After a year and a half of petitioning every landowner in the area, Hingham officials are ready to streamline the permitting process for the South Shore Industrial Park.
The change, which will expedite permitting for projects in that area, required approval from town boards, Town Meeting, and every landowner in the area. And now, Hingham is inches away from implementing the change.
For officials, the progress is good news.
“Eighty-four percent of tax revenue comes from residents. We need commercial development. This is a step in that direction,” said Selectmen Chairman Bruce Rabuffo.
Hingham officials have been looking to spur commercial growth in the area for years, and finally found a way to do it through the state’s Chapter 43D law. The statute allows cities or towns to designate an area for expedited permitting, allowing developers to get a "yes" or "no" within 180 days.
“It made absolutely sense,” said Susan Sullivan, chairman of the Hingham Development and Industrial Commission. “There aren’t a lot of places we would do that, because there are some concerns if you’re doing expedited permitted, are you able to do the due diligence you need and really dot the i’s and cross the t’s, but we believe we absolutely can and we believe it’s the perfect location to do it.”
The idea is to spur town boards to work concurrently, and direct an application through a single point person at Town Hall. If a decision is not rendered in 180 days, the project is automatically permitted.
Sullivan said the town realized the designation was possible while permitting the South Shore Bone and Muscle Center, which developers needed to be in the ground within six months or they would have to go elsewhere.
“We realized we did that then, and we could do it. It wasn’t impossible,” Sullivan said.
Town boards have since signed on to the idea, and with a Town Meeting vote in 2012, Hingham applied to the state for a designation.
In order to implement the program, signatures had to be acquired from all 39 parcel owners within three years of the application. A year after beginning, Sullivan said only one or two more need to sign. Sullivan anticipated that the final application would be filed to the state within weeks.
Only 80 to 90 sites in the state have been approved for Chapter 43D designations, a marking that also has its benefits for the town.
When the state government speaks with out-of-state companies looking to come in, they look at the list of 43D sites first, because they are more advantageous for developers, Sullivan said.
Additionally, towns with designations go up the pecking order for infrastructure grants and state grants, a key factor to developing road and water upgrades in the area.
Sullivan wasn’t concerned about final state approval, as none have been denied in the past. Once approved, a point person for 43D projects would have to be identified. Most likely, the town planner would be designated, Sullivan said.
Alongside planned infrastructure updates, including water to the area, the designation should help bring in development for the 20 percent of undeveloped parcels in the site. Of the developed 80 percent, many still have room for additional development.
“Is it a magic bullet? No,” Sullivan said. “But is it something that [when] you’re comparing apples to apples to another site, and you know you can be assured that the process here will be quick, that might make a difference.”