From the Office of District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards
The Boston City Council has approved reforms to the Zoning Board of Appeals filed by City Councilor Lydia Edwards. The changes include:
- Adding environmental and urban planning experts to the board;
- Setting term limits for board members;
- Requiring board members to recuse themselves from projects they’ve been involved with in the past five years (currently two);
- Requiring quarterly reports on the variances and conditional use permits given out by the board in each neighborhood.
The legislation would also require that at least one renter and homeowner sit on the board and creates a new position to provide neutral advice to applicants and neighbors about the ZBA process.
“This is a huge win for us in terms of transparency,” said Councilor Edwards. “These changes will help bring the ZBA into the 21st century and bring us towards a more equitable and fair ZBA process.”
In late February, a number of changes to the ZBA were implemented through executive order that were included in Councilor Edwards’ original proposal. These changes include expanding interpreting services during board hearings and making both applications and records available online for review by the public. Additionally, notices will be posted and delivered electronically. ZBA board members must provide financial disclosures and get regular zoning law training. Finally, applicants for variances must disclose their ownership interests. The additional changes approved by the council last week were also proposed by Councilor Edwards but required legislative approval.
The reforms approved by the council last week will now need to be approved by the state legislature before becoming law. State Representative Dan Ryan of Charlestown will sponsor the home rule petition at the state house. State Representative Adrian Madaro of East Boston spoke in support of the legislation.
“As the role of the ZBA has evolved into one that often has final say over the changing fabric of our communities, it is critical that the board itself become more transparent, accountable, and reflective of the city it oversees. This home rule petition is the first step toward achieving those goals,” said Rep. Madaro. “I’m proud to support this legislation, and to stand with the many East Boston residents who have called for change at the ZBA. I thank Councilor Edwards for her hard work and leadership on this issue.”
Councilor Edwards first introduced her proposal in the fall of 2019 and re-filed the legislation in January 2020. Hearings were held in February and July before the council approved the reforms during last week’s council meeting.