ZBA approves projects without community review

September 25, 2015
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Two construction projects—one at 40 Lochstead Road and another at 46 Eliot St.—that require variances were approved by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) earlier this month despite the applicants asking for deferrals and the projects not going through the normal community process.

The plan for 46 Eliot St. is to demolish an old garage and build a new garage, while the proposal for 40 Lochstead Rd. is to add a new master bedroom suite on the second floor over existing first-floor roof area, according to the City’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) spokesperson Lisa Timberlake.

The Gazette first learned of the approval through an email blast sent out by Dave Baron, chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee. Those email blasts sent by Baron detail the agendas of the upcoming zoning meetings. In the email, Baron ripped the ZBA for granting the zoning relief without a community process.

“This is unprecedented in my time on the Zoning Committee, and I cannot explain what prompted the ZBA to act with such contempt for the neighborhood,” said Baron in the email blast. “I know subscribers to this list have seen enough of these matters to understand and appreciate that the local process almost invariably translates into better projects and better relations among residential and business neighbors.”

Baron added that the community process translates into better relationships between the City and neighborhoods, and into “more appropriate siting decisions and a better mix of stores, services and other uses for our community.

“It is positive for Jamaica Plain and for the City in every single respect except making it easy for ISD and the ZBA to continue their business-as-usual approach to late scheduling of hearings, poor notice to the communities and lack of transparency about how process decisions get made,” said Baron.

Timberlake said in an email that the reason the projects were approved without a community process is because the neighborhood groups do not meet during the summer months.

“The Board believes hearings should not be placed on hold nor deferred because larger neighborhood associations (JPNC, etc.) do not meet during the summer months,” she said. “Small, owner-occupied jobs that are low impact (immediate abutter impact) and should move through the process more quickly.

“Therefore, the two projects were ultimately approved for the following reasons: the scope of work was minor (the addition of a master bedroom suite for one) and the applicants met with their immediate abutters (and received approval).”

When the Gazette asked the Mayor’s Office for comment, spokesperson Laura Oggeri replied that the City supported the applicants’ requests to have the ZBA hearing deferred.

“Applicants for both projects met with direct abutters and secured multiple letters of support,” she said in an email. “However, both applicants requested for their projects to be deferred and the City through its neighborhood services liaison for Jamaica Plain supported their requests for deferral.”

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