The Massachusetts State House heard testimony Tuesday regarding the Dover Amendment, which would have quite an impact on the town of Nahant.
Bill H.2141 would be an act to prevent nonprofit institutions from avoiding protections geared toward wetlands and other natural resources. The bill was presented by state Rep. Peter Capano (D-Lynn) and state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). Both Capano and Crighton were present for the hearing and gave a passionate testimony echoing their support of the bill.
This would be an update to the Dover Amendment that was first enacted in 1953. Capano also spoke about the history of the amendment, stating that it was originally intended to protect religious and nonprofit educational agencies from unlawful discrimination.
“At the time, environmental and natural resource protections were not a major concern for lawmakers,” said Capano. “In the years since its enactment, the Dover Amendment has generally exempted nonprofit educational or religious institutions from local bylaws, allowing them to pursue major construction projects that threaten wetlands, habitats and natural resource areas.”
Capano later went on to add that Massachusetts is one of the only states that allows nonprofits to bypass these local environmental bylaws and statutes.
“(Bill H.) 2141 will close this loophole, bringing Massachusetts law in line with current conservation measures enacted by many municipalities to provide environmental protections,” he said.
This amendment would directly affect Nahant, as Northeastern University is currently looking to expand the premises of its Marine Science Center, located in a natural resource district under the town’s zoning laws.
“Under the Dover Amendment, education, childcare, religious worship and farming are exempted from local zoning restrictions,” said Crighton. “While few would argue against the intrinsic values of additional classroom space, one would be hard pressed to find anyone that would favor exemptions in local zoning that would allow for the complete destruction of wetlands and protected natural resources.”
Crighton also stated that the 55,000-square-foot building expansion is not only larger than what zoning laws currently allow, but is something that would “completely alter the character of the neighborhood and the community as a whole.”
While this legislation takes aim at Northeastern’s proposed expansion, Crighton noted that he values its work on climate change.
Both Capano and Crighton added that the proposed expansion by Northeastern could lead to changes in water temperature that would, in turn, affect local lobstermen who say the temperature change would threaten lobster populations.
‘It’s time that we bring the seven-decades-old Dover Amendment into the 21st century by closing the loophole (which allows) entities to bypass crucial local environmental protections simply due to their status as nonprofit educational or religious institutions,” said Capano.
When reached for comment, the university said in a statement that, “We fully expect our property rights in Nahant will be affirmed by a court of law, not the court of public opinion. Given that litigation on these issues is already underway, the university will forgo commenting every time there’s a new political development.”
This has been one of many attempts by the town and legislators to ensure that the expansion does not go through, most recently choosing through Town Meeting vote to enact eminent domain.
Those efforts, in combination with these recent developments, makes it clear that the issue of Northeastern’s expansion in Nahant is far from over.