Community Government

Neighborhood Council Proposes Unification of North End Boards for Licensing & Zoning Votes

The following proposal is being put forth by the current members of the North End / Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC).


During the 1980’s, Boston Mayor Ray Flynn created a neighborhood approval process to for zoning and licensing issues.  In each neighborhood or sub-neighborhood, an advisory Neighborhood Council was created to hear applications and present their opinions to the designated City of Boston agency.   These Councils, which are a branch of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, are still in place across Boston.  One of the most successful is the North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC).  NEWNC, which is made up of North End and Waterfront residents is now over thirty years old.  It is responsible for the 55 foot height limit that has helped preserve the character of the neighborhood, advocated for a cap on liquor licenses,  and fought for the expansion of the Eliot School along with a number of important policies still in place today.

In the mid 1990’s, Joanne Prevost Anzalone, then President of the North End Waterfront Council and Richard Iannella, then a Boston City Councilor at Large from Jamaica Plain, feuded over the NEWNC Presidency.  As a result of his inability to unseat Anzalone with a political ally, Iannella decided to create a separate organization:  the North End Waterfront Resident’s Association (NEWRA).  Though not officially sanctioned by the city, NEWRA asks petitioners to appear before them two times over and above what was previously required.  The last mayoral administration told petitioners to appear before both NEWNC and NEWRA as part of the “neighborhood process” despite NEWRA’s not having an official mandate.  Recently, NEWRA, under the leadership of President Jim Salini and Zoning and Licensing Committee Chairman Victor Brogna, petitioned the city for changes to the neighborhood process that would further burden petitioners and abutters alike.

The North End is the only Boston neighborhood with overlapping neighborhood boards.  As a result, the voice of the neighborhood is greatly diminished.  Having two boards, and requiring petitioners and abutters to appear at three separate hearings is overly burdensome.  Neighbor groups who oppose a project have their numbers and voices diluted because they can’t all make three weeknight meetings.  Businesses have to pay legal representation for three separate meetings, at the cost of thousands of dollars.  In addition, when the two boards disagree, it is more likely that the will of the neighborhood will be confused or worse, completely ignored.

NEWNC is made up of twelve members that serve two year terms, six of which are elected in even years and six in odd years.  NEWNC recently lost a member, Stephen Passacantilli who stepped down in February to join Mayor Walsh’s Administration and at least one NEWNC member will not be running for reelection this May, creating two open seats, one even year seat and one odd year seat.   NEWNC proposes that we amend our bylaws to expand to 14 members, adding one even year seat and one odd seat, in effect making four open seats, two even and two odd.   In exchange for NEWRA giving up its zoning and licensing claims, these four seats will be given to NEWRA, either to its four officers or based on a general election of its members.  NEWRA will still be a functioning body, holding monthly meetings, addressing issues, organizing events, it just won’t vote on zoning and licensing.  Applicants may still present before NEWRA voluntarily, as they can with the North End Chamber of Commerce, but the only required vote will take place at NEWNC.  Further, we propose that a NEWRA representative address NEWNC meetings as part of the committee reports.  As these four seats go through an election cycle, they will be viewed no differently than the regular seats.  In addition to expanding NEWNC, we also propose creating a role for the North End Chamber of Commerce.  A representative of the Chamber will also be recognized to speak in favor or opposition to an application during NEWNC meetings but will not vote on applications.  We would also invite a representative from the Boston Police Department recognized to speak on Licensing applications.

Though many attempts have been made to bridge the divide between our two organizations, the dawn of a new mayoral administration is the time to once and for all mend this decades long division in our neighborhood.  This consolidation will ensure that the voice of the North End is heard.   Residents can better follow the goings on in the neighborhood with one definitive meeting each month.  Abutters can organize their opposition at one meeting, rather than suffering attrition of diminishing numbers over three.  Businesses, which face some of the highest rents in the city, can save time and unnecessary cost.  Most importantly, for the first time in twenty years, no one will be able to mistake or dismiss the voice of our neighborhood.

North End Waterfront Neighborhood Council

Philip A. Frattaroli, President
John Pregmon, Vice President
Ryan Kenny
David Marx
Maria Lanza
Toni Gilardi
Ann Devlin Tagliaferro
Gennaro Riccio
Ralph Verrochi
Marie Simboli
Jorge Mendoza

18 Replies to “Neighborhood Council Proposes Unification of North End Boards for Licensing & Zoning Votes

  1. Ive never understood why there are two boards. Its almost impossible to keep track of whats going on since they seem to cancel each other out. Having one board makes a lot of sense.

  2. By my count, more than half of these folks are restaurant or real estate people, so the Chamber of Commerce is already well represented. And if they had their way, 585 Commercial Street would be a luxury condo complex, not a school. Have they ever met a liquor license or a late night closing they didn’t like? I’m sure that the Chamber would love to remove residents from the zoning and licensing process – neighbor notification means paying for postage and abutters can be so annoying. However, despite the “burdens” imposed on them, the same families have opened multiple successful establishments in this neighborhood. The implication that things are somehow skewed in favor of residents is a real stretch. But what would you expect from a group which engages in historical revisionism on behalf of a local real estate mogul without disclosing that one of their members is her long-time employee?

    1. The voice of residents is represented by NEWNC, they are all residents of the North End. They are directly elected by North End residents. Whereas NEWRA is a private organization, not subject to Massachusetts Open Meeting Law Requirements and only paid members are permitted to vote.

      I would rather some small business owners who give back to the community are representing me then someone like Jim Salini, who’s views are abhorrent to many in this neighborhood. If residents think that small businesses are overly represented now, then the addition of 4 people from NEWRA would tamper that, not to mention the fact that they can be voted out. When was the last time Victor Brogna or Jim Salini was up for election by North End residents?

      The fact that the same “families” have opened multiple businesses is proof that the system is to difficult and expensive to traverse for many. This proposal makes sense and is whats best for the neighborhood.

    2. Anon, you are wrong. As a person that was closely involved in the deal that allowed for the expansion of the Eliot into N. Bennet St. I feel it is important to note that NEWNC supported the local public school while NEWRA supported the North Bennet St. trade school, not the part of the deal that involved the local public school, the Eliot.

    3. Whoa! This is so far out of line and a bunch of BS

      1. Joanne Anzalone has NOTHING to do with the council or how her long time employee votes.

      2. The luxury condo development was a proposal back in 2007 and was opposed by the neighborhood and withdrawn by the developer. With the exception of Anne DT, not one single person on the current council was on NEWNC at that time.

      3. Historical revisionism? If you are going to make broad accusations you should back them up with actual facts.

  3. Interesting that NEWNC takes full responsibility for the ongoing advocacy of the 55 foot height limit, cap on liquor licenses, etc. I am pretty certain that NEWRA members, especially David Kubiak, have been a large part of that advocacy. We should all be grateful for the countless hours spent volunteering by both NEWNC and NEWRA officials.

    I appreciate that there is extra expense in all these meetings, and am not sure of the best way forward, but it seems to me that at NEWRA, residents have a direct voice, rather than a representative one, and asking the body to relinquish zoning positions is asking it essentially to give up its purpose – directly presenting the view of ordinary, non- business owning residents.

  4. NO NO NO to letting the Chamber of Commerce have an official say at NEWNC. The Council is supposed to represent the RESIDENTS of the North End not the businesses. The restaurant owners on NEWNC are long time residents who are active participants in the neighborhood. If any member of the COC who is a resident wants to speak at a meeting AS A RESIDENT that is just fine. IF these RESIDENT members of the COC want to run for NEWNC in the next or any election they can and if they get elected, serve on the Council.

  5. From my perspective as a mom, getting to neighborhood meetings is very difficult and a streamlined process would be very helpful. Further, I totally agree that the neighborhood’s voice is diluted by the current process – these two boards disagree all the time and our interests as a neighborhood suffer. I think this unification is a great idea and think NEWNC has offered a great solution to integrating the two boards. I also think that because NEWNC is an elected board, it better represents the diverse populations of our neighborhood.

  6. “Recently, NEWRA, under the leadership of President Jim Salini and Zoning and Licensing Committee Chairman Victor Brogna, petitioned the city for changes to the neighborhood process that would further burden petitioners and abutters alike.”
    Sorry, I must be missing something – can you clarify how these changes to the NEWRA would “further burden us”? And how come the other areas of the city with diverse community organizations putting input into zoning petitions are not being perceived as “overlapping”?
    Boston was run with “town hall” meetings for many generations: the precedent, then, would go to NEWRA for direct citizen representation. I always vote in NEWNC elections, and according to the final tally, about 200-300 people turn out each time to vote. With a population of – what is it, 11,000? – that’s a very small fraction of the area residents.
    There are some great representatives in the current board, and we’ve also been lucky in the past (with Matt Conti, among others), but the letter serves to cause further division by its aggressive, dismissive tone of other volunteer neighborhood organizations.

  7. NotNEWRAmember,
    As principal author of this proposal, I apologize if the tone was aggressive or dismissive, as I certainly didn’t intend it to be. In offering this proposal, the members of NEWNC are trying to remedy a long standing problem in the neighborhood. A manifestation of that problem was seen last night at our monthly meeting when it was revealed the Licensing Board approved a liquor licensing where the applicant got the approval of NEWRA on false pretenses and NEWNC tabled it to give time to flush out the truth.

    I would like to answer the specific questions you raised:

    1: In a letter dated Feb 3, 2014 to the Licensing Board of the City of Boston, Victor Brogna asked to “change the Board’s procedure and defer its hearings” until NEWRA has heard the application at both of its meetings. That change of procedure would further burden the neighborhood with this dysfunctional division for generations to come.

    2: Other parts of the city do have diverse groups, yes. But they are all based on geographic divisions. For example, East Boston has three groups (Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association, Eagle Hill Civic Association and Orient Heights Neighborhood Council). They each represent a distinct area of that neighborhood and thusly don’t “overlap”. The South End has a whopping thirteen groups which represent two or three streets each. With the possible exception of Allston/Brighton where there is a passionate disagreement over the border between those neighborhoods, no other neighborhood requires all petitioners to present to multiple groups. No other neighborhood requires parents and seniors who oppose a project to have to show up three times to advocate for their rights. So, yes, we are the only neighborhood with “overlapping” groups.

    3: Boston was certainly run with a town hall form of government for many generations, several hundred years ago. Since then the people of Boston have decided to change to representative democracy.

    4. NEWNC elections average about 200-300 voters. For the sake of comparison, at the last NEWRA meeting, there were 22 voting “members” present. At NEWRA’s last election of officers, a “slate” of candidates was presented by a “nomination committee” and elected without a vote of the members. Combined with the requirement that NEWRA members have to be paid in full in order to vote, I don’t think that can be considered true “direct citizen representation”.

    NotNEWRAmember, I am sure that as a result of using my real name, I have invited additional anonymous insults (I am one of those “restaurant people” who apparently hasn’t seen a license he didn’t like, a member of one of the “families” that has opened a number of businesses, etc.). But if you would respond with your real name, I would be happy to continue this discussion.

  8. Thank you for the detailed response, Philip. You describe very recent events that non-council members might not yet be aware of, and without this background knowledge, it is hard not to view the NEWNC statement as an act of polemic more than of genuine reform. Making the letter public in a variety of media outlets and social media sites, including this community blog, the day after the March meeting without providing more context as to its cause has unfortunately given rise to gratuitous personal attacks, but I am confused as to why you think they come from me – I had you in mind, in fact, when I praised past and present NEWNC board members. Why take issue with someone with reasonable questions, and who made a point of finding positive things to say about those who volunteer their time and expertise to serve on these neighborhood boards? Thank you again for responding, and let’s just hope that all this attention will ultimately have a positive effect by raising residents’ awareness of the need for communication and collaboration among all the people who call the North End home!

  9. You will have to forgive me for mistaking genuine questions for rhetorical ones!

    I think its important to remember that we, the elected members of the North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council are simply caretakers. As one commenter mentioned, there is only one current council member who was on NEWNC as recently as 2007 and none of us are assured of being on the Council past May 2015. We all view our time on the Council as service to our neighborhood. Part of that service, at this unique time in Boston’s history (Mayoral Administrations don’t start very often) is to bring this proposal to the residents in these public forums. Whatever the merits of direct versus representative democracy, this is something that is hurting the neighborhood. Those who oppose it haven’t offered any solutions to this glaring problem. We invite them to, without resorting to the types of personal attacks that have already characterized this discussion.

  10. As a former multi-term NEWNC council member, I’m pleased that Phil Frattaroli and the council has gone further than any previous attempt to unify the many interest groups in the North End. Philip ran a city council campaign on the key issue of streamlining the processes for doing businesses in Boston, and this moves the North End in that direction, at last. Both the Council and the community should be patient as the new structure works out its kinks, and the bylaws committee should remain active until the new process and structure are perfected.

  11. The North End’s four-tier plus approval process (NEWNC + NEWRA + ZLC + City Sign Off) is like a spider web: It only stops small things while big things plow right through.

    One example. Say someone wants to put on a roof deck, we make her go through the same process as a skyscraper developer: Shadow studies, neighborhood abutter statements, signed approvals, historic review, multiple revisions to stamped plans (often based on subjective tastes), and even if the project sits well below the 55 foot height limit, it might not get approved. What’s next? EPA impact statements?

    And It doesn’t matter how much she’s done her homework, jumped through the hoops, dotted each i and crossed each t, the whole thing can come to a stop if someone on the board doesn’t like her. Or if there is another agenda item packing a surly room which carries over to her proposal. The room could simply be in “No” or “NIMBY” mode. Or she could get stopped by an ancient personal dispute between one or two of the board members and the applicant. It depends, It’s all arbitrary. In short it often comes down to luck, not law.

    Though she’s well within her rights to put on a simple roof deck so she can have a safe place to read with natural light and grow tomato plants, she has to pay for the time of a lawyer AND an architect. Three times. That’s when she “churns” – bolting to the suburbs. Or goes rogue and hires the “right” contractor to do it on the sly without going to any of the groups. Suffocation or Scofflaw. Great options.

    All this is before we address the fact that everything this person would be doing is legal and in most any other city, they would be requiring a single approved variance from a strictly codified set of well known standards, which should be handled with minimal oversight, without contest or undue expense.

    How we do neighborhood governance is much like how we get our news: We choose our source based on how it suits us. If you like to see hyper-analysis on all development with often unwarranted obstruction, you go to NEWRA meetings. If you like lighter review with the appearance of glib dismissal followed by and a quick up or down vote, you go to NEWNC. Neither is right. We need one board with both. A strong society doesn’t work with two sets of facts and wide variance in application of law. There is no reason for theater in governance. Both groups need to get together and build smarter policies that concentrate resources in defense of things that matter to us all, public safety, transportation, public services and quality of life.

    Each group has to own up to what it is and what it was.

    – NEWNC needs to recognize how much work should be done on larger projects and often should use NEWRA’s ZLC model as an example.

    – NEWRA should realize that their governance structure is exclusionary, not representative. No one should have to pay to vote.

    – Both bodies should have harder laws on recusal to keep bias out of the process and de-skew any vote.

    – Both need a written and established oversight threshold, easing the process for small projects, scrutinizing the larger ones, to reign in overreach and quick dismissal.

    We need to advocate for our own projects before wildcatter developers advocate for us. We need to stop reacting and start planning for a healthy and robust neighborhood based on the possibility of planned growth not closed door policies (Note: Other cities would beg for this problem)!

    What we need is the enthusiasm and policy oversight of NEWRA and the official recognition and total voter accountability of NEWNC. We need the possibility of compromise not the constant divergence in policy. I’d propose a congress of both recognized bodies after a dissolution of both, a new smarter and more flexible set of bylaws, and new elections.

    The North End needs a fresh start. We know the problems. Now let’s get to solving them.

    Matthew Black
    Former NEWNC Council Member
    Former NEWRA Member

    1. I think Matt’s critique is dead-on in many, if not most, aspect, although his solution is draconian. I grew most frustrated by petty obsessions by single NEWNC members that would ratchet higher and higher during the course of the hearing, and eventually turn a simple matter into a tabling or denial. It diminished the Council and it embarrassed the neighborhood. And his take on the skewed sense of proportion is also correct. The Council is a necessary part of the neighborhood oversight process, and I hope the new iteration will help eliminate the flaws that have done disservice to the neighborhood amid the overwhelming benefits NEWNC has brought.

      1. And I thank you for your service Bill. You are right that the solution may sound Draconian. I believe both groups should be on an equal footing and the easiest way was to make everybody build and bring their own constituency to an open and fair election. Let the people decide.
        Someone once asked me what it was like to serve on NEWNC. I said it was like volunteering once a month to catch tomatoes with your face. Many votes will be disagreed with and often a board members opinion will be met with screams and threats. Fun.
        The time between meetings is spent fielding questions about our Byzantine process of approval for even the most inane things. Until we have some sort of reform, I will root for every neighbor who has to stand in front of the lions wondering if they can be half approved, fully approved or denied. Our system is broken and should be mocked openly and often until it is repaired.
        Blessed are the peacemakers.

  12. Hey, maybe a “new” acronym for your combined organization could be “NEWDEAL” – “North End/Waterfront Development, Economy And Livability,” or something like that. Out with the old…

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