Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Boston City Council Looks At Zoning, Commercial RE Fees, Marijuana, Electric Cars & 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 January 16, 2019 meeting: 

Zoning Code for Gross Floor Area: Councilors O’Malley and Baker refiled a zoning text amendment that would redefine Gross Floor Area in the Boston Zoning Code to be measured from the interior of the wall, rather than the exterior. The current zoning code defines the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) as the ratio of the gross floor area of a structure to the total area of the lot, and the Gross Floor Area as the sum of areas of the several floors of the structure as measured by the exterior faces of the wall. If the zoning code is amended, this would give developers more flexibility to have thicker walls that would not count against their developable space, and they can include increased insulation in their buildings, increasing energy efficiency and decreasing the buildings’ carbon footprint. The matter was assigned to the Planning, Development, and Transportation Committee.

Investor and Commercial Properties Transfer Fee: Councilors Edwards and Janey filed a Home Rule Petition to establish a property transfer fee. The councilors noted that there is a housing crisis in the city, and real estate speculation accelerates housing unaffordability. The petition would include a fee up to 6% of the purchase price of a real estate transfer, with 3% paid by the seller, and 3% paid by the purchaser. In the case of repeated sales of properties within 24 months, the city can impose a fee of up to 25% of the sales price on the seller. There are several exemptions to the fee, including transfers under $2M (although not exempt from repeated sales fee) and transfers between family members, among others. The fees would go towards the Neighborhood Housing Trust for affordable housing. The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

Equity Practices for Marijuana Licensing: Councilors McCarthy and Janey refiled a hearing order to discuss Boston’s current marijuana licensing process and explore best equity practices.The current marijuana licensing law requires the development of “procedures and policies to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities”. Many residents of color and low-income communities were disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition and the war on drugs, and it is important that there is access for residents to enter the cannabis industry. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Small Business & Consumer Affairs.

Traffic and Pedestrian Safety around Cannabis Facilities: Councilor Flynn filed a hearing order to discuss City policies regarding the proximity of cannabis facilities to sites where children congregate, such as daycare centers and playgrounds, as well as regulations to ensure adequate infrastructure to maintain road and pedestrian safety. While there are restrictions regulating proximity from cannabis facilities to K-12 schools, there are still many types of sites where children gather. Moreover, cannabis facilities can create traffic and encourage people to double park, which causes congestion and increase the risks of accidents. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Small Business & Consumer Affairs.

School Security: Councilor Essaibi-George called for a hearing to analyze the safety and security measures to protect school environments. According to the US Naval Postgraduate School’s K-12 school shooting data, in 2018 there were 94 school gun violence incidents in the United States — a record high since 1970. Councilor Essaibi-George noted that every school needs locks on doors, monitored entryways, schoolwide active shooter trainings, and preventative measures against violent attacks, as well as elimination of physical, verbal and cyber bullying. Moreover, the opioid crisis continues to be an added concern, with an influx of needles found near schools. Students deserve to learn in a safe environment, and all schools should have equal access to opportunities to improve safety practices and infrastructure. The matter was assigned to the Education Committee for a hearing.

Net Zero Carbon Requirements: Councilor O’Malley and I refiled a hearing order on requiring all new municipal buildings to have net zero carbon requirements. The Council had several working sessions on the benefits of having net carbon zero requirements, and other cities have already established roadmaps to achieving net zero carbon in their municipal buildings. In Boston, buildings contribute to over half of the greenhouse gas emissions. Councilor O’Malley referenced the City’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050, and that in the year 2019, we are closer to 2050 than to 1987. I also stood to offer a reminder that the international and national reports have given us until 2030 to drastically lower our emissions. We should set these net zero requirements for new municipal buildings--which is entirely within our control--immediately. The matter was assigned to the Environment, Sustainability and Parks Committee for a hearing.

Electric Vehicles: At the close of our meeting, I rose to give everyone an update that our Right-to-Charge Electric Vehicles home-rule petition was signed into law two weeks ago. In October 2017, the City Council unanimously passed this petition to increase access to electric vehicle charging stations, specifically prohibiting condo associations from banning the installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure on or near common property, e.g. the driveway or garage. Condo associations can add any reasonable requirements about maintenance and location. Thanks to the leadership of our state sponsors State Representative Adrian Madaro and State Senator Joe Boncore for ushering the legislation through many steps on Beacon Hill!
  • Next City Council meeting will be on Wednesday, January 30th, at 12 pm. 

For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit or sign up to receive these notes automatically. 

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