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The zoning reform proposal Gov. Charlie Baker has been pushing since 2017 now sits before the House Ways and Means Committee, and comments lawmakers made Monday suggest that some members of that panel are split in their opinions of it.

Baker’s housing and economic development chief, Mike Kennealy, testified before the House and Senate Ways and Means committees on his office’s $602.7 million budget for next year. He wrapped up his remarks with a note that he thinks it’s “critically important” to pass a housing production bill, and said he’s happy to talk about Baker’s bill “at any time, in any detail.”

Aimed at spurring new housing development, Baker’s bill proposes to lower the local approval threshold for certain zoning changes from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority. The Housing Committee endorsed a version of the bill (H.4263) in December and advanced it to House Ways and Means.

The proposed change from a supermajority to a simple majority is “not popular in Westport,” committee member Rep. Paul Schmid, a Democrat from that Bristol County city, told Kennealy.

“We think we’re doing our darndest, but we’re awful afraid of that,” Schmid said. “It’s just a lot easier to pack a committee and get a simple majority and have something happen that does truly not reflect the wishes of the community.”

Kennealy said he hears that concern from communities across the state.

His typical reply, he said, is that the bill does not mandate that any particular city or town add more housing but rather aims to create an easier path for those that want to. The same planning and public meeting processes would still be followed for new developments, he said, but with a lower threshold on the final vote.

“It doesn’t do anything to change local control. It just changes what threshold is needed to succeed,” Kennealy said.

“Well, thank you, and just – the perception is that it does,” Schmid replied.

Shortly after, Waltham Democrat Rep. Thomas Stanley offered up his support for Baker’s bill.

“Development is a bad word in Waltham as well,” he said. “But we need more of it, and some other communities need to step up to the plate and help out. There are other alternatives like rent control and things that are even more controversial, but I think this is a wise decision to put it out there.”

Lawmakers at the hearing said they’d follow up with Kennealy and his office to discuss more housing issues.

State Reps Fear Baker Bill Would Help ‘Pack’ Zoning Boards

by State House News Service time to read: 2 min