City: JPNC is not a government body

December 27, 2012
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The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) is not a government body, despite its claims to be one in a recent lawsuit, according to the City of Boston.

“No. The JPNC is not a municipal body of the City,” said John Guilfoil, deputy press secretary for Mayor Thomas Menino, in an email to the Gazette.

JPNC chair Benjamin Day last week filed a lawsuit on behalf of the entire council against the City of Boston and Boston Residential Group, alleging that the City’s Zoning Board of Appeal wrongly approved a controversial housing development at 161 S. Huntington Ave. without getting legally required evidence from the developer. The JPNC claims that it has “standing,” or legal grounds to sue, because it is a “municipal board” empowered by the City’s zoning code to review zoning matters.

The JPNC receives no funding or other assistance from the City, and its members are all volunteers elected by popular vote. But attorney Jeffrey Wiesner, a JPNC member who is representing the council in the lawsuit, said that despite those facts, “It’s a municipal board. That’s our allegation.”

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, a quasi-governmental agency that oversees Boston zoning matters, helps review zoning variance applications and staffs the City’s Zoning Commission, also holds the position that the JPNC is not a municipal board, according to spokesperson Melina Schuler. She repeated Guilfoil’s comment in an email to the Gazette.

The JPNC appears never to have claimed to be a government body before in its nearly 30-year history, and just last year issued a report stating it is an independent neighborhood association to which the state Open Meeting Law does not apply. The lawsuit’s claim that the JPNC is a government body after all is rooted in Article 55 of the City zoning code, which names the JPNC as among various neighborhood groups that the City looks to for community input on land use issues.

The totally opposite positions of the City and the JPNC on the “municipal board” issue set up a court battle over the question of standing before the actual merits of the case would be heard by a judge. No court hearing has been scheduled yet.

The JPNC’s lawsuit complaint can viewed at scribd.com/doc/118152004/JPNC-Appeal

Updated version: This story has been updated with Boston Redevelopment Authority comment.