The Association to Preserve Cape Cod submitted written testimony this week in support of two bills under consideration by the state legislature.
One of the bills, An Act Protecting the Natural Resources of the Commonwealth, also known as the Public Lands Preservation Act, would set in place a process for replacing so-called Article 97 lands proposed for disposition by municipalities or the state.
Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution applies to public lands acquired for conservation or recreational purposes, stating that these lands “shall not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of except by laws enacted by a two-thirds vote” of the state legislature. However, the legislature has commonly voted to dispose of parcels of public land with little or no debate. The Public Lands Preservation Act establishes a no net loss of Article 97 lands by requiring, in most cases, that land of comparable natural resource value, acreage and location be used as a replacement.
In its comments, APCC noted that only about 13 percent of Cape Cod remains undeveloped and unprotected. There is a concern that as future land use demands increase, there will be more pressure to remove conservation lands from their protected status for other uses. The legislation would help ensure that Cape Cod does not lose ground on the conservation of open space.
In other testimony submitted to the state legislature, APCC expressed strong support for An Act Building for the Future of the Commonwealth. State Representative Sarah Peake of Provincetown is one of the lead sponsors of the bill. A similar bill was filed last session by then-State Senator Daniel Wolf.
The legislation provides a comprehensive rewrite of the state’s zoning and land use laws, which have been identified by the American Planning Association as among the most outdated and ineffective in the nation. As described in APCC’s testimony, existing state law is the greatest roadblock to smart growth and has resulted in a shortage of workforce housing, degraded water quality and other natural resources, loss of open space and farmland, and strained municipal budgets.
If adopted into law, the bill would provide communities with improved tools to increase housing choices, preserve open space, discourage sprawl and adopt better planning for the future.
Both bills are currently under consideration by joint committees of the House and Senate.