Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Boston City Council Looks At BDPA, ZBA, Grants, Vacant Properties & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. Here are some highlights from the October 2, October 9 and October 23, 2019 meetings:

  • Zoning Board of Appeals: Ann Beha and Timothy Burke, until July 2021
  • Back Bay Architectural Commission: James Berkman and Kathleen Connor until December 2021; Meredith Christensen, 2022; John Christiansen and Jerome Cooper King until December 2023; Zsuzsanna Gasper and Ethel Macleod until December 2024;
  • Boston Landmarks Commission: Joseph Castro and Bradford Walker until June 2020; John Freeman, Susan Goganian, and Christopher Hart until June 2021
  • Board of Review: Raymond E. Boly effective October 3, 2019

  • $236,400 FY20 Local Cultural Council Program grant, awarded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council to be administered by Arts and Culture to fund Boston Cultural Council subgrants (assigned to the Committee on Arts, Culture & Special Events)
  • $570,000 Climate Ready Boston grant, awarded by the Barr Foundation to be administered by the Environment Department to fund staff and consultant expenses for project planning and implementation. (Environment, Sustainability & Parks committee)
$260,000 in the form of a grant awarded by the Boston Redevelopment Authority d/b/a the Boston Planning and Development Agency, pursuant to the Winthrop Square Cooperation Agreement, One Post Office Square Cooperation Agreement and the 15-19 Congress Street Cooperation Agreement. The purpose of the grants is to facilitate planning and design for the Seaport to North Station Rapid Bus Corridor. The Seaport to North Station Rapid Bus Corridor was identified in the Go Boston 2030 as a key future rapid bus corridor, submits a report recommending the order ought to pass.


Abolish the BPDA: I officially filed my report with the Council, “Fixing Boston’s Broken Development Process: Why & How to Abolish the BPDA.” The report comes after almost a year of research, constituent cases, and meetings in my capacity as Chair of the Council’s Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation--recognizing the fact that many of the city’s most urgent challenges are being exacerbated by the current system of development based on special approvals and exceptions. Our complicated process comes from a lack of citywide planning that means Boston is missing out on addressing all our issues holistically, such as affordability, equity, traffic, and climate vulnerability. The document examines the history of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, its legacy today as the Boston Planning & Development Agency, examples from other cities about planning, transparency, accountability, civic engagement, and equity, and action steps for the City and the City Council. Councilor Baker rose to state that he believed the problems with the agency were under Mayor Menino’s administration, and that under Mayor Walsh there have been good planning and reforms in his experience. Councilor Ciommo stated that he had not read the report, but found it disingenuous to criticize the staff at the BPDA and not consult closely with all District Councilors on the report, since they are heavily involved with development. After our first community listening session in the South End on Monday, we will be in East Boston next Tuesday, October 15th, and in other neighborhoods very soon. You can read the report and sign up for email updates on future listening sessions at abolishthebpda.com.

ZBA: Councilor Edwards introduced a Home-Rule Petition to change the statute governing the Zoning Board of Appeal. The language would amend the state law designating the nominations process for ZBA members and the requirements of the board. Specifically, it would add designated seats to represent renters, persons knowledgeable in civil rights and fair housing, experts in environmental protection and other stakeholders not currently represented on the ZBA. The language would also require timely notification, the ability to access zoning services and records of decisions electronically and at Boston City Hall, and a regular report on variances by neighborhood and zoning district to inform future zoning by clearly indicating where actual development practices and the zoning code differ substantially. The matter was assigned to the Government Operation Committee for a hearing. 

Vacant Properties: Councilors O'Malley and Campbell reported back on the joint hearing regarding Vacant Properties held in the Committee on City and Neighborhood Services, Veterans Affairs & Military Families; and the Committee on Housing & Community Development. The displacement of neighborhood anchor small businesses, replaced by empty storefronts, is linked to the overall lack of affordable commercial space, and other cities have been exploring incentives to fill space such as fees levied on long-term vacant properties. The matter will remain in Committee for further discussion.

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

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