By Cary Shuman
William Christopher Jr., commissioner of the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) for the City of Boston, gave an informative talk about the workings of the department and the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals Monday at a meeting of the Gove Street Citizens Association.
Christopher, an architect, said over the past 18 months in the Mayor Walsh Administration, the ISD “made an awful lot of revisions to the process, the ideology – but the biggest thing we wanted to really change was the whole attitude about what ISD is or was.”
The commissioner said the goal was to make ISD “a lot more helpful in what we do.”
He said that the process for applying and receiving a permit or zoning variance has been expedited. “We feel like we’ve really cut down on the process of how to make things work.”
Christopher elaborated on the composition and the role of the city’s Board of Appeals.
“They’re the only body [board] in the city that give you relief from zoning,” said Christopher said. “So if you’re asking for a variance whether it’s height, size, use group, ISD cannot give you permission to do that. The role of the board [ZBA] is to take in to consideration all the factors about the city. This is a body of seven people that take all that information in, process it, and come up with what they think is the best decision for the city.”
Christopher said there are now two zoning boards of appeal. One of the boards meets Thursday nights for “the small projects,” where an applicant “does not need an architect, a lawyer, or an expediter.”
“We have people from the BRA and the ISD sitting there to walk you through that process,” said Christopher.
He said the larger projects are reviewed at ZBA meetings on Tuesdays. “This allowed us to cut the time tremendously in the whole Zoning Board of Appeals process as we go forward.”
Christopher said the whole permitting process is now computerized and available for review on the ISD Web site.
“You go to the Web Site and key in your permit number and it will tell you where the permit, who it’s with, their telephone number and how long it’s been there,” said Christopher.
He said visitors to the ISD office no longer have to stand in a waiting line. “What I’ve found is that people were a lot less aggravated, rather than standing on line for 20 minutes to be able to sit down. It seems to have worked. People are a lot friendlier on both sides of the counter – the staff as well as the people looking for applications.”
Christopher said the ISD also hold several informational meetings throughout the city.
Following his remarks, the ISD chief ably fielded questions from the audience. Christopher was well received by the GSCA members, receiving two separate rounds of applause, one after his speech and one as he exited the Noddle Community Room.
GSCA Chairman Jack Scalcione said the group was impressed by Christopher’s presentation and his professionalism.
“He really knows his stuff and how to address a crowd,” said Scalcione. “I was impressed by him when Councillor [Sal] LaMattina had a meeting in November, 2014, on zoning, and the commissioner was really responsive, saying he was trying to make changes [to the department] as fast as he could.”