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July 07, 2021 Feature

Power and Democracy in Local Public Participation Law

Grant Glovin


Planning boards throughout the United States conduct public meetings to adjudicate land use applications. These boards, though understudied in legal scholarship, have a significant impact on local development, and thus on local and regional social equity, environmental impacts, and economic power. Meetings for land use planning are obstacles to building the housing necessary to mitigate the American housing crisis.

Public participation laws allocate power. Participation mandates disempower elected local governments, while failing to live up to democratic ideals. The disempowerment is based on erroneous justifications, and takes away most municipal residents’ voice. In an unusual turn for a state law about local governments, participation laws also disempower the state itself. They allow the privileged to thwart state and regional interests, along with local governments.

This article studies two different legal structures to demonstrate how participation laws shift power. The Massachusetts system is similar to those throughout the United States: planning boards hold meetings to solicit comments on individual projects. In the English system of Neighbourhood Planning, community groups create their own legally binding land use plans. Both systems are built on an unwarranted, pernicious distrust of local government. And neither system adequately accounts for the disparity of power between local residents, who have the ability to participate, and others in the region, who do not have that opportunity despite the interconnectedness of housing throughout a region.

However, the English system offers a potential model for democratic public participation in land use planning: With some changes, it would allow for state interests to be adequately represented in a participation scheme. The article also explores other ways that participation can account for state interests. To address the housing crisis, reformers must design a system that accounts for existing inequities while giving a voice to all whom land use planning affects. Analyzing power shows what such a system could look like.

I. Introduction

On any given weeknight across the United States, local planning boards and commissions meet to decide the fate of proposed housing and commercial development. Developers frequently need approval from these commissions to build, particularly in the high-density coastal areas where land use regulations tend to proliferate.1 In the aggregate, these bodies effectively control much of the country’s housing stock. As a result, board members, who are typically nonexpert and often unelected,2 significantly influence the country’s racial and economic integration,3 environmental sustainability,4 economic vitality,5 and social connectivity.6

A central feature of a typical planning board meeting is public participation. In the wake of urban renewal in the mid-twentieth century, reformers sought to check the perceived excesses of city planners, who were seen as destroying neighborhoods and displacing residents. Critics traced the failures of urban renewal in part to a conflict between planners’ ostensible expertise and residents’ actual lived experiences. Public participation was meant to empower residents to control future development.7 Planning commissions had existed since 1907,8 but in the mid-to-late twentieth century they grew in importance and became the means for the “community” to block planners’ excesses.9

The reformers were too successful.10 In the midst of a housing crisis that now requires large amounts of new development to solve, public meetings have become a bulwark against building. Critics argue that public participation schemes ensure that “not-in-my-backyard [NIMBY] stakeholders can reject even projects of great public benefit.”11 Housing advocates complain about the endless delay that public meetings enable: “It’s like playing Whack-a-Mole. . . . No matter what you propose, they’ll tell you that if it was just a little bit different, they could support it. But then you come back with the changes they asked for and they find a new reason to fight it.”12 Further, these meetings divide communities into predictable factions, pitting older homeowners against younger renters in generational warfare as the two sides lob harangues at government officials and each other.13 Contentious meetings are not hard to find.14 The image of the frustrating, futile public meeting is now so ingrained in popular culture that a major network television show satirized it multiple times.15

Public participation has attracted renewed critical attention from political scientists. In a 2018 article and a 2019 book, Professors Katherine Einstein, Maxwell Palmer, and David Glick demonstrated how “neighborhood defenders”—local residents, generally homeowners—use public meetings to stop development.16 Using unusually detailed records of planning board meetings in Massachusetts, they showed that participants in public meetings are not a representative cross section of the general public; rather, commenters are disproportionately likely to be white, male, older, homeowners, longtime residents, frequent voters, and opposed to the project at issue.17 They also demonstrated how public meetings are opportunities for project opponents to stop or delay development.18 Building on long-standing scholarly critiques of public meetings,19 Professor Einstein and her coauthors brought a new, powerful empirical lens that validated critics’ fears.20

Public meetings are not just a bane for developers and planners; they are also a form of local governance. This article examines public meetings through that lens. A law mandating public meetings sends a message that representative democracy is insufficient. Public participation laws exist largely because state or national governments distrust elected local government to exercise power responsibly (for simplicity, I will use “local government” to refer to elected local officials). State or national legislatures use public participation mandates to check local government power. It is well-established that state governments are typically hostile to local power.21 But the public meeting is a unique type of restriction. In a typical conflict between local and state government, the state prevents local action outright in the name of state interests. Through public participation laws, the state empowers minorities of municipal residents to override local and state interests.

This atypical power structure has pernicious results. Providing a forum for a development’s neighbors to participate amplifies the preexisting power disparity between nearby residents—who bear most of the costs of development and are intensely motivated to stop it—and the widely dispersed regional population that usually reaps its benefits.22 Through public participation opportunities, residents lock in preexisting advantages. This is problematic for two reasons. First, it prevents the construction of sorely needed housing. Second, those who do not or cannot participate in meetings lose their democratic voice.

This article and its conclusions are based on two case studies. The first is Massachusetts, which Professors Einstein, Palmer, and Glick also studied. The second is England’s relatively new Neighbourhood Planning system.23 Since 2011, local community groups in England have been empowered to produce their own land use plans with legal force. The process is lengthy. Proposed plans must satisfy numerous criteria. But the result is powerful: a legally binding plan with substance driven entirely by local residents, at least in theory. Comparing these systems exposes the different choices that designers of a public participation system can make, and the goals these choices are meant to pursue. Massachusetts, for example, seeks to use public meetings to improve planning decisions by increasing the quantity of public input and forcing the government to hear from residents. England, meanwhile, has tried to build an institution of enhanced, participatory democracy where residents drive all substantive decisions. The crucial similarity is that both have created government by a minority. In Massachusetts, local residents overcome expert planners in the name of improving planning. In England, residents of a region affected by Neighbourhood Planning lose the voice they previously exercised in elections. Participatory democracy comes at the expense of representative democracy.

Despite the importance of public participation in planning, there is a dearth of legal scholarship analyzing public meetings. Such scholarship is warranted for several reasons, including the widespread use of public participation as a form of governance, the distinctive legal structures that undergird public participation systems, and the impact of public meetings on housing policy. Analyzing public meeting law sheds new light on the power structure created among local elected officials, local residents, and regional residents affected by local policy.24

Part II of the article discusses the legal frameworks for public participation in Massachusetts and England. After reviewing each framework, I describe how they contribute to the housing crisis by empowering minorities opposed to development and preventing necessary development. Part III scrutinizes the aims of these systems, demonstrating that public participation schemes are designed to undermine local government authority. I identify five potential aims for public participation laws and explain why a system designer might choose to pursue each one and the pitfalls of doing so. Part IV turns from local power to state power, showing how the state (in Massachusetts) or country (in England) undermines its own interests through public participation laws that favor entrenched, privileged residents. Yet Part IV argues that England’s system suggests a way for the state to reassert its interests and meet regional housing needs. It also explores alternative ways to represent state interests. Part V concludes.

II. Case Studies: How Participation Stops Development

This part presents two case studies of public participation laws and demonstrates how they stymie development. Section A describes the Massachusetts system of planning commissions. Section B describes the English Neighbourhood Planning system. Each Section begins with a review of law and proceeds to a discussion of the results.

The results are discussed against a backdrop of certain assumed values and aspirations. Some of these are obvious: A participation system should allow sufficient housing to be constructed in a region to forestall severe homelessness, housing instability, and a widespread lack of affordable housing. Also, a public participation system should not exacerbate or help create a housing crisis, with its accompanying social, economic, and equity ills. Public participation can also be measured against certain democratic and governance values. While a full categorization of such values is outside the scope of this article, three are most at stake in the context of land use planning. First, does the empowered participation body adequately represent the public at large, in some form?25 Second, is there equity—does participation exacerbate existing power hierarchies? Third, does the system foster trust in the process? These questions are related. This Article assumes these values are worthwhile, and assesses how the Massachusetts and English systems meet, or fail to meet, them.26

A. Massachusetts

1. Law

Massachusetts law is, at a general level, representative of much of U.S. public participation law. Massachusetts developed its most important land use law during a high-water mark for the ideology of neighborhood defense, when many states were developing participation requirements in response to the perceived excesses of urban renewal.27 The Zoning Law in its current form was the product of a 1975 overhaul,28 after what Governor Michael Dukakis described as “several years of work.”29 The overhaul for the first time forced a large number of development through public participation processes.30

The key feature in Massachusetts is the public hearing. Such meetings are common across the United States.31 A 1997 “survey of city managers and chief administrative officers found that over 97 percent of cities use [public meetings] as a strategy for dealing with citizens.”32 Planning boards and zoning boards of appeals, both examples of a common American feature, operate these meetings. Planning commissions arose in the late 19th century to insulate planners from machine politics.33 They appeared in Massachusetts in 1913, when the legislature authorized the more populous towns and all cities to establish such boards “to make plans for the development of the municipality with special reference to the proper housing of its people.”34 As zoning became commonplace in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1926 decision in Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co.,35 planning commissions took on an increasingly political role, as politicians sought to use them to temper planners’ expertise with “common sense.”36 This dynamic became an important one, as well as a source of tension: planning commissions are nonexpert bodies meant to check experts.37 This hesitancy surrounding the role of expertise in a democratic system is a longstanding one in planning, and in local government broadly.38 The tension intensified as new public participation innovations were also placed under planning commissions’ auspices.39 The 1975 overhaul, by extending participation to many more developers and private homeowners through the special permit and variance procedures, was the culmination of a historical trend.40

Three statutes largely determine the format, contents, and impact of public meetings: the Open Meeting Law, the Zoning Law, and the Anti-Snob Zoning Law.41 Each sets out procedural requirements with which the relevant actors must strictly comply.42

The Open Meeting Law enables participation by requiring transparency in decision-making. It requires planning board meetings be open to the public and publish minutes.43 Its detailed structure makes it prone to violations, giving meeting participants legal leverage. For example, as of January 30, 2021, there were 152 unresolved complaints under the Massachusetts open meeting law, most filed in the second half of 2020.44 Penalties, however, are not severe: there are many enforcement options available short of nullifying a meeting.45 Further, public bodies do not face financial penalties unless the violation was intentional, and penalties are capped at $1000.46

The Zoning Law, Chapter 40A, is more central to the Massachusetts system. It gives planning commissions substantial land use power, including responsibility for most public engagement. Commissions are required to hold hearings in several circumstances, including the adopting or modification of a zoning ordinance and the adjudication of applications for special permits and variances.47

Each type of hearing has specific requirements regarding notice and time limits. For changes to a zoning ordinance, the planning commission must publish notice of the meeting in a newspaper and provide notice to certain government agencies is required.48 For special permits and variances, the commission must publish notice in a local newspaper twice and mail notice of the meeting to “parties in interest”; those include abutters to the site at issue, abutters to those abutters within 300 feet of the site at issue, and owners of the land directly opposite a street.49 Failure to provide notice can render a decision at a meeting void.50 Significantly, the notice provision is targeted at neighboring property owners, rather than neighboring renters, who might favor increased development to increase housing supply and decrease rents.51 These provisions are typical of notice provisions in many states.52

Meetings have few procedural restrictions to promote finality, advantaging opponents of development. Commissions must hold a second public hearing if the “substantial character of the original proposal” changes after the first.53 Many projects require multiple meetings due to such changes or opponents’ demands for new studies.54 Over the course of these meetings, there is no analogy to issue preclusion or law of the case—meeting participants at the first meeting may agree that a certain study is unnecessary, only to see project opponents and a planning board require that study months later.55 Thus, amendments to project applications intended to assuage local concerns will face project opponents once again, and those adversaries are free to make new arguments or claims contradicting their prior statements while demanding that the changes be undone. Project opponents can drag out the participation processes long enough for a building permit to expire.56 And only project opponents get multiple bites at the apple. After an application is denied, planning commissions cannot entertain a renewed application for two years following the denial, unless a supermajority of the commission votes otherwise.57

Chapter 40A gives project opponents an easy route to the courthouse, providing them with more leverage at meetings. Any “person aggrieved” has standing to seek judicial review.58 The parties in interest—that is, “the petitioner, abutters, owners of land directly opposite on any public or private street or way, and abutters to the abutters within three hundred feet of the property line of the petitioner”—are granted a rebuttable presumption that they are aggrieved.59 The presumption does not extend to renters60—property ownership is given more weight than residence. Other parties can also demonstrate they are aggrieved by showing that the grant of a “permit causes, or threatens with reasonable likelihood, a tangible and particularized injury to a private property or legal interest protected by zoning law.”61 Thus, any number of individuals can pursue judicial review of planning commission decisions, triggering the attendant delay of litigation. The state recently added an additional barrier by giving courts discretion to require plaintiffs to post a cash bond or surety of up to $50,000.62 However, its impact may be tempered by other limits in § 17.63

Standing is, as usual, a prerequisite to jurisdiction, but opponents of development can usually establish it even if they are not presumed aggrieved. “[T]he right or interest asserted by a plaintiff claiming aggrievement must be one that the Zoning Act is intended to protect, either explicitly or implicitly.”64 The interests the Act protects tend to favor anti-development interests. Admittedly, generalized grievances cannot support standing. For example, the Massachusetts Appeals Court found a plaintiff had not established she was aggrieved when she claimed that a development “would be ‘detrimental to [the plaintiff] and the neighborhood by increasing the potential for overcrowding and undue concentration of population, discouraging housing for persons of all income levels, enhancing danger from fire, diminishing the value of surrounding properties, and adding to noise, light, traffic, loss of privacy, and trespass.’”65 Still, such rulings focus mostly on neighborhood harms and leave common complaints of project opponents, such as construction noise or diminished views,66 as available avenues to demonstrate injury.

Once standing is established, judicial review poses substantial risks to approved projects. Fact finding is de novo by the court.67 This gives judges substantial latitude to overturn planning commission approvals, which is worrisome if judges share an anti-development bias with homeowners.68 Judges are not entirely unbounded as they will give substantial deference to a planning board’s interpretation of its own zoning bylaws, provided its decision is supported by law and not “unreasonable, whimsical, capricious, or arbitrary.”69 But they are much more likely to defer on an ultimate issue when a variance or special permit was denied, compared to grants of variances or permits. If judges do not defer, their remedial power is broad, and they may annul any decision of a planning board “found to exceed the authority of such board,” or “make such other decree as justice and equity may require.”70

Massachusetts does provide one avenue for affordable housing developers to bypass many public meetings: the Anti-Snob Zoning Law. A government or nonprofit group can apply to a local zoning board of appeals (“ZBA”) for a single permit to build a substantial amount of affordable housing, rather than applying for multiple permits.71 The ZBA will then hold a single hearing, subject to the same notice requirements as would apply to a special permit or variance application.72 This hearing may even include restrictions on who can speak.73 The ZBA must approve the project if a denial would not be “consistent with local needs” for affordable housing; if it denies the project, the applicant can appeal to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (“DHCD”),74 which can overturn the denial solely on this ground.75 “Consistent with local needs” has a broad, fact-intensive definition that considers “the regional need for low and moderate income housing[,] . . . the number of low income persons in the city or town affected . . . , site and building design in relation to the surroundings, [and the need] to preserve open spaces.”76

The system on the whole provides ample opportunity for all interested parties to be heard. Project proponents and opponents have numerous opportunities to attend meetings and appeal results based on both substantive and procedural defects. The law is solicitous of neighboring property owners, ensuring they have notice of meetings and standing to sue. Renters and people who do not yet live in an area are afforded less protection.

2. Results

The system has produced alarming results. Most notably, public participation has contributed to a housing crisis in Massachusetts. There is a vast shortage of affordable housing in the Boston region.77 This is due in part to a legal framework that provides for extensive, delay-inducing public participation processes. While zoning regulation has become much stricter since the 1970s,78 substantive regulation is not the sole culprit behind the lack of housing. Procedural frameworks have provided project opponents with new opportunities to stop the construction of new housing, or at least delay it and increase its cost.79 It takes very few people, and a small number of regulations, to stop a project in its tracks.80 Procedural requirements allow opponents to use substantive regulations—even ones that few people actually care about—to block projects.81 By focusing on variances and special permits, procedural regulations also force mundane projects through lengthy public meeting processes.82

The costs of insufficient housing are severe. Housing prices increased 53% between 2009 and early 2020.83 Residential segregation is endemic across the region, keeping “some of the highest-performing public schools in the country” predominantly white and wealthy.84 A lack of housing likely exacerbates inequality by forcing lower-income individuals to spend proportionally more of their income on housing.85 Nearly four in five low-income renter households in Massachusetts were rent burdened in 2016, meaning they spent over a third of household income on rent and utilities.86 Stricter zoning has also harmed the national economy by creating misallocations of population across the country.87 It has prevented colocation, leading to higher transportation costs, worsening labor markets, and reduced possibility for information spillovers.88 The housing crisis creates housing instability, exacerbates racial inequities in education and job access, and spurs gentrification.89

This is not to say that public participation has no value in Massachusetts or elsewhere. Both wealthy, white communities (such as those in some Boston suburbs) and less advantaged communities of color can use the same participation structures to stop proposed development. But each group’s motivation may be different, and the historical and social context of each situation may call for a different policy response.90 Pro-development advocates tend to see themselves as natural allies of tenant rights’ groups in marginalized communities; they often argue that only allowing new housing everywhere can prevent gentrification.91 Indeed, empirical evidence tends to confirm that building new housing is essential to maintaining housing affordability in low-income neighborhoods.92 But reconciling the need for more housing with redevelopment’s historical role as a force of displacement is fraught; marginalized communities may feel that they have borne more than their fair share of new development.93 These concerns are important. This article does not attempt to address this problem, because at a regional level the picture is clear: housing is needed, public meetings allow anti-development sentiment to contribute to a housing crisis, and wealthier towns in Massachusetts could help mitigate this crisis by building more housing.

The housing crisis in Massachusetts is due in part to problems of democracy that public meetings produce. First, public meetings do not equitably empower the public. A recent study examined speakers at planning board meetings in the Greater Boston area, using data from voter files and elsewhere. It found that speakers at planning board meetings are, as compared to the towns in which they live, disproportionately white, male, elderly, homeowners, longtime residents, and frequent voters.94 And based on their comments as captured in meeting minutes, they were overwhelmingly opposed to the project at issue.95 Practitioners perceive this unrepresentativeness,96 as do activists and media,97 particularly with regards to age. The unrepresentativeness is unsurprising given that participation in political processes is predicated on access to resources, engagement, and recruitment, all of which benefit wealthy homeowners who have been in an area long enough to learn the political landscape and meet other anti-development residents.98 These neighbors are hyper-vigilant—likely needlessly so—about their home property values, a concern often influenced by race- and class-based fears.99 The availability of judicial review also favors wealthier parties.100 This unrepresentativeness distorts the inputs to the democratic system, as a critic in popular media observed: “Public input processes are a part of our democracy, so when in-person meetings are the primary method of gathering input, and those meetings are inaccessible or traumatizing, people who are kept out are excluded from the public square.”101

This problem of democracy—unrepresentativeness—translates into obstacles to new housing because local government law reinforces neighbors’ anti-development preferences. Multiple features of local government law, thoroughly reviewed in scholarship, encourage homeowners to fragment themselves into homogenous enclaves and oppose nearby development.102 Legal structures permit de facto municipal segregation by race and class.103 Participation law helps maintain the segregated status quo. There may be some value to a well-designed participation system, especially since local elections, as currently designed, have their own flaws.104 However, as it stands, the Massachusetts system of public participation is a crucial support for an unjust, economically harmful, and environmentally destructive system.

There is still room for improvement under existing law. Non-legal reformers have identified several potential best practices for planners seeking to make meetings more democratic. They include convenient meeting locations and times, proactive outreach with a larger budget, active facilitation that prevents loud voices from dominating, notice to a broader array of affected groups, true acknowledgement to participants’ concerns, and a more structured dialog between local officials and participatory groups.105 Indeed, law is often silent as to many crucial choices planners must make.106 But improvements of this sort inevitably run up against barriers that dilute their impact. No matter how convenient or well run a meeting is, attendance requires people to have free time in the first place.107 Further, the seriatim nature of zoning decisions make trade-offs difficult.108 And disparities in intensity of preference between project opponents and beneficiaries remain. The participation system as currently structured inevitably perpetuates hierarchies—and those at the top benefit when development stalls.

B. England

The Massachusetts system of public participation helped create a housing crisis; the English framework was built to help solve one. The Localism Act 2011 introduced a lengthy, complex planning process, with a seemingly tantalizing result: local residents must accept some new development, but they receive binding control over precisely where it goes. Unfortunately, the initial results of the Neighbourhood Planning system have failed to live up to its designers’ lofty ambitions.

1. Law

There were two key contextual backdrops to the enactment of the Localism Act—one legal and one practical. First, prior to 2011, opportunities for public participation in land-use planning in England were limited. This was due in part to the centralization of English government, and, correspondingly, the relative disempowerment of local government.109 In England’s three-tier system of local government110 the main site of public participation for a century had been the lowest tier: parish councils.111 Parish councils represent small areas, seem to be well-entwined in communities, and have connections to higher levels of local government.112 However, they failed to be an effective community voice. Not all areas are parished, so many people had no access to a parish council. Where they existed, parish councils had small budgets that limited their efficacy.113 Elections for parish councils were (and still are) often uncontested or nonexistent, leading upper tiers representatives (and scholars) to question whether they truly spoke for the areas they represented.114 Ultimately, parish councils failed to provide an effective space for public participation.

The middle tier of the system had somewhat more power, but limited participation opportunities. This tier is made up of “local authorities,” including district councils, London borough councils, and unitary authorities. Local authorities faced some public participation requirements, such as preparing statements of community involvement and consulting with certain local groups when creating a development plan.115 However, these requirements failed to foster any sense of empowerment. Commenters often felt their participation was “stage managed by planning professionals.”116 Moreover, public meetings left little room for public participation. Local authorities had discretion over how to structure planning committee meetings,117 and they generally exercised this discretion strictly to limit the number of speakers and the time they had to speak, sometimes giving only one supporter and one opponent three minutes apiece.118

Second, in the run-up to the Localism Act, parts of the country, particularly Greater London and South East England, were undergoing a housing crisis. Over the 2000s, the pace of new housing construction dropped, in part due to local resistance.119 In 2012, only half as many new units were completed as were needed.120 This, in turn, led to rising rents121 with the same economic harm and burgeoning inequality observed in Massachusetts.122 The Localism Act aimed to change local attitudes, in the hope that residents would be more amenable to development in their neighborhood if they had more control over it.123 The Act sought to “giv[e] local people real influence over the scale and shape of development and at the same time enabl[e] the volume house-building corporations that dominate the industry in England to access land and gain planning approval more easily.”124 A key metric for measuring the Act’s success would be a drop in the number of rejected planning applications.125

The Localism Act intended to decentralize power past—rather than to—local governments. The Act had three goals: encouraging local residents to be more accepting of new development, empowering neighborhood groups, and disempowering local government.126 The governing Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition sought to shrink the state, replacing it with communities and neighborhoods in “the space of public responsibility.”127 The Neighbourhood Planning process embodied this intention, theoretically furthering all three of the Localism Act’s aims.128 The process incorporates several steps: the designation of a Neighbourhood Area, the designation of a Neighbourhood Forum, the preparation of a draft plan, review by the local authority and an independent examiner, and a referendum. The end result is a Neighbourhood Development Plan (“NDP”).129

The first step in the process is the designation of a Neighbourhood Area. The Localism Act sets out a process under which anyone can apply to the local authority—the middle tier of English local government—for the designation an Area. Upon receiving an application, the local authority provides an opportunity for anyone to submit written comment, and then, within a set time limit, decides whether to designate the Area.130 The local authority has broad discretion to reject or modify applications.131 For example, the application for the Old Oak Neighbourhood Area proposed a 280 hectare (1.1 square mile) Area; the local authority designated a 22 hectare (0.1 square miles) Area.132 The local authority must provide reasons for outright denying an application,133 but there are numerous grounds that justify the denial of an application.134

The next step offers the local authority its main opportunity to ensure the process reflects democratic ideals. Subsequently or simultaneously to the designation of a Neighbourhood Area, the local authority may designate a Neighbourhood Forum for the Area.135 While a parish council in the Area can act as a Forum,136 a key innovation of the Localism Act is to allow for a forum regardless of whether the area is parished.137 A Neighbourhood Forum must have a written constitution, a minimum of twenty-one members, and an open membership policy for residents, workers, and elected officials within the Neighbourhood Area.138 The group must be “established for the express purpose of promoting or improving the social, economic and environmental well-being of an area.”139 Finally, and most vaguely, when a group applies for Forum status, the local authority must “have regard” to whether “membership is drawn from different places in the neighbourhood area concerned and from different sections of the community in that area,” and to whether the group’s “purpose reflects the character of that area.”140 My own observations of an aspiring Forum suggest that at least some local authorities require that Forums demographically resemble the Area, but there is no guidance or case law on this vague provision.

Although a Neighbourhood Forum can serve as a generalized site of public participation,141 the main reason to establish a Neighbourhood Forum is to create a NDP. Once approved in a local referendum (“made”), a NDP has “the same legal status” as a Local Plan (that is, the Plan the elected local authority promulgates).142 Applications for planning permission must generally follow the relevant Plan, whether the NDP or the Local Plan, “unless material considerations indicate otherwise.”143 In certain cases, the NDP can trump a Local Plan.144 The NDP’s power is not unlimited, however. The national Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (“MHCLG”) retains significant power to intervene in planning applications.145 Also, Plans lose weight in the planning process as they age,146 and certain development—such as nationally significant infrastructure projects—cannot be touched by a NDP.147 The “material considerations” limit also prevents NDPs from governing every possible situation. Still, NDPs are afforded significant legal status.

The Localism Act’s authors offered an idealized version of a planning process for the creation of NDPs. Forums must conduct extensive outreach to the public when making their plans, including publicizing certain information “in a manner that is likely to bring it to the attention of people who live, work or carry on business in the neighbourhood area.”148 Forums must consult any entity identified on a long list “whose interests the [forum] considers may be affected by the proposals for a [NDP].”149 The list includes national government agencies, the local authority, certain infrastructure organizations (such as Network Rail), volunteer groups, and community groups that “represent the interests” of racial, ethnic, national, religious, or business groups, or of the disabled.150 Guidance directs Forums to be “inclusive and open in the preparation of” a NDP.151 Once submitted the proposed NDP must be accompanied by documents that demonstrate “consultation with and participation by the public.”152 However, “[w]hile there are prescribed documents that must be submitted with a neighbourhood plan . . . there is no ‘tick box’ list of evidence required for neighbourhood planning.”153 Instead, “[p]roportionate, robust evidence should support the choices made and the approach taken.”154

The Forum’s relationship with the local authority is similarly idealized. Local authorities have a duty to cooperate with and assist Forums.155 Neighbourhood Forums do not have a reciprocal duty to cooperate with the local authority,156 but are encouraged to maintain “positive and constructive dialog,” with the incentive that doing so makes future approvals more likely.157 The duty to cooperate does not mean that the local authority and Neighbourhood Forum must agree on all points: conflicts are possible.158 Indeed, some Forums are motivated to create a NDP to oppose a single proposed development.159 At one forum I observed, the local planning authority and Neighbourhood Forum were effectively racing to finish their plans first, so that the winner could govern a pending application.160 The duty to cooperate is limited to procedural cooperation and does not mandate any substantive agreement.161

NDPs are required to provide for new housing under a mandate that they comply with the “basic conditions.” The Localism Act defines the basic conditions. They include national policies, the desirability of preserving special buildings and conservation areas, the need for sustainable development, retained European Union obligations, other items prescribed in MHCLG regulations, and local strategic policies as set out in the Local Plan.162 The latter element is key because Local Plans include expected housing contributions—the number of new houses that the planned area is expected to build, based on ostensibly objective criteria and approved by MHCLG.163 This was a late innovation; the Localism Act initially seemed to allow NDPs to permit less housing than existing Local Plans would require, but the government reversed itself and forbade that practice.164 Guidance provides that “[n]eighbourhood planning bodies are encouraged to plan to meet their housing requirement, and where possible to exceed it.”165 Through such policies and guidance, the Localism Act seeks to force the construction of new housing.

Meeting these requirements is difficult unless consultants are involved throughout the process. The statutory requirements can be complicated. In addition to the basic conditions, Plans should comply with the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out over 200 general principles.166 Consultants help Forums meet these requirements, especially those that are confusing or contradictory.167 Consultants can also conduct parts of the process, such as outreach events. Although empirical data is lacking, all of the Forums I observed made use of some outside help. They hired consultants to run public engagement events, prepare supporting reports, or draft certain policies or parts of the NDP. The Forums made use of grants to hire the consultants, but securing the grants and keeping track of finances added labor to the process.

Once the NDP is prepared, three rounds of theoretically relaxed examination follow. First, a Forum submits a completed NDP to the local authority. There are a limited number of prescribed criteria on which the authority can judge the NDP, such as noncompliance with the basic conditions, and rejections require a statement of reasons.168 If the local authority approves the NDP, it submits it to the second step: review by an independent examiner. The examiner, who may come from the public or private sectors, conducts a “light touch” examination of all documents submitted, including comments from other bodies, and recommends a course of action.169 This round, like the first, considers only statutory and regulatory criteria, and also whether the Neighbourhood Area is appropriately sized—but nothing else.170 Still, despite the small scope of their review, the examiner can propose substantial modifications; in one case, the modifications were so extreme that the group submitting the NDP sought to withdraw it.171 Finally, in the third round of review, the local authority again considers whether the NDP complies with statutory criteria, including the basic conditions; it can modify the NDP, but only to ensure compliance.172 The simplest—and most common173—option for the local authority is to follow the examiner’s recommendations, either passing the recommended NDP on to a referendum of the Neighbourhood Area or rejecting the application. The local authority can, however, choose to extend the referendum area beyond the Neighbourhood Area,174 or not to take the examiner’s recommendations.175 It must provide reasons for refusing a NDP application, declining to consider it, making modifications to it, extending the referendum area, or finding a plan proposal unsatisfactory.176 The proffered reasons can form the basis of a lawsuit.177

The final step of the process is deceptively simple. The NDP is put to a vote of at least all residents in the Neighbourhood Area.178 Precise requirements are set out in regulations,179 but the work of the Forum is largely complete because the referendum is organized by the local authority.180 There is a cap on referendum expenses, broadly defined to include gifts-in-kind,181 so that only minimal outreach by the Forum is possible. But even without effort by the Forum, referenda almost always succeed. Across all 839 referenda as of July 31, 2019, 87% of voters had voted yes.182 The referendum’s importance is thus diminished.183 Once the referendum passes, the NDP is a binding document with the same legal force as the Local Plan. Its existence precludes any other NDPs from covering the same area.184

Judicial review provides an incentive for approvals. If at any point the local authority declines an application, the applicant can seek judicial review. As is typical under the “English Rule,” the loser of the suit pays both sides’ legal fees.185 The risk of substantial court costs is a significant disincentive for local authorities to refuse planning applications.186 Conversely, the Localism Act does not provide a right of action for the approval of a Forum’s application.

2. Results

The Localism Act has been in effect for a decade; its results so far are mixed. The housing crisis persists, and local residents have not developed a newfound appreciation for development. The system has exposed a tension between two government goals: empowering anti-development communities and producing housing. The former has generally won out.187 Case studies show that NDPs generally aim to curb development, often openly;188 my own observations support this finding. At the Forums I observed, anti-development sentiment was rampant, with participants fighting individual projects perceived as too large or too dense rather than engaging in the broader scale planning process that the Localism Act envisioned. One Forum celebrated cutting down a proposed London apartment building from thirteen stories to nine, a scene familiar to participants in the United States. Another Forum weighed policies limiting density, student housing, and multiple-occupant housing—the latter specifically to avoid construction workers living in the area. As in the United States, English public participants have stressed the defense of local character: “The most common policy in [NDPs] was the promotion of local distinctiveness and place identity.”189 The idea of “local distinctiveness” in NPDs is of dubious value, given that England’s towns generally fit into one of several broadly similar types, and consultants often use template plans in NDP processes.190 Still, the national government has claimed some success, arguing that NDPs plan for on average approximately 10% more homes than the Local Plan set out, totaling over 18,000 additional dwellings between mid-2015 and 2017.191 However, there is a broad consensus that more legislation is needed to address the housing crisis, potentially including the nationwide legalization of adding height to existing buildings.192

Like its Massachusetts counterpart, the English system is unrepresentative, which dampens its potential as a force for housing. Forums are not representative on any dimension identified by political scientists.193 They are unelected and lack broad legitimacy.194 Initial case studies found that Forum members do not mirror their Neighbourhood Areas. Rather, they tend to attract small groups who are already “active members of local communities who may have experience of community participation from previous initiatives,” and who have “time and access to middle-class professional skills.”195 Forum participants are thus disproportionately homeowners, older, wealthier, and opposed to development.196 One group I observed was worried that their elderly skew would prevent the group from being designated as a Forum. Members’ response was to redouble their efforts to conduct social media outreach for their public-facing initiatives, rather than seeking new, younger Forum members. This disparity may skew Forums’ priorities. Older residents are more likely to be securely housed and opposed to new development, while younger residents or would-be residents are often rent burdened and in favor of new construction, especially of affordable housing.197 The problem of representativeness is difficult to solve. Outreach demands substantial time and effort.198 The failure of parish councils, already established in their local communities, to become true community voices demonstrates the challenge of spurring community involvement in local politics beyond voting.199 As with Massachusetts, the Localism Act transferred power from elected local authorities to less representative factions who have the inclination and resources to participate in Neighbourhood Forums specifically to oppose development.

In addition to inequities among Forum participants, there are inequities in geographic areas that use Neighbourhood planning, such that the areas most invested in the status quo employ NDPs the most. Most NDPs have come from wealthier areas, despite government support packages, training programs, and other strategies aimed at less affluent areas.200 The wealthy South East of England contains a disproportionate number of active Neighbourhood Forums and parish councils preparing NDPs.201 Conversely, initial analyses of applications for Neighbourhood Forum status found that only 10% of applications were in the 20% “most deprived local authorities,” and those had lesser success rates than applications from wealthier areas.202 Rural parishes, which enjoy a head start over Neighbourhood Forums since they previously existed as community groups, have accounted for the vast majority of neighbourhood planning bodies.203 Some observers have called for more resources from the national government to overcome the disparity.204 Indeed, a planning practitioner noted that “neighbourhood planning is quite an expensive process . . . . If you are in a very wealthy parish, you can employ people to assist you in drawing up a neighbourhood plan,” but that option is not available in less well-resourced areas.205 A neighbourhood planning participant also noted the usefulness of having architects, web designers, and sustainability experts as Forum members, an advantage only available in certain communities.206 Scholars suggest that Neighbourhood Forums “are supply-driven rather than demand-driven, in the sense that they are created by those with capacity rather than the need to participate.”207

Thus, though it takes a different approach from the Massachusetts framework, the English Neighbourhood Planning system suffers from similar flaws. A housing crisis persists despite expected housing contributions. NIMBY sentiment has not been converted to acceptance of development, as proponents of the Localism Act envisioned.

III. Participation and the Disempowerment of Local Government

This part juxtaposes the English and Massachusetts systems to explore why legislators made the choices they did. The central question is who wields power, and how. Section A identifies the aims of public participation laws, their justifications, and their failings. Section B then applies that framework to the English and Massachusetts case studies. Legislators in England were focused on enhancing democracy, while those in Massachusetts sought to improve planning. But there is a troubling similarity. Legislators in both places seemed skeptical of local government authority, and they sought to disempower it. Doing so was misguided and pernicious.

A. The Aims of Public Participation

This Section identifies five potential goals of public participation laws and explores the justifications for pursuing each one. Scholars, legislators, planners, activists, and residents each have their own goals in mind when they speak about public participation. Their aims are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but different goals may lead to different policy choices. Analyzing the goals creates a framework to apply to the specific case studies. It also reveals a common theme among them: participation laws shift power to those who participate. Though this may sound obvious, it is essential to understanding the problems in the case studies and the reforms that are needed.

First, public participation laws can be a form of democracy enhancement. There are two common forms of democracy enhancement: direct democracy (referenda) and “strong” democracy. Strong democracy is a concept involving extensive talk and involvement in self-governance. Benjamin Barber, who developed the concept, argued that “it is the only form [of democracy] that is genuinely and completely democratic.”208 He envisioned strong democracy as a participatory technique to “transform[] conflict . . . into an occasion for mutualism.”209 Similarly, Ken Thomson argued that “participatory democracy”—a related concept involving “direct participation in consequential deliberations”—provides more numerous and more prolonged opportunities for public rule than representative democracy offers.210 To Thomson, small neighborhood organizations are vital because they allow anyone who wants to be involved to have a substantial say in how they are governed.211 Although strong democracy may be rare in practice, it is an aspirational ideal for some American planners.212

Enhancing democracy is a seemingly worthy goal. Although expertise is needed to make informed land use decisions and analyze their consequences, land use is inherently political.213 Having a voice in political decisions, either through referenda or strong democracy, is essential to self-governance.214 But there are notable drawbacks to the “enhanced” democracy that public participation offers. Direct democracy may threaten minority rights and have discriminatory impacts.215 It can lead to poorly drafted and poorly thought-out laws.216 It may erode legislators’ ability to accept trade-offs and forge compromises.217 Finally, an excess of elections burdens citizen time, leads to voter fatigue, and makes it impossible for voters to sufficiently comprehend all the issues at stake. 218 Strong democracy institutions, meanwhile, are time-consuming for participants. They may thus prove unappealing to many potential participants.219 Even case studies that have hailed participation systems as solutions to democratic decline have concluded that “participatory democracy demands too much from citizens to be broadly appealing.”220 Time-consuming processes also exacerbate existing inequalities, giving increased power to those with spare time. Finally, empowering segregated neighborhoods may be dangerous: when a neighborhood founded on intolerance has an opportunity for greater public participation, reformers may not like the results.221

A second possible goal is improvement of the planning process. Planners typically see public input as crucial, and public meetings may be an efficient way to solicit it.222 For legislators, public participation may provide a check on planners by forcing them to confront the people for whom they are planning, or, in some cases, by subjecting them to local residents’ veto power. Participatory frameworks that produce binding documents unchangeable by local officials disempower those local officials vis-à-vis their constituents. For reasons previously noted, participation frameworks do help improve planning in certain instances, particularly in planners’ connections to marginalized communities. Alternatively, state or national officials might seek to limit the influence of local officials if they distrust local government for some reason, perhaps because of the characteristics of local office holders223 or fears of local corruption.224 However, there are drawbacks as well. Implementing too many checks in the system and broadly dispersing power can slow projects and make building new housing and infrastructure difficult, if not impossible.225 The “improvement” of planning is also subject to manipulation to favor certain policy outcomes. Statutes force planners to defend pro-development choices at public meetings while accepting the status quo by default. If cities are meant to grow, such a system of planning improvement may prevent planners from doing their job. Further, disempowering planners ignores their expertise, while disempowering local officials sidelines a municipality’s elected representatives. Finally, as with other strategies, relying on public input to improve planning privileges the perspectives of the members of the public with the resources to participate.

Third, public participation can provide an alternate site for politics. Professor Brian Adams, for example, argued that public meetings have an important though misunderstood role:

While they may not be very good at accomplishing their primary goal of giving citizens the opportunity to directly influence decisions made by governing bodies, they can be used to achieve other ends, such as sending information to officials and setting the agenda. As a complement to deliberative political structures, public meetings have a role to play by offering a venue in which citizens can achieve their political goals, thereby enhancing governmental accountability and responsiveness.226

Activists, too, can use public meetings as a chance to advocate for ideas outside of mainstream consensus, forcing officials to respond to them in the moment and winning the attention of the press and policy-makers.227 In this view, a meeting that breaks down into shouting is unpleasant in the moment but helpful overall, because it brings increased attention to the messages at the meeting. Once again, though, elected officials may hear only the thoughts of those with the time and resources to participate. Besides, shouting is not merely unpleasant; an adversarial process can communicate to participants that the gulfs in their communities as less bridgeable.228

Fourth, public meetings can be sites of community building. As described by Professor Gerald Frug, local democracy serves as a vehicle for community members to better themselves and grow.229 Professor Frug envisioned spaces of local democracy that build trust between people divided by race, class, or other ways, overcoming divides.230 Professor Frug’s substantive goal of increased social trust and care is certainly worthwhile. But pursuing it through public participation may be a futile enterprise. Although the process through which policies are implemented can help build trust and ensure successful outcomes,231 peoples’ ability to actually participate in the lengthy processes needed to overcome barriers is limited by other demands on their time. Policies that reach for Professor Frug’s worthy goal may fail to build community, or may even build solidarity solely among those privileged with time to participate.

Finally, public participation can build support for specific substantive aims. Psychology research shows that people who view a process as fair and believe they had an opportunity to be heard are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome, even if it provides them with less value objectively.232 Similarly, a government official seeking to implement controversial plans, such as building new housing or bike lanes, may turn to public participation to increase their constituents’ buy-in. Deepening trust in government may lead to substantive benefits.233 This aim may best reflect what actually occurs at many public meetings.234 Still, as with other aims above, societal inequities may limit who participates, such that only the privileged are satisfied. A stronger objection is that starting public participation with a substantive result in mind is inimical to the democractic values participation is meant to encourage.

A theme emerges: There are rationales to pursue any of these various goals, along with certain aim-specific drawbacks, but a system built around any one of them is subject to capture by already-empowered groups. Participation takes time, while voting is comparatively simple. Thus, shifting a mechanism of power and expression from voting to participation empowers those with time and resources to participate.235 A participation scheme gives them a way to make their preferences policy, regardless of its aim.

B. Aims and Power in England and Massachusetts

This section compares the English and Massachusetts systems to explore the policy choices legislators made. Although examining legislators’ subjective motivations is fraught,236 scrutinizing their choices can reveal their goals. As such, this Section proceeds with a series of comparisons. Two distinctive but coherent pictures emerge. One system is premised on the ideal of strong democracy—people are empowered to make substantive choices. The other system seeks to improve planning by forcing a confrontation between planners and residents. Yet there is a commonality underlying both: distrust of local government. That distrust has unfortunate results.

The first difference is the role of government. The English system is “bottom-up”—residents organize their own participation, decide on its scope, and are responsible for meeting statutory criteria. Ultimately, the residents bind the local government as long as their work product is endorsed in a low-turnout referendum. The government’s role is mostly passive and limited to ensuring that participatory bodies comply with statutory criteria. In Massachusetts, local government, represented by the planning board, convenes the site of participation and spells out the structure, but has no duty to take into account the public comment it receives. The government is the convener of participation; appointees are the ultimate decider.

The different government roles reflect different aims. The English system tries to improve democracy and build community by giving local residents a direct say over substantive policies, first through a planning process and then through a referendum. England relies heavily on community groups, potentially deepening the ties of these groups and attracting more residents to them, thus building community. For example, at one parish council’s Neighbourhood Planning Committee, members of the Committee had forged new social ties by inviting people beyond the parish council to join the group and by having social events after meetings. The Massachusetts system reflects a desire to improve planning by holding government planners accountable. Appointees on the planning board, who may have limited expertise, hear proposals from the government’s planning staff and project applicants and make modifications based on public input. Unlike the English system, there is a direct interface between government planners and the public.237 Advisory meetings may provide more of an alternate form of political expression—they give the public a chance to speak directly to the government, rather than indirectly through a NDP and referendum.

The second key distinction is the timing of participation. England focuses almost all participation into the creation of a single, far-reaching plan. The plan then becomes one of the documents comprising the Local Plan, with which the local authority must generally comply when approving planning applications.238 There is next to no opportunity for input on individual projects in the English system.239 Massachusetts, on the other hand, asks for public input on special permits and variances in the same form it uses for the adoption of zoning ordinances.240 The English approach may encourage tradeoffs; residents may be more likely to allow some development if they know they can prevent it elsewhere.241 Participation at the plan-making stage may seek to advance the substantive aim of allowing increased development. A participation law that invites comments on individual projects, like Massachusetts’s, is more likely aimed at improving planning by providing more frequent opportunities for public comment. In Massachusetts, planners are seemingly not trusted to implement a broader plan without further public input.242

The underlying procedural law also shapes the incentives of government actors and evinces different goals. Who pays court costs, the speed of review, and possible outcomes all influence government actors. In Massachusetts, judicial review is widely available and there is little disincentive for those who can afford it to bring suit, as there is little risk of bearing the other side’s court costs. Planning boards are at a disadvantage to any well-resourced, litigious opponent. This leads to delay, preserving the status quo and essentially advancing a substantive policy against development. In England, however, only those denied applications can bring a lawsuit, and the loser pays court costs. Again, local government is disempowered, as it is strongly incentivized to approve both NDP and planning applications to avoid potential court costs. The substantive policy advanced, however, depends on the polices in an NDP. 243

Table 1 summarizes these comparisons and shows how each system coheres around a certain aim. The Massachusetts system has chosen policies aimed at improving planning, partially by giving planners more inputs for their analyses but mostly by holding planners accountable to the public. A secondary and related aim is to provide a space for political expression, especially anti-development political expression. The English system, meanwhile, is based around an ideal of strong democracy. The designers of the English system hoped to encourage communities to participate more directly in local self-governance.244

Table 1 Massachusetts and England distinctions and aims

See PDF Download link after Endnotes

Despite having different aims, both systems share a critical similarity: they are built around a perceived need to disempower local government. Massachusetts’s system reflects a suspicion that planners with free reign will approve too much housing, contrary to the wishes of the communities they serve. In England, the coalition that enacted the Localism Act was openly hostile to local government. As the Secretary of State for the MHCLG at the time, Eric Pickles, stressed his commitment to localism,245 he also said he “enjoyed bashing local government.”246 The Localism Act reflected this hostility by giving residents a new institution through which to control their communities—and one that local government can barely touch, despite its clearer representation and accountability. Further, although the Localism Act provided local governments a “general power of competence,” it was limited, and it also allowed local residents to take over public services and veto local tax increases.247

These fears of local government have led to pernicious results. Local governments, even when aware of the need new housing, face legal and political challenges before approving it. A more broadly representative form of democracy—voting—has lost its force, in favor of a form of government that caters to the privileged, and an already weak level of government is disempowered further. Massachusetts municipalities ostensibly have home rule initiative to act, but their power is limited by a state with “virtually unlimited power to overrule local action.”248 As a result, local officials exercise extreme caution, believing their home rule power is nonexistent and unimportant.249 Similarly, English municipalities lacked a general power of competence until the Localism Act, and even the Localism Act restricts key municipal financial powers.250 Certainly, local government as currently constructed may not be able to address the housing crisis by itself. But it has never been the sole culprit in planning’s failures.251

The larger problem with disempowering local government, though, is that it means disempowering the people who vote for it. Voters in a Massachusetts town might support a pro-development selectman, but the power of their vote is negated by an unelected planning board deferring to vocal opponents of development. If voters are not directly affected—or notified—about development outside their immediate neighborhood, they are unlikely to show up at a meeting to advocate for development based on an abstract conviction. That said, at least they can show up—English Neighbourhood Forums are expressly restricted to residents of the Neighbourhood Area. Forum meetings can be restricted to Forum members, and the Forum must only be open to residents and those who work in the area.252 People who live outside the Neighbourhood Area but would benefit from more housing in it are disempowered. Consider someone living in the London Borough of Camden but just outside of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Area, which is also within the borough. The Camden resident has no right to participate in the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum to support more housing in Hampstead, even though what happens in Hampstead will almost certainly affect rental prices in other parts of Camden. And while the Camden resident could vote for pro-development councilors to represent them in the Camden Borough Council, the Council’s power over planning in Hampstead will be curtailed if a NDP is made. Disempowering the Borough Council means disempowering all Camden residents outside of Hampstead.

Worse still, there is broad dissatisfaction with a system that purports to provide a meaningful opportunity to engage with government. In Massachusetts, residents often complain that results are preordained and that the entire process is a charade.253 Activists for change view unelected boards as illegitimate barriers that elevate project opponents beyond their deserved power.254 Planners find that comment quality at meetings is often too poor to be usable because it is based in simple NIMBY sentiment, overly broad, or reliant on whitewashed memories of a mythical past.255 Meetings are commonly derailed when they become proxies for larger fights,256 and public comments are often unrelated to the issue at hand.257 Meanwhile, in England, initial analyses of participant satisfaction suggest a mixed bag, with one scholar finding that NDP processes increased feelings of empowerment and satisfaction,258 but others reporting unrealistic expectations259 and continued frustration with the national government’s remaining avenues for top-down action.260 A steady rate of litigation also suggests dissatisfaction persists.261

Little good can come of a system that everyone dislikes. Dissatisfaction with the system delegitimizes it and increases distrust.262 It also may inhibit the successful dissemination of information about what government is doing.263 Further, public meetings may degrade community ties: “[P]ublic meetings across the country have become ugly spectacles, events where neighbors yell insults (and worse) at local elected and unelected officials, homebuilders, principals, teachers, and their own neighbors for the temerity to advocate for healthier, more sustainable, and more inclusive cities.”264 Examples of rancorous meetings are easy to find,265 and popular and trade media suggest that all sides expect meetings to be contentious and unpleasant.266 These meetings suggest that the disempowerment of local government, and the shift of power from elections to public meetings, will corrode democracy, not improve it.

Public participation creates another problem in England: an overuse of consultants. One aim of the Localism Act was to enable local residents to articulate their values and thereby enhance the social benefit of plans,267 but residents’ ability to do so is limited by their inexperience, which makes them reliant on experts.268 Neighbourhood Forums frequently hire planning consultants for key parts of the process.269 For example, the Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum hired a consultant before it had even been designated as such to ensure it would conduct sufficient outreach and be sufficiently demographically representative to be recognized. The Writtle Neighbourhood Forum relied heavily on outreach events and surveys planned and analyzed by a consultant group. It did so despite having several members, including the chair, who had worked in planning or real estate. The national government has not defined the parameters of these relationships or specified the role consultants are meant to play, leaving each Forum to figure out the appropriate relationship itself.270 This may threaten to thwart the Localism Act’s aim of community empowerment while diminishing the democratic potential of these groups.271 Local government is replaced by private actors.

England and Massachusetts designed public participation schemes with different aims. But they chose those aims for a similar reason: skepticism of local government’s power over the the people it governs. The result, in both cases, has been to bolster a system of democracy that exacerbates inequality and strengthens the position of the privileged. Wealthy people at local public meetings sometimes cloak parochialism in the language of social justice.272 In Massachusetts and England, ideals of grassroots action and accountable government, as expressed in law, help protect entrenched homeowners.

IV. Participation at the Expense of State Interests

The previous part demonstrated how legislators in England and Massachusetts used public participation to disempower local government. This part demonstrates how the same system works against broader interests, which those legislators are theoretically supposed to protect. States—this part uses that term to refer to both the U.K. national government and the Massachusetts state government—care about regional issues, including the production of sufficient housing. Unlike a parochial locality, states must consider the interests of existing homeowners and renters alongside the potential for a municipality to attract future homeowners and renters. It is difficult for a system of public participation to serve the interests of potential future residents because their interests are too diffuse. Thus, participation systems often ignore the external effects of local land use actions. States have, intentionally or not, disempowered themselves. Some sort of counterweight is needed so that statewide interests are given weight. Massachusetts largely ignores this problem; English law acknowledges it and offers one possible response. England demonstrates that diffuse interests can be represented in a legal framework for participation.

Any system of public participation must confront the basic asymmetries between insiders and outsiders. Both England and Massachusetts, like many other countries and states, have given power over land use decisions to local governments. However, only residents (the “insiders”) generally get a vote in local elections for the leadership of these governments, despite the substantial externalities that land use decisions can have on other municipalities in the region (the “outsiders”).273 Moreover, participation systems may be open to all, regardless of residence, but there is another asymmetry: the costs of development are generally borne solely by a small subset of insiders, while the benefits of development are widely dispersed.274 Because of this, it may seem impossible to organize a pro-development coalition; notably, grassroots pro-development groups emerged only after the Internet sparked a massive increase in national connectivity.275 The result is that public participation around land use planning is likely to be used mostly by anti-development factions rather than capture a truly representative cross-section of the public.

On its face, Massachusetts law largely ignores these tensions, but as a practical matter it exacerbates them. Public meetings are open to everyone, regardless of residence.276 Practically, however, residence matters. People who live nearby have an easier time learning about and attending meetings. Their comments may be given greater weight. Even if state law is neutral, municipal law may mandate that Planning Board give special attention to the concerns of abutters and neighbors.277 It is unsurprising that the stereotypical anti-development comment at a public meeting begins with some variation of “I have lived here for twenty-five years” as a way to establish legitimacy and imply to policymakers that longtime residents have a right to stop change.278 Moreover, state law provides some slight reinforcement of this dynamic: Massachusetts requires that notice of a meeting be posted in local newspapers and mailed to abutters of a project (and some abutters of abutters), but does not mandate any outreach to more broadly dispersed groups.279

The result of Massachusetts law is that the state itself is disempowered. The state should theoretically care about regional housing needs more than any individual municipality.280 Indeed, Massachusetts has tried various approaches to encourage homebuilding since instituting its current participation framework.281 However, it is unable to free itself from the confines of public participation laws. Both the Anti-Snob Zoning Law and the recently enacted mandates for increased housing density near transit stations rely on public participation, slowing the process. There appears to be little appetite to reform public participation. The state delegated power and though legally capable of taking it back, is unlikely to do so for political reasons. The Legislature of 1975 gave something away that the Legislature of 2021 needs back: the power to place regional concerns over parochial ones.

This complicates the typical relationships between the state and local government. To generalize, local governments can act only when granted the authority to do so by either a state statute or state constitution.282 Authorizations may be narrow.283 Even when the stars align and the municipality can act as it wants, the state legislature can preempt that action, and possibly even impose penalties for individual local officials who defy the state.284 States do not like to give up their control over local affairs. But through the Zoning Law, Massachusetts—and states like it—have ceded power not to local elected officials but to local appointed boards and the vocal minorities who can sway them. This is not typical preemption—this is the delegation of the preemptive power to groups that have no reason to hold it.285

English law also limits state authority, but it offers a solution too. As can be seen in the Hampstead/Camden example above, Neighbourhood Forum touches on and exacerbates the insider/outsider tension. The national government’s response to this problem, however, is to take on the role of outsider advocate. The framework tacitly accepts that Neighbourhood Forums will be generally opposed to development, and in response requires NDPs to meet expected housing contributions set by higher levels of government in conformance with national policies.286 It also encourages NDPs to exceed prescribed housing requirements “where possible.”287 The prescribed housing need is determined using a nationally standardized approach “unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals,” with regard to needs in both the area at issue and adjacent areas.288 This approach provides a counterweight to local inclinations, and demonstrates the government’s recognition of both the need for new housing and the difficulty of building it.289 The results, as described above, are mixed: NDPs thus far have not provided England with the housing it needs—possibly because the government, knowing many of its supporters resist density, has not proceeded forcefully enough—but, at least according to the government, they are having some measurable impact.290

Even if England has not succeeded, its approach suggests that it is possible for state interests to be adequately represented in a participation system. A stronger version of the English system, with more demanding housing targets, could make a measurable impact. Other structures are possible too. One possible model is found in energy law. State utility commissions often include consumer advocates to represent consumer interests in rate and other proceedings.291 There is at least some evidence that these advocates are associated with lower residential electricity rates.292 States could appoint “housing advocates” to local commissions and require the commission to hear from them at each meeting. Their voice could be backed by added powers, such as the power to issue reports or to sue to challenge decisions blocking development. Such a model could provide representation to residents outside of a municipality. The goal would be to vest a housing advocate with the motivation and power of an abutter to represent diffuse state interests.

Notably, this intervention may be happening without any state action. A new sort of organization is appearing across both the United States and United Kingdom: “Yes in My Backyard,” or YIMBY, groups.293 YIMBY groups can provide the organizational structure and communal ties needed for housing advocates to make their presence felt at public meetings.294 However, there are reasons to prefer a state advocate to a nonprofit one, including the state’s greater resources, concerns about diversity in YIMBY groups, and past nonprofits’ failures to mobilize communities.295 However it is achieved, England demonstrates that participation and state interests can coexist.

States could also redesign the incentives around participation. John Myers and Professor David Schleicher, for example, propose making development more attractive by allowing small areas—Myers would start at the level of an individual street—to capture some of its benefits, such as higher tax revenue.296 Myers would couple this with block-by-block zoning that would allow small-scale Coasean bargaining between neighbors on a single block to allow development.297 The result would be neighbors who are motivated and positioned to support development. Myers is optimistic that this process will spur development because at least some homeowners will want to build more housing and reap economic rewards.298 Indeed, there is some evidence this could work,299 although another observer cautions that homeowners’ incentives would still generally point against development.300 We may also worry that homeowners in the most privileged municipalities will choose racism, classism, and exclusion over potential economic benefit, because white homeowners have for decades been “willing[] to pay a premium for homogeneous neighborhoods,” leading to persistent segregation.301

If these counterweights fail, the most conceptually straightforward approach would be to limit participation. Background state law could change to include much greater by-right zoning, in which development cannot be blocked by local participatory bodies. This would be simple but politically difficult without outside intervention or changes to legislative procedures,302 leading to potential legitimacy problems.303 Hopefully, then, the above solutions demonstrate that participation that respects state interests is possible.

V. Conclusion: Democratic Participation?

U.S. public meeting law has emerged as a major barrier to constructing direly needed housing. What began as a backlash to urban renewal now threatens progress towards economic, equity, and environmental aims. The system needs legal reform. The English system of Neighbourhood Planning provides one potential model. Comparing the Massachusetts and English systems, however, reveals that both proceed from a distrust of local government, and their aims and approaches are often in tension with the substantive goal of adding more housing. This problem is that both public participation systems enhance the advantages of privileged groups and accentuate the gap in preference intensity between a small group of strongly anti-development neighbors and a larger public that would marginally benefit from the development.

There are, however, promising signs that the motivation for reform is meeting the need to generate a more democratic system of public participation. Public participation is receiving increased scrutiny as the housing crisis becomes ever more pressing and activists question the late twentieth century consensus.304 Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to rethink assumptions about public participation; Massachusetts suspended certain provisions of the Open Meeting Law in March 2020.305 Increasingly, observers are frustrated by the delay the Massachusetts system allows and creates, and are asking how many checks on government are too many.306 This year, the Legislature enacted the most substantive changes to background zoning law since the 1970s.307 The time is ripe for reform. As this Article demonstrates, such reform should confront the insider/outsider distinction head-on. It should clearly identify the purpose of a public participation system, and seek to orient statutory changes around furthering it.

Most people do not like taking an evening—let alone a morning or weekend—out of their lives to show up and speak in front of a hostile audience. Somewhere along the way, U.S. reformers decided that this was what democracy demanded. This choice has contributed to a housing crisis, while empowering privileged defenders of the status quo. In 2011, England removed the hostile audience from the equation, but shifted hefty, time-intensive tasks from government groups to citizens and citizens groups who are only theoretically ordinary. The English housing crisis persists too, and future legislation can do better. “Better,” though, is within reach. A state or national government must simply decide that better is worth action.


1. See, e.g., Arnold Fleishman & Carol A. Pierannunzi, Citizens, Development Interests, and Local Land-Use Regulation, 52 J. Pol. 838, 839 (1990); Kathe Callahan, Citizen Participation: Models and Methods, 30 Int’l J. Pub. Admin. 1179, 1190 (2007); Judith E. Innes & David E. Booher, Reframing Public Participation: Strategies for the 21st Century, 5 Planning Theory & Prac. 419, 419 (2004); Paul Krugman, Opinion, That Hissing Sound, N.Y. Times (Aug. 8, 2005), (discussing “the Zoned Zone” of the country where land use regulations proliferate).

2. Kristina Ford, The Trouble with City Planning 218–23 (2010).

3. See, e.g., Christopher Serkin & Leslie Wellington, Putting Exclusionary Zoning in Its Place: Affordable Housing and Geographic Scale, 40 Fordham Urb. L.J. 1667, 1670–73 (2013).

4. Grant Glovin, A Mount Laurel for Climate Change? The Judicial Role in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Land Use and Transportation, 49 Env’t L. Rep. 10,938, 10,938–39 (2019); Edward L. Glaeser, Green Cities, Brown Suburbs, City J. (Winter 2009),

5. Edward Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko, The Economic Implications of Housing Supply 3 (Nat’l Bureau of Econ. Rsch., Working Paper No. 23,833, 2017).

6. Lewis Mumford, The City in History 511–13 (1961).

7. Cf., e.g., Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities 528 (50th Anniversary Edition 2011).

8. Planning History Timeline, Am. Planning Ass’n, (last visited Apr. 12, 2020).

9. Ford, supra note 2, at 63. But see Samuel D. Brody, David R. Godschalk & Raymond J. Burby, Mandating Citizen Participation in Plan Making: Six Strategic Planning Choices, 69 J. Am. Plan. Ass’n 245, 245–46 (2003) (noting that “[c]itizen participation in plan making” was first mandated at the federal level in an urban renewal program before being incorporated into state institutions aimed at curbing development).

10. Or, perhaps, just as successful as they intended to be. See Jacob Anbinder, The Pandemic Disproved Urban Progressives’ Theory About Gentrification, Atlantic (Jan. 2, 2021),

11. Marc J. Dunkelman, This Is Why Your Holiday Travel Is Awful, Politico (Nov. 29, 2019),

12. Michael Hobbes, Progressive Boomers Are Making It Impossible for Cities To Fix The Housing Crisis, HuffPost (Jul. 8, 2019),

13. Id. (labeling public meetings “a weapon of privilege”).

14. See, e.g., Rose Adams, Industry City Supporters Face off with Activists at Rezoning Hearing, Brooklyn Paper (Dec. 10, 2019),; Adam Gaffin, City Will Study Other Possible Ways to Keep Pedestrians from Getting Mowed Down on West Roxbury’s Centre Street Besides Reducing Lanes, Universal Hub (Nov. 19, 2019),; Elizabeth Kim, In SoHo, Talk Of Rezoning Sparks Affordable Housing Battle Between Young And Old New Yorkers, Gothamist (Jan. 17, 2020),; Audrey McGlinchy, White Homeowners Dominate Input over Austin’s Land Code Rewrite. One Group Is Trying to Change That, Austin Monitor (Dec. 9, 2019),; Alexis Tarrazi, Bridgewater Passes Center of Excellence Project, Patch (Dec. 10, 2019),

15. Parks and Recreation: Ann’s Decision (NBC television broadcast Feb. 7, 2013); Parks and Recreation: Canvassing (NBC television broadcast Apr. 16, 2009); Parks and Recreation: Jerry’s Painting (NBC television broadcast Apr. 28, 2011); Parks and Recreation: Pilot (NBC television broadcast Apr. 9, 2009); Parks and Recreation: Smallest Park (NBC television broadcast Nov. 17, 2011); Parks and Recreation: Sweetums (NBC television broadcast Feb. 4, 2010); Parks and Recreation: Time Capsule (NBC television broadcast Feb. 3, 2011).

16. See Katherine Levine Einstein, David M. Glick & Maxwell Palmer, Neighborhood Defenders (2019); Katherine Levine Einstein, Maxwell Palmer & David M. Glick, Who Participates in Local Government? Evidence from Meeting Minutes, 17 Persp. on Pol. 28 (2018).

17. Einstein et al. supra note 16, at 15–16, 97, 101–09. There are also a disproportionate number of zoning professionals or experts at the meetings, which can discourage people from attending. Id. at 120–21.

18. Id. at 10–16, 59.

19. See Kathleen G. Gundry & Thomas A. Heberlein, Do Public Meetings Represent the Public? 50 J. Am. Plan. Ass’n 175, 175 (1984) (collecting literature published between 1968 and 1980 describing the pitfalls of public meetings, but arguing that fears of unrepresentativeness are overblown).

20. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 29 (“[P]revious studies have relied primarily on surveys, voting, case studies of meetings, and aggregate-level analyses of meeting participation. In contrast, we rely on directly observing both who participates in policy discussions about housing development, and how they participate.”).

21. See generally, e.g., Gerald E. Frug & David J. Barron, City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation (2013); David J. Barron, The Promise of Cooley’s City: Traces of Local Constitutionalism, 147 U. Penn. L. Rev. 487 (1999); Paul Diller, Intrastate Preemption, 87 B.U. L. Rev. 1113 (2007); Kenneth A. Stahl, Preemption, Federalism, and Local Democracy, 44 Fordham Urb. L.J. 133 (2017); Kenneth Stahl, Home Rule and State Preemption of Local Land Use Control, 50 Urb. Law. 179 (2020).

22. Einsten et al., supra note 16, at 33.

23. The same laws apply to Wales, but this Article focuses on England. For a review of decentralized planning throughout the United Kingdom, see Simon Pemberton, Community-Based Planning and Localism in the Devolved UK, in Localism and Neighbourhood Planning: Power to the People? 183 (Sue Brownill & Quintin Bradley eds., 2017).

24. Managing relationships between these groups is a perennial problem in local government law. See, e.g., Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa, 439 U.S. 60 (1978); Richard Thompson Ford, Geography and Sovereignty: Jurisdictional Formation and Racial Segregation, 49 Stan. L. Rev. 1365 (1997); Gerald E. Frug, Beyond Regional Government, 115 Harv. L. Rev. 1763 (2002).

25. Any system of public participation, including direct democracy, involves representation. See Bruce E. Cain, Democracy More or Less: America’s Political Reform Quandry 7–8 (2015) (discussing how limited citizen attention and knowledge means that true direct control is impossible).

26. There are other possible values, both widely accepted and contested; some of these will be discussed in Section III.A, infra, in an exploration of the aims of public participation systems. See also Joshua Cohen, Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy, in Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy 342, 343–44 (Derek Matravers & Jon Pike eds., Taylor & Francis e-Library ed. 2005); cf. Richard H. Fallon, Legitimacy and the Constitution, 118 Harv. L. Rev. 1787 (2005) (discussing three types of constitutional legitimacy and the legitimacy of other laws).

27. See supra notes 7–9 and accompanying text. A bill proposed the same year the Zoning Law was overhauled would have forced “builders of multiple family dwellings seeking zoning changes” to obtain the signatures of 85% of the abutters of the lots at issue. H.B. 4908, 1975 House (Mass. 1975). There were some trends to the contrary. Notably, the Anti-Snob Zoning act had been enacted in 1969. An Act Providing for the Construction of Low or Moderate Income Housing in Cities and Towns in Which Local Restrictions Hamper Such Construction, ch. 774, 1969 Mass. Acts 712. And nationally, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided Southern Burlington NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel, 336 A.2d 713 (N.J. 1975), that year, taking a critical look at exclusionary zoning and beginning its journey towards stricter judicial policing of local zoning.

28. An Act Further Regulating the Zoning Enabling Act, ch. 808, § 3, 1975 Mass. Acts 1112, 1114 (codified as amended at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A). Massachusetts recently passed the most significant amendments to the Zoning Law since 1975. An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, ch. 358, §§ 16–25, 2020 Mass. Acts (to be codified at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A). The provisions most important to this Article were not amended.

29. H.B. 6849, 1975 House (Mass. 1975).

30. Neither planning boards nor public hearings were new in Massachusetts. Such hearings existed for zoning bylaws by 1933. An Act Revising the Municipal Zoning Laws, ch. 269, § 27, 1933 Mass. Acts 419, 420–21. Planning boards’ jurisdictions gradually expanded to include more and more individual projects, starting with redevelopment in 1945, Urban Redevelopment Corporations, ch. 654, § 6, 1945 Mass. Acts 709, 711–12, and proceeding to subdivisions in 1947, An Act to Clarify and Improve the Laws Providing an Improved Method of Municipal Planning, ch. 340, § 4, 1947 Mass. Acts 327, 332–33. Historic district commissions also took on project-specific review before planning boards, but only in their defined geographic areas. An Act to Authorize the Establishment of Historic District Commissions in the Commonwealth, ch. 372, 1960 Mass. Acts 263.

31. See generally Fleishman & Pierannunzi, supra note 1.

32. Brian Adams, Public Meetings and the Democratic Process, 64 Pub. Admin. Rev. 43, 44 (2004).

33. Ford, supra note 2, at 62–63.

34. An Act to Provide for the Establishment of Local Planning Boards by Cities and Towns, ch. 494, 1913 Mass. Acts 405.

35. 272 U.S. 365 (1926).

36. Ford, supra note 2, at 63.

37. Id. at 222.

38. Gerald E. Frug, The City as a Legal Concept, 93 Harv. L. Rev. 1057, 1119 (1980).

39. See Ford, supra note 2, at 63.

40. See sources cited supra note 30. Variances, to be clear, had been used before, but not with the same consistency and rigor. See, e.g., An Act to Facilitate and Encourage the Providing of Homes During the Present Emergency, ch. 592, § 2, 1946 Mass. Act. 702, 702–03. And Boston had the power to institute something like a special permit system starting in 1956. An Act Authorizing the City of Boston to Limit Buildings According to Their Use or Construction to Specified Districts, ch. 665, § 2, 1956 Mass. Acts 610, 612. But this did not extend to the rest of the state.

41. Practitioners often refer to each law by their chapter in the Massachusetts General Laws: Chapters 30A, 40A, and 40B, respectively. There are other relevant, but less impactful, statutes. For example, public hearings are used to review the establishment of historic districts, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40C, § 3, certain alterations to buildings within historic districts, id. §§ 8(b), 10(g), the establishment of business improvement districts, id. ch. 40O, § 4, and certain project approvals in smart growth zoning districts, id. ch.40R, § 11. Boston is governed by its own statute, but the relevant procedures are largely similar. See Mass. Acts 1965, ch. 665 §§ 3, 8, 9.

42. Hancock Vill. I, LLC v. Town of Brookline, No. 18 PS 000192 (HPS), 2019 WL 4189357, at *13 (Mass. Land Ct. Sept. 4, 2019), judgment entered, No. 18 PS 000192 (HPS), 2019 WL 4187764 (Mass. Land Ct. Sept. 4, 2019) (“Strict compliance . . . brooks no equivalence.”).

43. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 30A, §§ 17, 20, 22; see also Yaro v. Bd. of Appeals of Newburyport, 410 N.E.2d 725 (Mass. App. Ct. 1980) (applying the Open Meeting Law to a zoning hearing).

44. See Open Meeting Law Pending Complaints,, (last visited Jan. 30, 2021).

45. 940 Mass. Code Regs. § 29.07 (2019).

46. Id.

47. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, §§ 5, 9, 10. Localities can give the authority to grant special permits to a different body, called a special permit granting authority. See id. § 1A.

48. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, § 5.

49. Id. § 11.

50. Moore v. Cataldo, 249 N.E.2d 578, 580 (Mass. 1969).

51. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 39.

52. See, e.g., Colo. Rev. Stat. § 31-23-304 (2019) (“At least fifteen days’ notice of the time and place of such hearing shall be published in an official paper or a paper of general circulation in such municipality.”); Idaho Code § 67-6512(b) (2019); Minn. Stat. § 462.357(3) (2019) (“When an amendment involves changes in district boundaries affecting an area of five acres or less, a similar notice shall be mailed at least ten days before the day of the hearing to each owner of affected property and property situated wholly or partly within 350 feet of the property to which the amendment relates.”); N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40:55D-12(b) (West 2020) (“[N]otice of a hearing requiring public notice pursuant to subsection a. of this section shall be given to the owners of all real property as shown on the current tax duplicates, located in the State and within 200 feet in all directions of the property which is the subject of such hearing . . . .”).

53. Daly Dry Wall, Inc. v. Bd. of Appeals of Easton, 322 N.E.2d 780, 780–81 (Mass. App. Ct. 1975).

54. See, e.g., Trevor Ballantyne, Finance Committee Delays Recommendation on Zoning Proposals, Needham Times (Oct. 15, 2019),; Jack Guerino, Strong Opposition Leads Adams Planners to Delay Zoning Vote, iBerkshires (July 30, 2019),; Dustin Luca, Missing Members Force Hearing Delay, Salem News (Feb. 20, 2020), (describing how a project, already presented at a previous planning board meeting, could not be voted on at a second one due to a lack of a quorum and was thus postponed an extra month); Daniel Schemer, Planning Board Unhappy with Fairhaven Gas Station Developers, S. Coast Today (Dec. 16, 2019), (noting a contentious hearing was continued for a month); Jim Sullivan, Salisbury Beach Housing Complex Hearing Delayed, Newburyport News (Feb. 14, 2020),

55. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 26–27.

56. See, e.g., Ed Baker, Here’s What’s Next for Weymouth Landing Development, Wicked Local Weymouth (Feb. 14, 2019),; Clarence Fanto, $50M Elm Court Renovation Pushed to 2020, Berkshire Eagle (June 9, 2019),,576087; Elaine Thomson, Shrewsbury Plaza Owner Sues Over Former Spag’s Site, Worcester Telegram (Oct. 31, 2015),

57. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, § 16.

58. Id. § 17. In addition, any applicant for a permit whose application is denied may appeal to the zoning board of appeals. Id. §§ 8, 14. These appeals face similar time limits to planning board decisions. Id. § 15.

59. Marashlian v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Newburyport, 660 N.E.2d 369, 371–72 (Mass. 1996).

60. See Reeves v. Bd. of Zoning Appeal, 455 N.E.2d 447, 448–49 (Mass. App. Ct. 1983).

61. Id.

62. An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, ch. 358, §§ 16–25, 2020 Mass. Acts (to be codified at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A).

63. Grant Glovin & Arthur P. Kreiger, Governor Signs Bill Making Zoning Changes and Promoting Housing, Anderson & Kreiger (Jan. 21, 2021),

64. 81 Spooner Rd., LLC v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Brookline, 964 N.E.2d 318, 326 (Mass. 2012).

65. Murrow v. Esh Circus Arts, 101 N.E.3d 959, 962, 964–65 (Mass. App. Ct. 2018).

66. Alana Semuels, From ‘Not in My Backyard’ to ‘Yes in My Backyard’, Atl. (July 5, 2017),

67. Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers of N.Y., Inc. v. Bd. of Appeal of Billerica, 909 N.E.2d 1161, 1167 (Mass. 2009).

68. A recent spate of decisions in New York blocking development while complaining, in one instance, about “huge towers,” has led Professor Roderick Hills to identify potential judicial “anti-development bias.” Roderick Hills, The New Levelers, City J. (Feb. 20, 2020),

69. Wendy’s, 909 N.E.2d at 1168.

70. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, § 17.

71. Id. ch. 40B, § 21. The local boards circumvented include both planning boards and historic district commissions. See Dennis Housing Corp. v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Dennis, 785 N.E.2d 682, 688–91 (Mass. 2003).

72. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40B, § 21.

73. Quinn v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Dalton, 464 N.E.2d 395, 399 (Mass. App. Ct. 1984).

74. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40B, § 22.

75. Id. § 23.

76. Id. § 20. DHCD’s determination is judicially reviewable but receives deference. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Holliston v. Hous. Appeals Comm., 953 N.E.2d 721, 729 (Mass. 2011) (“The HAC’s decision must be upheld if supported by substantial evidence, and we must indulge all rational presumptions in favor of the validity of the HAC’s determinations, including its choice between two fairly conflicting views, giving due weight to its experience, technical competence, and specialized knowledge.”); Town of Wrentham v. West Wrentham Village, LLC, 887 N.E.2d 210, 212–13 (Mass. 2008).

77. Tom Acitelli, Boston’s Housing-Construction Effort: Is it Already Too Late?, Curbed Bos. (Sep. 27, 2018),; Metro Mayors Coal. Regional Housing Task Force, (last visited Apr. 30, 2020).

78. David Schleicher, City Unplanning, 122 Yale L.J. 1670, 1674–85 (2013).

79. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 10–16, 59; see also Cain, supra note 25, at 41–44, 59–62 (discussing how too much transparency harms efficiency and efficacy of government, including local government).

80. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 4, 21, 25, 43.

81. Id. at 36, 87–88.

82. Id. at 18, 80–82; Daniel Hertz, The Illegal City of Somerville, City Observatory (June 15, 2016),

83. Sarah Crump et al., Zoned Out: Why Massachusetts Needs to Legalize Apartments Near Transit, Brookings Inst.: Bos. Indicators (Oct. 21, 2020),

84. Id.

85. John Myers, Mercatus Ctr., Fixing Urban Planning with Ostrom: Strategies for Existing Cities to Adopt Polycentric, Bottom-Up Regulation of Land Use 19–20 (2020),

86. Nicholas Chiumenti, Fed. Res. Bank of Bos., The Growing Shortage of Affordable Hosuing for the Extremely Low Income in Massachusetts 3 (2019),

87. Schleicher, supra note 78, at 1684–91

88. Id.

89. Chiumenti, supra note 86, at 4–5; Devin Michelle Bunten, Untangling the Housing Shortage and Gentrification, CityLab (Oct. 23, 2019),

90. See Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 148–150.

91. “Yes in My Backyard” (YIMBY) groups in Massachusetts and elsewhere tend to prominently stress their commitment to housing affordability for all. See, e.g., About Us, Better Cambridge, (last visited May 24, 2020) (“We believe that increasing housing, creating more affordable housing, and enhancing tenant protections are critical to ensuring more people can live here and stay here — our goal is to increase access to the opportunities our city provides, regardless of background or income.”); Cal. Yimby, (last visited May 24, 2020) (“We say ‘Yes In My Back Yard’—yes to affordable housing, yes to inclusive, equitable communities, yes to opportunity, and yes to more neighbors!”); Open N.Y., (last visited May 24, 2020) (“Our high prices, rising rents, crowded apartments and rolling tide of displacement have the same root cause: our housing shortage.”); Platform, Somerville YIMBY, (last visited May 24, 2020) (“We support policies that . . . [h]elp people of different economic and social backgrounds live in and participate in the community.”).

92. See, e.g., Vicki Been, Ingrid Gould Ellen & Katherine O’Regan, NYU Furman Ctr., Supply Skepticism: Housing Supply and Affordability (2018),; Conor Dougherty, Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America 37–38, 194–95, 229–35 (2020); Brian J. Asquith, Evan Mast & Davin Reed, Supply Shock Versus Demand Shock: The Local Effects of New Housing in Low-Income Areas (Upjohn Inst., Working Paper No. 19-316, 2019); Evan Mast, The Effect of New Market-Rate Housing Construction on the LowIncome Housing Market (Upjohn Inst., Working Paper No. 19-307, 2019); Emily Badger, A Luxury Apartment Rises in a Poor Neighborhood. What Happens Next?, N.Y. Times (Feb. 14, 2020),

93. See Dougherty, supra note 92, at 37–38, 190–95, 229–35. At least one prominent YIMBY group will not advocate for new development “in working-class communities of color.” Orion Jones, Outsiders for Years, NYC Yimbys Move into Mainstream, Real Deal (Jan. 4, 2021),

94. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 101–06. There are also a disproportionate number of zoning professionals or experts at the meetings, which can discourage people from attending. Id. at 120–21.

95. Id. at 106–09. Interestingly, this pattern holds despite their being relatively few high-intensity participators; rather, the vast majority of people participate infrequently, but the people who do participate are similar to each other. Id. at 103.

96. Rachel Swan, SFMTA’s New Leader: Board Selects Transportation Consultant Jeffrey Tumlin, S.F. Chron. (Nov. 13, 2019), (quoting the head of Transit Center as describing San Francisco’s “’citizen involvement’ culture” as “an endless series of evening meetings of people yelling” and “hold[ing] up progress”).

97. See, e.g., Hobbes, supra note 12; Kim, supra note 14; McGlinchy, supra note 14.

98. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 37–39. Robert Dahl’s classic pluralist account of city politics noted that time was a privileged resource. Robert A. Dahl, Who Governs? 226 (1961). In the context of public meetings, use of that resource—through a predictable job that leaves one free during business hours—is necessary to attend a public meeting and make a political impact.

99. Urban Land Institute, Higher-Density Development: Myth and Fact 13-15 (2005),; Kenneth Stahl, Reliance in Land Use Law, 2013 BYU L. Rev. 949, 952 (2014).

100. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 47, 116, 122–24. This threat is particularly powerful in the Anti-Snob Zoning context, since such projects attempt to bypass other parts of the process. Id. at 128–30.

101. Casey Berkovitz, Is a Better Community Meeting Possible?, Century Found. (Aug. 29, 2019), (“We do not require people to sit through hours of other people’s opinions, or transport themselves to City Hall, in order to vote or to donate to a political campaign. (When such barriers are put in place to voting, especially when those barriers disproportionately affect poor and minority communities, progressives are rightfully outraged.)”).

102. These hallmarks include the ease of municipal incorporation, the difficulty of municipal growth through annexation, and fiscal incentives that encourage exclusionary zoning. See, e.g., Richard Briffault, Our Localism: Part I—The Structure of Local Government Law, 90 Colum. L. Rev. 1, 5–6 (1990); Jerry Frug, The Geography of Community, 48 Stan. L. Rev. 1047, 1082–84 (1996); Robert W. Wassmer & Imaez Wahid, Does the Likely Demographics of Affordable Housing Justify NIMBYism?, 29 Housing Pol’y Debate 343 (2019); William A. Fischel, The Rise of the Homevoters: How the Growth Machine Was Subverted by OPEC and Earth Day 2 (Dartmouth Coll. Econ. Dep’t, Working Paper, 2016),

103. Richard Briffault, Our Localism: Part II—Localism and Legal Theory, 90 Colum. L. Rev. 346, 435–44 (1990); Ford, supra note 24; Frug, supra note 102, at 1095–97, 1101–04.

104. The key problem with reliance on local elections is that voters often do not know their local candidates’ positions on issue. Schleicher, supra note 78, at 1700.

105. See, e.g., Jeffrey M. Berry, Kent E. Portnoy & Ken Thomson, Brookings Inst., The Rebirth of Urban Democracy 295–97 (1993); Katherine A. McComas, Theory and Practice of Public Meetings, 11 Comm. Theory 36, 47 (2001); Berkovitz, supra note 101. Even Professors Judith Innes and David Booher, who argued critics had not been sufficiently imaginative in their challenges to public hearings, called for a solution—collaborative participation—that is not necessarily legally barred. See Innes & Booher, supra note 1, at 420, 422.

106. See Brody et al., supra note 9, at 246 (“[P]articipation requirements embodied in most state growth management laws are vague, outdated, and general. They provide little direction or guidance to planners seeking to craft effective citizen participation programs.”).

107. Berkovitz, supra note 101.

108. Roderick M. Hills, Jr. & David Schleicher, Planning an Affordable City, 101 Iowa L. Rev. 91, 113–14 (2015).

109. David M. Smith & Enid Wistrich, Devolution and Localism in England 7–8 (2014). There has been increased decentralization since then, although there is disagreement over whether this has been manifested in land-use planning. Id.; Steve Leach, John Stewart & George Jones, Centralisation, Devolution and the Future of Local Government in England 52, 60–62 (2018).

110. The three tiers are the county council, district council, and parish council, although the first two may be blended in a “unitary authority.” Local Government Act 1972, c. 70, § 1 (Eng.); Smith & Wistrich, supra note 109, at 88.

111. Nick Bailey, Housing at the Neighbourhood Level: A Review of the Initial Approaches to Neighbourhood Development Plans Under the Localism Act 2011 in England, 10 J. Urbanism 1, 3 (2017). First established in 1894, parish councils are found mostly, but not exclusively in rural areas; some urban areas have “city councils” that play an analogous role. Id. However, since 1997, 200 additional parish councils have been created in response to the first attempts by the national government to devolve power. Nick Gallent & Steve Robinson, Neighbourhood Planning: Communities, Networks, and Governance 37 (2012).

112. Gallent & Robinson, supra note 111, at 82–86.

113. Id. at 43.

114. Smith & Wistrich, supra note 109, at 39–40; Simin Davoudi & Paul Cowie, Are English Neighbourhood Forums Democratically Legitimate?, 14 Planning Theory & Practice 562, 562 n.2 (2013).

115. Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, c. 5, § 18 (Eng.); The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015, SI 2015/595, art. 18, ¶ 3 (Eng.).

116. Quintin Bradley, The Poltiical Identities of Neighbourhood Planning in England, 19 Space & Polity 97, 98 (2015).

117. See Local Government Act 1972, c. 70, § 99; Sch. 12 (Eng.) (containing detailed provisions on local government meetings but not listing any procedures regarding public participation). The only relevant requirement is that the public must be admitted to the meetings. Id. §§ 100, 100A, 100E.

118. Typically, only four to six people are given time to comment on any given project: the government’s professional planner, the project applicant, one or two neighbors who oppose the project, and one or two neighbors who support the project, with strict time limits for the latter groups; there were limited opportunities to communicate heterogeneous views within a group. See, e.g., Planning Committee Protocol for Public Speakers, BCP Council (May 30, 2019),; What Happens at a Planning Committee Meeting, Birmingham City Council, (last visited April 21, 2020); Speaking at Planning Committee, Dover District Council, (last visited April 21, 2020). If multiple people wished to speak, the Council could force them to either speak jointly or choose only one of them to speak. See, e.g., Speaking at Planning Committee Meetings, Thurrock, (last visited April 21, 2020).

119. Bailey, supra note 111, at 2; Quintin Bradley & William Sparling, The Impact of Neighbourhood Planning and Localism on House-building in England, 34 Housing, Theory & Soc’y 106, 106 (2017).

120. Bailey, supra note 111, at 2.

121. Id.

122. Myers, supra note 85 at 17–20.

123. Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119 at 107.

124. 107.

125. 109

126. Bradley, supra note 116, at 97 (noting that Neighbourhood Planning was meant to “offer[] agency to neighbourhood groups and engages them as collective political partners” because the neighborhood is “the space of privileged knowledge and empowered democracy”).

127. Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119, at 1; see also Bailey, supra note 111, at 1. The Act was novel in English law for being the first time that “the neighbourhood was defined as a political identity,” and participation in government was organized around that identity. Bradley, supra note 116, at 98. Professor Bradley argues that “localism seeks to harness the benefits of collective participation while limiting its impact on the current political settlement.” Id. at 97.

128. Localism Act 2011, c. 20, § 120 (Eng.). The latter aim was also accomplished by allowing the transfer of some planning functions to other authorities (such as Mayoral Development Corporations in London), granting the national government extensive power to intervene in the planning process, and reducing local budgets. See id. §§ 15, 197–198, 201–206; Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, c. 5, §§ 21, 25–27, 28A, 34 (Eng.); Bailey, supra note 111, at 2. But the news was not all bad for local governments. They gained power relative to regional governments, who previously had binding planning authority over them. Localism Act § 109. Additionally, local governments were, for the first time, granted a general power of competence to do whatever private individuals could do, although this was counterbalanced with new restrictions. Localism Act §§ 1–8, 15; Leach et al., supra note 109, at 45–46.

129. Neighbourhood Development Orders (NDOs), targeting a particular project or set of discrete projects, are also permitted. Town and Country Planning Act 1990, c. 8, §§ 61E–61Q, Sch. 4B–4C (Eng.). Note that the relevant sections of the Town and Country Planning Act were enacted in Schedules 9–12 of the Localism Act 2011. There are relatively few procedural differences between the NDP process and the NDO process. One important difference is that NDOs have less burdensome consultation requirements. Compare Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/637, Sch. 1, ¶ 1 (Eng.), with Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/637, Sch. 1, ¶ 2 (Eng.). This Article will not focus on NDOs because they have been used sparingly. Dave Chapman, Some Thoughts on how Neighbourhood Development Orders Can Link into Neighbourhood Development Plans, Triformis (Jan. 2016), (noting, from a planning consultant’s perspective, the relative lack of interest in NDOs compared to NDPs). There is also little scholarship studying NDOs, despite the handful of geographers who have devoted themselves to studying the neighbourhood planning process over the past decade.

130. Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/637, art. 6, 6A (Eng.).

131. Daws Hill Neighbourhood Forum v. Sec’y of State for Communities and Local Government [2013] EWHC (Admin) 513 [42], [57] (Eng.).

132. Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum, (last visited Apr. 24, 2020).

133. Town and Country Planning Act 1990, c. 8, § 61G (Eng.). Generally, any denials of an application require reasons, which can then be challenged in litigation, while approvals do not require any reasons. See R (on the application of Cooper) v Ashford Borough Council and another, [2016] EWHC (Admin) 1525 [28] (Eng.).

134. The national government’s guidance for designating Neighbourhood Areas lists several such reasons, including village or settlement boundaries, local service catchment areas, community group areas, building appearance, coherent estates, business character, natural boundaries (including infrastructure), size, natural features, and electoral wards. Guidance: Neighbourhood Planning, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t ¶ 033, (last updated Apr. 7, 2020) [hereinafter Guidance]. However, if the reason is that the area is too large, the local authority must designate a smaller area rather than rejecting the area entirely. Town and Country Planning Act § 61G. There are also additional restrictions when Neighbourhood Areas overlap with civil parishes. For example, an application to designate a whole parish a neighbourhood area must be approved, as long as there is no neighbourhood already within the parish. Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/637, art. 5A (Eng.). Additionally, no applicant can infringe on a parish except for a parish council, and any modification of boundaries lines in a parished area must be done with parish council consent. Town and Country Planning Act § 61G.

135. Town and Country Planning Act § 61F(5); Guidance, supra note 134, ¶¶ 028, 038.

136. Town and Country Planning Act § 61F(1)–(2).

137. Bailey, supra note 111 at 3.

138. Town and Country Planning Act § 61F(5). The body must demonstrate it meets these requirements in its application to become a Neighbourhood Forum. Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/637 (Eng.), art. 8.

139. Town and Country Planning Act § 61F(5)(a).

140. Id. § 61F(7)(a)(ii)–(iii). The one specific diversity requirement is that groups must take “reasonable steps to secure” that the membership consists of at least one resident of the Neighbourhood Area, one worker in the Neighbourhood Area, and one elected member of a local government representing part of the Neighbourhood Area. Id. § 61F(7)(a)(i).

141. See, e.g., Update from the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum, Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum (Nov. 21, 2019), (discussing how the Forum, having successfully completed the Neighbourhood Planning process, has “been seeking to ensure that the Plan is being properly applied in Camden’s consideration of planning applications,” among “other activities,” such as public consultations about how to spend certain funds and replacing a pedestrian crosswalk with a full traffic light scheme).

142. Id. ¶ 006 (citing Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, c. 5, § 38(6) (Eng.)). It must be given weight even while being developed. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 007.

143. Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act § 38(6); see also Town and Country Planning Act § 70(2); Guidance: Determining a Planning Application, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t ¶¶ 008, 016, (last updated Mar. 15, 2019) (defining “material consideration” as “one which is relevant to making the planning decision in question,” with a “very wide” scope, but explicitly labeling “[l]ocal opposition or support” and “purely private interests such as the impact of a development on the value of a neighbouring property” as not material). In “dealing with any application for planning permission a local planning authority is required to have regard to the provisions of the development plan so far as material,” including “interpret[ing] the policies correctly” and having reference to both “individual material policies” and “the development plan as a whole.” R (on the application of Cooper) v. Ashford Borough Council, [2016] EWHC (Admin) 1525 [26].

144. Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119, at 110.

145. Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act §§ 21, 25–27, 28A, 34

146. Plans examine and plan for a five-year horizon, but only get the most weight in the first two years. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶¶ 083, 099.

147. Town and Country Planning Act 1990, c. 8, §§ 38B, 61K (Eng.).

148. Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/637, art. 14(a) (Eng.)

149. Id. art. 14(b).

150. Id. Sch. 1.

151. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 047.

152. Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B, ¶¶ 1, 4.

153. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 040

154. Id.

155. Localism Act 2011, c. 20, § 110 (Eng.); Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, c. 5, § 33A (Eng.); Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B, ¶ 3.

156. Guidance: Plan-Making, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t ¶ 009, (last updated May 13, 2020).

157. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 025

158. The Guidance explicitly contemplates this possibility. Id. ¶ 043.

159. I observed this at meetings of the Old Oak and Writtle Neighbourhood Forums.

160. I observed this at a meeting of the Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum.

161. R (on the application of Central Bedfordshire Council) v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] EWHC (Admin) 2167 [28]–[30], [44], [48].

162. Town and Country Planning Act 1990, c. 8, Sch. 4B, ¶ 8. (Eng.).

163. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 005 (explaining how housing need is used in NDPs); see also Guidance: Housing and Economic Needs Assessment, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t ¶¶ 002, 004, (last updated July 22, 2019) (explaining how housing need is calculated). The Neighbourhood Planning Guidance also references expected housing contributions set out in spatial development strategies, a now-abandoned form of planning. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 005. In certain exceptional cases, if the local authority cannot give an indicative figure for amount of housing, the NDP can do so itself. Id. ¶ 105.

164. John Sturzaker, Neighbourhood Forums: Six Years Old, and Less Powerful than They Thought They Might Be, Democratic Audit (Oct. 20, 2017),

165. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 103; see also id. ¶¶ 096–097

166. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t, National Planning Policy Framework (2019), The NPPF includes a presumption in favor of sustainable development, although this has mostly been interpreted to mean economic sustainability. Id. ¶ 11; Leach et al., supra note 109, at 62–63. Neighbourhood Plans also must comply with environmental review regulations. Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/637, art. 15 (Eng.).

167. Gavin Parker & Matthew Wargent, Neighbourhood Planning Users Research Revisited 3–5 (2017),; see also Emma Lees & Edward Shepherd, Incoherence and Incompatability in Planning Law, 7 Int’l J.L. Built Env’t 111 (2015) (discussing how reconciling local and national policies may lead to contradictions, as reflected in an emerging incoherence in judicial decisions).

168. Town and Country Planning Act 1990, c. 8, § 38C, Sch. 4B, ¶ 6.(Eng.).

169. Id. Sch. 4B(10); Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations art. 17; Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119, at 110. This is opposed to the more thorough “soundness” examination given to Local Plans. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 055. “[F]ew NDPs have failed at examination.” Gavin Parker, Kat Salter & Hannah Hickman, Caution: Examinations in Progress – The Operation of Neighbourhood Plan Examinations in England, 85 Town & Country Planning 516, 517 (2016). However, examiners have proved inconsistent in the level of detail with which they scrutinize NDPs and propose modifications, potentially due to their diverse professional backgrounds. Id. at 520–21. The examiner can hold a hearing if they find it necessary to ensure an adequate or fair examination, and they have broad discretion over how it is conducted. Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B(9); Guidance, supra note 134, ¶¶ 058. However, the expectation is that generally no hearing will be necessary. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 056. Analogously, examination of NDPs can be done by any expert, while only members of the Planning Inspectorate can examine a Local Plan. Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B, ¶ 7; Sturzaker, supra note 164. The Planning Inspectorate is an “executive agency,” which, confusingly, is the equivalent of an independent agency in the United States—it is a “quasi-judicial, semi-independent body,” which “has long been perceived as one step removed from immediate political pressures.” Martin Boddy & Hannah Hickman, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”: Planing Reform, Localism, and the Role of the Planning Inspectorate in England, 19 Planning Theory & Prac. 198 (2018)

170. Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B, ¶ 8.

171. Neighbourhood Planning Group, Tarset, (last visited Apr. 24, 2020).

172. Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B, ¶ 12.

173. Parker et al., supra note 169, at 517.

174. Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B, ¶ 12.

175. This choice triggers a new 6-week period for the submission of written representations. Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/637, art. 31A–31D (Eng.).

176. Id. art. 18.

177. Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, c. 5, § 113–114 (Eng.).

178. There is an additional referendum for business areas, in which non-domestic ratepayers also get to vote. Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B, ¶ 15.

179. See generally Neighbourhood Planning (Referendums) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/2031 (Eng.).

180. Town and Country Planning Act Sch. 4B, ¶ 14.

181. Neighbourhood Planning (Referendums) Regulations 2012, SI 2012/2031 (Eng.), art. 6–7, Sch. 2.

182. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t, 23 Notes on Neighbourhood Planning 8–9 (2019),

183. A case study found the referendum requirement “looms over the process,” but does not engender a sense of ownership; rather, the “‘nearness’ of the plan and its planners to the direct experience of local people” does. Bradley, supra note 116, at 105–06.

184. Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, c. 5, § 38B (Eng.).

185. See, e.g., Peter Karsten & Oliver Bateman, Detecting Good Public Policy Rationales for the American Rule: A Response to Ill-Conceived Calls for ‘Loser Pays’ Rules, 66 Duke L.J. 729, 729–30 (2016).

186. Leach et al., supra note 109, at 52–53.

187. Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119, at 112–13.

188. Katherine Brookfield, Getting Involved in Plan-Making: Participation in Neighborhood Planning in England, 35 Env’t & Planning C: Pol. & Space 397, 401–02, 407 (2017); Voices from the Neighbourhood, infra note 190, at 117 (quoting a participant as saying the NDP made “the community . . . much better off” because “other places” without NDPs “have had a lot of development dumped on them”); cf. Quintin Bradley, Neighbourhoods, Communities and the Local Scale, in Localism and Neighbourhood Planning, supra note 23, at 39, 46 (arguing that the Localism Act, by limiting the ability of NDPs to prevent development, recognized communities held anti-development sentiment while also reprimanding them for it).

189. Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119.

190. Matthew Wargent & Gavin Parker, Re-Imagining Neighbourhood Governance: The Future of Neighbourhood Planning in England, 89 Town Planning Rev. 379, 379–80 (2018); Voices from the Neighbourhood: Stories from the Participants in Neighbourhood Plans and the Professionals Working with Them, in Localism and Neighbourhood Planning, supra note 23, at 113, 119.

191. Myers, supra note 85, at 36 n.114; Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t, 25 Notes on Neighbourhood Planning 8 (2020),

192. Tom Newton Dunn, Boris Johnson to Turbocharge Home Building with Series of Planning Reforms in the New Year, The Sun (Dec. 18, 2019), There have also been calls for increased tenant protection. Dan Wilson Craw, Boris Johnson Now Has the Majority to Fix the Housing Crisis—if He Wants to, CityMetric (Dec. 16, 2019),

193. Representation is an inevitable part of democracy: “citizens on average do not have the time, expertise, resources, and interest to make the many decisions required in contemporary governance.” Cain, supra note 25, at 8. Representativeness could take several forms: formal, symbolic, descriptive, or substantive. Simin Davoudi & Paul Cowie, Are English Neighbourhood Forums Democratically Legitimate?, 14 Planning Theory & Prac. 562, 562–65 (2013).

194. They are thus neither formally nor symbolically representative. Davoudi & Cowie, supra note 193, at 563–65.

195. Bailey, supra note 111 at 11; see also Smith & Wistrich, supra note 109, at 81; David McGuinness & Carol Ludwig, Developing a Neighbourhood Plan: Stories from ‘Community-Led’ Planning Pathfinders, in Localism and Neighbourhood Planning, supra note 23, at 95, 106, 110.

196. Brookfield, supra note 188, at 401–02, 407; Gavin Parker, Tessa Lynn & Matthew Wargent, Contestation and Conservatism in Neighborhood Planning in England: Reconciling Agonism and Collaboration?, 18 Planning Theory & Prac. 446, 448 (2017); Jane Wills, Emerging Geographies of English Localism: The Case of Neighbourhood Planning, 53 Pol. Geography 43, 49 (2016); Justinien Tribillon, The Localism Act in London: Institutionalizing Urban Divisions, Metropolitics (Apr. 16, 2014), They are thus not descriptively representative. Davoudi & Cowie, supra note 193, at 565.

197. Rob Merrick, Cabinet Minister Sajid Javid Admits Tory ‘Failures’ on Housing are Putting Corbyn within Reach of No 10, Independent (Oct. 1, 2017), There may be more receptiveness towards affordable hosuing in England than in the United States, but this predates the Localism Act. Compare Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119, at 114, with Wassmer & Wahid, supra note 102.

198. Ken Thomson, From Neighborhood to Nation 73 (2001).

199. In Dahl’s terms, efforts to spur community involvement in decision making tend to centralize resources, which would otherwise be distributed among different groups. See Dahl, supra note 98, at 226, 228.

200. Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119, at 110; see also Bailey, supra note 111, at 10.

201. Bailey, supra note 119, at 6; Gavin Parker, The Uneven Geographies of Neighbourhood Planning in England, in Localism and Neighbourhood Planning, supra note 23, at 75, 82; Gavin Parker & Kat Salter, Taking Stock of Neighbourhood Planning in England 2011–2016, 32 Plan. Prac. & Rsch. 478, 482 (2017).

202. Davoudi & Cowie, supra note 193, at 565; see also Parker & Salter, supra note 201, at 482–83.

203. Parker & Salter, supra note 201, at 482–83.

204. Bailey, supra note 111, at 10.

205. Davoudi & Cowie, supra note 193, at 565.

206. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t, supra note 191, at 12.

207. Davoudi & Cowie, supra note 193, at 565.

208. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy 148 (1984).

209. Id. at 151.

210. Thomson, supra note 198, at 4.

211. Id. at 33.

212. Planners learn in graduate school about “the importance of empowered participation and neighborhood control.” Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 31. They tend to “take as a given that more opportunities for participation will yield a more just planning process” because “neighborhood-based participation can help provide voice to underrepresented groups, mediate competing interests, enhance resident efficacy, and [enable] a thriving democracy.” Id.

213. Ford, supra note 2 at 169; see Jessica Trounstine, Segregation by Design 3 (2018).

214. See, e.g., Eastlake v. Forest City Enters., 426 U.S. 668, 679 (1976) (calling referenda a form of “devotion to democracy” and “a basic instrument of democratic government.”). Outside of the land use context, some political scientists argue that neighborhood institutions can counter a “democratic decline” in the United States. Berry et al., supra note 105, at 2–3, 10–12; Thomson, supra note 198, at 33.

215. See generally Derrick Bell, The Referendum: Democracy’s Barrier to Racial Equality, 54 Wash. L. Rev. 1 (1978).

216. Erwin Chemerinsky, Challenging Direct Democracy, 2007 Mich. St. L. Rev. 293, 297.

217. Id. at 300; cf. Hills & Schleicher, supra note 108, at 124–29.

218. Cain, supra note 25, at 69–70.

219. Cf. Quan Li et al., Cost of Voting in the American States, 17 Election L.J. 234 (2018) (finding that states that make it easier to vote have higher turnout rates).

220. Berry et al., supra note 105, at 97. Although people are willing “to devote time to their communities,” “face-to-face democracy can be intimidating.” Id.

221. Especially since neighborhood-level segregation is linked with increased intolerance, Trounstine, supra note 213, at 144, and evidence suggests, but does not prove, this relationship is causal, id. at 158–64.

222. See Michael A. Burayidi, Urban Planning as a Multicultural Canon, in Urban Planning in a Multicultural Society 1, 1 (Michael A. Burayidi ed., 2000); Raymond J. Burby, Making Plans that Matter: Citizen Involvement and Government Action, 69 J. Am. Plan. Ass’n 33–34 (2003).

223. In the United States, this may take the form of conflicts between Republican state legislators and Democractic local officials. Stahl, Preemption, Federalism, and Local Democracy, supra note 21, at 134–37, 144–45 (2017). The situation in the United Kingdom was similar in the early 2010s, as a pugnacious Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in the Conservative government faced off against local governments led by Labour, and occasionally Liberal Democratic, officials. See, e.g., Andy Beckett, Eric Pickles: Public Enemy Number One?, Guardian (Feb. 12, 2011),; Robert Watts, Eric Pickles in Row with Labour-Controlled Councils over “Widows Tax, Telegraph (Jan. 29, 2012),

224. David J. Barron, Reclaiming Home Rule, 116 Harv. L. Rev. 2255, 2285–86 (2003).

225. Dunkelman, supra note 11; cf. Jacob Anbinder, The Post-Planning Pandemic, Democracy (July 2, 2020), (“We need not defend the specific works of the midcentury master builders to recognize that the model that has replaced them—where some planners spend their evenings being berated by neighborhood busybodies and others bill governments rather than work for them—has produced its own undesirable outcomes.”).

226. Adams, supra note 32, at 43.

227. The Problem with Public Meetings, Part 1, War on Cars (Oct. 2, 2019),

228. McComas, supra note 105, at 40–41.

229. Frug, supra note 38, at 1071–72; Frug, supra note 102, at 1077. This portion of Professor Frug’s analysis is similar to theories developed in political science literature that link social capital to public participation. See, e.g., Brian W. Head, Community Engagement: Participation on Whose Terms?, 42 Austl. J. Pol. Sci. 441, 443 (2007); Yvonne Rydin & Mark Pennington, Public Participation and Local Environmental Planning: The Collective Action Problem and the Potential of Social Capital, 5 Local Env’t 153, 164 (2000).

230. Frug, supra note 102, at 1077, 1106–07; see also The Problem with Public Meetings, supra note 227.

231. Jared R. Curhan, Hillary Anger Elfenbein & Noah Eisenkraft, The Objective Value of Subjective Value: A Multi-Round Negotiation Study, 40 J. Applied Soc. Psychol. 690, 694, 696, 703–05 (2010); Jared R. Curhan, Hillary Anger Elfenbein & Heng Xu, What Do People Value When They Negotiate? Mapping the Domain of Subjective Value in Negotiation, 91 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 493, 503–04 (2006).

232. Jared R. Curhan, Hillary Anger Elfenbein & Gavin J. Kilduff, Getting off on the Right Foot: Subjective Value Versus Economic Value in Predicting Longitudinal Job Outcomes from Job Offer Negotiations, 94 J. Applied Psychol. 524 (2009).

233. See Brody, supra note 9, at 246 (“Including key parties early, often and ongoing can create a sense of ownership over a plan’s content and can reduce potential conflict over the long term, because those involved feel responsible for its policies.” (internal quotation omitted)); Curhan et al., Objective Value of Subjective Value, supra note 231, at 705.

234. McComas, supra note 105, at 38 (“[C]ritics argue that agencies typically hold public meetings to announce and defend their policies, and the public comes only to vent. As the saying goes, very little hearing occurs at most public hearings.”); John Sturzaker & Michael Gordon, Democratic Tensions in Decentralised Planning—Rhetoric, Legislation, and Reality in England, 35 Env’t & Planning C: Pol. & Space 1324, 1327 (2017).

235. In his classic pluralist account of New Haven politics, Robert Dahl spoke about time as one “resource” in the American political system, where a resource is something with which one can influence another person. Dahl, supra note 98, at 226. Public participation systems make time much more important. This threatens the pluralist conception of different interest groups fighting each other with some equality, because they control different resources. See Robert F. Pecorella, Community Power in a Postreform City: Politics in New York City 4–5 (1994). Those with time control land use. Since land use is generally controlled by an already-privileged group, this poses a serious threat to the pluralist model. See Trounstine, supra note 213, at 208–09.

236. See, e.g., Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 636–38 (1987) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (discussing the difficulties in identifying legislators’ motivations).

237. Admittedly, these are not clear-cut distinctions. For example, improving planning in the Massachusetts context could also be cast as enhancing democracy by diminishing the power of unelected bureaucrats. This article’s framework tries to separate “enhancing” democracy (the creation of institutions based on “strong democracy” or direct democracy) from providing planning accountability, a potentially “democratic” check.

238. Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, c. 5, § 38(6) (Eng.); see also Town and Country Planning Act 1990, c. 8, § 70(2) (Eng.). Development proposals that conform with “an up-to-date development plan” are to be approved “without delay.” Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t, supra note 166, ¶ 11(c).

239. See supra note 118 and accompanying text. However, Neighbourhood Forums may be motivated to comment on and organize around single projects, as I observed.

240. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, § 5.

241. See Myers, supra note 85, at 25–26; Schleicher, supra note 78, at 1727.

242. One could argue that either timing choice builds community or promotes strong democracy, but experience suggests this is truer for the English system. In Massachusetts, repeated appearances at planning board meetings could help participants build their own expertise and foster social ties with other frequent participants. However, the vast majority of commenters at local meetings in Massachusetts participate infrequently. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 103. The Neighbourhood Planning process, meanwhile, demands longer-term relationships with both government officials and one’s neighbors.

243. England also fights roadblocks to development through another piece of background procedural law: its time limits are focused on the overall process, rather than the meeting-specific time limits in Massachusetts. Compare Guidance: Determining a Planning Application, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t ¶¶ 001–005, (last updated Mar. 15, 2019), with Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, § 9 (2019).

244. This was reflected in their rhetoric: A key backer of the Localism Act hoped to “give people a real say over what happens in their communities,” so they would feel “connected to their communities. Proud of their communities.” Sue Brownhill, Neigbourhood Planning and the Purposes and Practices of Localism, in Localism and Neighbourhood Planning, supra note 23, at 19, 23 (quoting Eric Pickles).

245. Id. at 23, 32.

246. Leach et al., supra note 109, at 3.

247. Smith & Wistrich, supra note 109, at 55–56.

248. David J. Barron, Gerald E. Frug & Rick T. Su, Rappaport Inst. for Greater Boston, Dispelling the Myth of Home Rule: Local Power in Greater Boston 7–8 (2004),

249. Id. at 9.

250. Smith & Wistrich, supra note 109, at 55–56.

251. For example, actors throughout all levels of government—local, state, and federal—drove urban renewal. See Andrew Small, The Wastelands of Urban Renewal, CityLab (Feb. 13, 2017),

252. Town and Country Planning Act 1990, c. 8, § 61F(5)(b) (Eng.).

253. McComas, supra note 105, at 38–39.

254. David Meyer, Community Boards: The Roadblock to Safer Streets, StreetsBlog NYC (Mar. 27, 2019),

255. Ford, supra note 2, at 147–49, 190–91. Planners also may be upset that the public meeting devalues their expertise. See id. at 40. However, this tension may be unavoidable in any system of public participation.

256. Adams, supra note 14 (noting how both sides arguing at a meeting over a development accused the other of gentrifying the area); Gaffin, supra note 14 (“[T]he anger spilled out towards bicyclists, people not from West Roxbury and the federal government, all of whom they accused of foisting the road-diet idea on West Roxbury for reasons that some said were quite sinister indeed.”); Eve Kessler; IT’S A DRAW: CB7 Panel Passes ‘Parking’ Resolution, But ‘Consensus’ Must Be Had, StreetsBlog NYC (Dec. 11, 2019),; The Problem with Public Meetings, supra note 227.

257. Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 86–87.

258. Bradley, supra note 116, at 103–05.

259. McGuinness & Ludwig, supra note 195, at 98, 110; Voices from the Neighbourhood, supra note 190, at 123. High expectations in public participation can lead to disappointment, which may cause participants to stop participating or not participate in the future. Ank Michels & Laurens De Graaf, Examining Citizen Participation: Local Participatory Policy Making and Democracy, 36 Local Gov’t Stud. 477, 489 (2010)

260. Observers have found that the promise of Neighbourhood Planning is not always vindicated by the national government: “high-flown rhetoric about the empowerment of citizens and dispersal of power from government does not always survive the legislation and its application to the messy realities of everyday life. Competing democratic mandates, each with its own claim to legitimacy, operate within the English planning system.” Sturzaker, supra note 164.

261. Bailey, supra note 111, at 7–8.

262. Berkovitz, supra note 101.

263. Cf. Schleicher, supra note 78, at 1700 (noting how voters know little about local candidates).

264. Berkovitz, supra note 101.

265. See sources cited supra note 14.

266. See, e.g., Eddie Small, Small Talk: Every Community Meeting. About Every Development Project. Ever., Real Deal (Oct. 23, 2019), (satirizing public meetings from a real estate developer’s perspective); Chas Gillespie, Every NIMBY’s Speech at a Public Hearing, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency (June 13, 2019),; television episodes cited supra note 15.

267. Bradley & Sparling, supra note 119, at 108–09.

268. Bailey, supra note 111, at 5; Parker et al., supra note 196, at 446.

269. See, e.g., Gavin Parker et al., Locality, User Experience of Neighbourhood Planning in England Research §§ 3.4.3, 3.4.4, 3.6.3 (2014),; Parker & Wargent, supra note 167, at 4, 5; Parker, supra note 201, at 79. I observed Forums relying on consultants for each of these stages.

270. Gallent & Robinson, supra note 111, at 93–94; Parker, supra note 201, at 79.

271. Political scientists have argued that neighborhood groups can only realize their full potential when they have strong systems of internal democracy, including egalitarianism and a deliberative nature. Thomson, supra note 198, at 63–64. When a group is reliant on outside experts, its ability to substantively deliberate and the ability of all members to contribute may be threatened.

272. See, e.g., Dougherty, supra note 92, at 122, 124, 168; Adams, supra note 14; cf. Barron, supra note 224, at 2260 (observing that defenses of “community character” are associated both “with the NIMBYism of prosperous suburbia” and with anti-gentrification activism).

273. Cf. Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa, 439 U.S. 60 (1978) (upholding a scheme in which a city’s police and sanitary regulations applied to an unincorporated community that had no vote in local elections).

274. Einsten et al., supra note 16, at 33; see also Rydin & Pennington, supra note 229, at 156–57.

275. Dougherty, supra note 92, at 2, 15, 24.

276. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 30A, § 20(a) (2019). The only exception is executive session. Id. (citing id. § 21).

277. Einsten et al., supra note 16, at 2.

278. See, e.g., id. (discussing multiple commenters at one public meeting who stated how long they had lived in the area); Gillespie, supra note 266 (satirizing public comments and including the line “I grew up here and . . . returned to this town, my true home, in order to raise a family and stop time from progressing. I’ve lived in the same house in the Elm Heights neighborhood for the past twenty years”).

279. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A §§ 5, 11.

280. Stahl, Home Rule and State Preemption of Local Land Use Control, supra note 21.

281. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40B; An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, ch. 358, § 19, 2020 Mass. Acts (to be codified at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A).

282. See 1 John F. Dillon, Municipal Corporations 448–51, 452 (5th ed.1911).

283. See, e.g., Marshal House, Inc. v. Rent Review & Grievance Bd. of Brookline, 357 Mass. 709 (1970) (holding that a town’s recent control bylaw violated a state constitutional Home Rule provision that forbade towns from “enact[ing] private or civil law governing civil relationships”).

284. Bradley Pough, Understanding the Rise of Super Preemption in State Legislatures, 34 J.L. & Pol. 67, 68 (2018).

285. Aside from being problematic, this delegation is also interesting as a possible resolution to a debate in local government law scholarship. At a broad level, Professor Gerald Frug has argued that local governments are disempowered, subject to the strict control of states. See, e.g., Frug & Barron, supra note 21; Frug, supra note 38. Professor Richard Briffault has argued in response that states have delegated the most important regulatory powers, over land use and education, and the Supreme Court has reaffirmed this structure. Briffault, supra note 102. This analysis suggests that both are correct: the state has delegated power, but not to elected local governments, who remain unable to act.

286. Guidance, supra note 134, ¶ 005

287. Id. ¶ 103; see also id. ¶¶ 096–097

288. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Gov’t, supra note 166, ¶ 60; see also Guidance: Housing and Economic Needs Assessment, supra note 163, ¶¶ 002, 004.

289. Dunn, supra note 192; Sam Watling, The Tory Manifesto Promises to Both Increase AND Decrease the Rate of Housebuilding, City Metric (Dec. 11, 2019),

290. Watling, supra note 289.

291. Stephen Littlechild, Stipulated Settlements, the Consumer Advocate and Utility Regulation in Florida, 25 J. Regul. Econ. 96, 97 (2009).

292. Adam R. Fremeth et al., The Impact of Consumer Advocates on Regulatory Policy in the Electric Utility Sector, 161 Pub. Choice 157, 176 (2014) (“Utilities in states with consumer advocates have residential to non-residential rate ratios that are 0.12 points lower than the average ratio of 1.38 . . . . For a residential customer of the average utility in 2007, this is equivalent to a reduction of $42 per year, or 3.6%, in average annual electricity bills.”).

293. Kenneth A. Stahl, Yes in My Backyard: Can a New Pro-Housing Movement Overcome the Power of NIMBYs?, Zoning & Plan. L. Rep., Mar. 2018, at 1. See generally Dougherty, supra note 92. Regarding the alliance between nonprofit groups and homeowners, see Anbinder, supra note 10.

294. See, e.g., Sam Raskin, The YIMBY Movement Comes to New York City, Curbed (Sept. 17, 2018),

295. See generally Dougherty, supra note 92, at 37–38; Michael McQuarrie, No Contest: Participatory Technologies and the Transformation of Urban Authority, 25 Pub. Culture 143 (2013).

296. See Myers, supra note 85, at 9, 22; Schleicher, supra note 78, at 1727.

297. Myers, supra note 85, at 9–13; 22–23.

298. John Myers & Nick Whitaker, How Local Control Can Accelerate Housing, Palladium (Jan. 3, 2020),

299. Lee Mallett, Room on Top: 12 Primrose Hill Neighbours Build on Their Roofs in New Homes Model That Could Offer Solution to Housing Crisis, Homes & Prop. (Mar. 13, 2018),

300. Stahl, supra note 293, at 3–4.

301. Trounstine, supra note 213, at 170.

302. See, e.g., Einstein et al., supra note 16, at 166–69; Frug, supra note 24, at 1764 (assuming that suburban government is firmly entrenched); Glovin, supra note 4, at 10,951–52 (discussing a need for judicial intervention by state courts); Eric E. Stern, Note, A Federal Builder’s Remedy for Exclusionary Zoning, 129 Yale L.J. 1516, 1563–64 (2020) (defending judicial intervention by federal courts); Schleicher, supra note 78, at 1705–11 (discussing reforms to legislative practice). Legislative reforms could include a zoning budget, insurance against developments with externalities, or including zoning impacts in the budget. Schleicher, supra note 78, at 1679–80, 1721–24, 1732–36. It could also mean giving comprehensive plans much more force. Hills & Schleicher, supra note 108.

303. Barron, supra note 224, at 2362–64. Legitimacy problems of outside intervention are likely overstated. Glovin, supra note 4, at 10,949–52. However, this is almost certain to cause backlash. Regarding backlash to Mount Laurel, see, e.g., Briffault, supra note 102, at 53; Robert C. Holmes, 12 Conn. Pub. Int. L.J. 325, 349 (2013). Regarding backlash to a Fair Housing Act in California, see Dougherty, supra note 92, at 76–77 (discussing Proposition 14). California has also thus far failed to pass housing legislation to mandate statewide upzonings. See Alissa Walker, The Real Reason California’s Upzoning Bill Failed, Curbed (Feb. 7, 2020), However, alternative dwelling units across the country have seen more success. John Infranca, The New State Zoning: Land Use Preemption Amid a Housing Crisis, 60 B.C. L. Rev. 823 (2019).

304. See, e.g., Berkovitz, supra note 101; Dunkelman, supra note 11; The Problem with Public Meetings, supra note 256.

305. David B. Lyons, The Open Meeting Law, Untested Local Emergency Powers, and the Response to COVID-19, Anderson & Kreiger (Mar. 13, 2020),; see also Jane Green, Could Public Meetings Be Better Online than they Were in Person?, Greater Greater Wash. (Apr. 22, 2020), (discussing the potentially beneficial effects of holding meetings remotely). However, opponents of development have met local efforts to move to videoconference with legal challenges leading, at least, to further delay. See Rick Hills, Brooklyn NIMBYs’ Trumpian Tactics: How Insistence on In-Person Hearings Privileges Older, Wealthier Homeowners, PrawfsBlawg (Jan. 24, 2021),

306. Dunkelman, supra note 11; Ezra Klein, Why We Can’t Build, Vox (Apr. 22, 2020),

307. An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, ch. 358, §§ 16–25, 2020 Mass. Acts (to be codified at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A).

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Grant Glovin

Grant Glovin is an Associate at Anderson & Kreiger LLP. Thank you to Nikolas Bowie, John Myers, and Mina Makarious for their comments and insight. This research was supported by the Cravath International Fellowship Program at Harvard Law School.