Friday, March 23, 2018

Boston City Council Looks At Short Term Rentals, Liquor Licenses, Greenway BID, Sewers & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their March 7, March 14, and March 21, 2018 meetings:

Short-term Residential Rentals: Mayor Walsh filed a letter withdrawing his proposed ordinance on short-term rentals.Whenever the Mayor files an ordinance, the Council has 60 days to amend, reject, or reject without prejudice, or the language automatically takes effect; that 60 days ran out today. On Monday the Council’s Committee on Government Operations held a working session following our hearing earlier in the month. At that working session, Councilor Edwards and I proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would eliminate the Investor Unit category, create an Owner-Adjacent Unit category that would allow owner-occupants of a 2-family or 3-family home to use one of their extra units for short-term rentals, and an exemption for furnished corporate or institutional stays of ten consecutive nights or more. This would close the loophole on unlimited corporate units, which even with a 90-day cap, could result in tenants being pushed out for short-term rentals. Here’s a summary of the short-term rentals legislative action at the City and the State. We will work quickly to finalize legislation in the next few weeks.

Community Obligations for As-of-Right Projects: Councilor Campbell called for a hearing to discuss the review process for as-of-right zoning projects, particularly with regards to previously rejected applicants. She would also like to explore the tools and ordinances the City and Council may adopt to ensure these projects align with a community’s vision for its residents. Councilor Campbell brought an example of the Popeyes restaurant on Washington Street in Codman Square. The Popeyes restaurant was denied a Conditional Use permit in October 2016 due to community disapproval, but then the applicant re-filed for and was granted an Allowed Use Restaurant permit. Members of the Codman Square community were not informed of the subsequent application and its approval. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

Home Rule Petition for Additional Licenses for the Sale of Alcoholic Beverages: Councilor Pressley refiled a home-rule petition for a Special Law to authorize additional non-transferable liquor licenses in Boston: 5 citywide all-alcohol licenses, 5 citywide beer & wine licenses, 3 all-alcohol and 2 beer & wine for each of Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill, and Roxbury, 3 all-alcohol and 2 beer & wine licenses for Main Streets Districts, and 1 all-alcohol license each for the Lawn on D at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Boston Center for the Arts, and the Bruce C. Bolling Building. The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

BPD’s Body-Worn Camera Pilot Program: Councilor McCarthy as Chair of the Public Safety & Criminal Justice committee and Council President Campbell reported back on the hearing held on Monday, March 12th. At the hearing, Commissioner Evans and the Boston Police Department summarized the preliminary study results of the BPD’s Body-Worn Camera Pilot, during which officers wore cameras for one year, starting in September 2017 and following policies drafted with input  from the Social Justice Task Force. 200 videos were collected, and BPD saw a reduction in the number of civilian complaints and the number of excessive force complaints during the time of the study. In 2011, there were 80 complaints of excessive force and in 2017, there were only 21 complaints. The final results will be available in May. The matter remains in committee for further work. 

Public and Private Sewer Lines and Alleys: Councilor Flynn and I called for working sessions to discuss private alleys and private sewer lines, as well as potential solutions for streamlining and alleviating maintenance burdens on property owners abutting private infrastructure. Some Boston neighborhoods have private alleys that abut commercial and residential properties, where owners of these properties are responsible for the maintenance of the alleys. However, many of these alleys were designated as either private or public as early as the 1850s, and property owners abutting private alleys are often unaware of the ownership status of the alleys, as well as their upkeep responsibilities. The Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) oversees the City’s public water infrastructure and has an agency policy called the Betterment Program whereby residents of abutting private sewers can petition for their sewer lines to be accepted into the public system through a cost-sharing arrangement, but the requirements to make use of the Betterment Program often do not match the situation of neighbors who need it. Councilor O’Malley also stated that some homes in West Roxbury are still connected to septic tanks and would benefit from a discussion of public and private water infrastructure as well. The matter was assigned to the Committee on City, Neighborhood Services and Veterans & Military Affairs.

Greenway Business Improvement District (BID): At last week’s Council meeting, we received a petition to establish a Greenway BID, a special assessment district allowed by state law in which property owners vote to initiate, manage and finance supplemental services or enhancements above and beyond the baseline of services already provided by their local governments. State law requires that the Council hold a hearing within 60 days of receiving the petition and after certifying signatures on the petition and then giving 30 days’ of notice of the hearing to abutters. The process requires signatures representing at least 51% of assessed valuation of all real property within the proposed BID and at least 60% of property owners; the BID application included signatures from 89% and 82% respectively. Today we voted to authorize the first step in the process, directing the City Clerk to certify signatures on the petition. This would be the second BID in Boston, after the Downtown Boston BID. City Council approval is required by Chapter 40-O of the Massachusetts General Laws to designate a BID, because all abutters would be subject to the assessment once approved for the five-year term. Stay tuned for the hearing to be scheduled in April. Upcoming Hearings/Working Sessions (City Council Chamber unless otherwise noted.)

Watch Live Monday, 3/26 at 11:00am: Hearing re: flooding in the City of Boston (Planning, Development & Transportation) at Iannella Chamber, 5th Floor City Hall. Monday, 3/26 at 2:00pm: Hearing re: Ordinance increasing access to voter registration (Government Operations) at Iannella Chamber, 5th Floor City Hall. For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

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