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BOSTON-A number of towns in this state are arguing that Massachusetts needs to reform Chapter 40B, the so-called anti-snob zoning law. At a state Department of Housing and Community Development hearing, more than 20 local, as well as state, officials asked that regulatory changes–that the state is currently considering for the law–be implemented.

As the law, also called the comprehensive permit law, stands now, developers who plan to include a certain percentage of affordable housing in their proposed developments within towns where at least 10% of the housing is deemed affordable can circumvent local zoning laws. The concern is that developers are taking advantage of the law to push their developments through or to force a town to approve their development.

In Woburn, Archstone Communities could see that its application to build a 420-unit luxury apartment building was going to be denied so it applied for the comprehensive permit to develop a 640-unit apartment complex. The town is still fighting with the Denver, Colorado-based company to prevent the development. Similarly, in Methuen Archstone is trying to get a 430-unit apartment complex built and it included affordable housing units in the project so it could get approval. But, reportedly, town officials there are concerned about the location of the development on a steep hill that would make it difficult in emergencies.

Governor Jane Swift has proposed a number of changes to the law, which are supported by many towns in this state. These changes include allowing homes used for the mentally ill and retarded to be considered affordable housing; allowing communities to count units as affordable housing as soon as they are permitted rather than having to wait until they’re constructed; and, insisting that developers wait six months to apply for a comprehensive permit on a site on which local officials already rejected other development plans.

Additional changes include capping the developments under Chapter 40B to 300 units or two 2% of total housing–whichever is more–and giving more leeway to towns that have made headway in developing affordable housing, even if the 10% figure is not reached. Developers, under the changes would also have to file more detailed plans and permit applications than what is currently required of them.

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