Norwell residents, officials to fill governor’s mailbox with tea bags as protest

Kaitlin Keane

Call it the Norwell Tea Party.

Desperate for their message to be heard by state leaders, Norwell town officials and residents are taking their cue from the history books and readying the tea bags to protest a state law they say is ravaging the town.

Last week, selectmen sent a letter to Patrick blasting Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law, as a “pro-developer, anti-community character, anti-home rule weapon.”

The letter called for reform of the 39-year-old law, and compared the plight of towns faced with an onslaught of Chapter 40B development to that of the citizens who dumped chests of tea into Boston Harbor in 1773.

“We ... are fast reaching that point of civil disobedience and the sparks for our explosion are the provisions of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40B,” the letter read.

With the historic protest in mind, a group of residents is calling on like-minded people to mail tea bags, along with letters of support for the selectmen’s message, to Patrick’s State House office.

“If you want someone to listen, you can’t just send a letter,” said Andrea MacDonald, a resident who organized the tea bag protest.

“This sends the message that developers are holding guns to the town’s head,” MacDonald said.

Her concerns echo those expressed in the letter, which was drafted by Town Administrator James Boudreau and signed by selectmen.

It describes Norwell as being “under siege by ravenous, unscrupulous developers” who are taking advantage of the law.

It also takes aim at the state Housing Appeals Committee, which is often perceived as being pro-developer in its decisions.

“The (committee) is an agency run amok, drunk with its own powers and authority, acting without thought to established law, precedent or common sense,” the letter reads.

Chapter 40B allows developers to bypass many local zoning regulations if at least 25 percent of the homes in a proposed development would be classified as affordable.

The law applies to cities or towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is deemed affordable by the state.

In Norwell, about 4 percent of the housing is considered affordable, and applications for Chapter 40B developments have become far more frequent in recent years.

Critics of the law contend that it produces very few units of below-market rate housing and allows developers to make excessive profits while running roughshod over local communities.

In a 2007 review of Chapter 40B projects across the state, the Inspector General found numerous abuses by developers such as overstating their land-acquisition costs in order to under-report their profits to the state.

The Inspector General recommended greater oversight by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

‘‘Without adequate oversight and control not only are municipalities put at risk but the integrity of the Chapter 40B program is compromised and the overall credibility of affordable housing initiatives in the Commonwealth is adversely impacted,’’ Inspector General Gregory Sullivan wrote to MassHousing in his Oct. 23, 2007, report.

In Norwell, at least six affordable housing projects are in different stages of the permitting process, selectmen said.

“We hope some real credible change can come out of this,” said Selectman Richard Merritt, who proposed the Boston Tea Party approach.

“We didn’t want to be disrespectful, but we make no bones about it – we think this has become a sham,” Merritt said.

Selectmen ask for Patrick to meet with them in person to discuss the law’s impact on the town, which they feel has been targeted because it has high property values.

Kaitlin Keane may be reached at