Tearing down the lawyer’s playground

I’m using a real-life experience as a comparison.

There was this playground in the South End that was very popular with families especially when there was very little open space in this tightly built area.

And then for the sake of safety, it was torn out.

Most people don’t hang about City Hall or check it every day like I do, nor analyze every word in the paper of record, like I do.

Families walked over to use the playground and it was gone.     It looked like a small twister had swept down and ripped it out of the ground.      Not only that but threatening warnings were placed not to even step upon the former site.

Shock, Surprise and dismay which began to slowly turn to anger.

Well, this scenario is going to be repeated.

This time it will be a big surprise not to couples with children but to lawyers.

Shock, Surprise and dismay will begin to to slowly turn to anger.


Recently the Planning & Development Office requested some zoning changes and some of them raised red flags especially the changing of issuing special permits instead of variances.

They needn’t have worried.

Typically, when a developer wants to do something that the zoning does not permit, they must show some kind of hardship which will give good reason why the ordinances on the books can be disregarded.    If they are convincing enough, they will receive a variance.  This is not only the playground of consultants and lawyers, it is also the happy sandbox for the Zoning Board of Appeals.        They may (and often they do) have a stack of reasons why the variance should not be granted but due to a whole range of extenuating reasons; may totally disregard the facts in deference to a ‘hardship’.

What fun!    In fact, you don’t even need sand to make a castle – just allegorically limp into the ZBA and it isn’t long before the empathy starts to pour forth, “You poor thing!” and if they are convincingly enough, may have the variance granted.

Summarizing the variance as outlined in the Massachusetts General Law:

Variance (M.G.L. 40A (zoning), Chapter 10)

The permit granting authority shall have the power after public hearing… owing to circumstances…[that] a literal enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance or by-law would involve substantial hardship, financial or otherwise, to the petitioner or appellant, and that desirable relief may be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and without nullifying or substantially derogating from the intent or purpose of such ordinance or by-law.

What the Planning Office is proposing is that the local community instead of being victimized by ‘hardship’ cases (Oh, the whiplash!) will now have some control that will end up being a benefit for the community as a whole.           Just as a special permit has frameworked Steve Karp’s development intents at the waterfront via the Waterfront West Overlay District; so now developments can be assigned conditions and safeguards and limitations that can assure the public good has been served.

Special Permit (M.G.L. 40A (zoning), Chapter 9)

Special permits may be issued…[that]  impose conditions, safeguards and limitations on time or use.   Zoning ordinances or by-laws may provide that special permits may be granted… where the public good would be served…Zoning ordinances or by-laws may provide for special permits…that encourage the transfer of development rights in a manner that protect open space, preserve farmland, promote housing for persons of low and moderate income or further other community interests.

It is important for those who are actively interested in positive political action to make a difference by contacting your city councilors and demand that they vote in favor of this ordinance change.

Our city is in grave danger of being picked apart by buzzards because we are, at least on the zoning level, dead in the water.        It’s a long way off from having a local historic district ordinance or an extensive demolition delay but it does permit our city’s long term future to be secured with some level of control.

Without it, we will continue to see a lot of limping applicants crying about hardship entering our volunteer boards and then exiting laughing and snickering and skipping to the bank!

With it, we’re going to make a lot of high-priced consultants and lawyers frustrated and angry…and that makes me happy!

-P. Preservationist

This entry was posted in Developers, Health and wellness, News and politics, Organizations, Planning, Real Estate, Zoning. Bookmark the permalink.

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