Monday, September 30, 2019

Boston City Council Looks At Cannabis Zoning, Inspector General, Pedestrian Safety & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. Here are some summer and September highlights:

Vision Zero: Councilors Flynn and Janey called for a hearing to discuss pedestrian crossing signals, traffic calming, and Vision Zero (the goal of having zero traffic fatalities). Both Councilors emphasized that as our city becomes more developed and densely populated, our neighborhoods have more vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and many areas need improvements to ensure that pedestrians are safe. The matter was assigned to the Planning, Development and Transportation Committee for a hearing. source: 09/18/19 Council meeting

Cannabis Buffer Zoning: The Council voted to pass Councilor Flaherty’s zoning text amendment to clarify the half-mile cannabis buffer zone. In 2016 the Council initiated and passed a zoning text amendment introduced by Councilor Flaherty and subsequently approved by the BPDA establishing a requirement that any new cannabis establishments must be sited at least 0.5 miles away from any “existing cannabis establishment,” with the intent to ensure equitable access to dispensaries and licenses, as well as avoid concentration in one area. After proposals for two cannabis establishments within half a mile of each other were presented at the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Administration and ZBA board members adopted an interpretation offered by one of the companies to find a loophole. Today we passed language to close this loophole, replacing that language with a requirement to maintain a buffer from any “existing cannabis establishment or proposed cannabis establishment that has obtained any municipal permits or approvals, including but not limited to executed host community agreements.” The petition goes to the Zoning Commission and BPDA Board for approval. (from 8/21/19 Council Meeting)
Linkage and Inclusionary Development: The Council voted to pass an amended version of the home-rule petition filed by the Mayor to codify Boston’s inclusionary development policy into the zoning code and give the City the ability to make adjustments to the Linkage formula with more flexibility than allowed by current state law. The Inclusionary Development Policy was created by executive order in 2000 and requires developers of new residential housing with 10 units or more to include 13% affordable units onsite or pay to fund an affordable housing project offsite. Linkage was created in 1983 as a way to fund resources for affordable housing and workforce development, requiring large-scale commercial developers to pay exactions to the City for projects over 100,000 square feet, with the City allowed to adjust the rates every three years based on CPI. The home-rule petition would allow the City to adjust Linkage and the threshold for application, eliminating the restriction on making adjustments only once every three years based on the Consumer Price Index, and linking the threshold to Article 80. The amendments include language defining a process and standards for adopting inclusionary zoning, including a requirement that inclusionary zoning proposals be approved by the City Council. The legislation now goes to the State for approval. source: 8/21/19 Council Meeting

Establishing the Office of Inspector General: Councilor Campbell introduced an ordinance establishing the Office of Inspector General within the City of Boston. She stated that rather than bringing in costly outside counsel to address scandals as they arise, a City Inspector General would provide permanent, proactive, independent oversight of Boston’s city government to root out corruption and identify mismanagement and waste. Massachusetts has a state inspector general, and other cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore have city inspector generals. Councilor Garrison spoke to oppose the idea, stating that if the City had funding to create this position, that money should go back to the taxpayers instead. Councilor Baker also questioned where the funding would come from and whether this was implying widespread corruption in City Hall when most public employees are hard-working and honest. Councilor Edwards spoke about her push for independent investigations for issues such as the allegations of discrimination and assault from women serving in the Boston Fire Department and how this could be a complementary effort. The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing. source: 8/21/19 Council Meeting

North-South Rail Link: Councilor Essaibi-George and I reported back on the hearing she had sponsored on the proposed North-South Rail Link to connect North Station and South Station. The Massachusetts Commuter Rail system is effectively split between the North and South of Boston, preventing statewide connectivity and mobility, and Boston is the single gap in continuous service between Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which runs from Washington D.C. to Boston, and Amtrak’s Downeaster, which runs from Brunswick, Maine to Boston. At the hearing, advocates touted the economic benefits and quality of life improvements that would come from this project, as well as describing feasibility and cost. The matter will remain in the Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation for further discussion. source: 7/31/19 Council Meeting

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

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