Friday, July 22, 2005 Metro West Daily News
Speaker puts surplus land debate aside for now
By Emelie Rutherford / Daily News Staff
BOSTON — After a bill creating a new policy for selling surplus state land elicited an outcry from lawmakers and local officials, the speaker of the House of Representatives decided yesterday to shelve the matter until after Labor Day.
While the closely watched matter was expected to hit the House floor yesterday, Speaker Salvatore DiMasi decided to give lawmakers more time to digest the bill and come up with proposed changes to the law during the upcoming summer recess, his spokeswoman said.
“One of the concerns (of lawmakers) was should the Legislature essentially give its authority on the matter of state land over to the governor through the state agencies,” state Rep. James Eldridge, D-Acton, said after meeting with concerned lawmakers yesterday morning.
“And second of all, should towns and cities have to have their concerns and their rights secondary to state agencies that could create development that would really alarm residents,” Eldridge said.
The state’s current policy for selling surplus state land calls for special legislation to be passed to approve the sale of each parcel, which critics said leaves property undeveloped for too long.
Yet for the past two years, up until a few weeks ago, the state operated under a law that allowed Gov. (http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/search/index.bg?searchSite=recent&keyword;=Mitt Romney)Mitt Romney’s administration to quickly turn surplus state properties into cash without the level of legislative and municipal input some wanted.
“This bill I honestly believe is much better than either of them,” said state Rep. Thomas Stanley, D-Waltham, who filed legislation folded into the current bill and has been a leader in the House on the matter.
The bill gives the Legislature some input, such as allowing it to veto the sale of properties 25 acres or larger, though Eldridge said some lawmakers want more.
Jill Stein, president of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, said the bill does not provide for nearly enough input by host communities in the redevelopment of surplus state properties.
Eldridge, who also filed a bill incorporated into the current legislation, is calling for changes to it including giving host communities the first shot at buying surplus state land in their borders, instead of MassDevelopment.
The bill now allows this quasipublic economic development agency to lay first claim to unneeded state land if it has a reuse plan that would spur the economy.
(Emelie Rutherford can be reached at 617-722-2495 or [email protected]