Mayor Walsh has signed an executive order to establish new, rigorous ethical standards for Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA).
The goal of the order is to strengthen public confidence in the ZBA by increasing the level of transparency, accountability, and integrity, as well as improve functions and efficiencies.
According to the City, the order includes new disclosure requirements for board members, prohibiting members from participating in any project in which they have an interest, and prohibiting members from having any subsequent business dealings with any project on which they voted. Each member will also have to submit annual statements of financial interest and undergo comprehensive ethics training.
Electronic submissions will be introduced to streamline ZBA operations, including enabling online applications and payments for permits and petitions, electronic submission of plans, email notification of hearings, deferrals and new hearing dates, and online subscription list for interested residents and parties. There will also be a search database of all pending applications and decided petitions.
The Executive Order also calls for an ombudsperson to notify the public of their rights during and outside of ZBA meetings and guide residents or appellants through basic procedural steps of appeal. The Board will be required to work with the Mayor’s Office of Language and Communications Access to ensure translation services are provided.
Mayor Walsh will continue to work with District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards to craft a home rule petition to the Massachusetts state legislature to change the composition of the board.
Councilor Edwards, who represents the North End, East Boston, and Charlestown, has been calling for an overhaul of the ZBA since 2019. Last October, Edwards proposed legislation to 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.
In her January updates to the North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) and North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC), Edwards reiterated her concerns, saying she wanted a functional ZBA that didn’t rubber stamp everything that comes along so that Boston residents will trust growth again.
About the executive order Councilor Edwards said, “It is critical that residents trust and have full and indiscriminate access to 21st century government. Today’s executive order takes critical steps by modernizing the Zoning Board of Appeal, promoting transparency and strengthening ethical standards. As the council moves forward with legislation regarding the Board of Appeal, I look forward to continued partnership with Mayor Walsh.”
A public hearing on Docket #0233, petition for a special law re: An Act Relative to the Zoning Board of Appeal will be held on Tuesday, February 25 at 4 p.m.