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.

Read Time: 2 minutes

October 2, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


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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

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