The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 16, 2001


State renews efforts to strengthen town's rights to buy forest and farm land

A new bill filed in the state Senate would strengthen the rights of cities and towns when land taxed favorably as forest, agricultural or recreational land is reclassified for residential, commercial or industrial use. The measure would specify a two-year period in which a town can exercise its right of first refusal to buy the property after land is removed from one of the so-called Chapter 61 taxation programs.

"With exponential growth and more and more land being developed, it is vital that we strengthen those state programs which maintain passive land use," said Senator Pam Resor, sponsor of S. 1716. "This legislation will streamline the Chapter 61 programs so that both participants and local assessors operate on the same page, while providing more time for local officials to purchase the land when the owner opts out of the program."

Summary of proposal

Under current law, land that qualifies as forest land under Chapter 61, agricultural/horticultural land under Chapter 61A, or recreational land under Chapter 61B is eligible to be taxed at a fraction of the value of undeveloped residential land. In return for the favorable tax rate, the landowner must pay a significant tax penalty, known as a rollback tax, if the land is removed from the special classification. In addition, a town or city has a right to match a third party offer of sale while property is classified under one of the Chapter 61 programs. The town also has a right to buy the property at its fair market value if the landowner intends to develop the property himself for residential, commercial or industrial use.

The proposed legislation would allow the local government to match an offer or buy the property prior to development at any time within two years after the property is withdrawn from forest, agricultural or recreational status. The proposal would also offer a hefty reduction in the tax penalty for an owner who desires to convert forest, farm or recreational land for development.

As under current law, the proposal would allow a town to assign its right of first refusal to a non-profit conservation organization for the purpose of maintaining at least 50 percent of the land in use as forest land, agricultural/horticultural land or recreation land. Under the bill, rights of the town and the landowners under all three programs would be treated consistently.

According to Resor, the bill has broad backing from town assessors and municipal associations, as well as conservation groups such as the Trustees of Reservations and the Audubon Society. The Department of Environmental Management, which monitors the forest management plans, is also a strong supporter of the bill.

This is not the first attempt by the legislature to modify the Chapter 61 programs, however. Last year a similar proposal was reported favorably by the taxation committee but remained under study by the Senate Ways and Means committee when the legislative session ended. In a previous session, Senator Robert Durand, now Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs, had also filed a bill which would strengthen the locality's rights.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito