Councilor Edwards to Begin Hearings on ZBA Reforms

City Councilor Lydia Edwards will hold a working session on Thursday at City Hall to discuss major reforms to the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA), just as the Board begins to meet again and tackle a backlog of hundreds of cases that have built up since late March.

The Working Session will focus on the heart of the ZBA, one of the busiest Boards in the entire city with meetings that grind on for hours and hours. Edwards is proposing to expand the number of seats on the ZBA and include representatives from groups like tenant advocates and environmental protection advocates.

The ZBA is currently required by law to reserve seats for members of the real estate and construction industries, organized labor and certain other parties while holding no representation for renters, environmental protection or advocates for fair housing and civil rights, said Edwards.

Another focus of the Working Session will be changing the requirements for a variance – a change that could have major impacts in any number of directions. Variances to the zoning code can be granted for height, density, setbacks, conditions of use, and other land use exceptions.

Edwards first called for ZBA reforms last fall, and a hearing at the Council took place this February. Shortly after, Mayor Martin Walsh introduced an executive order in response to Edwards’s proposal to implement some reforms. Then COVID-19 hit, and things have been on hold.

Some of the reforms in the executive order included financial disclosure for board members to prevent conflicts of interest, adding interpretation services and modernizing the Board’s communication/application procedures so documents are available electronically.

The Working Session begins at 10 a.m. and will be in the Council Committee on Government Operations, which Edwards chairs.

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