Effort begun to repeal Chapter 40B law

Alice C. Elwell

A petition to repeal Chapter 40B, the state's so-called anti-snob housing law, was filed this week with the state attorney general.

At the same time, repeal supporters will begin gathering the necessary 66,000-plus signatures needed to get it on the November 2008 election ballot across the state.

The law, which streamlines the approval process for developments which will offer a fraction of the housing units at rates deemed affordable by the state, has been a source of conflict among residents in most towns for nearly four decades. Easton, West Bridgewater and Kingston have all faced recent controversies over the use of the law.

John Belskis, an Arlington resident who is sponsoring the effort, says Chapter 40B is used by developers to abuse cities and towns. The law was enacted in 1969 to insure affordable housing was built.

"It hasn't worked in 40 years," Belskis said.

Belskis cited his effort five years ago, when a developer tried to build a Chapter 40B project near his Arlington home.

The project was defeated, Belskis says, because of wetland and landfill issues. But Belskis stayed on the offensive and heads up a colition of 136 communities that oppose Chapter 40B.

If the question passes a constitutional review by the attorney general, it will land in the state Secretary of State's office for a petition to be prepared.

Belskis said the group needs to collect 66,593 signatures between September and December in order to send the bill to the state Legislature. If the Legislature decides to ignore the petition, Belskis said his group can force it with another 15,000 signatures.

The bill was written by Duxbury attorney Jonathan D. Witten, who was special counsel for Middleboro in a lengthy battle the town lost against Chapter 40B developer Paul E. Cusson, who has been cited by the inspector general for hiding profits.

"It's generating obscene profits for developers and allowing them to trample over local zoning bylaws," Belskis said. "It's a developers welfare program."

Belskis said people who are interested in signing the petition can visit www.repeal40b.com to learn who will circulate the petition in their community.