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Massachusetts Coalition
for Healthy Communities

Contact: Jill Stein, 617-852-4727, John Andrews, 781-981-7427

In the wake of last week’s sudden House vote on a bill promoting privatization
of state lands, (H4278), the Mass. Coalition for Healthy Communities (MCHC) released
a letter signed by 32 community and public interest groups calling for hearings
and a rewrite of the bill.

According to the letter, “H4278 represents a major shift of power over the disposition
of invaluable state assets from a shared municipal-legislative-executive process
to one vested almost entirely in the executive branch (and controlled by the office
of the governor) In addition, H4278 revises state zoning code to downgrade municipal
zoning authority over all land throughout the Commonwealth, not simply state surplus

The sign-on letter was written prior to the final House version of the bill, released
from Committee only one day before the unannounced vote. In a note sent to supporters,
MCHC noted that “the revised bill – like the version criticized in the sign-on
letter – steeply tilts the playing field against the reuse of surplus public land
to help meet urgent community needs such as affordable housing, open space protection,
or community-based economic development. H4278 effectively eliminates
the community’s longstanding ability to guide the use of surplus land without
having to purchase it – through specific transfer legislation sponsored by local
legislators accountable to the community. Instead the bill provides an ineffective
‘legislative review’ that allows automatic legislative approval of land transfers
without a recorded vote, and without a specific plan for the reuse of the property.

This allows controversial transfers to be approved without names or details attached
to them. The lack of an accountable, transparent approval process in the Jones-Stanley
bill is a critical deficiency.”

MCHC also criticized the revised bill for failing to provide a feasible means
for cities and towns to acquire surplus public property. While the bill provides
a nominal right of first refusal to the local community, it requires payment of
85% of the highest valuation purchase price. Consequently, according to Jill Stein,
president of MCHC, “The bill virtually assures that municipalities – widely struggling
to pay for teachers and provide health care for employees – will be bypassed.
Instead, MassDevelopment Finance Agency, a quasi-state agency promoting private
development, will have unimpeded access to some of the Commonwealth’s finest properties.
Considering that municipalities have forgone property taxes on these parcels
for decades while providing municipal services, properties no longer needed by
the state should be offered to local communities at low or no-cost for public
In tilting the playing field in favor of state-led privatization
projects, H4278 squanders an opportunity to use our invaluable public land assets
to help meet urgent needs.”

Other problems cited in the letter include concentrating virtually all decisions
in the hands of gubernatorial appointees and weakening local zoning with regard
to R&D;/manufacturing facilities (a move thought to be crafted on behalf of the
biotech industry, whose chief lobbyist is now former Speaker Tom Finneran.). Based
on these and other concerns, the 32 public interest groups call for public hearings
and new legislation to safeguard a just and sustainable disposition of surplus
lands. They recommend such legislation include “accountability and transparency
provisions, as well as a balance of executive, legislative and municipal authority
over state assets consistent with the checks and balances of a democracy.” (For
full text of the letter, see the attachment below, or see


32 PUBLIC INTEREST ORGANIZATIONS REGARDING H4278 (legislation released July, 2005)

Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi
Senate President Robert E. Travaglini
Chairmen Mark Montigny and David Flynn, Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital
Expenditures and State Assets
Honorable Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate

Dear Speaker DiMasi, President Travaglini, Chairman Montigny, Chairman Flynn,
and the Honorable members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate,

The organizations listed below urge you to postpone a vote on House Bill 4278
until statewide public hearings have been held and fundamental flaws in this bill
have been addressed. H4278 represents a major shift of power over the disposition
of invaluable state assets from a shared municipal-legislative-executive process
to one vested almost entirely in the executive branch (and controlled by the office
of the governor). Such concentrations of power are ill-advised, and would sacrifice
the current system of checks and balances among levels of government in the disposition
of state lands. H4278 also reduces opportunities for public scrutiny, democratic
decision-making and other essential safeguards that currently apply to the disposition
of state property.

In addition, H4278 revises state zoning code to downgrade municipal zoning authority
over all land throughout the Commonwealth, not simply state surplus property.

A bill that makes such sweeping changes over so broad a scope of land-use must
not be rushed into law without careful public scrutiny of its provisions and consultation
with affected communities.

Because the bill has been unusually expedited, it has received little specific
debate or public scrutiny. In July of this year House Bill 4278 was brought to
the floor a mere 24 hours after the text of the bill was publicly released. Fortunately,
the floor vote was postponed due to questions raised by rank and file legislators.
The implications of the bill have been obscured by its title: “Relative to the
Development of Underused State Owned Real Property and the Disposition of State
Owned Surplus Real Property”. Few affected parties have yet realized that the
bill has implications for zoning and land use that reach far beyond currently
surplused state properties. In fact, some of the bill’s most important provisions
fundamentally alter development on land that does not belong to the state at all.

Several of the provisions of concern are described below.

H4278 CONCENTRATES POWER TO SELL OFF LANDS IN THE HANDS OF GUBERNATORIAL APPOINTEES. H4278 sweeps away checks and balances built into the current provision governing surplus land disposition (Chapter 7, Section 40F, 40.5) to concentrate power to sell off state assets in the hands of gubernatorial appointees. Decision-making is handed over to the Department of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), the Department of Administration and Finance, MassDevelopment Finance Agency, and a “Surplus Land Coordinating Committee”, (SLCC), composed of a super-majority of gubernatorial appointees. (Section 3a)

H4278 WEAKENS LOCAL ZONING LAWS THROUGHOUT THE COMMONWEALTH by requiring a special permit process for R&D; and manufacturing proposals in any
non-residential zoning district. Unlike zoning, the special permitting process allows a developer to challenge any denial in court, creating a risk of costly litigation whenever a municipal permitting authority denies a development proposal. By making denials risky, this provision undermines the municipalities’ traditional zoning authority and ability to guide development to protect the environment and quality of life. Since this provision applies to properties that are not surplus and not state-owned, (as well as surplus properties), it should not appear as an inconspicuous provision in a bill addressing state surplus property. (Section 11)

H4278 REQUIRES ALL PUBLIC OR STATE AGENCIES THAT REGULATE DEVELOPMENT TO DEVELOP A “ONE-STOP” PERMITTING PROCESS THAT UNDERCUTS OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCAL SCRUTINY AND INFLUENCE OVER PRIVATE DEVELOPMENT PLANS. One-stop permitting as usually practiced places environmental reviews under the purview of bureaucrats who are primarily concerned with expediting development, not protecting long-term community interests. This provision has far-reaching implications. (Section 4d)

H4278 VIRTUALLY ELIMINATES LEGISLATIVE AND LOCAL ACCOUNTABILITY. For most properties, approvals of transfers by the Massachusetts Legislature are
eliminated. By eliminating the requirement for approval of specific transfer legislation
– traditionally sponsored by the local legislator, accountable to the local community
– H4278 largely removes accountability from the disposition process. The only properties whose disposal requires legislative approval are those greater than 25 acres in size which MassDevelopment has declined to develop, and municipalities then declined to purchase. Even then, legislative approval is automatic unless the matter has been brought to a vote resulting in disapproval by the House or Senate within 75 days. In addition, the legislature can only approve or disapprove, but not amend the DCAM/SLCC plan. (Section 5c and others) [NOTE: See update in attached cover letter.]

H4278 MARGINALIZES LOCAL PLANNERS AND EXISTING PLANS. H4278 denies local planning authorities any significant role in planning for the reuse of properties in their communities. Unlike the existing Chapter 7 law, there is no requirement
that reuse proposals be consistent with established local plans or that they be consistent with established state policies.

H4278 GIVES MASSDEVELOPMENT (THE MASSACHUSETTS DEVELOPMENT FINANCE AGENCY) THE RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL TO ACQUIRE STATE PROPERTY. This constitutes a decision that economic development as conducted by MassDevelopment is the universal priority for reuse of state properties. This biases against fair consideration
of other possible priorities, such as affordable housing, open space protection,
agricultural preservation, or community-based economic development. (Section 1, 4b, 4c, 4e) [NOTE: See update in attached cover letter.]

Municipalities lose the current Chapter 7 right to acquire surplus state property for use for a public purpose by a local public agency, such as a local housing authority. H4278 also extends to MassDevelopment – but not to local communities – special rights to acquire state property through 99-year leasing arrangements. This prevents municipalities from acquiring public property at an affordable cost, precluding the effective use of such property to help meet urgent public needs – such as affordable housing, open space preservation or community economic development.

In conclusion, H4278 eliminates current safeguards critical to the fair and democratic disposition of a vital public resource – public lands. H4278 also introduces major revisions to zoning code that undermine longstanding municipal authority to guide development. Therefore we urge the following:

• H4278 should not be rushed into law in the fall legislative session
because this would preclude public scrutiny commensurate with its important impacts.

• Public hearings should be conducted across the state to allow affected communities to testify on the impacts of H4278, and to offer alternative provisions to protect community interests in the state zoning code, and in the process of surplus state land disposition.

Based on input at the hearings, new legislation should be considered to safeguard the public’s interest in the just and sustainable disposition of surplus lands. Any such legislation should include transparency and accountability provisions, as well as a balance of executive, legislative, and municipal authority over state assets consistent with the checks and balances of a democracy.

We are happy to discuss this further with you. Please do not hesitate to contact Jill Stein at [email protected],
617-852-4727 if you have any questions or need more information.


(in alphabetical order by municipality/region)

Belchertown Residents for Responsible Growth

Kate O&#039Connor, Chair

Berkshire Environmental Action Team

Jane Winn, Director

Boston Natural Areas Network

Vidya Tikku, Vice President

Boxborough Conservation Trust

Rita Gibes Grossman, President

Brookline, Chestnut Hill Village Associates, Inc.

Lee Rachel Jurman, Co-President

Brookline Neighborhood Alliance

Diana Spiegel and Sean-Lynn Jones, Co-chairs

Brookline PAX

Marty Rosenthal and Frank Farlow, Co-Chairs

Cape Codders for Peace and Justice

David Agnew, Representative

Center for Democracy and the Constitution

Adam Sacks, Executive Director

Coalition to Reform 40B

John Belskis, Chair

Cohasset Action

Michael Westcott

Franklin County, Valley Community Land Trust

Scott Reed, Board Member

Groton, Townline Neighborhood Association

Kristen McEvoy, 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

Marshfield Action

Maria Asvestas, Chair

Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities

Jill Stein, President

Mass Peace Action

Susanna Porte, Board Chair

Mass Global Action

Jason Pramus, Director


Jennifer Baker, Environmental Associate

Mass. Welfare Rights Union

Laurie Taymour-Berry, Vice President

Merrimack Valley Environmental Coalition

Joan Kulash, Co-Chair

Monterey Land Trust

Joyce Brown, Board Member

Newton, Green Decade Coalition

Dan Ruben, Vice President

Physicians for Social Responsibility, Greater Boston area chapter

Maria Valenti, Executive Director

Roxbury Neighborhood Council

Robert Terrell, Chair

Sharon Friends of Conservation

Alice Cheyer, Secretary

Sierra Club, Massachusetts Chapter

James McCaffrey, Director

Sisters Together Ending Poverty, Las Hermanas Unidas Terminando La Pobresa

Alice Faison, Lisa Richards, Co-Presidents

Survivors Inc.

Dottie Stevens, Board President

Swampscott, Coalition for Health of Aggregate Industries Neighbors

Smilia Marvosh, President



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