Real Estate Development in the Time of Coronavirus: Massachusetts – Update 3/26/2020
On March 25, 2020 the Land Court issued guidance regarding approvals by title examiners while the court remains open for emergency business only. The guidance, linked here, notes that title examiners are presently working remotely, so materials are no longer to be mailed to the court. If emergency approval is required, an email should be sent to Chief Title Examiner Christina Geaney with the reason emergency relief is needed and copies of any relevant documents. If the Chief Title Examiner finds there is an emergency, the matter will be referred to one of the other title examiners now authorized to provide remote approvals. While not always easy, there are several PDF-making applications for mobile phones that allow users to make a high-quality copy of any oversize plans.
Boston Planning and Development Agency
Boston City Hall is presently closed for most services. The Boston Planning and Development Agency is still not holding public meetings, but staff members continue to work on existing matters remotely. BPDA staff are encouraging the public to reach out to them by phone or through the website if they have questions. A link to the BPDA contact page is here.
Local Permitting Boards
Governor Baker’s March 12, 2020 order regarding open meeting law changes was not directly affected by his broad March 23, 2020 order, but the March 23 order did limit in-person public meetings to 10 people. This lower number makes it far less likely that any public meetings will be held in a meeting room. Applicants should expect virtual meetings to be the rule until the number of people who can gather in person is increased. As described below, there is also legislation in the works that would extend statutory permit deadlines for public boards and applicants.
Town Meetings and Local Elections
The Legislature rapidly pushed through a bill earlier this week extending the date for local elections to June 30, 2020 if they were scheduled to take place before May 30, 2020. The bill, linked here, allows incumbents to continue serving until a successor is elected. The Legislature has not yet acted on Governor Baker’s bill that would allow municipalities to more easily postpone their annual Town Meetings. That bill was amended to provide relief regarding land use permits. The current version of this municipal relief bill is linked here. We will provide a further update if and when this or related legislation passes.
Division of Administrative Law Appeals
The Division of Administrative Law Appeals has updated its hearing procedures. A link to the relevant webpage is here. DALA is no longer accepting in person filings. All filings must be made by fax or mail. DALA also will not hold any in-person hearings until further notice. Remote hearing options are potentially available.
Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office
The Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office updated its processes on March 23, 2020. A link to the relevant webpage is here. The MEPA office no longer requires copies to be mailed. All copies to the MEPA office can now be sent by email or by emailing a cloud storage link that is generally accessible. The MEPA office may require a mailed paper copy for inclusion in the file at a later date. All site visits will now be conducted remotely. The site visit proponent “will be responsible for providing a call-in/weblink to host the remote consultation session with the capability to share files (i.e., “screen share” capability) and host at least 25 participants through a telephonic or video dial-in feature.” Requests for pre-filling meetings, requests for advisory opinions, and other inquiries can still be directed to MEPA@mass.gov.
Massachusetts Housing Appeals Committee
On March 23, 2020, the Housing Appeals Committee issued a regulatory waiver requiring all filings to be made by email. The Housing Appeals Committee also stated that the “Committee is in the process of establishing specific requirements for electronic filing by Standing Order and reviewing SJC's court e-filing rules for guidance.” Until these requirements are in place all filings should be sent to the following staff members: Veronica Barros at firstname.lastname@example.org and Shelagh Ellman-Pearl at email@example.com.
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