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Massachusetts ponders zoning reform bill


A new bill proposed zoning reform to Massachusetts but some people think that it will cause more problems.

Communities in Massachusetts grow through developing the land, and attracting new residents and businesses. However, accomplishing this is not always easy since the state’s zoning laws have not changed in more than 30 years. Adding to the problem is that developers and municipalities often butt heads over what rights each has, and how land should be used. To try to resolve some of these issues, lawmakers have proposed a new piece of legislation.

Current rules

The city of Boston is composed of a hodgepodge of previous towns, as well as neighborhoods that were originally part of a different town. To protect the unique appearance of these areas, Boston has imposed specific rules over what can and cannot be built. Generally, the city’s zoning code, which is over 50 years old, keeps residential buildings separate from commercial enterprises. The city also has the right to reject a building project if it is of a certain size, disrupts the feel of the surrounding community or presents a hazard to others.

Statewide, the rules become even more complex. Owners of farms, nurseries and similar businesses are not required to obtain a special permit to build new structures as long as they are related to the commercial operation. Residential developers also do not need a special approval to build a house if there is road access on the land. However, this can cause issues as instead of one road, there could be several. If permits are required, they are usually only good for a limited period of time, which puts an additional burden on developers to finish the project as quickly as possible.

Proposed changes

The new legislation seeks to address some of these challenges. One of these is to give town planners the ability to work with the developer so that instead of several roads, a cul-de-sac is used instead. The bill would also make changes that could give projects more building time by establishing permits with longer time limits.

Another change would give municipalities the ability to charge developers with impact fees. These fees would enable the town or city to accommodate growth without economic hardship. The fees could be for things like road maintenance or repair. On the other hand, developers would be provided with a designated area where they could build multifamily housing without having to get a special permit. It would also give property owners the right to add on an in-law apartment. Owners could add to their income by renting the apartment, or keep older family members closer while giving them their own space.

The proposed changes have not met with overwhelming support though. Some argue that developers would take advantage of situations where a permit would not be required, while others claim cities and municipalities could charge so many impact fees that it would actually be more expensive for developers to build homes. In turn, this would increase the asking prices and discourage young home buyers from investing.

Developing a real estate property requires a great deal of planning and research. People in Massachusetts may find it of value to meet with an attorney to discuss their concerns.