City Councilor Lydia Edwards (Charlestown, East Boston, North End) is proposing a shake-up of the Zoning Board of Appeal that would include ditching its current requirements that it have representatives of the real-estate and building businesses and trades and replace that with requirements that the board include voting members with expertise in "urban planning and the design of neighborhoods," civil rights and fair housing, affordable housing, one renter, one home owner - and one member with expertise in zoning.
The state law that governs the Boston zoning board, which has seven full members and seven alternates, who fill in when the full members are absent, currently requires that at least one board member each come from nominations by the Greater Boston Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, local architect societies, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Building Trades Employers' Association or the Contractor's Association of Boston, a homeowner and the owner of a store or factory with no more than 50 employees. Three other members have to have served at least a year as an official of their local neighborhood association.
In a request for a hearing on her proposal to ask the state legislature to change the current requirements, Edwards does not mention the bribery scandal that has enveloped the board in recent weeks, leading to one member resigning. Instead, Edwards writes that the board's current makeup, specified in a 1956 law last updated in 2001, leaves the board without representatives of groups, such as renters, who can be directly affected by its decisions or members with specific expertise in areas such as a building's possible impact from climate change.
She adds that the board does not do a good job of informing the public of upcoming meetings, let alone provide any information about the cumulative effects of its decisions on particular neighborhoods. She would require the board to compile "a regular report on variances by neighborhood and zoning district would inform future zoning by clearly indicating where actual development practices and the zoning code differ substantially."
The City Council will consider Edwards's request for a formal hearing on the proposal at its meeting tomorrow, which starts at noon in its fifth-floor chambers in City Hall.