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The Auction Law: Background

In 2003, without public hearings or debate, Outside Section 548 was attached to the state budget. This legislation created a fast-track auction process for disposing of state-owned land. Before the enactment of OS548, the sale of state land required passage of enabling legislation. In effect, a consensus on its reuse had to be reached with local legislators before the land could be sold. And safeguards to protect the public interest could be added to the legislation. In addition, communities had the right of first refusal – which meant that before public land could be sold to a private developer, the community could purchase the land at a fair market value.

The fast-track auction law changed all this. The new auction law now allows the state Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) to bypass legislative approval for the sale of state property. The Commissioner of DCAM can declare property to be surplus and can offer it for auction with only 30 days notice. No legislation is required, and there is no process for restricting the future use of the property to comply with community needs or plans.

The rationale for the bill was to expedite the sale of surplus land in order to help balance the state budget. But selling off irreplaceable public lands without planning yields at best a one-time infusion of cash that has little effect on the budget. And it can impose costs on communities that worsen their fiscal situation.

In recent years, both the Governor and the Legislature have proclaimed their support for “smart growth” principles – which means understanding the consequences of growth and making sure that land use changes provide for affordable housing, environmental protection, accessible transportation, and protection of natural resources. The fast-track auction law is the opposite of smart growth. It results in sensitive parcels being turned over for unplanned development without consideration of housing plans or community open space. Local communities have been left scrambling to prevent auctions or to deal with the consequences of those that have already taken place. The fast-track auction law is a planning nightmare, and it needs to be repealed.

Chronology of Fast-tracking

May 2003: Outside Section 548 attached to state budget.

June 2003: Division of Capital Asset Management begins to use OS548 to dispose of state land.

August 2004: Boston Globe editorial, “Rushed land sale” notes problems with the law.

October 2004: Effort to repeal OS548 launched by Waltham/Lexington citizens.

October 2004: Waltham City Council passes Councilor George Darcy’s resolution asking legislators to work for repeal of OS548.

December 2004: Rep. Tom Stanley asks legislators to support repeal. Over 100 legislators respond positively.

January 2005: Repeal petition is signed by over 20 community organizations statewide.

January 2005: Governor and legislators propose modified versions of OS548 for renewal.

The story continues….
and your help is needed to ensure a happy ending!


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