The Boston Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) has definitely seen better days.
The fallout from the John Lynch bribing scandal has trickled down to the ZBA itself and now Mayor Martin Walsh is calling for an investigation into the board.
Lynch, the city’s Director of Real Estate, pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting $50,000 from a developer to sway members of the ZBA on a vote.
Since his plea ZBA Board Member Craig Galvin has resigned and former ISD Commissioner Buddy Christopher, who has been serving as an advisor to Walsh, also recently jumped ship from City Hall.
As the scandal unfolded Walsh announced his administration has hired the former head of the Public Corruption Unit inside the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Brian Kelly, to conduct an independent review of the scandal.
Walsh also called for a comprehensive review of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) and related processes, in order to ensure that best practices, including strong internal protocols and policies, are in place to best serve applicants in a way that is transparent and accountable to the public.
Walsh said the review will draw upon expertise in all facets of zoning to review best practices in the field, and inform any opportunities moving forward for how to institute even stronger operational controls and accountability at the ZBA.
“Boston is a city that is booming with economic development, from new companies moving to our city and the creation of housing being at an all-time high record,” said Mayor Walsh. “The pace of our growth is unparalleled to any other time in our city’s history, which is a tremendous economic boon for our city, but also brings its own set of challenges. Through this review, I want to make sure that our agencies and staff are best equipped with the knowledge, tools and training they need to do their jobs effectively and to the standard of which they are held.”
Walsh has asked Sullivan & Worcester LLP to conduct this comprehensive review beginning with the rules and regulations in place that dictate how the ZBA conducts business on behalf of the residents of Boston, and those with matters before the board.
“Since taking office, my Administration has worked to level the playing field in the development process in Boston, emphasizing transparency and ensuring broader access and input from the community,” said Walsh. “I recognize that there is always more work to be done to make the business of city government more accessible and transparent to everyone. I am hopeful that we will learn from the findings of this review how else we can better serve our constituencies and implement best practices used in the field.”
In response to the recent developments Councilor Lydia Edwards said planning, zoning and development review are critical city functions that impact the lives of residents across the city.
“Cases like these emphasize the need for transparent public oversight and clear standards that are actually followed,” she said. “This is an opportunity to examine how we do business, and also gives us a reason to examine the structure of zoning authority in the city. We should also see this examination as a chance to reinstall trust in the ZBA. Many people have given up on it and believe it doesn’t even try to apply zoning standards. I am excited about this conversation as it is particularly important as our neighborhood of East Boston goes through historic rezoning to establish guidelines for Boston’s future.”