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Some Rockport residents make a federal case out of MBTA zoning requirement

A group of Rockport residents yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the way their town is planning on moving forward with rezoning to comply with a state mandate to increase allowable housing density near MBTA stations (federal courts let people file suits even on Sundays).

In their complaint, filed in US District Court in Boston, a group of Rockport residents are asking a judge to rule that the way the town is seeking to create a denser residential zone near the town train station violates their rights because officials are seeking to get it through Town Meeting with just a majority vote, rather than the two-thirds vote the residents claim is really required - and that the proposed zoning unfairly concentrates the supposed harmful effects of greater density on relatively small areas of the town.

The federal suit mirrors one the group, led by resident John Kolackovsky, filed in Essex Superior Court in 2022. That state case has yet to be decided.

Although the federal suit starts out by raising zoning questions under Massachusetts law, not normally the purview of federal courts, it charges that the way the measure could be approved - and the overall state law in general - would violate the residents' due-process and equal-protection rights under the constitution, as well as their rights under a 2005 Supreme Court case involving gas-station rents that held that government actions have to serve a legitimate government purpose, which they content the zoning requirement does not:

Other than the simple production of housing units in high density dimension no governmental objective is achieved. This creates market rate, normally expensive, housing. It does not allow for the government to promote or cater to the vulnerable populations who need additional housing opportunities like veterans, the disabled, the elderly, or the poor. This is simply a developers’ buffet supported by no compelling or permissible government objective.

AttachmentSize
PDF icon Complete federal complaint175.15 KB
PDF icon Original state complaint603.09 KB


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Comments

officials are seeking to get it through Town Meeting with just a majority vote, rather than the two-thirds vote the residents claim is really required

This is the real issue for the court, not the MBTA zoning, though that is probably what is prompting the suit.

If the town is ignoring the law with the majority vote rather than the two-thirds, then they are in the wrong and should be stopped.

That is a simple question for the court to decide.

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Then a federal judge will go "Stop wasting my time and go back to state court. Next!"

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Is one of those "WERE NOT A DEMOCRACY. WERE A CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC!" types.

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Nobody voted on this specific law, it’s a directive, which isn’t very democratic.

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I seem to remember our representatives in the state state senate, the state house, and the governor voting for and signing this specific law.

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Be added to a ballot.

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The MBTA Communities Act is three sentences of law in an economic development bill. The guidelines promulgated by the agency formerly known as DHCD are dozens and dozens of pages.

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The legislature passes the laws with specific terms, and then its up to the administrative bodies to determine how to apply those terms, which can take more space to write out.

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Perhaps you need some Schoolhouse Rock in your diet.

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That ships all their homeless addicted to boston on the numerous buses.

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Yeah. Part misinformed fear while not bothering to get the facts, part convenient umbrella bogeyman for diversity panic.

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Especially in Rockport, where density is one of the town's main attractions. Without density, Rockport wouldn't have Bearskin Neck or really much of anything downtown. It wouldn't be unique. More towns should resemble Rockport's dense charming jumble. I'd even argue the state could go a lot further by outlawing minimum lot sizes.

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Anymore. Not with the current migrant crisis and the state dumping people and the cost on local governments.

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How many migrants is Rockland taking on?

The taxpayers pay for most of train and bus service. They have no right to selfishly prevent multifamily housing.

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A public services to the migrant crises is absurd.

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the proposed zoning unfairly concentrates the supposed harmful effects of greater density on relatively small areas of the town

I agree, Rockport should make sure that higher density, multi-family housing is legal everywhere in the municipality.

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But it needs to be near the train station and bus stops.

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Get rid of single family zoning. Let the market figure out the rest.

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What are you, some kind of neoliberal developer shill? Shame on you!

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Have you seen photographs of dense housing in Rio de Janero? It's not pretty. "Letting the market figure it out" is not how urban planners do planning.

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Upzoning doesn't mean giant packed in towers. See the video, below.

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Trees, native plants, unpaved earth are good for the environment. Kids having fresh air and open space to play and run around… these are good for mental, emotional and physical health. If you prefer all pavement, car garages and high density buildings then there are plenty of communities that suit your desires. Other people may like nature, birds, trees, a small yard to grow a vegetable garden, etc. Would I like to live in Rockport? Yes. Can I afford it? No. Doesn’t mean I think no one else should be able to live in a single family home home with a yard and trees.

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Please. Stop with the storybook lorax misanthropic nimybism waxing romantic about the sanctity of third growth patches of invasive weeds. Some of us professionals who deal with actual climate justice have just totally had it with the existential (and racist/classist) panic over density expressed as an environmentalism of convenience.

Increasing the number of humans living in an area doesn't have to mean any of the things you whinge about here. Moreover, density can be used to create MORE open space by reducing the space needed for building footprints, roadway and utilities, and space between structures. A thirty unit cluster will result in larger open spaces than ten snob-zoned houses fragmenting everything. Not to mention the amount of car habitat needed to support single family zoning.

So just knock it off with your scary monster fairytale organic fertilization of the internet, okay? Going above single family density isn't "Manhattanization" or "Instant Hong Kong" or paving over everything and can create more coherent open space.

Watch and learn:

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is actually to put more density where we've already paved over and built on what was open space, so that the rest of it can actually stay open and fresh.

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.

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If you were to visit the designated site you would see that it is a privately owned mostly empty shopping center with a sea of unused parking. Rockport has spectacular publicly owned open space. The crux of this issue is whether a town of 9000 can handle a 10% bump in population as a result of this rezoning. Relatively unique seasonal community that happens to fall within the Charlie baker MBTA zoning law.

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You get tourism dollars and convenient car-free commuting from this situaton.

And.changing downtown is going to happen in any case, and change sometmes sucks.
Lose your case and then do what you can to help new development look less like generic 5 over 1s.

Good luck!

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Have you been to Rockport?
It’s almost as bad as the Cape with all the landscaping, lawns and cookie cutter yards

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Okay, fair trade, we cut some of these little flung suburbs a break provided every resident makes a commitment to removing ecosystem-destroying invasives and turn their sterile monoculture lawns into native-heavy wildlife supports. No more leafblowing - bad for our pollinators, who need leaf-litter to overwinter. No more yard chemicals - herbicides and pesticides are destroying the lowest tiers of our ecosystem.

Also going to throw in all driveways and other paved surfaces replaced with permeable surfaces, to maintain as much of the natural groundwater state as possible.

We'll see how that goes over, lol. I don't live in somewhere nearly as posh as Rockport and my neighbors tried reporting my milkweed to the city as a blight because it wasn't another sterile, lifeless lawn.

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I love you!

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"How can you be so HEARTLESS to talk about managed retreat? Build us a big seawall! For free!"

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:-)

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Even if Federal Court has jurisdiction over this sort of thing, I believe they do not, the state is not forcing anyone to do anything. They are attaching relevant money to zoning. This is not all that different from when the United States mandated drinking ages be raised to 21 by connecting it to Federal highway spending. Nobody says you have to do X but if you do not do X then I do not do Y.

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