MPHA in the News: Using Zoning for a Beautiful Mosaic (Cape Cod Times)

Cape Cod Times

Monday, May 19, 2014

By Sarah Peake and Daniel Wolf

Using Zoning for a Beautiful Mosaic 

Vibrant town centers.

A growing and sustainable economic base.

Sufficient and affordable housing.

Open spaces that preserve the Cape’s character, vistas and landscapes.

Year-round jobs that pay livable wages.

Most of us share a vision for our future that includes all of the above, but too often people see these goals as being in conflict, rather than as pieces of one beautiful mosaic.

We think we understand why many of us have that impression: Our state’s land-use laws — what most of us call “zoning” — are antiquated, unchanged in half a century and woefully unable to help us solve today’s challenges, and they wind up pitting well-intentioned neighbors and businesspeople against one another rather than helping us accomplish common goals.

A bill both of us have worked very hard on, “An Act Promoting the Planning and Development of Sustainable Communities,” would finally bring smart reforms to our state’s zoning laws.

The title is a mouthful, and there are hundreds of devilish details, but we believe comprehensive reform is long overdue. We’re asking readers to join us in urging its passage by our colleagues in both the House and Senate.

It’s tempting to regard land-use laws and zoning as a dusty, tedious subject. But these laws are the guideposts and building blocks that mold and structure our communities into what they are — for better or worse.

Here are just a few of the elements we think should become part of our commonwealth’s zoning laws:

  • Promotion of walkable, vibrant village centers with higher density in return for guarantees of more open space and less suburban sprawl. The legislation encourages communities to establish dedicated districts for prompt permitting of housing and commercial growth while establishing environmental protections for sensitive resource areas. In many of our towns, sections of Route 28 come to mind as areas prime for revitalization and mixed use, offset by setting aside open space elsewhere.
  • Predictable, streamlined rules that offer faster, more certain process. Permitting would become more rational for both developers and the community. The legislation enables a city or town to adopt an expedited review to help communities grow while minimizing haphazard development.
  • A mechanism for developers to be granted a joint hearing with members of multiple local boards present to facilitate communication and put issues on a common table, saving time and avoiding mixed signals.
  • Incentives for affordable housing. Statewide, we’re currently building fewer than half of the homes we need each year to keep housing costs in line with other parts of the country. On the Cape and Islands, this is a crisis that must be addressed.
  • Curtailed grandfathering provisions. Present outdated laws deny community input on decisions and approvals made years ago, and tie the hands of municipalities. A related reform is improving the so-called Approval Not Required provision, a rule found only in Massachusetts that in some cases allows for practically unregulated development.
  • Removal of development fights from the courts. In the event of disagreement on land-use proposals, a neutral arbitrator could be used to settle the dispute without costly and time-consuming lawsuits — better for private parties, better for public boards, better for taxpayers.

Our reform bill, House 1859, is endorsed by many groups across the commonwealth, including professional planning organizations, the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, housing and environmental organizations, municipal leaders, town boards, the Cape Cod Business Roundtable and the Association to Preserve Cape Cod.

Let’s grab this opportunity to fix our broken land-use laws, spur our economy, increase our housing options and improve the quality of life in our communities. Let’s piece together the mosaic.

Sarah Peake, of Provincetown, represents the 4th Barnstable District in the House of Representatives and co-chairs the Joint Committee on Municipalities. Daniel Wolf, of Harwich, is the state senator from the Cape and Islands and lead sponsor of the legislation.

See original article here

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