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BOSTON-A series of initiatives designed to alter the pattern of development in this state is garnering a lot of attention at the legislative and executive level here. The initiatives are essentially attempting to wrestle control away from local towns and cities and instead create regional zoning boards that could have better perspective on managing growth.

Currently, 351 towns and cities in the state make individual land-use decisions and those decisions are usually made with only that town or city in mind. Increasing a local tax base through commercial development and limiting the number of children enrolled in local schools are usually local concerns but the larger issues of sprawl and congestion are creating greater concerns.

One of the major initiatives here is a bill authored by State Senator Marc Pacheo that would give cities and towns $35 million for technical assistance to create master plans. Governor Jane Swift has already established Executive Order 418, providing cities and towns with $30,000 to reexamine zoning and explore new ways to approach planning.

The Metropolitan Area Council, a regional planning agency for Eastern Massachusetts, has taken on an effort to identify planning problems and create a more effective plan for guiding development in this area. The Boston Society of Architects has also gotten into the act with a campaign to promote regional coordination on schools, transportation, housing and protecting natural areas.

Planning compacts have erupted in other pockets of the state as well. In Southeastern Massachusetts a recent building boom led to the creation of the Mayflower Compact, which enables the towns in this area to coordinate responses to the development. The I-495 Initiative coordinates the responses of towns and cities that surround this Interstate, the latest mecca for high-tech companies. The Community Preservation Act and The Cape Cod Commission have also attempted to deal with managing development.

For developers, dealing with regional controls in addition to local municipalities could mean more bureaucracy in the requirements that would have to be met. Affordable housing advocates are also reportedly concerned that regional planning will limit the availability of housing, driving up the costs. Perhaps the greatest difficulty here will be with the local towns and cities, which are traditionally loath to surrender the authority they have over their acreage to a larger governmental body.

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