Press release for immediate release
July 21, 2005
Surprise Bill Disempowers Communities and Privatizes Surplus Public Lands.
With less than 24 hours before a scheduled vote, a radically different bill for disposing of state surplus land was unveiled yesterday. According to Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities (MCHC) board member Nat Fortune “The Legislative leadership is using summer vacation and a last-minute release to get the bill passed before there can be a public response. Considering what’s in this bill, it’s no surprise its proponents were keeping it under the radar.”
Jill Stein, MCHC president noted, “This bill takes disempowerment of communities to a new extreme. Like the other recent proposals, this bill takes away local planning rights by eliminating specific transfer legislation sponsored by local legislators. But in addition, the bill contains entirely new provisions to promote the privatization of surplus state lands. In particular, it takes the right of first refusal away from the local community and gives it instead to Mass. Development, a quasi public state agency, to use for private development. Mass. Development is required to hold a public hearing, but there is no requirement for it to act on the testimony presented. And any deal agreed to between Mass. Development and the Commissioner of DCAM bypasses further local or state planning.”
Stein continued, “If Mass. Development declines a property, only then is it offered to the local community at a 15% discount from fair market value – assessed at top dollar. If the community is unable to purchase the property, it has no means of guiding its use. Instead, the bill gives decision-making authority over surplus lands to a ‘surplus land coordinating committee’ dominated by state agency appointees who are not accountable to the local community.”
The bill also makes leasing available for private development but not for municipalities’ use. This allows corporations to occupy public lands without even having to purchase them. The bill provides further incentives for private development under Mass Development’s management, such as a five-year exemption from payments in lieu of taxes for large companies leasing surplus land that create 100 or more new jobs. Another provision requires that communities allow permitting for research and development facilities – including “limited manufacturing” – to within 50 feet of residentially zoned sites.
Though the bill gives lip service to smart growth, it takes decision-making away from community officials and planners whose in-depth knowledge is the key to real smart growth planning. Other concerns were noted by John Andrews, policy director for MCHC. “There are special exemptions for Tewskbury, Waltham, and Lexington where a two-thirds vote in the legislature is required before surplus property can be disposed. Currently all of our communities enjoy these safeguards – not just three. It is also disturbing that this bill redefines affordable housing as housing that is within the means of a family of median income, further diverting scarce resources away from lower income families with desperate housing needs.”
Jill Stein concluded, “This bill does away with sound planning and accountable decision-making. It squanders the opportunity to put scarce public property to use meeting urgent public needs – for affordable housing, community-based economic development or green space protection. The bill should be abandoned and regional hearings scheduled to allow communities to participate in shaping a policy that promotes just and sustainable community-based development. We need a bill that will serve our communities, not exploit them.”