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CZM Port and Harbor Planning Program - Municipal Harbor Plans

Find information on the regulatory responsibilities of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) in harbor planning.

To help ensure that waterfront areas grow in an environmentally sound and economically prosperous manner, CZM works with coastal communities on harbor planning efforts. CZM also encourages the creation or expansion of water-dependent facilities in developed port and harbor areas. This approach maximizes the value of these developed ports and ensures that businesses that require close proximity to harbors, such as shipping and fishing facilities, remain viable.

This web page discusses CZM’s regulatory responsibilities in harbor planning, focusing on state-approved Municipal Harbor Plans (MHPs) and Designated Port Area (DPA) Master Plans. It also provides links to other selected local harbor planning initiatives.

For other information and materials related to port and harbor planning, see:

State-Approved Municipal Harbor Plans

The Municipal Harbor Planning Regulations (301 CMR 23.00: Review and Approval of Municipal Harbor Plans)—which are administered by CZM and were developed in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP)—establish the voluntary process by which cities and towns may develop and submit a Municipal Harbor Plan (MPH) to the Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) for approval. A state-approved MHP establishes a community’s objectives, standards, and policies for guiding public and private use of land and water within the proposed planning area. On behalf of the EEA Secretary, CZM drafts the decisions on MHPs in accordance with state regulations. For links to copies of these decisions, see Regulatory Decisions on MHPs and DPAs.

Many of the major ports in Massachusetts, including Boston, Gloucester, New Bedford/Fairhaven, and Salem, have completed state-approved MHPs. CZM actively works with communities to help them evaluate MHP options and develop sound management approaches, as well as ensure that they understand and follow the MHP process required by the regulations. See CZM Port and Harbor Planning Program - Technical Assistance for details.

The planning area for an MHP typically includes properties that are both inside and outside the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act (Chapter 91). For properties within jurisdiction, approved MHPs may provide licensing guidance to MassDEP in making decisions pursuant to the Waterways Regulations (Chapter 91) (310 CMR 9.00: The Massachusetts Waterways Regulation). Specifically, approved MHPs may establish limited alternative numerical and dimensional requirements (substitute provisions) to the minimum requirements specified by the Waterways Regulations, provided that adverse effects to public rights along the waterfront are mitigated with appropriate offsetting measures. The specific provisions of Chapter 91 for which substitutions may be proposed can be found in 310 CMR 9.51(3)(a) through (e), 9.52(1)(b)(1), and 9.53(2)(b) and (c). Examples of substitutions include increased building heights and footprints, modifications to interior and exterior public space requirements, and changes to the location and amount and scale of public and private facilities. Approved MHPs may also amplify (i.e., provide greater specificity) for any discretionary requirements contained in Chapter 91. All proposed amplifications must be consistent with the underlying regulatory principles of the regulation and the discretionary requirements.

For MHP areas that are not also Designated Port Areas, CZM generally encourages the preservation of public rights held by the Commonwealth, and the preservation of tidelands for existing and future water-dependent facilities. In these areas, CZM also strives to ensure that public recreational boating facilities avoid privatization and are open to the general public on a fair and equitable fashion. (See the next section for information on harbor plan requirements within DPAs.)

Designated Port Area Master Plans

Designated Port Areas are land and water areas with certain physical and operational features that have been identified to have state, regional, and national significance with respect to the promotion of water-dependent industrial uses (such as commercial fishing, shipping, and other vessel-related activities associated with water-borne commerce) and to manufacturing, processing, and production activities that rely on marine transportation or the withdrawal or discharge of large volumes of water. The purpose of the DPA program is to promote these industries and to prevent the loss of areas that have key characteristics for water-dependent industrial uses—characteristics that include a navigable waterway, developed waterfront, backland space suitable for industrial operations, and land-based infrastructure that supports such uses.

Under the Municipal Harbor Planning Regulations (301 CMR 23.00: Review and Approval of Municipal Harbor Plans), cities and towns may seek approval for alternative management strategies for uses within the DPA that are consistent with the underlying principles for protecting and promoting water-dependent industrial uses and with the Chapter 91 standards. A DPA Master Plan is the part of the MHP that covers the uses and activities within the DPA.

DPA Master Plans must comply with a series of standards found within the municipal harbor planning regulations (301 CMR 23.00), which include measures to preserve and enhance the capacity of the DPA to accommodate water-dependent industrial use. In a DPA Master Plan, a municipality may request flexibility for certain use standards, but must balance that flexibility with elements that ensure that DPA interests are still protected and enhanced. DPA Master Plans therefore often include strategies that provide flexibility for supporting uses within the DPA, but also ensure that most of the DPA land area be reserved for water-dependent industrial uses.

When reviewing DPA Master Plans, CZM requires that planning goals and implementation strategies are included to ensure most of the DPA land area is reserved for water-dependent industrial uses. CZM also encourages arrangements that prevent commitments of space or facilities that would significantly discourage present or future water-dependent industrial activity, or that would significantly alter the predominantly maritime industrial character of the DPA.

For more information on DPAs, including official boundary maps and descriptions of the 10 DPAs in Massachusetts, see CZM’s Designated Port Area website. For links to copies of regulatory decisions on DPA Master Plans and boundary reviews, see Regulatory Decisions on MHPs and DPAs. Also see CZM Port and Harbor Planning Program - Technical Assistance for information on available support with DPA Master Plan efforts.

Local Harbor Planning Options Other than State-Approved MHPs

As discussed above, a state-approved MHP is required to make certain modifications to Chapter 91 requirements. When these regulatory modifications are not desired, communities may wish to use a less formal harbor planning approach. For details, see Local Harbor Planning Efforts that Are Not State-Approved Municipal Harbor Plans.