Groton, Townline Neighborhood Association, Kristen McEvoy, Chair
Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maria Valenti, Executive Director
Haverhill Environmental League, Brent Baeslack, Chair
Haverhill Unitarian Universalist Church, Green Sanctuary Committee, Richard Smyth, Co-Chair
Lawrence Environmental Action Group, Richard McCarthy, President
Lexington, Citizens for Lexington Conservation, Eileen Entin, Chair
Mass. Coalition for Healthy Communities, Jill Stein, President
Mass Global Action, Jason Pramus, Director
Mass Peace Action Board, Susanna Porte, Chair
Mass. Welfare Rights Union, Laurie Taymor-Berry, Vice President
Merrimack Valley, People for the Environment, Joan Kulash, President
Merrimack Valley Environmental Coalition, Kathy Moyes, Co-Chair
Monterey Preservation Land Trust, Joyce Brown, Board Member
Newton, Green Decade Coalition, Dan Ruben, Vice President
Sharon Friends of Conservation, Paul Lauenstein, Board Member
Stoughton, Concerned Citizens of Stoughton/ South Stoughton Civic Association, Donna Ayers, Representative
South Berkshire County, Unitarian Universalistsí Green Sanctuary Committee, Sue Protheroe, Chair
Survivors Inc., Dottie Stevens, Treasurer
Swampscott, Coalition for the Health of Aggregate Industries Neighbors, Smilia Marvosh, President
Westford Conservation Trust, Marian Harman, President
For additional information, please see www.masschc.org, or contact Jill Stein MD, Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, [email protected], 617-852-4727