After an as-of-right project slipped by without any community feedback, City Council President Andrea Campbell has some questions on how these projects are zoned, and why there is no public process.
Councilor Campbell called for a hearing to discuss the review process for as-of-right zoning projects, particularly with regards to previously rejected applicants at a Boston City Council hearing on March 21. She would also like to explore the tools and ordinances the City and Council may adopt to ensure these projects align with community’s vision for its residents.
This issue was first brought to her attention over a Popeye’s restaurant on Washington Street in Codman Square, which is located within her district.
The Popeye’s restaurant was denied a Conditional Use permit in October 2016 due to community disapproval, but then the applicant refiled for and was granted an Allowed Use Restaurant permit.
Members of the Codman Square community were not informed of the subsequent application and its approval.
“No notification went out to the community, and I didn’t even receive one,” said Campbell. “We found out because a community member was walking down the street and she was shocked when she saw the Popeye restaurant going up so she came back and told everybody.”
Campbell said it was initially denied because the Popeye’s did not align with the values of that community who have recently pushed for more farmers markets and getting smoking out of their community and housing.
Campbell hopes to have a conversation with both the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and the Inspectional Services Department (ISD).
“If a project goes up and it is not approved the first time and then goes as-of-right, should they be required to notify people?” asked Campbell. “Should we be imposing other conditions?”
Campbell said that she understands that requiring more notice could present a capacity issue and might be a lot to ask of ISD.
Councilor Annissa Essabi-George said she would also like to discuss who should be noticing residents regarding projects in the neighborhood. Should it be the Department of Neighborhood Services or the developer? Also what is the timeline those notices should go out and what information should be included?
“A number of residents don’t get information in a timely matter and it is not consistent across the city,” said Essabi-George. “When we are not handing out flyers our residents become less engaged.”
Councilor Lydia Edwards agreed, saying this conversation is long over due, especially with the amount of new development going on. She asked that a summary of as-of-right laws be broken down by neighborhood so that when they go to start this conversation the Councilors can understand what can and cannot happen in those projects.
Councilor Michael Flaherty said another issue stems around the deferral process. If a project defers, or delays their project from being heard from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), there is no additional notice for their next hearing date.
Flaherty said that time after time contested projects go through the public process and gets everyone involved, but at the 11th hour, the developers defer and ask for a new date near a holiday and give out no additional notice.
“It becomes a guessing game,” said Flaherty. “The deferral process should have a brand new notice. We need to recognize community process and abutter input is critical to the process. Too often a developer has a contested process and gets a date to only withdraw and defer to another date six to eight weeks away. The first time, a party shows up with 50 people and bus loads come, and the next day, no one is there because nobody got any notice – it’s inappropriate.”
Councilor Matt O’Malley agrees saying he has noticed a lot of projects spring up over night, often without much information on what will be going there.
“People just want to know what is going on next door and what is going on down the street,” said O’Malley. “There is often no hard feelings and ill will. We need make sure more information is shared, and that people are aware of what is happening.”
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation for a hearing.