Following Lynch scandal, zoning review may not be enough
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is launching a review of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal after a Boston Planning and Development Agency official agreed to plead guilty to accepting a bribe..
John Lynch, former assistant director of real estate at the Economic Development Corporation, which sits within the planning and development agency, accepted $50,000 in 2018 to help a real estate developer get a permit extension. Walsh doesn’t know much about what went down, but in the meantime he is asking the law firm of Sullivan & Worcester to conduct a comprehensive review of the zoning board and its processes.
The agency has the power to usher through construction projects of varying sizes — from the minor renovation of a kitchen to the creation of apartment buildings. The seven-member board shapes the city’s 26 neighborhoods, helping to determine how they look and how densely populated they are.
A Boston Globe editorial says the city’s zoning system is “ripe for corruption,” mostly by design. “Long before the board became ground zero for a federal bribery case, its way of doing business — under a unique and antiquated zoning code — has succeeded in politicizing virtually every construction project under their purview,” the editorial said. “And make no mistake, that’s exactly the way the elected officials who weigh in most often before this largely obscure board like it.”
“When our system is built on special approvals and exceptions, it leads to the possibility for things like this [the Lynch case],” said City Councilor Michelle Wu, who has criticized the system for providing the “greatest input to a small number of decision-makers.”
Earlier this summer, Wu and City Councilor Lydia Edwards held up the City Council confirmation of several Zoning Board of Appeal members who they claimed had potential conflicts of interest–mostly around zoning for marijuana dispensaries. Zoning board of appeals chair Christine Araujo fired back and accused the councilors of “posturing” and negatively impacting development in the city.
It might be worth it to reexamine how the city looks at zoning as a whole. Boston is operating under rules created almost 50 years ago; those rules are often derided as antiquated and ineffective for a 21st century city struggling to manage the balance between history and innovation. Even more worrisome, the rules grant tremendous power to people who aren’t even elected; zoning board members are appointed by Walsh every three years.
Whether or not a comprehensive review of the zoning board by a mayor with strong connections to labor is enough remains to be seen. Sullivan & Worcester will review the ZBA’s approval processes and recommend “what, if any, changes need to happen.”
Gov. Charlie Baker plans to file legislation today to double the exemption taxpayers can claim for dependents, a measure that would affect about 1 million taxpayers and save them approximately $87 million. (Boston Globe)
The historic Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey would be transferred to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy under a bill passed by the Senate. (Gloucester Daily Times)
After a City Hall staffer agreed to plead guilty to bribery to influence a Zoning Board of Appeals vote, City Councilor Michelle Wu says “the integrity of the entire board is in question” and critiques the ad hoc approach to development approval. (WBUR)
A lawsuit was filed in Boston seeking to block the Trump administration from terminating a program benefiting immigrants needing specialized medical care in the US. (CommonWealth)
Jewish protesters marched from the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston to Amazon offices in Kendall Square in Cambridge to protest local companies doing business with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. (Boston Globe)
Marijuana helped star running back Ricky Williams manage pain years ago, and now with Rob Gronkowski and others touting the perceived benefits of CBD, people within college football and the NFL are taking a fresh look at the rules banning those substances. (WBUR)
Joe Kennedy III, who spent the day in New Hampshire yesterday campaigning for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential bid, said it’s not at all awkward to be supporting her even though she’s endorsed his would-be Senate primary foe, Ed Markey. (Boston Herald, Boston Globe) Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy II, is sitting on almost $2.8 million left over in his campaign account from his days Congress, money that he could dump into backing a Senate run by his son. (Boston Globe)
Scot Lehigh says those concerned about global warming only have one party to choose from in next year’s presidential race. (Boston Globe)
South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, and Kansas are considering scrapping their Republican primaries to take more air out of the campaigns of President Trump’s longshot challengers. (Politico)
Former Congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke tried something different and spoke to college students in Massachusetts, telling his Tufts University audience about his idea to require people to sell their AR-15s to the government. (WBUR)
You probably forgot this was even a potential thing, but former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he won’t mount an independent run for president. (Washington Post)
Rockland, Abington, and Marshfield are reexamining the trash-hauling contracts that tie them to Republic Services as union workers enter their second week of protests. (Patriot Ledger)
Can the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs avoid the mistakes made in Boston’s Seaport? (Boston Globe)
New Bedford has tentatively reached host community agreements with three applicants seeking recreational dispensary licenses from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission; Tree Beard Inc., Southcoast Apothecary, LLC, and Metro Harvest Inc. (Standard-Times)
The Trump administration’s trade war with China is having ripple effects on Massachusetts businesses, some of which are tightening their belt on hiring as a result. (Boston Globe)
A question asking Bridgewater residents whether to approve funding for construction of a new school will appear on a special election ballot in October. (Brockton Enterprise)
Mosquitoes infected with Eastern equine encephalitis have been found in Wellfleet, making it the fourth town on the Cape this season where mosquitoes carrying the deadly virus have been detected. (Cape Cod Times)
Refrigerant leaking from a freezer at a Market Basket store in Rowley caused breathing problems, and led authorities to evacuate the shopping center and send eight people to hospital. (Eagle-Tribune)
The Massport bus that runs between Back Bay and Logan Airport is a big hit with riders. Is there a lesson there for the MBTA? (CommonWealth)
The Baker administration is floating an 800 megawatt expansion of the state’s solar program. (State House News)
A coalition is formed to help and support black marijuana entrepreneurs. So far, only 2 of 184 marijuana business licenses have been awarded to people with social equity status. (MassLive)
Richard Sinnott, the judge at the center of the Straight Pride Parade controversy, is seen as “tough but fair.” (Boston Globe) Shirley Leung sees sexism in his treatment of a female defense lawyer who was taken into custody for contempt of court in the case — though her case seems to rely mainly on broader claims. (Boston Globe) A Globe editorial comes down on the side of DA Rachael Rollins, criticizing Sinnott for insisting on keeping alive cases the DA’s office sought to dismiss. Lawyers plan to file a complaint against Sinnott with the Commission on Judicial Misconduct. (WGBH)
Two weeks before the preliminary re-election, Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia was arrested for allegedly extorting marijuana vendors. A press conference is planned for 11 a.m. Correia already faces charges for defrauding investors. (NECN)
Norfolk County DA Michael W. Morrissey says the law on sentencing guidelines is clear — they don’t become effective until approved by the Legislature. (CommonWealth)
Police arrested two people in Framingham for selling marijuana, but the mother and son have video of people “securing” their home without a search warrant. (MetroWest Daily News)
Wooryong Heo and Hayun Nam, a couple from South Korea who allegedly ran a brothel in Salem where women were not allowed to travel freely, are interested in making a plea deal in their human trafficking case. (Salem News)
Selvin Manuel Lima, a Lawrence man who was allegedly driving drunk with an open bottle of cognac when he crashed, killing an 11-year-old from Fitchburg, was ordered held without bail. (Eagle-Tribune)MEDIA
The Atlantic rejoins the metered paywall club. (Nieman Journalism Lab)