Zoning Board of Appeals Overhaul One Step Toward Approval Process Reform in Boston

Mayor Wu recently overhauled the makeup of Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeals, but bigger changes will be necessary to depoliticize the city’s development approvals process.

2 minute read

October 2, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Brutalism

Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock

The Boston Globe Editorial Board describes the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) as having “something of a stranglehold on small and mid-sized building projects throughout the city.”

So the Editorial Board welcomes a recent shakeup of the ZBA [paywall] by Mayor Michelle Wu, who is a longtime critic of the ZBA [paywall] and the politics of the city’s development approvals process. Wu’s past reform proposals included calling for ZBA appointees to have climate change and urban planning expertise, rather than being required to come from specific interest groups such as the Building Trades Council, the Boston Society of Architects, and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

But Wu is still working within those parameters with the recent appointments, so the editorial is only cautiously optimistic that the shakeup might work as the mayor intends. “But it doesn’t solve the larger issues that she was so intent on solving — providing diversity of professional backgrounds and skills without leaving board members open to charges of insider dealing or even intentional insider obstructionism,” according to the editorial.

Barring the state-level approval that would be required to substantively change the ZBA, the Boston Zoning Commission, which has purview over the city’s zoning code, could also improve the city’s approval process.

In the meantime, however, Boston’s ZBA is expected to continue to review hundreds of appeals for small projects “that in every other city and town would be routine building permit matters — a roof deck or garage or an in-law apartment,” reads the editorial.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in The Boston Globe

Aerial view of homes on beach in Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii Passes First Legislation Regulating Short-Term Rentals Statewide

The new law will give counties the power to limit number or short-term rentals and convert existing short-term rental units back into long-term residential housing.

May 13, 2024 - USA Today

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21 - The Architect's Newspaper

Close-up of back windshield of Waymo autonomous car.

NHTSA Launches Investigations Into Two More Self-Driving Automakers

The federal agency is responding to reports of crashes and erratic behavior from Waymo and Zoox vehicles.

May 21 - Smart Cities Dive

Texas Townhomes

Austin Reduces Minimum Lot Size

Smaller lot sizes for single-family homes can make construction more affordable and homeownership available to more households.

May 21 - The Texas Tribune

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.