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Wu announces plan to replace almost entire zoning board

Mayor Wu today announced she wants to replace 10 of the Zoning Board of Appeal's 14 current full and alternate members, including longtime Chairwoman Christine Araujo, as part of a move to create development oversight that relies more on neighborhood and citywide plans and less on hundreds of requests each year for variances from increasingly creaky zoning codes that sometimes date back decades.

Wu and BPDA Executive Director Arthur Jemison say they hope the new members will restore community trust in the zoning process - especially when coupled with new initiatives to re-do increasingly antiquated zoning codes that no longer represent how Boston is currently developing. Jemison said:

The BPDA is focused on furthering planning and development work that addresses Boston's greatest challenges: resiliency, affordability, and equity. I am looking forward to a collaborative working relationship with the ZBA. Together, we can aim to reduce reliance on variances as the BPDA prioritizes planning-lead development.

The BPDA has oversight over medium, large and giant-sized development in the city, while the zoning board hears requests for conditional approvals and more stringent variance requests for small projects - down to attic dormers. Projects under one acre in size - and a few above that - need approval from both the BPDA and the zoning board. Recent years have also seen the board caught in a crossfire over marijuana shops - between a city ordinance that calls for a half mile separation between cannabis concerns and a city cannabis board that routinely approves shops way closer than that.

Staying under Wu's proposed shakeup - which will need approval of the City Council, are Jeanne Pinado, Sherry Dong, and Hansy Better Barraza. Kerry Walsh Logue, a representative of the Building Trades Employers Association from South Boston, is an active member whose term expires in November. Under state law, the zoning board must include representatives from building and real-estate interests, construction unions and architects.

Wu said:

This outstanding slate of community members will play a key role in Boston’s growth as we work to build more housing and address the regional affordability crisis, support equitable and resilient neighborhoods, and shift to planning-led development. These appointees represent the diversity, talent, and expertise of our communities that will connect Boston’s growth to addressing our greatest challenges.

Wu's proposed new ZBA - board hearings call for seven members; alternates fill in when the primary members can't attend:

Giovanni Valencia, West Roxbury (primary)
Alaa Mukahaal, Mission Hill (alternate)

Neighborhood organizations
Norm Stembridge, Roxbury (primary)
Shavel’le Olivier, Mattapan (alternate)
Sherry Dong, Dorchester (primary)
David Aiken, East Boston (alternate)

Greater Boston Real Estate Board
Jeanne Pinado, Jamaica Plain (primary)
Katie Whewell, West End (alternate)

Boston Society of Architecture
Hansy Better Barraza, Roslindale (primary)
Thea Massouh, Brighton (alternate)

Building Trades Employers Association
Raheem Shepard, Hyde Park (primary)

Building Trades Council
Alan Langham, Dorchester (primary)
Dave Collins, Roslindale (alternate)



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Yes...HA HA HA...yes!

Voting closed 121

Seriously though, long overdue and a move in the right direction. Cautiously optimistic about what this change will bring.

Voting closed 67

Could it really be intentional that there's no representation for Fenway, South End, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, Allston-Brighton or North End? Aka many of the areas that developers salivate over bulldozing the current neighborhoods. In any event, I don't think it looks great for our mayor.

Voting closed 50

Ahh yes Beacon Hill and the North End. Real hotbeds for skyscrapers. I’m pretty sure every building there was constructed in the last few years!

Voting closed 40

Ahh yes, Back Bay and Chinatown. Real hotbeds for skyscrapers. I'm pretty sure every building there was constructed in the last few years!

Voting closed 32

I wouldn't say there were many skyscrapers in Chinatown at all. Decent amount of mid rises.

I'm also not aware of skyscrapers going up in the back back outside of the designated "high spine" - and then it's still tooth, nail, and a decade to get approval. In fact most of the skyscrapers have been around the Downtown/financial district and across the city in the no man's land around north station/West end. All of which still took years for approval.

Voting closed 16

The BPDA has oversight over medium, large and giant-sized development in the city

Most of the development in the neighborhoods you cite would be under BPDA instead of the zoning board due to their scale.

Voting closed 38

Isn't it customary to give the full name of something before using an abbreviation?

I know what a zoning board is. I've never heard of this BPDA thing. What do they have to do with each other?

Why are so many seats in the zoning board being given to special interests such as architects and developers? Shouldn't the zoning board work for the people of the city?

Voting closed 14

I hear you about wanting more constituent involvement. In the article, it says that city code requires members from the real estate & architecture community, so that’s why they’re on there.

Voting closed 11

Boston does not have Home Rule. The Boston Zoning Code and the entire process is only allowed to exist because of the Enabling Act.


For those who think that the Code can be dismissed with a wave of the hand:

(as amended by St. 1958, c. 77, s. 2, and St. 1966, c. 193, s. 1 and St. 1994, c. 461, s. 2).

A zoning regulation may be adopted and from time to time be amended by alteration, addition or repeal, but only in the manner hereinafter provided.

Voting closed 12

The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) handles requests for exceptions to the usual zoning rules. Because Boston's zoning rules are so bad and badly outdated, almost everything requires an exception, so the ZBA gets a LOT of power to decide what should get built, and can ask for a LOT of weird concessions. It is required by law to include architects and developers for their expertise in development and construction.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency, formerly known as the Boston Redevelopment Authority, plans and directs development, and also conducts some of its own development. Wikipedia article here. The mayor has long touted plans to get rid of it, or reshape it, or dramatically change it, but the ZBA probably has a bigger impact on what will actually get built in the short-to-medium term.

Voting closed 53

The biggest problems with the ZBA that I've encountered personally is that so much seems arbitrary. Stuff they toss in one case and the next week in a different case, the same point of code is the last bulwark of civilization that must be upheld.
If the point of code can be ignored so capriciously, why is it on the code?

Voting closed 20

While definitely needed, this fixes absolutely nothing. It just shifts the group of people in the know and they will still be as arbitrary as ever. You still have a board that has tremendous power that shouldn't because Wu, and the mayors before her, have refused to fix the real problem which is the zoning code. To fix the zoning code, one will piss off just about everyone and become unelectable in the next race. Same problem a mayor faces when trying to fix BPS.

We need someone who is a real leader that is ok with being a one-term mayor to fix these systemic issues.

Voting closed 31

I wasn't on the Wu train before, but maybe now.

There's a Virtual Abutters meeting tonight for a neighbor that wants to extend a dormer. 5 months wait and approval from the community for maybe 50-100 soft in a big house on a huge lot.

We have a housing crisis. Homeowners that want to make minor changes should be allowed. There should be a "Medium" form permit, somewhere between Long and short.

Voting closed 73

The mayor's action is very much cart before horse. A common complaint is that the city needs an updated master plan, so that development can follow the master plan instead of being negotiated with ad hoc zoning variances.

Wu is reforming the Zoning Board, but what master plan has been released which allows your neighbor's modest expansion to happen without a zoning variance?

Voting closed 23

They wanted the extended dormer to make the current stairs going up to the 3rd floor code (enough headroom for landing so they change the stair pitch), 68 square feet.

The flag was a height variance. Somehow extending the dormer made it a 3 story building instead of 2.5.

6 months for this.

Voting closed 21

They were insolent."

Voting closed 38

The Zoning Board of Appeal will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Mayor has dissolved the Board permanently. The last remnants of the Old City have been swept away.

That's impossible! How will the Mayor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

The appointees now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local neighborhoods in line. Fear of this brutalist City Hall.

Voting closed 22

Hoping things will work far better than they do now.

Voting closed 37

She blocked Walsh's appointments for the past few years to the extent that projects that had ZBA support couldn't get approval due to the lack of the right number of votes. Now, she can name them all. Now, no one can get anything done without her approval.

She learned well from Menino.

Voting closed 47

Ewww, what a gross sociopath.

Voting closed 12

The elected leader of the city appointing members to the ZBA (as her right by statute) in order to actually be able to fulfil her campaign promises isn't gross sociopathic behavior. It's called the democratic process actually working. Why should Wu be stuck with NIMBY dinosaurs from previous administrations?

Maybe I'm missing some sarcasm here

Voting closed 48

But I'll be the first to credit her if these personnel moves make housing choices better for Bostonians, both present and aspiring.

Voting closed 10

But she will still need to pick people with enough consensus to pass the council.

Voting closed 8

The appointments don’t need council approval.

EDIT- before anyone does it to me, this post is wrong. If only I could delete it.

Voting closed 9

I guess it is an improvement that you bothered to research this after you posted.

Voting closed 9

This is the best thing Mayor Wu has done since taking office 10 months ago. Should not have taken this long but glad we are here now. The City Council better approve this slate and not play games. The ZBA is extraordinarily powerful in this city due to the restrictive zoning code. We need much more focus on it from both elected officials and media.

Voting closed 28

Under state law, the zoning board must include representatives from building and real-estate interests, construction unions and architects.

Now why the (expletive) do we not have this for the Boston Licensing Board? Not a bar manager or anyone who's ever served a customer among that trio of reprobates.

Voting closed 34

One license owner (who, let's be clear, would have to recuse themselves if their license was investigated) and representative from MADD or a like group on a board of 5.

Voting closed 17

No thank you to that terrorist organization being anywhere near public discourse.

Voting closed 18

Basically one rep from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and one rep from Drunks Against Mad Mothers.

That would liven things up.

Voting closed 23

meet requirements for the latter?

Voting closed 11

The only neighborhoods represented are from the most NIMBY neighborhoods.

Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.... but this looks -- again -- like a veneer of change rather than anything with impact.

Voting closed 11

Ground zero for commercial development and zoning variances, Fenway is a locomotive engine for Boston. Left out again.

Voting closed 15