Members of the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association, NEWRA, voted unanimously, 28-0, to revise their procedure for reviewing zoning and licensing applications. The discussion of the new policy took place at this month’s membership meeting, held on January 12, 2012 at the Nazzaro Community Center.
As a result of the change in policy, NEWRA’s Zoning, Licensing & Construction Committee will now recommend its Executive Committee NOT bring non-controversial applications to the full membership at monthly meetings. Applications likely to receive a pass at the larger monthly meetings include those “where the application does not raise community concerns and it is determined to have no negative impact,” according to the policy document. The ZLC Committee will continue to review all applications and enforce its neighbor notification policy.
NEWRA executives said they have been discussing ways to reduce the number of licensing and zoning matters that come before the full membership. ZLC issues often comprise the majority, if not entirety, of NEWRA’s monthly member meetings.
The change also comes after calls by the North End Chamber of Commerce (NECC) to reduce the time and expense that local businesses expend for community review of such issues. NEWRA is one of two resident neighborhood groups in the North End / Waterfront, along with the Neighborhood Council(NEWNC), voting on zoning and licensing issues in an advisory capacity to City officials. The NEWNC review of neighborhood applications is not changed by the new NEWRA policy. At a recent NEWNC meeting, NECC Chairman of the Board, Frank DePasquale, elaborated on the Chamber’s concerns. A video of that discussion can be viewed here.
In a previous letter addressing the matter to local elected officials, NEWRA wrote:
“The North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) is aware of the frustration of some business owners with the neighborhood review process. We are discussing ways to streamline the process for applicants while maintaining suitable notification of impacted neighbors. It is our hope that we can work together with the North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) to improve the review process for both residents and business owners.” (View the full NEWRA letter here.)
While the NEWRA policy change could reduce the number of presentations required by zoning/licensing applicants, it does not go as far as proposed by the North End Chamber of Commerce. NECC has proposed a new 12-person joint committee be formed where each zoning/licensing applicant would present only once in front of a newly comprised board with 4 representatives from NEWRA, 4 from the Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) and 4 from the NECC. This joint committee would not vote, but instead go back to their respective organizations where each group would take their own votes that would become advisory to the respective city agencies.
At the January 12th meeting, NEWRA members discussed increasing the scope of notifications for ZLC Committee meetings to allow residents an opportunity to weigh in on zoning and licensing issues. NEWRA executives said it will consider expanding its email/website postings.
When a membership vote is not to be taken, this decision will be disclosed at the following monthly meeting. NEWRA executives said that ZLC meetings will be made open to the public.
Some people asked at this meeting why NorthEndWaterfront.com was not video recording the NEWRA presentations. As a private membership organization, NEWRA is not subject to the State’s Open Meeting Law although City of Boston agencies generally give both NEWRA and NEWNC an opportunity for advisory review of zoning relief and licensing applications. As a private group, NEWRA meetings cannot be recorded without the permission of the organization. In general, NEWRA has not allowed video recordings of North End zoning and licensing proceedings.
NorthEndWaterfront.com has requested and received permission to video record some community presentations at NEWRA meetings, such as those recently produced of North End Stories and the supermarket-related proposal of Trinity Financial’s One Canal project.
The Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) is a ‘public’ group and its meetings can be recorded by anyone under the Open Meeting Law. NEWNC was created by the City of Boston Mayor’s Office and holds monthly meetings. Both organizations meet privately in executive session. We regularly video record NEWNC meetings under the Open Meeting Law, such as this month’s review of applications by Nick’s Famous Deli and Boston Barber Company.
The next NEWRA and NEWNC meetings are scheduled for February 9th and 13th respectively, 7pm, Nazzaro Community Center, 30 N. Bennet St.
The new procedure for NEWRA review of zoning relief and license applications is shown in the attached document.