On April 3, 2020, Governor Baker signed into law An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19, which, among other things, seeks to provide relief to cities and towns that are unable to timely process and hear permitting applications due to COVID-19. The law is an effort to balance the needs of property owners and developers by implementing steps aimed at minimizing the adverse effect the state of emergency has upon current and proposed permits.
Most notably, the law initiates the following modifications to the local permitting process:
- Allows any application for a permit, variance, special permit, license, amendment, extension, or other approval (collectively referred to as a “permit”) to be filed electronically either through a website set up by a local, county or regional office, or multi-member body (collectively referred to as a “permit granting authority”) or via electronic mail sent to the city or town clerk if a municipality or with the secretary or other official established by law to receive such applications if a county or regional entity.
- Provides that a permit application will be deemed filed and accepted once it is certified as received by the appropriate clerk, secretary, or official which may be done electronically if the application is submitted electronically and electronic certification of receipt is requested by the applicant.
- Allows permit granting authorities to hold meetings and hearings remotely during the state of emergency consistent with the Governor’s order entitled “Order Suspending Certain Provisions of the Open Meeting Law, G.L.c. 30A § 20” issued March 12, 2020.
- Suspends any requirement of statute, ordinance, bylaw, rule, or regulation to hold a hearing on a permit application until 45 days after the termination of the state of emergency, or another date prescribed by law, whichever is later.
- Provides that no permit application will be automatically granted, approved, or denied because a failure of a permit granting authority to act within the time required by a statute, ordinance, bylaw, rule, or regulation, during the state of emergency provided that the permit granting authority acts within 45 days of the termination of the state of emergency or by a date otherwise prescribed by law, whichever is later. Notably, the applicant and permit granting authority may agree to extend this timing in writing.
- Provides that a permit granting authority, by declaration of its chair irrespective of whether a quorum is present to vote on such matter, may schedule or reschedule at its discretion any hearing and/or deadline to act upon a permit application provided that no such date or deadline is rescheduled more than 45 days after the termination of the state of emergency or after a date otherwise prescribed by law, whichever is later.
- Tolls and continues open hearings for pending permit applications to the first hearing date after expiration of the state of emergency, provided that no such hearing is rescheduled more than 45 days after the termination of the state of emergency or after a date otherwise prescribed by law, whichever is later.
- Allows permit granting authorities to issue decisions during the state of emergency on permit applications submitted and heard.
- Provides that any permit in effect as of March 10, 2020, including any deadlines or conditions of the permit, shall toll during the state of emergency.
- Authorizes permit granting authorities to revoke or modify permits as otherwise allowed under existing laws or regulations for reasons other than lack of performance during the state of emergency when the work started before March 10, 2020, but was stopped due to the state of emergency or other governmental actions. Protection from permit revocation and modification due to lack of performance because of the state of emergency is in effect for at least 60 days after the termination of the state of emergency and may be extended for good cause shown.
- Extends requirements for recording permits for the period of time that the relevant Registry of Deeds or registry district of the Land Court is either closed or restricting public in-person access. Notably, failure to record a permit shall not preclude the permit holder from applying for, obtaining, and commencing construction activities pursuant to other required permits and approvals, including, without limitation, a building permit.
- Allows building commissioners, inspectors of buildings, or other permit granting officials to issue permits, including but not limited to demolition and building permits during the state of emergency.
- Applies changes related to local permitting authority to all local boards and commissions conduct of public meetings, public hearings, or other actions taken in a quasi-judicial capacity.
We understand that these are uncertain times and that developers, municipalities, and individuals may be faced with unprecedented and unique environmental and land use issues caused by COVID-19. If you have any questions about how this legislation or other changes to statutes, rules, or regulations will impact your pending or proposed project please contact: