State Rep. Candidates Answer Questions on Conservation
- If elected as the State Representative, what steps will you take to make permanent preservation of community open space a priority, both in the 9th Middlesex District and in the Commonwealth as whole?
DARCY: As we have all seen during the pandemic, the benefits of accessible open space are limitless, and our communities need support ensuring that they are preserved. For the last thirty years, I have been advocating for open space, learning from the lead that Lincoln took on these issues as an example to follow when I chaired Waltham’s Conservation Commission and later co-founded the Waltham Land Trust. I understand the need for community coalitions and the vital role that partnerships between elected leaders like myself and community advocates can play in successfully making the case for open space.
Together, we have preserved 500 acres of open space in Waltham. As the pandemic began, I was struck by the thousands of people using the trails in these open spaces to maintain physical and mental health. I see the role the outdoors are playing for young people in our schools. I see the ways in which open spaces improve people’s health. And I see nature thriving in these places. Still, we need to do more, and I will take the lessons I have learned in my work here in Waltham and share them widely as a model for success on Beacon Hill.
STANLEY: In 1972, the Massachusetts voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution, Article 97, granting the people of the state the right to clean air and water, and other environmental benefits. The constitution allows the legislature to consider allowing the conversion of public land. House bill H732 of which I am a co-sponsor clarifies and regularizes the process used to evaluate proposals for the status (so-called Article 97 lands) in order for them to be used for other purposes, either public or private. It ensures “no net loss” of protected land in the Commonwealth. Passage of this important legislation is a priority of mine.
In a letter to the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture early this year, I urged favorable action on two bills that would protect the Commonwealth’s forests and promote clean energies: H.897 relative to forest protection and H.853, legislation to assure the attainment of greenhouse gas emissions in the alternative portfolio standard.
Forests are critical for mitigating the effects of climate change, preserving native wildlife and habitats, safeguarding soils, providing clean air and water, and offering our residents public recreational spaces. Unfortunately, most land policies on the books are decades old and were made long before the crises of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and surging population growth become the problems they are today. H.897 would designate all Massachusetts state conservation land (~610,000 acres) as parks or reserves. This will keep carbon stored in the trees and soil and increase the rate of carbon sequestration by our forests. The bill also protects native biodiversity by permanently preserving 11% of the Massachusetts land base – an important step toward the recommended 30% to 50% of land needed to avert massive animal and plant extinctions.
H.853 requires Massachusetts to remove the word “biomass” from the Alternative Portfolio Standard, which promotes renewable energy. This ensures that the Commonwealth’s renewable energy subsidies are directed to clean energies such as wind, solar, and geothermal, rather than burning wood. As a co-sponsor of H.853 it was important to me to addresses the misperception that burning wood is not harmful towards the environment. Studies have shown that burning wood produces more CO2 emissions than even the dirtiest fossil fuels as well as particulates and other air pollutants that are hazardous to human health. These bills have been incorporated into H4453 which is in the Ways & Means Committee which I serve on. I will continue to advocate for passage of a bill that includes the language of H897 and H853.
- Do you support placing a conservation restriction on the following open space parcels in Waltham? Why or why not?
a. The remaining 19 acres of the Chesterbrook Woods (identified as number 34 on the City's Open Space Plan)
b. The Woods at Waltham High School (identified as number 41 on the City's Open Space Plan) note: this refers to the existing high school location, not 554 Lexington Street
c. The Woods behind Chester Brook Housing (identified as number 40 on the City's Open Space Plan)
d. The Woods behind Northeast Elementary (identified as number 42 on the City's Open Space Plan).
DARCY: [in response to item a. re: Chesterbrook Woods, moved here for formatting] Yes. The original City Council meeting deliberations clearly show that the votes taken to acquire this parcel were made with the expectation that it would be preserved as natural open space in perpetuity, in its entirety. In addition, local newspaper articles before and after the acquisition tell the same story. Federal grants were also used to build accessible pathways through portions of this parcel.
[in response to all four parcels] Yes. Conservation Restrictions are the single most important priority for these parcels. All four of these parcels are part of the now much-used Western Greenway. As such, they need real protection, such as Conservation Restrictions, so that the Western Greenway will always be a permanent amenity for Waltham residents to use and enjoy.
STANLEY: Yes, I support placing a conservation restriction on these four aforementioned open space parcels in Waltham. They are designated in Waltham’s Open Space Plan which provides a blueprint to achieve our city’s goals in land preservation and usage. Restricting use of public land parcels requires local approval of both the Mayor and the City Council. That is appropriate as through this process the public can be better informed about requests for restrictions on public property and become part of the dialogue to achieve community goals.
As a State Representative, I have been a strong and proven advocate of open space preservation in Waltham, Lincoln and across the Commonwealth. My record reflects this commitment.
- Please provide specific examples of how you have worked to preserve open space in the communities you currently represent.
DARCY: As a co-founder of the Waltham Land Trust, former chairperson of our Waltham Conservation Commission, member of the Beaverbrook Watershed Coalition and Waltham City Councillor, I have led Waltham’s efforts to preserve open space, working closely with community advocates to do so. I have been the lead sponsor on legislation that has directly preserved 513 acres of open space in Waltham.
I have also been the lead sponsor of legislation that has rezoned 6 separate parcels of Residentially zoned land (RA-2 and RA-3) to Conservation/Recreation (CR) zoning, totaling 114 acres.
I have also fought for the preservation and reclamation of farmland. I initiated action in the Waltham City Council to preserve the UMass Field Station, which was in danger of being sold off by the state. The direct result of those efforts was that our legislative delegation then followed our lead and took up this issue. Also, the Recreation Department and I successfully obtained $50,000 in funding from the CPA to restore the 6-acre former Wellington farm and orchard adjacent to the historic 1776 Wellington House on Trapelo Road. That clearing work is almost completed.
I have worked in countless meetings and presentations, side-by-side with my constituents, to ensure that the process and outcomes of this preservation best reflected their wishes. As we see with the CPA Conservation Restrictions, there is still work to be done, but I am proud most of all of the collaboration that went into this work. Without it, we would not have succeeded.
STANLEY: On behave of the towns of Lincoln and Lexington I have stood up to Massport’s desire to grow the Hanscom airport adjacent to 970-acre Minuteman National Historic Park. Over the last twenty years there have been many attempts to do this which required collaboration with local partners in government and advocacy to protect this precious land.
I strongly advocated and delivered funding for improvements to the MA Dept. Of Conservation & Recreation visitor facilities at both Walden Pond and Beaver Brook Reservation Park.
I filed and passed a Lincoln Home Rule Petition, H3692 (Ch. 90 of the Acts of 2017). Passage of this act authorized Lincoln’s board of selectmen to remove the protection of Article 97 that was placed on a 7.1 acre landfill in a 1995 Town Meeting vote, permitting the Town to move forward with negotiations of a power purchase agreement with a private solar development firm in hopes of developing a solar project on the site. The bill also authorized Lincoln’s board of selectmen to acquire or dedicate the several parcels identified by the Town’s leadership boards as replacement land for conservation purposes. These parcels contain a total of 12.6 acres that were determined to be of comparable conservation value to the landfill parcel and was acquired by the Town with funds that were appropriated during the March 25, 2017 Town Meeting from Lincoln’s Community Preservation Fund. About 3 acres of the replacement land was held for recreation purposes to develop an athletic field; the remainder was be dedicated as Article 97 protected land.
Land conservation is a core community value of the Town of Lincoln. As such, the Town’s leadership boards were quite careful when preparing for the March 25, 2017 Town Meeting Vote, familiarizing themselves with the process of removing land from Article 97 Protection. They worked tirelessly with myself and the Town’s Conservation Commission, which voted unanimously to support this measure, to identify replacement parcels that would result in no net loss of conservation land within the Town’s boundaries. I was honored to provide strong leadership at the state level to fulfill the goals of the community.
I have strongly supported and voted for every purchase of open space obtained by the City of Waltham in the last 20 years as a city councilor including the Fernald property, Arrigo Farm and Waltham Field Station.
Earlier this year, I was thanked and recognized by the Waltham Land Trust for leadership, forward thinking, and dedication throughout the complicated process of obtaining the Waltham Field Station farmland. Together, with Rep. John Lawn and Sen. Mike Barrett I filed legislation which will be enacted into law this month preserving this open space for generations to come.
Prior to the Baker Administration’s move to sell the Waltham Field Station, as the legislative leader in the House, I testified before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of the proposed UMass Center for Urban Sustainability Center to be located at the Waltham Field Station. Through a public-private partnership, the Center would have been committed to the long-term responsibility for the environment.
I also successfully filed an amendment to the Environmental Bond Bill which earmarked $20 million for the rehabilitation or reconstruction of a 20,000 square foot research and extension building at the University of Massachusetts Center for Urban Sustainability in Waltham. The Center was intended to house partners that include industries and businesses, municipalities, government agencies and citizen groups who would collectively be involved with and address priorities related to food security and access, environmental stewardship, urban agriculture and workforce development in urban settings.
Highlights of the UMass Center for Urban Sustainability would have included:
- Science-based management practices, education programs and research will be conducted and demonstrated on site to help provide technical resources needed for commercial and community agriculture efforts to successfully integrate and operate in urban settings ; teaching urban agriculture practices to growers, decision makers and citizens who govern and/or grow, process and sell food in cities (ex: active CSA, roof top garden, community gardens, nutrient dense crop production, raising animals in urban settings, food safety and processing systems, greenhouse management)
- On-site job training, career development and credentialing of the urban workforce in sustainability careers (UMass Green School: Agriculture and Green Industries, certification, and licensing from professional associations)
- Solutions for creating and managing water, soil, waste, energy, non-point source pollution and wildlife in urban settings. (Working roof top garden, managing storm water practices, sustainable landscapes, contaminated soils, compost).
- Creation of a private-public partnership to sustain the financial operations.
- Practices for sustainable environments (ex: xeriscapes, water, and wetland remediation tools, edible landscapes, low input turf and plants, environmental hardscapes) will be showcased.
- Youth development programs and training for citizens of all ages (in development – UMass Green Camp – blended hands on and classroom program for youth, schools, workforce professionals and educators involved with sustainability).
- Using remote teaching technology to connect urban students to UMass Amherst courses in sustainability (Stockbridge School of Agriculture Sustainability Programs) by connecting Agricultural High Schools in Massachusetts with the new facility also using technology supporters of the Center include Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham Land Trust, Mass Audubon, Massachusetts Farm Bureau, Massachusetts Arborists Association, Massachusetts Association of Landscape Professionals, Massachusetts Association of Lawn Care Professionals, New England Nurseryman's Association, New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association, Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association, Massachusetts Flower Growers Association, Massachusetts Tree Warden Association, New Entry Sustainable Farmers Network, Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Rural Development Agency, Farm Service Agency and Massachusetts 4H.
Last year I made the motion on the city council (supported by WLT) to protect 554 Lexington Street from a massive housing development for dedicated use as open space and educational use thereby breaking a three year stalemate that divided the community and threatened over development on the Lexington Street corridor. This action also removed pressure on city and school officials to use the undeveloped UMASS Field Station, Storer and Coleman/Stanton land for our new school, all of which I adamantly opposed.
I led the effort on the city council to pass the WLT and Fernald Working Group’s RFQ Fernald Framework Plan for the nearly 200-acre Fernald property reuse as well as $250,000 to initially fund the plan.
As state representative, I stood up to Governor Romney and Speaker DiMasi and led the charge to protect hundreds of acres of state land from development including Lot 1(6.45 acres) and the Fernald property (196 acres) and this month expect to pass legislation to transfer the Waltham Field Station (58 acres) from UMASS to the City of Waltham. Other state land in the 9th Middlesex District protected with legislation or improved with state funding includes the preservation of the Beaver Brook North Reservation (162 acres) the Met State Grounds (51 acres), and the former Gabler School (7.38 acres).
In 2005, when Gov. Romney announced his decision to close the Fernald Center, I fought to ensure Waltham’s control regarding the disposal of state land and ensured increased community participation in the disposal process.
To respond to Gov. Romney, I authored and passed legislation to establish the Fernald Reuse Committee which gave Waltham control of the future use of the land.
Additionally, I gathered support and signatures of 112 legislators to reject Gov. Romney and Speaker DiMasi's legislative attempt to permanently change the state land disposition law process which would have permanently fast tract state open space land sales for private developers. My leadership resulted in the preservation of local control over state land disposition and the diversion of overdevelopment of the Fernald land.
Years later, as a result of these efforts, after working with Waltham’s mayor, city council and local advocates including WLT I filed legislation along with Rep. Lawn and Sen. Barrett, which transferred the custody and control of this important land to Waltham. My colleagues and I on the Waltham City Council then voted to buy the Fernald property for only $3.7 million. As a result of this hard work, the future use of the Fernald land remains a community-driven process in Waltham’s control.
- If elected, would you support legislative changes to the Community Preservation Act to require that municipalities place conservation or other restrictions on property purchased with CPA funds within a set timeframe from the date of purchase? Why or why not?
DARCY: Entirely. The use of Community Preservation Act funds without the requisite filing of Conservation Restrictions ends up treating the CPA as a slush fund, and risks the potential that these lands will ultimately NOT be preserved. In no uncertain terms, a time limit for filing Conservation Restrictions must be put in place and I will advocate for legislative changes to reflect this. It could be solved simply by adding language that if a community does not file the Conservation Restriction within 2 years of acquisition, the community will not receive future CPA funding from the state.
STANLEY: The Community Preservation Act (CPA) is a smart growth tool and state law that helps communities preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities. The CPA was adopted by the voters of Waltham, Lincoln, and other communities for this purpose. It only makes sense to require municipalities to place conservation or other restrictions on property purchased with CPA funds. Doing so will follow the will of the voters and remove all doubt of the future use of the land. In the next legislative session, I will work to make this change in the CPA Act.
- We understand that the House and the Senate have passed very different bills aimed at addressing the climate crisis; a conference committee has been appointed to try to come up with a single bill; and that the committee may not act until after the federal election results are known. What can you do to push House leadership to ensure that (A) the committee acts soon enough for both Houses to vote on a final bill before the session ends Jan. 5 and (B) we pass the strongest bill possible?
DARCY: The legislative gridlock is unacceptable and I believe it is the result of a broken process in which transparency is not taken seriously by our legislature. If elected, I will not take office until after the end of the session, but I will absolutely be an active participant in constituent meetings as a representative-elect, fighting for passage of the strongest bill possible. Energy reform makes common sense. It is necessary now. The massive drought we are experiencing, which leaves our brooks, streams, and reservoirs dry, is just the beginning of the extreme effects of climate change. Proactive work means leading with energy and vision on our most pressing issues, and seeing this climate bill pass - along with subsequent legislation to ensure that it is as comprehensive as possible.
STANLEY: During my time in the Legislature I have worked on many environmental issues and been a strong supporter for addressing climate change. I was proud to use my voice in passing the Global Warming Solutions Act over a decade ago in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The GWSA was a good start but due to the fact that the federal government is not going to be a leader on climate change during this administration, Massachusetts must lead the country by passing legislation that transition Massachusetts to 100% renewable energy. I was honored to cosponsor and to testify over a year ago in support of the 100% renewable energy legislation.
I support both the House and Senate bills and will be working to pass the strongest climate change legislation possible. I fear that both the House and Senate bills, though strong in many areas, misses the sense of urgency we as a people currently find ourselves in. This is the reason I will continue to fight for and strongly support 100% renewable energy.
The 100% Renewable Energy Act sets a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and 100% renewable energy economy-wide (including heating and transportation) by 2045. The legislation accelerates the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2035. The legislation requires the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to set interim renewable energy targets for 2030 and 2040, and issue regulations to meet those targets. The bill also establishes a Clean Energy Workforce Development Fund to support training and job placement assistance for Massachusetts residents to work in the clean energy industry.
We know that pollution from fossil fuels is linked to cardiovascular disease, asthma, and even premature death. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change, with an increase in extreme storms, fires, flooding, and droughts. We know that Massachusetts will be directly impacted by sea levels rising. More than 160 global companies, including Apple and Biogen, have committed to 100 percent renewable energy targets. Major institutions like many Massachusetts colleges and Partners Health Care have also pledged to transitioning to 100% renewable energy. Hawaii and California have passed bills committing to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. Massachusetts must pass 100% renewable energy legislation and I am proud to fight for this in the legislature.
- Do you support an effort to broaden CPA’s purposes to include climate change mitigation or resilience, or increasing incentives for rooftop solar on commercial and institutional developed properties in order to protect habitats, forests, and farms?
DARCY: Simply put, we must. But it must be done in ways to ensure a delineation of spending, as the current CPA exists, so that uses for mitigation and resilience do not drain all resources from the CPA, which must allow for acquisitions whose benefits may take years to show. Climate resilience means addressing emergency situations, but also deepening our strategic reserve of open space for the long term. I think also that the state needs to consider making rooftop solar a requirement for buildings over a certain square footage, as Watertown has recently done.
STANLEY: Last year the MA House of Representatives passed the Speaker's Green Works Bill. This bill authorizes $1 billion in borrowing to establish and fund the GreenWorks infrastructure program (GreenWorks Capital Improvement Act) and authorizes $295 million in borrowing for climate change resiliency grant and loan programs (Climate Resiliency Act). I am not as familiar with efforts to broaden CPA’s purposes to achieve goals achievable through the Green Works Bill but will endeavor to learn more.
- Do you have any thoughts/ideas on how to further promote both housing diversity and conservation as simultaneous goals?
DARCY: 75 years ago Waltham engaged in the radical experiment of building community housing next to a major parcel of open space at Prospect Hill. This idea was visionary, and where it has faltered, it has been because of our inadequate commitment to that vision, which places affordable housing near open space, delivers public transit easily to it, thereby reducing traffic, lessening health risks, and promoting core values for our communities. In Watertown Representative candidate Steve Owens will bring expertise in transit policy. Others in the state house are experts on housing diversity. I will bring my strength in coalition building and land conservation to bring together a caucus of legislators around this issue and find common-sense proposals to advance these goals.
STANLEY: Communities across the Commonwealth are facing a severe housing shortage with the construction of new housing not keeping up with demand. While Massachusetts continued to create new and attractive job opportunities prior to the pandemic, many in the workforce struggle to find a place they can afford to live in. Rents have increased more than 75 percent since 2000, and single-family home prices have increased more than any other state since 1980. As the housing crisis worsens, we need to find ways to create and preserve affordable housing.
This is why I support Governor Baker’s Housing Choice legislation. An Act to Promote Housing Choices would allow a municipality to pass – by a simple majority vote – certain zoning changes that would help advance housing production and smart growth, such as affordable and mixed-use housing around public transit. Massachusetts is the only state in New England that requires zoning changes to be approved by a 2/3 majority. As a result, many proposed housing developments across the state fail despite having majority support.
It is very important to note that the Housing Choice bill seeks to give communities the tools to approve housing developments that are right for their community, without taking away any local control. Local control is very important to me and the communities I represent.
Gov. Baker’s bill incentivizes private builders to create affordable housing and encourages more towns in Massachusetts to produce their fair share of housing. Housing Choice also promotes climate-friendly development and supports age- friendly, walkable neighborhoods.
Additionally, the bill begins to address an underlying cause of our state’s racial and economic segregation by enabling renters and people of color, a minority of the population in almost every municipality, to have a more meaningful voice in development decision-making.
The Commonwealth’s housing crisis is a very complex issue with many root causes and one piece of legislation will certainly not fix everything. However, this bill is an important step forward in increasing our housing supply and creating safe and stable housing for residents.
Details of the Housing Choice bill include:
o Reducing dimensional requirements to allow homes to be built closer together
o Reducing required parking ratios, which allows development on smaller areas
o Creating mixed-use zoning in town centers, and creating multi-family and starter home zoning in town centers, near transit, and in other smart locations
o Adopting 'Natural Resource Protection Zoning' and 'Open Space Residential Development;' These zoning techniques allow the clustering of new development while protecting open space or conservation land
o Adopting provisions for Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), which protects open space while creating more density in suitable locations
o Adopting 40R 'Smart Growth' zoning, which provides incentives for dense, mixed-use development in town centers, near transit, and in other 'smart' locations o Allowing accessory dwelling units– small apartments in the same building or on the same lot as an existing home
o Allowing for increased density through a Special Permit process promoting more flexible development
o Special permit multi-family or mixed-use projects with at least 10% affordable units in locations near transit or, in centers of commercial activity within a municipality.
- Do you support initiatives to increase State funding for the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and if so, what specific measures would you consider?
DARCY: I was and still am a proponent of the CPA, but as noted above, the lack of timing provisions for Conservation Restrictions means that raising funding only worsens a serious problem statewide. I will absolutely consider increased funding for the CPA, but it must follow successful corrections to the existing legislation to ensure that money is not simply going out to communities in ways that lack accountability. We must ensure that taxpayer money is spent in transparent and accountable ways. That goal is my first priority because it will remove the threat that preserved properties will not be preserved in perpetuity. With that threat removed, I believe the CPA will thrive as never before, and then I would be willing to consider expansion of state funding for the CPA.
STANLEY: I filed legislation (H.2644 - An Act to sustain community preservation revenue) to increase state funding for the Community Preservation Act (CPA) which was passed in 2000, allowing communities to establish a dedicated fund for open space, historic preservation, community housing, and outdoor recreation projects. The CPA is approved through a local ballot referendum to add a small surcharge on property taxes (1-3%). The state then provides matching funds based on the amount raised locally via revenue from a $20 Registry of Deeds filing fee.
Just over half of the state’s municipalities have adopted CPA and collectively raised over $1.75 billion dollars for Community Preservation. As a result, over 9,000 completed CPA projects have helped develop 10,000 housing units, protected 26,000 acres of open space, preserved 4,400 historic resources, and initiated 1,700 recreation programs.
The foundation of CPA is the promise of a strong state/local partnership to sustain the program’s funding. Yet, with increasing numbers of communities realizing the benefits of the program, this partnership is now in jeopardy. From 2002-2007, communities received 100% matching funds from the CPA trust. The match has since fallen below 20%, despite attempts to shore up CPA with short-term funding from budget surpluses.
This bill would make a one-time adjustment in the Registry of Deeds recording fee to a level that would allow for all current CPA communities to receive a 50% first round distribution from the statewide CPA Trust Fund. At the time I filed this bill the fee had not been updated since the CPA was passed almost 20 years ago. Since then my colleagues and I in the legislature and the Governor have permanently increased the revenue stream for CPA. Moving forward I will work to ensure funding is always available for this important program.