Massachusetts Considering Statewide Zoning Reform

A statewide zoning reform bill that made it part of the way through the Massachusetts State Legislature in 2016 is back up for consideration this year.

2 minute read

January 17, 2018, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Clinton, Massachusetts. | e2dan / Shutterstock

The state of Massachusetts is working on a comprehensive zoning reform bill that would make the first time since Gerald Ford was president of the United States that the state has overhauled its zoning rules. "In the decades since, restrictive zoning practices in many of the state’s leafier suburbs have hardened into patterns that exclude family housing, mixed-income developments, even modest accessory dwellings such as granny flats," writes Renée Loth, who characterizes the zoning reform effort as a potential salve for the state's affordable housing crisis.

A zoning reform bill sponsored by Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler passed the State Senate in 2016, but it must still be ratified and debated in the current legislative session, according to Loth. The cause of loosening zoning restrictions has support from the Governor's Office as well. In December, Governor Charlie Baker "announced a statewide plan to ease housing construction throughout the approval and development process," according to a Planetizen article sharing that news.

As for the details of this new statewide zoning reform bill, Loth explains:

The zoning reform bill sets new statewide standards allowing for multifamily housing, accessory dwelling units, cluster zoning to preserve open space, and other “smart growth” initiatives. It eases the current statewide requirement of a super-majority vote to change local zoning or to grant special permits. It helps smaller communities plan better through grants and training. And, importantly, it explicitly outlaws “exclusionary land use practices” that discriminate against racial or economic minorities, families, and other protected classes.

The text of the bill that made it through the Senate in 2016, S.2311, is available online.

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