The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by three Brighton residents against a major expansion plan by Boston College.
In their suit, residents said the BRA was a "quasi judicial" body and therefore violated the state constitution in approving a 10-year, $1.6-billion "institutional master plan" by holding private discussions with college officials and not swearing in people testifying in public on the proposal or letting the residents cross-examine anybody who testified. The result of the BRA process was changes to the city zoning code, which were then approved by the Boston Zoning Commission.
But the state's second-highest court said that the Boston process for approving these large plans - by changing the city zoning code - was more legislative than judicial, that, in fact, the state Legislature created the BRA in 1956 in part to develop novel approaches to dealing with the " unique land use problems" in the state's "capital and its largest city." The process makes the BRA and zoning commission fundamentally different from the planning and zoning boards in other communities, which are tasked with a court-like role of interpreting existing state and local laws, the court said.
The standards and procedures required to amend the Boston zoning code and approve IMPs are the same, and implicate long-term governmental policy questions. As such, they are distinct from the standards and procedures for granting variances or special permits.
The court added:
The plaintiffs also allege that the process was largely the result of communications between the BRA, the zoning commission, the mayor's office, and BC, which occurred outside the public hearing process and without the opportunity for rebuttal by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs, however, point to no requirement that the public hearings be conducted on the record as adversarial proceedings.