The Wednesday Word: Support Land Use and Zoning Reforms- The H.O.M.E. Bill

This week, we review another REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill issue: Land Use and Zoning Reform. Be sure to read up on all of the Wednesday Word blog posts so you are prepared to meet with your legislator on Wednesday, June 10th.

Support Land Use and Zoning Reforms: The H.O.M.E. Bill

ISSUE: Due to the short supply of housing in Massachusetts, potential homeowners continue to face increasing housing costs. One of the many issues driving the reduced housing stock is the presence of barriers to production, many of which are found in current zoning laws.

The Legislation: S.119 An Act improving housing opportunities and the Massachusetts economy

Sponsor: Senator Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport)

Legislative Actions to Date: Referred to Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses

What the Bill Does:

Filed in conjunction with the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, S.119 seeks to make numerous changes to Massachusetts zoning laws. Below are some of the proposed changes to the law.

  • The H.O.M.E. Bill promotes smart growth by requiring that cluster development be allowed by right in residential zoning districts, at the density permitted in the underlying zoning district.  Additionally, these sections prohibit cities and towns from requiring a “proof permit” plan in connection with a cluster development application.
  • The bill also promotes multifamily housing construction by requiring that cities and towns permit multifamily development by right on at least 1.5% of the community’s developable land area that is suitable for multifamily residential.  This section would also establish a minimum density of 20 units per acre for by right multifamily development.
  • Promotes affordable in-fill housing by requiring that accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”), sometimes referred to as in-law apartments, be permitted by right in all single-family residential zoning districts.  These sections also prohibit zoning ordinances and by-laws from unreasonably regulating the location, dimensions, or design of an accessory dwelling unit on a lot.
  • The bill seeks to ease the burden on property owners to obtain dimensional relief for minor improvements by creating a two-tiered variance Under this structure, the existing substantial hardship standard would apply only to use variances and a less burdensome practical difficulty standard would apply to all other variances.
  • The bill replaces the supermajority vote requirements for variances and special permits with a simple majority They also establish that the granting of a variance or the reversal of any order or decision of any administrative official would require a majority vote of the members of the board then in office.
  • Creates consistent wetlands requirements by restoring uniformity across Massachusetts by prohibiting local wetlands requirements unless: (a) the local regulations are more restrictive than those established by state law; and (b) DEP approves the local regulations upon a finding that they are scientifically-based restrictions, are necessary to protect unusual local resources, and do not conflict with the State Wetlands Protection Act and DEP regulations.
  • Creates consistent sewage disposal requirements by establishing a DEP review and approval process of local sewage disposal systems regulations to ensure they are scientifically-based restrictions, necessary to protect unusual local resources and do not conflict with Title V.

Action Needed: Ask your legislator the support S. 119 and urge the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business to report the legislation out of committee favorably.

Remember to check out the Day on the Hill Facebook event page and visit the Government Affairs page for all your DOH updates. Finally, don’t forget to check out MAR President Corinne Fitzgerald’s Day on the Hill video so you can get the inside scoop on the 30th Annual REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill!

(Please note: This blog post was prepared by MAR Legal Staff: Michael McDonagh, General Counsel; Ashley Stolba, Associate Counsel; and Justin Davidson, Legislative & Regulatory Counsel. Edited by Christine Howe, Legal Affairs & Finance Administrative Assistant).