What is a Land Bank?
In general, Land banks are a mechanism for acquiring, holding, and distributing property in service of community goals. Land banks can be government supported, quasi-governmental or independent non-profit organizations.
Why would we want to create a Land Bank?
Plymouth wants to manage its natural resources and control new residential development. However, given the continued desirability of Plymouth, the Town has very limited ability to do so. Plymouth already has some of the most restrictive residential zoning in the entire Commonwealth, and still new subdivisions are being built. That is because Plymouth can’t prevent developers from building what is allowed by existing residential zoning. Moreover, our commercially zoned land is being converted to apartments though an “affordable” housing loophole in State law (Chapter 40B) which allows developers to completely ignore Town zoning laws. So the only way for Plymouth to prevent land from being developed is to own it.
Some residents may ask “Isn’t that being done by the Community Preservation Committee?” The short answer is not enough. The CPC get funds from residential taxes, and uses them for multiple purposes; historical preservation, affordable housing, recreational facilities, and creation of conservation land. Given the increasing value of property in Plymouth and the need to utilize tax dollars for municipal services, the CPC does not have adequate fund to purchase the larger parcels which the Town wants to preserve. Further, when the CPC does purchase open space it is required to turn that into conservation land, meaning it cannot be used for municipal uses such as wells.
Are there any Land Banks in Massachusetts?
Three Land Banks have been approved in Massachusetts:
The Nantucket Land Bank was authorized by a special act of the Legislature in 1983. (Acts of 1983 Chapter 669, Massachusetts Legislature). Land acquisition was to be funded by a 2% real estate transfer fee to be paid by the buyer in most transactions, with a permitted deductible for first-time home buyers. It had been recommended by Nantucket Town Meeting in April 1983 by a vote of 446 to 1. Following legislative authorization, the Land Bank was approved at a special town meeting in January 1984 by a vote of 293 to 12. To date, there has been no serious effort to either reduce the transfer fee or to close the land bank. As of today, nearly half of the land on Nantucket Island is preserved as open space.
The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank was authorized by a special act of the Legislature in 1985. (Acts of 1985 Chapter 736, Massachusetts Legislature). The authorization was very similar to that granted to Nantucket two years earlier. There would be a 2% real estate transfer fee with a permitted deductible for first-time home buyers. The Land Bank was approved by voters in all six of the Martha’s Vineyard towns in 1986. To date there has been no effort by any of the six towns to withdraw from the Land Bank. To date the Land Bank Commission has acquired approximately 3100 acres, which is about 5% of the land on Martha’s Vineyard.
The Cape Cod Land Bank was authorized by a special act of the legislature in 1998. (Acts of 1998 Chapter 293, Massachusetts Legislature). Unlike Nantucket and the Vineyard, the funding was through a 3% surcharge on property tax bills, and the state was to provide matching funds of up to 50% of the amount raised through the surtax. (Section 10 of Chapter 293 of Acts of 1998).
The individual towns on the Cape were given the right to decide whether to be members or not, and in November 1998, all 15 towns on the Cape voted to become members of the Land Bank. This changed after the adoption of the Community Preservation Act, passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2000. In 2004, via a budget amendment, the state discontinued matching funds for the existing Cape Land Bank, but allowed municipalities on the Cape to opt out of the Land Bank in favor of accepting the Community Preservation Act. By 2005 all 15 had done so.
How would a Plymouth Land Bank be funded?
As Plymouth already participates in the Community Preservation Act, and given our current dependence on residential real estate taxes for almost all municipal funding, a tax based Land Bank is not presently under consideration. Instead, Plymouth would likely propose a real estate transfer fee (typically paid by the buyer) as the source of funding.
Wouldn’t a real estate transfer fee make housing more expensive?
That has actually never been established. In fact, it is an open question as to whether a real-estate transfer fee funded Land Bank would reduce or enhance property values.
Those opposing such fees argue that any added cost to buying a property reduces demand, thereby reducing prices. But if the proceeds of that fee are used to make the community more attractive, then this would increase demand which would tend to increase prices. Moreover, if the land bank is successful in deterring development, that would reduce supply, and thereby increase prices.
The Town of Brookline did a study in 2019 to determine what the potential effect of such fees would be on real estate prices but ultimately could not reach a determination. The principal problem is that the only examples are Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, which do not follow general real estate trends. As such, the imposition of a transfer fee had no noticeable impact on values.
What about the impact on those seeking to buy lower and moderate priced housing?
One of the benefits of a Land Bank is that the Town can set whatever restrictions and limitations it likes on the fees it wants to impose. Both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket established exemptions for first time homebuyers. Plymouth could do the same, as well as make other concessions (such as restricting the fee on properties under a certain dollar amount or those for people who have disabilities).
How would a Land Bank obtain property?
A Land Bank can obtain land through a number of different mechanisms: tax foreclosures, municipal government transfers, donations, or open-market purchases. Typically, a committee is created which looks for parcels the Town wants to obtain and uses Land Bank funds to purchase the property when necessary. The Town could put further restrictions on the use of such funds, such as requiring approval by another body for transactions over a certain amount.
What can land purchased by a Land Bank be used for?
Because each town creates its own terms for a Land Bank, there is no automatic restriction on the use of the property other than it needs to serve a community purpose (as opposed to a commercial one). In Massachusetts, the Land Banks approved have been to purchase land to preserve it as open space (conservation and recreation). That is consistent with Plymouth’s goals of purchasing land to preserve open space, allow for recreational development, and permit certain limited municipal uses (such as wells).
How would Plymouth create a Land Bank?
The first step would be for the Town to establish all of the terms for funding and operation of a Land Bank, and get approval from Town Meeting. The Town would then need to submit a bill to the State legislature approving the Land Bank. So it is important to note that even if the Town approves a Land Bank there is no guarantee that one will be allowed by the State.
Legislators from the Cape first filed a bill to create a Land Bank on Cape Cod in 1987. The legislation was very similar to that approved for Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. However, there was significant opposition to that proposal. The argument was that the islands were unique in being geographically isolated, which was why real estate transfer fee based land banks were approved. But it was also claimed that there was also an “understanding” between the state legislature and the real estate lobby that real estate transfer fees would not go beyond these two cases. The transfer fee based land bank bill for Cape Cod died in the House by a vote of 70 to 76. Efforts to revive it in 1989 were also unsuccessful. Only after dropping the fee component was the bill allowed to proceed.
Wouldn’t Plymouth face the same arguments as the Cape?
Possibly, but Plymouth is different, and much has changed in the interceding 2+ decades.
First, Plymouth has an actual need to preserve rural land from development due to its reliance on a sole source aquifer. Continued development of residential properties which rely on wells and septic systems presents a threat to Plymouth’s water supply similar to that now being experienced on the Cape and South Coast.
Second, Plymouth is experiencing the same type of atypical residential real estate growth as Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard consisting almost exclusively of higher-priced homes and units, meaning a transfer fee paid by the buyer would not be penal or exclusionary in nature.
Planning Board Agenda,
Wednesday, January 25, 2023 (Remote and In-Person)
1820 Court Room, 26 Court Street
7:00 Administrative Notes:
[These are typically administrative matters, meaning they are for Board consideration rather than public input. They include approval of minutes, review of plans allowed either as a matter of right or per a pre-existing approval.]
January 11, 2023
Covenants, Plans and Releases*:
[These are releases of conditions (covenants or bonds) when work is completed, approval of plans (subdivisions and certain other types of developments), or advisory opinions to the Zoning Board of Appeals for the issuance of Special Permits.]
ZBA 4079 – Alan and Julia Oransky
24 Priscilla Beach Road, Map 44, Lot 6-577
Special Permit for pre-existing non-conforming structures to construct additions on a multi-dwelling lot.(2/1)
7:05 Board Actions
Site Plan Review – ReWild Renewables LLC
17 Plymouth Street, Map 107, Lot 3, 4, 5, 6
Floating Solar Array
ZBA 4078 – Healing Gardens LLC
19 Richards Road, Map 102, Lot 18
Special Permit to allow a marijuana establishment (2/1)
ZBA 4080 - AccuBranch, Northeast Savings Bank
3 Commerce Way, Map 105, Lot 1-31
Modification to Special Permit Case #3764 to waive number of architectural façade signs and allowed square footage of free-standing signs (2/1)
“Topics not reasonably anticipated by the Chair 48 hours in advance of the meeting.”
[This is for emergency or time sensitive matters that the Planning Board needs to address]
Under current State guidelines, some of the provisions of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, §18, have been suspended by the Governor, meaning that meetings may be held on co-called hybrid fashion (both in-person and via use of on-line services such as Zoom). The Planning Board is continuing to hold meetings this way, so for those who do not want to come in person, here is how to attend 'virtually':
Download the “Zoom” meeting application, go to https://zoom.us/j/91797025919, then join meeting by using Meeting ID 917 9702 5919, Passcode 028241. You can also attend by phone by dialing +1 929 205 6099 US, then join meeting by using Meeting ID 917 9702 5919, Passcode 028241 (Voice Only).
The Planning Board may be broadcast on PACTV, Comcast Channel 15/Verizon Channel 47, but that is dependent on other conflicting events.
PLANNING BOARD PUBLIC COMMENT POLICY
Effective September 15, 2022 - Subject to periodic review
NOTE: This policy applies to Public Comment only. It does not apply to petitioners, applicants, or similar persons/entities who are required to appear before the Planning Board per statute, regulation, bylaw, or otherwise.
Under the Open Meeting Law, any restrictions on public comment, including whether to allow public comment at all, are at the discretion of the Board Chair. G.L. c. 30A, sec. 20(g).
Subject to any limitations on particular items as may be directed by the Board Chair, the Plymouth Planning Board has established the following general policies for public comment:
- Members of the public are allowed three (3) minutes to speak. If a person wants more time, they need to request it, and it will be up to the Planning Board to decide, by majority vote, whether to grant additional time. Additional time will not be granted to repeat matters already stated by others, and the Board Chair may direct a speaker to cease speaking at any time.
- At the discretion of the Planning Board Chair, public comment on any item may be stopped when comments and questions become repetitive. Public comment may be reopened at the discretion of the Planning Board Chair if the Chair determines that the additional comments are new or are of particular significance.
- All public comments and questions are to be directed to the Planning Board, and not to any petitioner or applicant.
- After all public comment is closed, the Planning Board, through the Chair, may at their discretion permit the petitioner/applicant to respond to some or all of the public comments and questions. At no time will any exchange between the public and the petitioner/applicant be allowed.
5. Disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. Examples of disruptive behavior include:
- Interrupting the Board or another speaker;
- Speaking when not recognized by the Board Chair;
- Speaking on a matter not before the Board;
- Engaging in personal attacks on any person or entity;
- Speaking to others while the meeting is still proceeding, including upon entering or leaving
A person who engages in disruptive behavior will be warned by the Planning Board Chair. If further disruptive behavior occurs, the Planning Board Chair may refuse to allow the person to speak, and may further direct the person to leave the meeting. Persons who do not follow such direction may be removed by constable or officer. G.L. c. 30A, sec. 20(g).
Please note that the meeting will usually continue after items of public interest are discussed. Persons wishing to leave the meeting before it is formally concluded by vote of the Planning Board must do so in a quiet and orderly fashion. Persons who do not do so are subject to the same sanction as those deemed to be disruptive of the meeting.
Permits Developer to Proceed with Homes on Bump Rock Road
The Plymouth Land Court has issued a decision in the case of Smith v. Planning Board of the Town of Plymouth and T&K Retail, LLC, finding that the Planning Board had the authority to allow a developer to petition to modify a restrictive covenant placed on land by a prior owner. The decision was limited to the facts of this particular matter - a covenant issued to the Planning Board as a condition of approval of a subdivision, For a summary of the legal process and the decision, please click below.
The Pine Hills Area Trail System is a proposal to utilize open space in the Pine Hills area of Town to create a walking and biking trail network.
Click on this link to see their video: https://vimeo.com/737128268
The Town is in the process of reviewing all of the property it owns to assess whether it is being put to its best use. Attached is a list of all Town owned properties, both developed and undeveloped. Please note that many of these properties are subject to historic and conservation restrictions, and thus cannot be sold or altered.