Chapter 40B is the regional planning law of the Massachusetts General Laws, and has been on the books for over 40 years. But a Chelmsford group is seeking to repeal the affordable housing law at the ballot box in November.
40B's purpose is "to permit a...town to plan jointly with...(other) towns to promote the...orderly development of the areas within their jurisdiction," or informally to allow a developer to build housing at higher density than a town requires if the development includes affordable housing units.
However its repeal may soon be put to voters thanks to the efforts of Better Not Bigger, a local advocacy group from Chelmsford.
Better Not Bigger describes itself as "a statewide program dedicated to...promoting sustainable policies that ultimately lead to a better quality of life for all Massachusetts residents."
But their message and their tactics have created a controversy among public officials in Chelmsford.
Their opinion paper on chapter 40B, "Failed Strategies, New Directions," can be found here. It describes in 24 pages their issues with the current application of the law, and implies in other sections that the existing system is corrupt, saying, "Under 40B, developers are allowed to bypass local zoning, substantially increasing their profits due to their ability to overdevelop parcels of land. 40B has, in the name of promoting affordable housing, allowed developers to violate sound land-use policy and to extract more profit from the land they invest in, regardless of whether or not developers are increasing the proportion of affordable housing in a community."
Their publicity has also run afoul of Chelmsford town manager Paul Cohen, who published a response letter dated July 26, 2010. In it he answers the claims, which Better Not Bigger has made against Chelmsford planning officials.
Cohen wrote, "Last week, Chelmsford residents received a mailing entitled 'Better Not Bigger' signed by Roland Van Liew. The letter reads that, 'It's time to hold accountable officials who are corrupt, incompetent, and repeatedly commit malfeasance in defiance of our town charter and Master Plan.'"
The letter contains recall affidavits against Planning Board members George Zaharoolis and Susan Carter. It also raises serious charges against me as Town Manager," Cohen wrote.
Neither Cohen nor van Liew could be reached for comment.
Real estate survey company, Trulia, reports that Massachusetts ranks sixth for average prices, and eighth for median prices. The US Census Bureau independently ranks Massachusetts sixth for its 2009 report on median income.