An opportunity to reform the state’s zoning law

We are working with a broad coalition in support of HD 3216, “An Act promoting the planning and development of sustainable communities,” submitted by Rep. Stephen Kulik and Sen. Dan Wolf. This bill is written to benefit municipalities, residents, and property owners equally by increasing predictability, streamlining unnecessary regulations, and clarifying areas of legal ambiguity in the current statute.

Our cities and towns need better tools for planning and zoning, enabling them—and Massachusetts—to be more economically competitive, to protect natural resource areas, and to increase the supply of moderately priced housing. State statutes are woefully outdated—and result too often in development projects where communities don’t want them, while locations that make sense languish.

More information about HD3216:

We are pleased to be working with a strong coalition around this effort, including the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association, environmental allies, affordable housing advocates, and members of the Alliance. We are also coordinating closely with the Mass Municipal Association to try to obtain its support.

The Alliance been working on this issue for the past six years and, along with fixing our transportation system, it is one of our highest  priorities. (See our placemaking policy agenda.)

We’re happy to hear any feedback you might have about the content, because changes are always made during the legislative process.


Zoning Reform: A Look Ahead

Our state’s zoning laws are some of the most outdated in the country, and many efforts over the last three decades have tried—and failed—to reform them. Despite this daunting challenge, the MA Smart Growth Alliance put zoning reform on the top of its agenda five years ago.

We sensed opportunities that had not existed before. The first was a motivated Administration, with a champion in Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki. The second was a shifting real estate market—“drive till you qualify” was on its last legs, and the real growth sectors became modestly-sized homes and apartments in vibrant, walkable areas. More and more communities now realize that they need zoning reform to grow and prosper.

Still, this is a difficult issue and progress has been stalled by entrenched interests. The real estate industry wants more predictability and speedy permitting, while municipalities want more control over development. Comprehensive bills have gotten bogged down in the Legislature during the last two sessions.

But there is a way to get this done. The MA Smart Growth Alliance endorses a pared-down approach that accomplishes three things:

  • Fixes some of the glaring problems with our current state law;
  • Creates clear authority for modern zoning tools like form-based codes and inclusionary zoning; and
  • Establishes incentives for cities and towns to zone in ways that will help the Commonwealth become more attractive for people and investment.

We have a viable bill to start the new Legislative session in January 2013. To get it over the finish line, we need the housing community, environmentalists, public health advocates, business people and local leaders to weigh in.

If you would like to help us pass zoning reform, please contact Executive Director André Leroux or 617-263-1257.

For more on this issue, please see Placemaking & Zoning.