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BOSTON-A bill that would allow a town or city’s conservation commission to require developers to pay for an outside consultant to review a proposed project has been filed in the state legislature. The Greater Boston Real Estate Board opposes the bill because of the lack of specific guidelines on how the review would be conducted.

A town or city’s zoning board or planning board already has the legal authority to have projects reviewed by consultants and paid for by the developer. According to Representative Marie J. Parente, this bill gives local conservation commissions the same right. “Towns have been filing similar bills to allow their consultants to evaluate the conservation impact and charge the developer,” she tells GlobeSt.com. “After looking at the individual bills we decided it was time for a statewide act.”

But Ed Shanahan, CEO of the Real Estate Board contends that the bill is not specific enough. “This shouldn’t be done without the proper balances,” he tells GlobeSt.com. In response to the bill, the board has proposed a statewide local option that would have “very specific parameters,” he says, instead of having local conservation commissions decide what developers should pay. “We don’t like the idea of developers having to pay,” he points out. “However that’s the reality and our members have shown a willingness to pay but we are concerned over the lack of specific restrictions. There’s no end to it. Let’s agree on what kind of parameters to put in pace to prevent developers from being abused.”

Shanahan and representatives from his group met with Parente to discuss options to the bill she filed. According to Parente the real estate board wanted the conservation commissions to be limited to a proscribed number of consultants and they want the conservation commission to pay and then bill the developer. Parente was not comfortable with either suggestion and in a letter to the real estate board’s representative she says that she supports the bill in its current language. However, she adds that she acknowledges the concerns and “will therefore conduct further study on the issues raised during our discussion.”

“Towns should not have to act like collections agency, especially if the developer does not like the outcome,” says Parente, referring to the board’s requests. As for the proscribed list of consultants she says that she does not know if the real estate board will be allowed to even contribute a list of consultants. “Shanahan has some legitimate concerns, that there are no parameters, but the conservation commissions are advocating for the community and the developer is not. It is getting more difficult to control development. A conservation commission needs to be able to tell a developer if they are displeased.” Parente insists that she is pro-business but she adds that the land needs to be protected. “If we let them, developers would build anywhere,” she notes. “God isn’t making more land so we have to be careful to protect what we have.”

Still, Parente says that she would like to see the conservation commissions and the developers meet in the middle. To that end she says that she will go along with the standards set in the bill but she is willing to establish a subcommittee to look at the real estate board’s concerns. “There’s a need to build, but is there a need to build on marginal land?” she says.

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