Councilor Edwards Proposes Zoning Board of Appeal Overhaul

District One City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who represents the North End, East Boston and Charlestown, has filed legislation to make changes to Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal.

Read the full statement from the Office of Councilor Edwards below.

The proposed legislation would change the membership, mandate, electronic notice and records policy, staffing and standards of review for the ZBA and require quarterly reports on the ZBA’s activities. It would also improve the general public’s ability to appeal zoning by enabling electronic appeals and establishing a community counsel to provide neutral advice to residents. Finally, it would require new financial disclosures from appellants seeking zoning relief and require appellants seeking variances on occupied buildings to discuss plans to prevent displacement.

An act relative to the Zoning Board of Appeal would reform the ZBA by making the following changes:

  • MEMBERSHIP: Real estate interests would be removed from the board and no named organizations or interests would have a permanent seat. Members and alternate members (7 each) of the ZBA would represent perspectives from affordable housing, civil rights and fair housing, environmental protection and climate change, urban planning, homeowners, renters, and expertise in zoning and the general laws.
  • STAFFING: Staff for the ZBA would be prohibited from engaging in other permitting, planning, development or real estate functions, and prohibited from engaging in private business in these areas.
  • BETTER NOTICE AND RECORDS: Records would be available electronically and in person at City Hall and 1010 Mass Ave no later than seven days following a hearing. Notices of hearings would be posted and delivered electronically twenty days in advance. Contact information for the board would be posted electronically.
  • EXPANDED PUBLIC ACCESS: Appeals could be filed electronically, in person at city hall or at 1010 Mass Ave.
  • OFFICE OF COMMUNITY COUNSEL: A new legal support office to provide neutral advice and guidance explaining standards, votes, procedures, the appeal process and other matters relevant to the board of appeal. 
  • REGULAR REPORTING: The ZBA would file a quarterly report on the number and type of conditional use permit or variance granted, by neighborhood and zoning district.
  • FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: The ZBA would require appellants to submit statements of financial interest.
  • ANTI-DISPLACEMENT PLANS: The ZBA would require appellants seeking a variance for occupied or recently-occupied structures to submit plans to mitigate displacement and to provide information about any recent evictions.
  • ENHANCED STANDARDS: The ZBA would be newly required to consider whether a variance would impact the city’s goals for income-restricted housing, furthering fair housing, preventing displacement and addressing climate change, as well as consistency with neighborhood planning.
  • ADDITIONAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST PROTECTIONS: People engaged in the construction, development, purchase or sale of real estate would be ineligible for membership on the ZBA. The City of Boston would be able to require as a condition of appointment that members will not be engaged in the business of real estate construction, development, purchase or sale within the city for up to five years after their term of service concludes. The ZBA would be required to publish additional regulations to prevent conflict of interest.