MA Lawmakers Consider Reworking State Zoning Laws

A bill that would update state zoning laws to encourage more concentrated and sustainable communities had its first hearing in Boston on Tuesday. The measure seeks to streamline the development process across the commonwealth. Massachusetts zoning laws have a reputation for being “the most antiquated in the country.” That’s according to Executive Director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, Andre Leroux, who supports the bill. He says its the only state where property owners can build new homes without requiring approval as long as there is already a road. And Leroux says that leaves towns fighting subdivisions by splitting up land.

“They change the zoning to create huge minimum lot sizes. So for example, one and a half acres or even two acres of land. And they do that because they figure we’ll get less development and we’ll keep the open space. But really the effect of this is the exact opposite.”

Leroux says the new laws will encourage cities and towns to create better master plans by identifying walkable areas to concentrate development — like industrial parks and historic villages — and rezoning others to conserve natural resources. He says in cities the size of Springfield, updating a master plan requires hundreds of thousands of dollars — something the new measure would help pay for through two million dollars in incentives. The measure would also clarify ambiguous language in state zoning laws and extend the duration of building permits. Lead house sponsor Representative Stephen Kulik of Worthington, has said he hopes to pass the bill this legislative session.