CSN Member Asks Group To Support Letter Calling for Reform of City’s Article 80 Process

 A member of Chester Square Neighbors was on hand for its monthly meeting held virtually on Wednesday, Feb. 7, to solicit the group’s support in sending a letter calling for the reform of the city’s Article 80 review process for large-scale development projects.

​CSN member Carol Streiff has been working with others from around the city to draft a letter to the Article 80 Steering Committee – an 11-member advisory committee comprising real estate and civic leaders convened by Mayor Michelle Wu last year to advise the Boston Planning & Development Agency on making reforms to Article 80 and the Boston Zoning Code. (“Article 80 refers to a section of the Boston Zoning Code adopted in 1996 to establish a more extensive review process for development proposals of more than 20,000 square feet or more than 15 dwelling units,” according to the city.)

​Per the draft letter, Streiff and the other signees intend to ask the Steering Committee to meet with them “to discuss the need for deeper representation of community voices in your recommendations for reform of the Article 80 process.”

​The draft letter states in part: “Article 80 solutions must include a race and class lens. Our comments are made with the intention of creating truly affordable housing in Boston through a meaningful engagement process, as so much of the development to date is about eliminating our working-class communities.”

Their recommendations include “ensuring timely and comprehensive notice to the affected community through a wide range of outreach and engagement methods; providing notice of pre-file documentation of project proposal and provide for transparency and public participation at all stages of the project review process; creating a one-stop website to document all review and needed approvals by all reviewing entities; pursuing equity-focused engagement efforts in historically underrepresented areas; creating a new mechanism to replace the IAG {Impact Advisory Group}…called for convenience a Community Review Group; requiring in Article 80, a minimum of three public meetings during project review; providing for equitable guidelines for project presentations to the BPDA Board;  and establishing direct route of appeal for BPDA Board decisions.”

​Among their recommendation for the notification period are that “within five days of its receipt of the pre-file documentation, the BPDA would agree to post notices on an interactive webpage created specifically for the project. Each webpage would contain a  “project file” containing all documentation filed with the city in connection with the project, as well a project timeline.

​Additionally, the draft letter recommends dispensing with the current IAG mechanism in the BPDA’s Article 80 process and replacing it with Community Review Groups. These new CRGs would each have no fewer than nine and no more than 15 members elected by the mayor from neighborhood and community organization representatives, as well as from submissions made by relevant elected officials; the percentages of each group would be negotiated with the BPDA. Members kust reside or conduct business in the area and also “shall be independent voices for the community who have no financial or legal interest in the project,” while  preference would be given to abutters and “those most impacted by the project,” according to the draft letter. Each CRG would each be charged with electing a chair and making all of its meeting minutes accessible to the public.

​The draft letter also recommends implementing ‘a provision to appeal’ to allow for “direct administrative and then judicial appeal of BPDA board decisions under Article 80…within 20 days to the Boston City Council, which could by a majority vote of the total membership overturn any decision of the board so appealed.”

​According to the draft letter, “Our recommendations draw on our thousands of hours of collective experiences and on models codified in Seattle and San Francisco municipal ordinances – cities ranked at the top of a list of ‘peer cities’ your consultants reviewed.”

Furthermore, Streiff said she and the other signees of the draft letter would also request that the city advertise public meetings on development project via radio spots, since the legal notification requirement currently extends only to adverting the meetings in print editions of local newspapers, which might not reach their target audiences, especially renters.

Another recommendation entails posting signs at project sites to inform passersby that those locations were currently “up for discussion,” said Streiff.

“To me, it’s a very important issue, and for anyone who’s tried to work on developments that came into their neighborhood…a lot of people felt it left a lot to be desired, and it’s not codified at all,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is write it up.”

CSN members on hand for last week’s virtual meeting voted by a majority to approve a motion made by Carol Blair, the group’s president, to send a letter to the city to affirm that  the Article 80 process is in need of reform, as well as to acknowledge the value of the work done by Streiff and her group and request that their recommendations gets adequate consideration. Blair’ s motion stopped short of endorsing the letter outright, however, since some group members hadn’t read the draft letter ahead of the meeting; one group member abstained from voting on the motion because she said she had not yet read the draft letter, but once she had, she said she would get back to Blair with her input.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.