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Edwards proposes zoning board reforms

Banner Staff

City Councilor Lydia Edwards has filed legislation to reform the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal following revelations in recent weeks of bribery and insider-dealing in the city’s construction permitting process.

Edwards’ legislation would end the practice of reserving seats on the seven-member board for named organizations or interests. In recent years, seats on the board have been reserved for members of the real estate industry, architects and building trades members. In September, board member Craig Galvin, a real estate broker, stepped down. On multiple occasions in the past year, Galvin had voted on projects that he later marketed and sold.

Under Edwards’ proposal, the seven members and seven alternates on the board would represent affordable housing, civil rights and fair housing, environmental protection and climate change, urban planning, homeowners and renters.

“These changes protect against conflicts of interest, improve standards of review, ensure critical perspectives of tenants and environmental protection are represented, and modernize the Zoning Board of Appeal by providing 21st-century transparency for all residents,” Edwards said in a press statement. “This overhaul is a team effort, and I appreciate that Mayor Walsh is already calling for administrative changes.”

Edwards’ proposal would also bar ZBA staff from engaging in permitting, planning, development or real estate functions, and prohibit them from engaging in private business in those areas.

Additionally, Edwards is calling for records of ZBA hearings to be made available electronically and in paper no later than seven days following a hearing and for hearings to be posted electronically 20 days in advance. The ZBA would be required to file quarterly reports on the number and types of conditional use permits and variances granted broken out by neighborhood and planning district.

Edwards filed the legislation as a home rule petition, as many of the changes will require approval from the state Legislature.

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