Three key factors are combining into what is likely to be a ‘perfect storm’ with profound and far-reaching effects on Duxbury over the next few decades. These include 1) a clear shift toward a more easy-going enforcement policy in Duxbury over the past few years; 2) the ongoing activity of the Duxbury Zoning Bylaw Review Committee, likely to propose significant changes to our local zoning bylaws at the 2015 Annual Town Meeting; and 3) a bill (currently H.4065) currently working its way toward likely passage within a few weeks in the Massachusetts Legislature.
The net result will be significantly easier, faster, easier, denser, more, and more profitable development. The pace of housing development in Duxbury has quickened markedly over the past few years. It is likely to accelerate further over the next decade. The proposed changes to the Zoning Laws of Massachusetts will have profound impact state-wide, but potentially even greater impact on Duxbury.
The proposed legislation is the brain-child of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA). MSGA describes itself as an organization that “promotes healthy and diverse communities, protects critical environmental resources and working landscapes, advocates for housing and transportation choices, and supports equitable community development and urban reinvestment.”
It does so, it says, by “advancing legislation and promoting a favorable regulatory environment”; by “advocating for state planning, funding and construction decisions in line with the state’s sustainable development principles”; and by “identifying best practices and helping Massachusetts communities tackle the smart growth challenges they face.”
MSGA has for some time been pushing for a total revision of the Zoning Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They have been the primary mover behind and advocate for the bill now before the Legislature. MSGA maintains a very comprehensive site with detailed documentation about the bill on their Zoning and Permitting Reform page. They have worked hard to build support for the Bill.
Designated as “An Act promoting the planning and development of sustainable communities”, H.4065 (previously H.1859) is currently 42 pages long. It is, in effect, a total re-write Massachusetts municipal zoning, subdivision control, and planning laws. It extensively modifies MGL. Ch.40A: “Zoning Act”; makes significant changes to three others (Ch. 41, Ch. 185, and Ch. 240); and adds two entirely new sections: Ch. 40X: “Consolidated Permitting” and Ch. 40Y: “Planning Ahead for Growth Act.”
It is a very complex bill. Many of its provisions are likely to be considered desirable by nearly everyone. Some, though, clearly have the effect of considerably weakening the zoning law protections that many Massachusetts cities and towns, certainly including Duxbury, have used for well over half a century to ensure development consistent with the character of the community and the desires of its citizens.
One major provision, for example, is the elimination of the requirement, state-wide, for a 2/3 “super majority” to change local zoning laws. Although not requiring a local change, it makes it possible for a community to require only a simple majority to change zoning laws. This will make it much easier to get pro-development laws passed locally, if adopted. Other changes include making it much easier to obtain special permits, to obtain zoning variances, and to create denser developments.
So if you care about the future of Duxbury, you need to look hard at what the local consequences of this H.4056 are going to be. You may not like everything you see in there.