Overview of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Law, G.L. c. 40B, §§ 20-23
Effective Date: November 21, 1969
(Chapter 774 of the Acts of 1969, H5681)
To increase the supply and improve the regional distribution of low and moderate income housing by allowing a limited suspension of existing local regulations which are inconsistent with construction of such housing.
Who May Apply for a Comprehensive Permit?
A public agency
A non-profit organization
A limited dividend organization
How is an Application Made?
Prior to applying for a comprehensive permit, a proposal to build affordable housing must receive preliminary approval (normally a Project Eligibility or Site Approval letter) under a state or federal subsidy program. The application, containing the eligibility letter and preliminary development plans, is then filed with the local zoning board of appeals. The board then notifies and seeks recommendations from other local boards, including, as appropriate, the following:
Board of Health
Water, Sewer, or other commission or district
Fire, Police, Traffic, or other department
Building Inspector or similar official or board
The zoning board of appeals holds a public hearing to ensure that local concerns are properly addressed. Local concerns include health, safety, environmental, design, open space, and other concerns raised by town officials or residents. In making its decision, the board acts on behalf of all other town boards and officials, but only with regard to matters where local restrictions are more stringent than state requirements. The board can issue a single comprehensive permit, which subsumes all local permits and approvals normally issued by local boards. It can also issue a comprehensive permit with conditions or deny the permit. If a comprehensive permit is granted, the applicant, prior to construction, must normally present final, detailed construction plans to the building inspector or similar officials
to ensure that the plans are consistent with the comprehensive permit and state requirements.
What if the Comprehensive Permit is Denied?
If an application for a permit is denied or granted with conditions which would make building uneconomic, the applicant may appeal the board's decision to the Housing Appeals Committee, which consists of three members appointed by the Massachusetts Secretary of Communities and Development (one of whom must be an employee of Department of Housing and Community Development), and a city councilor and a selectman, both appointed by the Governor.
Hearing and Appeals Procedure:
The local zoning board of appeals must open a hearing within thirty days of receiving an application, and render a decision within forty days after termination of the hearing. Any appeal of the local decision to the Housing Appeals Committee by the applicant must be taken within twenty days of the notice of the decision. A decision of the Housing Appeals Committee may be appealed to the Superior Court.
Consistency with Local Needs:
The general principle governing hearings before the local board and the Housing Appeals Committee is that all local restrictions, as applied to the proposed affordable housing, be "consistent with local needs." General Laws c. 40B, § 20 defines consistency with local needs as being reasonable in view of the need for low and moderate income housing balanced against health, safety, environmental, design, open space, and other local concerns. If less than ten percent of municipality's total housing units are subsidized low and moderate income housing units, there is a presumption that there is a substantial housing need which outweighs local concerns.~ See 760 CMR 31.07(1)(e); Board of Appeals of Hanover v. H.A.C., 363 Mass. 339, 367, 294 N.E.2d 393, 413 (1973).