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MCHC Calls for Rejection of Budget Amendment on Surplus Land
[Note: The following is a press release issued on May 23 by the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities.]

COMMUNITY GROUP PROTESTS SENATE BUDGET ACTION THAT DISEMPOWERS LOCAL COMMUNITIES.

CALLS FOR HEARINGS IN WESTERN, CENTRAL MASSACHUSETTS AND THE CAPE

The Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities (MCHC) today protested the use of the budget process by the Senate to enact an “unscrutinized law that disempowers local communities and rushes public land into private hands,” according to Jill Stein, President of MCHC. The measure was adopted as an outside section of the Senate budget – without public hearings, debate or recorded votes. Stein called on concerned residents to protest the circumventing of the democratic process and to urge their legislators to have the measure – Outside Section 86– taken out of the final conference committee budget.

Stein also called on legislators to require hearings in all regions of the state, including Western and Central Massachusetts and Cape Cod, saying that this would allow municipal officials and the broader public to “bring valuable suggestions to the table before we act on a matter so important to the public trust and the future of our communities.“

MCHC sponsored a petition signed by over 25 community groups across the Commonwealth calling for a moratorium on rushed sales of surplus property under the “fast-track auction law” enacted as an outside section of the budget passed in 2003. The petition also calls for a democratic legislative process with input from affected communities to assist in the development of appropriate new surplus land legislation.

Stein stated, “Section 86, like other measures proposed to replace the fast-track auction law, continues to place key reuse decisions in the hands of state-level agencies and committees that are not accountable to the affected communities, and which have not been a part of local planning. Under Section 86, municipal officials and planners are reduced to the role of supplicants before the Department of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), whose controversial land use decisions under the fast-track auction law have been protested by many affected communities. The only real decision given to the communities under Section 86 is the decision to purchase the land from the state at 85% of fair market value, a decision that is often precluded by the fiscal stress municipalities are facing. Section 86 dispenses with the previous requirement for transfer legislation, which allowed local legislators and citizens to have significant impact on the reuse of surplus property.”

John Andrews, policy director for MCHC noted “Section 86 makes it virtually impossible for municipalities to use surplus public property to meet urgent needs for affordable housing and greenspace protection. Though Section 86 calls for an evaluation of surplused property by the regional planning authority, the evaluation is nonbinding, and subject to interpretation by DCAM – an agency whose chief concern has been turning these irreplaceable assets into one-time state revenues.”

Andrews continued, “Measures like Section 86 force cash-strapped municipalities to buy back land already in the public domain in order to guide its development for a public purpose. The bills incorporate the language of smart growth, but they take decision-making away from local residents and officials who know the community best. And the essential checks and balances needed to prevent insider influence in the disposition of state lands are missing. Communities deserve better treatment.”

  

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