In the wake of the recent ZBA bribery scandal, the Boston City Council will hold a hearing on legislation filed by Councilor Lydia Edwards regarding the Zoning Board of Appeal. The hearing will take place Tuesday, February 25th at 4pm in the Ianella Chamber on the 5th Floor of Boston City Hall.
Petition for a special law re: An Act Relative to the Zoning Board of Appeal.
This matter was sponsored by Councilor Lydia Edwards and referred to the Committee on January 29, 2020.
NOTICE: The Boston City Council may have a quorum in attendance due to standing committees of the City Council consisting of both voting and non-voting members. However, members attending this duly posted meeting are participating and deliberating only in conjunction with the business of the standing committee.
Members of the public are cordially invited to attend and testify. If you have not testified at a Council hearing before, please arrive five (5) minutes before the call of the hearing to sign up and become familiar with the hearing format, testimony locations and sound system. Please bring fifteen (15) copies of any written documentation you wish to present at the hearing.
Written comments may be made part of the record and available to all Councilors by sending them by email, fax or mail to arrive before the hearing, please use the information below.
Mail Address: Docket #0233, City Council, City Hall, 5th Floor, Boston MA 02201
Fax Number: 617-635-4203 Attn: Christine O’Donnell, Docket #0233
Committee Email: [email protected]
An act relative to the Zoning Board of Appeal Sponsored by Councilor Lydia Edwards Background: The Zoning Board of Appeal reviews exceptions to the city’s zoning code, including variances to height, density or setback requirements; approval of conditional zoning uses; and other exceptions to the rules that guide development in Boston. The ZBA is currently required by law to reserve seats for members of the real estate and construction industries, organized labor and certain other parties while holding no representation for renters, environmental protection or advocates for fair housing and civil rights.
The ZBA also lacks clear and published protocols for avoiding conflict of interest. Additionally, the board’s communications standards do not reflect contemporary expectations for access and transparency and are limited by its enabling legislation.
Summary of Legislation:
An act relative to the Zoning Board of Appeal would reform the ZBA by making the following changes: MEMBERSHIP: Real estate interests would be removed from the board and no named organizations or interests would have a permanent seat. Members and alternate members (7 each) of the ZBA would represent perspectives from affordable housing, civil rights and fair housing, environmental protection and climate change, urban planning, homeowners, renters, and expertise in zoning and the general laws.
Staff for the ZBA would be prohibited from engaging in other permitting, planning, development or real estate functions, and prohibited from engaging in private business in these areas. The Mayor and Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority would be responsible for updating the ZBA’s staff on changes to city ordinances and zoning.
BETTER NOTICE AND RECORDS:
Records would be available electronically and in person at City Hall and 1010 Mass Ave no later than seven days following a hearing. Notices of hearings would be posted and delivered electronically twenty days in advance. Contact information for the board would be posted electronically.
ENHANCED STANDARDS OF REVIEW:
The ZBA would be newly required to consider whether a variance would impact the city’s goals for income-restricted housing, furthering fair housing, preventing displacement and addressing climate change, as well as consistency with neighborhood planning.
EXPANDED PUBLIC ACCESS:
Appeals could be filed electronically, in person at city hall or at 1010 Mass Ave. A new legal support office, the Office of Community Counsel, would be created to provide neutral advice and guidance explaining standards, votes, procedures, the appeal process and other matters relevant to the board of appeal. REGULAR REPORTING: The ZBA would file a quarterly report on the number and type of conditional use permit or variance granted, by neighborhood and zoning district.
The ZBA would require appellants to submit statements of financial interest.
The ZBA would require appellants seeking a variance for occupied or recently occupied structures to submit plans to mitigate displacement and to provide information about any recent evictions.
ADDITIONAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST PROTECTIONS:
People engaged in the construction, development, purchase or sale of real estate would be ineligible for membership on the ZBA. The City of Boston would be able to require as a condition of appointment that members will not be engaged in the business of real estate construction, development, purchase or sale within the city for up to five years after their term of service concludes. The ZBA would be required to publish additional regulations to prevent conflict of interests.