Council Continues to Hold up ZBA Appointments, Re-Appointments

Council is concerned of interpretation of marijuana buffer zone

Councilors Michelle Wu and Lydia Edwards are continuing to hold up the appointment and re-appointment of several Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) members until they are clear on how they will interpret the half-mile buffer zone for marijuana establishments.

The ZBA members, including two newly proposed members from East Boston and one re-appointment from Dorchester, have been in limbo for several weeks as Councilor Michelle Wu awaits their responses regarding the marijuana issue.

The hold-up of the appointments is a rarity at the Boston Council, but one that is meant to seek clarity, Wu said.

“We had two pieces of follow-up information we were looking for after the initial hearing,” said Wu. “One of those was to give an answer about how they would interpret the half-mile marijuana buffer zone that is in the zoning code and that the Council had pushed for and was eventually codified in the Code. Several colleagues felt the question wasn’t adequately answered at the hearing. It wasn’t about a particular area, but in fact was something that would affect every neighborhood. We asked them to answer a follow-up question and are waiting for those responses.”

The half-mile buffer zone has played big in downtown neighborhoods, particularly in the South End and Fenway where many competing proposals were limited by the zoning code – which was championed by Councilor Michael Flaherty several years ago after taking a trip to Denver and seeing business districts peppered with dispensaries in close proximity.

Already, this year in the South End, the buffer zone played big in creating competition between two proposals within the zone – allowing neighbors and City leaders to understand which was the better of the two proposals.

For Edwards, who represents East Boston – where the was an alleged buffer zone snafu earlier this year – the question is much bigger and about not only the marijuana buffer zone, but also about accountability.

“I stand by making sure there is full transparency on the Zoning Board, and that includes the issue about the half-mile buffer zone,” she said. “We want to know what their line of thinking is…Right now, they do not have a quorum of members. If they’re interpreting that a different way than the Council, we can work around that, but you want to know that they think beforehand because they are the ones that give variances.”

Edwards said she also wanted to be certain there were no conflicts on the ZBA, and at the hearing on May 31, questioned appointees about their ties to government and family members.

“I talked about all the conflict concerns I have,” she said. “I even asked about family members. That’s my job to vet them and ask these questions. That’s my job and I did it.”

Wu said another piece of the hold-up were the technical requirements for being nominated to a seat on the ZBA, and that was being worked out with individual members.

Wu said she is still awaiting the responses from the appointees, and would resume a hearing on the appointments afterward. 

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