Legislation Linked to Group Homes Undergoes Revision

A Cape Cod Times article written on October 13th discusses legislation sponsored by Representative Crocker, which advocates for an exception to a long-standing state law, commonly known as the Dover Amendment, that exempts religious and nonprofit educational organizations — including group homes — from zoning regulations.

Legislation Linked to Group Homes Undergoes Revision

Cape Cod Times

Geoff Spillane

October 13, 2017

Amendment likely for effort to regulate nonprofit activity in Barnstable.

HYANNIS — Proposed legislation that would give Barnstable local control over nonprofit educational organizations in residential areas will likely be amended to increase its chances of passage on Beacon Hill.

State Rep. William Crocker, R-Centerville, is the sponsor of a home-rule petition unanimously approved by the Barnstable Town Council in July.

The bill advocates for an exception to a long-standing state law, commonly known as the Dover Amendment, that exempts religious and nonprofit educational organizations — including group homes — from zoning regulations.

Purchase of a home earlier this year on Chase Street in Hyannis by Homeless not Hopeless, a nonprofit group formed to help the homeless become productive members of society, was met with opposition by neighbors, who contend the area is inundated with group homes and social service agencies. Many argued the group does not meet the “educational” requirement for exemption from local zoning under the Dover Amendment.

The Joint Committee on Municipalities and Government held a hearing on the bill last month, but the measure has not yet moved forward.

Since the hearing, concerns have been raised that the bill text is vague, too broad and could have unintended consequences — including discrimination — leaving the town open to litigation.

A meeting to discuss a reworking of the bill was held last week at Barnstable Town Hall. Participants included Crocker, Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells, Barnstable Town Councilors Jennifer Cullum and Paul Hebert and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and members of his staff.

“We were meeting to clear up some of the questions the senator had,” Crocker said. “We are willing to work with his office to craft some language that may be more acceptable to the senator.”

The reworking will likely take the form of an amendment, and not a rewrite of the bill, according to Crocker.

“My priority is that the town of Barnstable has a fair shot with this bill,” said Cyr, noting he does not believe the wording reflects the intent of the bill. “I don’t think as written it would pass muster.”

Apart from the proposal in the bill, there is a lot of work to do in Hyannis around economic development and housing, Cyr says.

“I think we needed a face-to-face meeting,” said Cullum, who represents a large portion of Hyannis. “It was a productive meeting.”

Cullum agreed that some tinkering of the bill would be needed for Cyr to move forward confidently in the Senate, but the intent and goal of the bill have not changed.

“There was never an intent to kick people out of our neighborhoods,” she said. “The goal was to keep Hyannis neighborhoods vital with families.”

“We would never promote a piece of discriminatory legislation,” Cullum said. “I would never put my name to it.”

Cyr’s office is working with the town’s legal counsel to develop revised wording to amend the bill.