Amidst an alleged bribery scandal at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) that has unfolded over the past few weeks, Special Advisor to the Mayor (and former Inspectional Services Department director) Buddy Christopher announced on Sept. 6 that he would be taking a temporary leave of absence so as to not interfere with the investigation.
That was quickly followed up last weekend by ZBA member Craig Galvin announcing his resignation, which Mayor Martin Walsh has accepted.
“The private sector work I performed that qualified me for the work I’ve done for the city, and the connections I made then, disqualify me from participating now in the inquiry the Mayor has requested,” Christopher said in a statement. “Rather than recuse myself, I am simply taking a temporary leave of absence so as not to interfere with the inquiry.”
Christopher had been the ISD Director for some time, dealing with numerous issues in the South End, Back Bay and Fenway over the years with residents. However, in recent months, he took on a special project for Mayor Walsh to be the point person for a new effort to address the Opiate Epidemic.
Now, his work there has been derailed for the time being as the saga on the ZBA continues.
The U.S. Attorney’s office announced on Aug. 30 that John Lynch, former Assistant Director of Real Estate at the Economic Development Industrial Corporation (EDIC), a division of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), pleaded guilty to accepting $50,000 in bribes from a Boston real estate developer to convince Lynch to obtain a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) vote that would extend a permit for a multi-unit development. The permit would allow the real estate developer to gain an additional half million dollars in profits, according to the US Attorney’s office.
Lynch was charged with one count of bribery involving an organization receiving federal funds and one count of filing a false federal tax return that did not include his receipt of the bribe payments.
“Lynch faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greater, and forfeiture,” the release states.
On Sept. 8, Galvin resigned from the ZBA, according to City officials. The Boston Globe reported that Galvin’s resignation letter did not provide a reason for the resignation, but that the website for Galvin’s real estate firm states that it served as a consultant and a listing agent to one of Lynch’s projects.
Mayor Walsh said on Sept. 5 that he has launched a review of the ZBA “to ensure best practices,” according to a release from the city.
“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 in the release. “The pace of our growth is unparalleled to any other time in our city’s history, which is a tremendous economic boon for out 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.”
Mayor Walsh has selected Sullivan & Worcester LLP to conduct the review, which will begin with the rules and regulations currently in place that decide how the ZBA works with individuals and their projects 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 Mayor 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.”
On Sept. 6, the City employed Attorney Brian Kelly to focus on the allegations of this incident, according to city officials, who added that Kelly has reached out for a scheduled interview with each of the ZBA members and will also reach out to any others involved with this particular project to find out what occurred.
“It continues to be a top priority to get to the bottom of what happened here,” a spokesperson for Mayor Walsh said. “We anticipate having our questions answered through Attorney Brian Kelly’s review, and Mayor Walsh is taking the action needed until we know more.”
City officials said that the ZBA will continue to operate normally, as there are projects that cannot wait for the review process, such as in the case of a person carrying two mortgages and not being able to sell their home unit a permit is issued or a building owner seeking accessibility improvements such as ramps or elevators. The scheduled September 10 meeting occurred as planned, with the absence of Galvin on the board. That left only five board members to hear the cases, which led ZBA Chair Christine Araujo to explain to applicants that they would need unanimous support from the board in order for their projects to be approved.
“One of my first actions as Mayor was to streamline the zoning process and change the BRA into a planning agency that, for the first time, focuses on the community,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement. “I’ve worked to level the playing field in every aspect of development and I’ve made clear that if we find anything that allows someone to put their thumb on the scale that I will make immediate changes. There are timely projects before the board right now that will unfairly and negatively impact residents who have been waiting to improve their homes if they are not addressed. I’ve asked for an independent and comprehensive review and I am fully committed to overhauling the Zoning Board of Appeal.”