To the Editor,
Our country is presently taking a leadership role in the world to address climate change, including “expanding our forests”. We hear how many people in our own country are running out of clean drinking water, and municipalities are realizing they have not taken care to protect existing fresh water sources. Everywhere we learn of decreasing biodiversity and endangered species due to habitat loss. Massachusetts considers itself an educated and enlightened state: should we lag behind the hopeful initiatives to address solutions to these problems?
Massachusetts enacted the “Comprehensive Permit Law, Chapter 40B” in 1969 to address the shortage of affordable housing statewide “by reducing unnecessary barriers created by local approval processes, local zoning, and other restrictions”.
Unnecessary barriers? Our local regulations and by-laws are not “unnecessary”. They were carefully designed by our volunteer appointed and elected boards, and approved by vote at Town Meetings, in order to protect our health and safety, and to protect our vital natural resources. My issue is with the state law, which is not strong enough to protect our environment.
Yes, we should have acted years ago to move toward 10 percent affordable housing. Now, faced with the threat of environmental degradation, we are finally racing to achieve “Safe Harbor” by getting more existing rental units into the State’s Affordable Housing Inventory. But we may well lose the race. Must our Town be punished and possibly degrade 50 percent of our drinking water supply which comes from the Lincoln Street well, due to salt and other pollution by runoff from this development — added to the already-worrisome run-off from Route 128 and other streets and properties?
Must we spoil the habitat of many unique species: young sea-run brook trout, spotted salamanders, wood frogs and rare insects? And do we really have to destroy acres of unspoiled forested land that give us peace and solace as we walk in nature?
We have learned that the Mass Housing Authority almost always grants permits to developers under Chapter 40B. This seems unfair, especially when we now have the local support and strong initiative toward solving the affordable housing needs in a better way, with scattered units proposed within the downtown area — units which are truly affordable rather than a huge development in an environmentally critical habitat.
I plan to call on the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection to “flex its muscle” toward amending Chapter 40B, and will send a copy of this letter to Governor Baker and our state legislators, Senator Bruce Tarr and Rep. Brad Hill.
It just doesn’t seem right for this law to be still on the books in its present form, at this time in our history!
Francie Caudill, Manchester-by-the-Sea