Testimony: Senate Bill 74, Dec. 12, 2013

December 12, 2013

TESTIMONY by AICUM

Opposition to legislation which would strip colleges of protection afforded by the “Dover” amendment

Joint Committee on Community Development & Small Business

State House – Room A-2

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Senate Bill No. 74

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My name is Robert J. McCarron, and I am Vice President and General Counsel of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts [AICUM].  AICUM is comprised of 60 colleges and universities located throughout the Commonwealth – institutions which educate 275,000 students each year and employ more than 84,000 people. Our member colleges include large nationally renowned research universities, smaller, highly regarded liberal arts colleges, religiously affiliated institutions, and colleges with special missions focused on business or music or allied health services.

 

I would like to express AICUM’s opposition to Sections 11 and 12 of Senate Bill No. 74, for reasons that I have detailed in the following three important points.

 

First, we are opposed to those provisions in S. 74 which would make significant changes to M.G.L. c.40A, §3, and we urge the committee members not to support them. This legislation strips colleges and universities of the protection and predictability afforded them by the Legislature when it adopted the provisions of the “so-called” Dover Amendment into that statute.  The Dover Amendment’s protections allow for more thoughtful, long-range campus planning. I would submit that the outstanding campuses of our colleges and universities, one of Massachusetts top tourist attractions, are terrific examples of what can occur when campus planners know with a high degree of predictability what can and cannot be built. Introducing the unpredictability of a special permitting process would seriously undermine that opportunity for sound campus planning.  Such unpredictability could also delay construction projects at a time when economic development initiatives are so focused on growing jobs.

 

Second, it is important to note that the fundamental protections afforded to colleges and universities under the Dover Amendment principally relate to use. This provision does not provide a blanket waiver to all local zoning. Far from it. Current law explicitly allows municipalities to impose “reasonable regulations concerning the bulk and height of structures and determining yard sizes, lot area, setbacks, open space, parking and building coverage requirements.” These eight areas of permissible zoning restrictions clearly allows for a great deal of local control and input when it comes to projects being pursued by independent, non-profit colleges and universities throughout the Commonwealth.

 

Third, the Dover Amendment, in turn, is a provision which helps to ensure that religious and academic freedoms – which are the cornerstones of our Commonwealth – are protected from the vagaries and politics inherent in the zoning approval process. The Dover Amendment explicitly supports educational and religious uses, among others, while allowing for reasonable zoning regulations (setbacks, height restrictions etc.). This is an important and appropriate right extended to religious organizations and non-profit educational institutions – a right which has been upheld consistently by the courts in Massachusetts. We urge the committee not to amend it. If passed, the provisions amending the Dover Amendment likely would trigger protracted litigation around potential projects, forcing institutions to reconsider important academic projects and killing the jobs and economic activities that accompany such projects.

 

Last year, the independent colleges in Massachusetts generated over $25B in economic benefits for the Commonwealth.

  • Attract  >$2.5 billion in Federal and sponsored research funding
  • Invest>$7.1 billion in payroll and benefits (84,000 full and part-time employees)
  • Award ˃$560 million in need-based financial aid to students from Massachusetts, with the increase in funds directed to financial aid far outpacing tuition increase
  • Save Massachusetts >$2.9b in tax expenditures for higher education
  • North Carolina spends $3.9 billion on higher education to educate roughly same number of students, while MA spends slightly more than $1 billion
  • Overall annual economic impact >$25 billion

Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify on this bill. We would like to forward to the committees more detailed comments on this matter, and we stand ready to work with the Committee members and their staff.