SCITUATE, MA-Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law, has generated considerable debate in the nearly thirty years since it was passed. But recently, a number of towns and cities across the state have taken the debate a step further in an effort to make it clear that they are fed up.

The law essentially states that a project with at least a 25% affordable housing component that is being developed in a town or city with less than 10% affordable housing can bypass local zoning laws to get their project permitted. But many municipalities contend that the law, which was designed to increase the development of affordable housing units outside of major urban areas, is being used by developers to ram their projects through local governments.

A number of weeks ago, the town of Norton sent out a letter to every town in the state asking for support to petition the state legislature for a five year moratorium on chapter 40B projects. “The board of selectmen said we had it and we’re not going to take it anymore,” Charles Gabriel, Norton’s town planner tells GlobeSt.com. What precipitated the letter was a 60-unit chapter 40B project, called Strawberry Fields, that came before the town’s zoning board of appeals. The town felt powerless in the face of the comprehensive permit, which is granted to 40B projects.

“Throughout the state there is a groundswell of towns objecting to 40B,” notes Gabriel. “Now it’s reaching its crescendo.”

Laura Harbottle, Scituate’s town planner, agrees. Recently, a developer proposed building a 28-unit 40B project called Stenbeck Place. “The town doesn’t have the ability to stop processing 40B applications,” she tells GlobeSt.com. “If we don’t do anything, the state would look at it as if it’s approved.”

In response, a number of Scituate residents have collected enough signatures to call a special Town Meeting to join Norton in asking the state for the moratorium on 40B projects. “It’s unprecedented,” acknowledges Harbottle. “Its trying to show the state there is a large grass roots support for something like this.” Harbottle points out that the Governor Jane Swift’s recent modifications to the law–which were proposed after she refused to sign off on the Housing bill–didn’t change anything.

Gabriel also acknowledges that this effort is “quixotic” but, he adds that it’s an indication of towns’ “resentment of 40B.”

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