The Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development (EOHED) announces a "Growth Districts Initiative" as a focused means of expediting commercial and residential development within the Commonwealth.
The primary obstacle to streamlined permitting in Massachusetts has been a failure to plan ahead for new growth and development, at both the State and local levels. Zoning and other land use regulations, as well as investments in public infrastructure, do not reflect adequate planning.
By our failing to plan ahead, the important questions of "what should be built", "where should it be built", "how it should be built" and "what infrastructure do we need to support it" have been left to be discussed and debated in the permitting process for individual projects. This is a losing proposition for all concerned. From the public perspective, having such discussions in response to particular permit applications will inevitably make them seem driven by the timing and objectives of private developers. From the perspective of the project proponent, having such discussions within the permitting process makes it unlikely that permits can be issued in a timely and predictable manner.
Under its "Growth Districts Initiative", EOHED will partner with municipalities that have identified one or more areas within their communities as being appropriate locations for significant new growth, whether commercial, residential or mixed-use. Within those identified "growth districts", EOHED will work with the community and property owners to make the district truly "development ready" with respect to local permitting, state permitting, site preparation (including brownfields remediation), infrastructure improvements, and marketing. The objective will be to create a level of "development readiness" within each of these growth districts comparable to that now available at Devens, a location proven to be highly attractive to new development and to be truly competitive at a national and international level.
What constitutes significant new growth will vary among communities and regions, but in all cases the community must be committed to planning ahead not just for identified new construction that is ready to break ground in the short term, but more broadly for future development within the growth district over an extended period (five, ten or twenty years).
EOHED will, in partnership with regional planning agencies and local communities, identify promising growth districts on an on-going basis and thereafter work closely with the local communities to make (or keep) the districts development ready. Obviously, not all new development in the Commonwealth will occur within these growth districts, but the development that does occur within these districts does have the potential to shape the overall patterns of our state's growth in the coming years.
Locations targeted for EOHED assistance as "growth districts" will have the following fundamental characteristics:
Pre-Planned Zoning and Streamlined Permitting . The municipality will plan and zone the district for appropriate development in advance, as well as modify subdivision and other land use regulations and procedures, so as to consistently permit projects within six months. Permit applicants will be able to coordinate their local applications through a single point of contact at the municipality.
Market-Based Planning . The municipality will plan and zone the district for uses and densities for which there is reasonable market demand. The zoning will not be limited to a narrow set of uses for which market demand may fluctuate.
Fairness to Neighbors . Contemplated uses and densities will reasonably take into account and mitigate possible impacts on neighboring communities, on adjacent neighborhoods within the same community, and where applicable, on those who may be displaced by the new development.
Focused and Environmentally Sensitive Land Use . To the extent new development will be located on previously undisturbed land, it will be sited to avoid environmentally significant areas and designed to preserve open spaces.
Transportation Access . Contemplated uses and densities will be supported by existing transportation infrastructure or by reasonable identifiable upgrades to that infrastructure.
Adequate Utilities . Contemplated uses and densities will be supported by existing water, sewer and other utility infrastructure or by reasonable identifiable upgrades to that infrastructure.
Designated "growth districts" will also have one or more of these additional characteristics:
Job Opportunities. New development within the district will create employment in communities or regions in particular need of additional job opportunities.
Housing Opportunities . The district will include new "workforce housing" or "starter home" opportunities.
Community Enhancement . New development within the district will support or revitalize existing uses and structures within the community.
Land Re-Use . Much or all of the new development within the district will be located on previously disturbed land.
Transit Availability . Public transit will be available within convenient walking distance to employees and residents within the district.
Smart Energy . Zoning and other regulations within the district will promote or require efficient use of energy though improved design, high efficiency technologies and conservation and/or the use of clean renewable resources to create electricity and heat.
Green Building/Low-Impact Development . Zoning and other regulations within the district will promote efficient use of water and other resources, including best practices for water conservation, wastewater management and stormwater management.
Good Design . Zoning and other regulations within the district will incorporate best practices for building, site and neighborhood design.
New growth and development will continue to occur throughout the Commonwealth outside of these identified growth districts. Nonetheless, a successful growth districts initiative will:
- Create an inventory of development-ready sites for new and expanding businesses, especially in our key industry clusters
Promote the distribution of new economic growth throughout all regions of the Commonwealth
- Create a range of new workforce housing opportunities throughout all regions of the Commonwealth
- Promote new commercial and residential growth that is consistent with the Commonwealth's sustainable development principles
- Act as a catalyst for the revitalization of our mid-size cities
- Provide a focal point for coordinated action by the various state, regional and local entities involved in land use and development
For more information contact the Permit Regulatory Office at (617) 788-3662.
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