SENATE WOULD EXTEND EXPEDITED SURPLUSING OF STATE LANDS TO 2008
The Massachusetts Senate has attached an outside section to their FY06 budget that would continue until 2008 an expedited process for disposing of surplus land. Outside sections can be adopted by the Senate/House conference committee which meets behind closed doors to reconcile the different versions of the budget passed by the two chambers. This process precludes further modification by floor amendment and allows legislators to enact the measure without having to cast a specific recorded vote. In 2004, the Legislature used a similar maneuver to repeal the voter-approved Clean Elections Law.
Like the current fast-track auction law (Outside Section 548), Section 86 allows land to be sold through state administrative action, thus eliminating the ability of community planners and local legislators to write safeguards into transfer legislation. The only major decision that is placed in the hands of communities is the decision to purchase the property for municipal use. Key decisions regarding reuse of a property would continue to be made by DCAM, as under the current fast-track auction law.
Section 86, bears some similarity to measures previously announced, such as the Jones/Stanley bill that has been endorsed by the Division of Capital Assets Management (DCAM). It places early decisions regarding surplusing in the hands of a committee consisting of gubernatorial appointees. It requires that an advisory “smart growth review” be conducted for parcels greater than 2 acres, but allows planning to go forward after 60 days even if the review has not been completed. The commissioner of DCAM, who is supposed to “take into consideration other established state and local plans and policies” single-handedly decides whether any restrictions on the use are necessary to comply with smart growth guidelines. This allows the commissioner, who is not accountable to the affected communities, and whose traditional mission has been fiscal planning for the Commonwealth, to have sole smart growth planning authority for surplus lands.
As written, Section 86 does not apply to parcels greater than 25 acres in size. If this feature is not changed, it would suggest that larger parcels would either follow the Chapter 7 process or be subject to the fast-track leasing proposals that are still to be defined.
Communities are given 90 days to exercise their “right of first refusal” and make a commitment to purchase the property at 85% of the appraised “fair market value”. If the community decides not to purchase, they receive 10 per cent of the net proceeds of the eventual sale. Moreover, if the community takes “affirmative actions in furtherance of the Commonwealth’s objectives for the parcel”, their share can increase to 25%. This gives DCAM a tool to persuade the community to rezone the property for higher density or commercial development.
According to Jill Stein, president of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, Section 86 and the related legislation would disempower community planning. “The clear result is to take planning authority away from local officials, planning boards, conservation commissions and concerned citizens. Instead it is given to a state agency with no accountability to the community,” she said. “The Section 86 process moves too fast for development of public-interest reuse alternatives, and it will be hard for smart growth objectives to compete with DCAM’s traditional revenue-maximization objectives. This isn’t a balanced approach that smart growth requires.”
Stein’s organization has called for all surplus land bills to be removed from the budget and for the Legislature to hold hearings for public comment on new laws in locations throughout the state. According to Stein “The people in the communities who have been working for years to make their communities livable deserve to be heard before their planning rights are taken away. We can have a much better law if we strike a fairer balance between state and local involvement.”
Click here to view the text of Section 86.