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General Laws

Section 32. No conservation restriction, agricultural preservation or watershed preservation restriction as defined in section thirty-one, held by any governmental body or by a charitable corporation or trust whose purposes include conservation of land or water areas or of a particular such area, and no preservation restriction, as defined in said section thirty-one, held by any governmental body or by a charitable corporation or trust whose purposes include preservation of buildings or sites of historical significance or of a particular such building or site, and no affordable housing restriction as defined in said section thirty-one, held by any governmental body or by a charitable corporation or trust whose purposes include creating or retaining or assisting in the creation or retention of affordable rental or other housing for occupancy by persons or families of low or moderate income shall be unenforceable on account of lack of privity of estate or contract or lack of benefit to particular land or on account of the benefit being assignable or being assigned to any other governmental body or to any charitable corporation or trust with like purposes, or on account of the governmental body the charitable corporation or trust having received the right to enforce the restriction by assignment, provided (a) in case of a restriction held by a city or town or a commission, authority or other instrumentality thereof it is approved by the secretary of environmental affairs if a conservation restriction, the commissioner of the metropolitan district commission if a watershed preservation restriction, the commissioner of food and agriculture if an agricultural preservation restriction, the Massachusetts historical commission if a preservation restriction, or the director of housing and community development if an affordable housing restriction, and (b) in case of a restriction held by a charitable corporation or trust it is approved by the mayor, or in cities having a city manager the city manager, and the city council of the city, or selectmen or town meeting of the town, in which the land is situated, and the secretary of environmental affairs if a conservation restriction, the commissioner of the metropolitan district commission if a watershed preservation restriction, the commissioner of food and agriculture if an agricultural preservation restriction, the Massachusetts historical commission if a preservation restriction, or the director of housing and community development if an affordable housing restriction.

Such conservation, preservation, agricultural preservation, watershed preservation and affordable housing restrictions are interests in land and may be acquired by any governmental body or such charitable corporation or trust which has power to acquire interest in the land, in the same manner as it may acquire other interests in land. The restriction may be enforced by injunction or other proceeding, and shall entitle representatives of the holder to enter the land in a reasonable manner and at reasonable times to assure compliance. If the court in any judicial enforcement proceeding, or the decision maker in any arbitration or other alternative dispute resolution enforcement proceeding, finds there has been a violation of the restriction or of any other restriction described in clause (c) of section 26 then, in addition to any other relief ordered, the petitioner bringing the action or proceeding may be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in the action proceeding. The restriction may be released, in whole or in part, by the holder for consideration, if any, as the holder may determine, in the same manner as the holder may dispose of land or other interests in land, but only after a public hearing upon reasonable public notice, by the governmental body holding the restriction or if held by a charitable corporation or trust, by the mayor, or in cities having a city manager the city manager, the city council of the city or the selectmen of the town, whose approval shall be required, and in case of a restriction requiring approval by the secretary of environmental affairs, the Massachusetts historical commission, the director of the division of water supply protection of the department of conservation and recreation, the commissioner of food and agriculture, or the director of housing and community development, only with like approval of the release.

No restriction that has been purchased with state funds or which has been granted in consideration of a loan or grant made with state funds shall be released unless it is repurchased by the land owner at its then current fair market value. Funds so received shall revert to the fund sources from which the original purchase, loan, or grant was made, or, lacking such source, shall be made available to acquire similar interests in other land. Agricultural preservation restrictions shall be released by the holder only if the land is no longer deemed suitable for agricultural or horticultural purposes or unless two-thirds of both branches of the general court, by a vote taken by yeas and nays, vote that the restrictions shall be released for the public good. Watershed preservation restrictions shall be released by the holder only if the land is deemed by the commissioner of the metropolitan district commission and the secretary of environmental affairs to no longer be of any importance to the water supply or potential water supply of the commonwealth or unless two-thirds of both branches of the general court, by a vote taken by yeas and nays, vote that the restrictions shall be released for the public good.

Approvals of restrictions and releases shall be evidenced by certificates of the secretary of environmental affairs or the chairman, clerk or secretary of the Massachusetts historical commission, or the commissioner of food and agriculture, or the director of housing and community development or the city council, or selectmen of the town, as applicable duly recorded or registered.

In determining whether the restriction or its continuance is in the public interest, the governmental body acquiring, releasing or approving shall take into consideration the public interest in such conservation, preservation, watershed preservation, agricultural preservation or affordable housing and any national, state, regional and local program in furtherance thereof, and also any public state, regional or local comprehensive land use or development plan affecting the land, and any known proposal by a governmental body for use of the land.

This section shall not be construed to imply that any restriction, easement, covenant or condition which does not have the benefit of this section shall, on account of any provisions hereof, be unenforceable. Nothing in this section or section thirty-one and section thirty-three shall diminish the powers granted by any general or special law to acquire by purchase, gift, eminent domain or otherwise to use land for public purposes.

Nothing in this section shall prohibit the department of public utilities or the department of telecommunications and cable from authorizing the taking of easements for the purpose of utility services provided that (a) said department shall require the minimum practicable interference with farming operations with respect to width of easement, pole locations and other pertinent matters, (b) the applicant has received all necessary licenses, permits, approvals and other authorizations from the appropriate state agencies, (c) the applicant shall compensate the owner of the property in the same manner and the same fair market value as if the land were not under restriction.

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