BOSTON – Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) successfully advocated for the inclusion of a provision to an omnibus zoning reform bill that would establish a Special Commission to study the so-called Dover Amendment. In particular, the Commission would be responsible for reviewing the ‘education uses’ provision of the existing law.
The Dover Amendment, which traces its roots back to the Zoning Enabling Act of 1975, is a provision of the state zoning law which prevents municipalities from prohibiting religious or educational land uses from any zoning district, or from subjecting religious or educational land uses to special permit requirements.
Over the years, numerous court decisions have impacted the interpretation of the statute and its role and the Commonwealth’s zoning system. The courts have emphasized that the word ‘education’ is not limited to protection of traditional or conventional educational institutions. Additionally, there is no existing standards or body to provide oversight, and evaluate which educational components are compliant with the intent of the law.
The Commission would include members from the Legislature, and from a wide array of other stakeholders including a local official with expertise in zoning, a representative of a non-profit social services agency, and independent school institutions.
“While the Dover Amendment is an important piece of state law, I have heard numerous concerns from local municipalities regarding the provision,” said Sen. Moore. “Amongst the criticisms is the belief that the education provision in particular is overly broad, and can be falsely invoked by those looking to circumvent local zoning requirements. This far-reaching interpretation of the educational component should be reevaluated to help ensure that organizations are not circumventing the original intent of the law.”
“Senator Moore’s amendment is appreciated by myself and the taxpayers of Worcester,” said Worcester City Councilor At-Large Moe Bergman. “With the broad interpretation that courts are giving to ‘educational uses’ provision, a study and timely review is needed.”
With a reporting deadline of June 30, 2017, the Commission would be charged with studying the impact of the education exemption provided by the Dover Amendment on municipalities and nonprofit education institutions. The Commission would also be responsible for reviewing the types of building projects sited under the protection of the Dover Amendment, and the case law decided on the educational exemption.
The omnibus zoning reform bill will now go before the House of Representatives for consideration. To continue tracking the legislation (S.2311), visit the Legislature’s website, www.MAlegislature.gov.