fb-pixel Skip to main content

New era of Boston zoning under Mayor Wu?

Mayor Michelle Wu walked to a press conference on City Hall Plaza in August.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

City’s residents have zoning board to thank for protecting their quality of life

Having a keen sense of the history of the evolution of Boston’s Zoning Code and the process of appealing those requirements, I take issue with the Sept. 28 editorial, “Wu cleans house at zoning board.”

As the former chair of Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal, I can attest that the zoning code has been updated to reflect the vision for a specific community, as articulated by that community through a planning process and added to the zoning code through neighborhood articles. I would also note that the board’s composition has changed since the enabling act: A community seat was added in the early 1990s and was incorporated into the zoning code. This code is not frozen in time but rather is regularly updated by the Zoning Commission, with information and documentation at bostonplans.org.


Further, the ZBA is an independent body, one that reviews each of the projects approved by the city’s planning agency, the Boston Planning and Development Agency, as a planning and zoning package. A simple analysis would conclude that there is little difference between the ZBA’s and BPDA’s recommendations. In its role, often with the same developers, attorneys, and architects, the ZBA brings a wealth of knowledge, history, and experience of reviewing successful and not-so-successful built projects from across the city. I also note that nothing prevents a developer from appealing the requirements of the zoning code.

Finally, the editorial quotes developers or representatives of developers, all with a vested interest in overriding the zoning code requirements. Residents have the ZBA to thank for protecting their quality of life — for example, for not having to fight for on-street parking after working a second shift; not having a tall, out-of-context building shadowing theirs; or for having their privacy protected when developers request construction too close to the property line.


I thank all ZBA members for their public service on behalf of Boston residents.

Christine Araujo


The writer is a city planner and, until last month, served on the Zoning Board of Appeal since 1998.

Charlestown’s example shows why city is in sore need of a master plan

Thank you to the editorial board for highlighting the inequities of the multilayered, antiquated zoning code and board structure in “Wu cleans house at zoning board.”

However, more work needs to be done at the Boston Planning and Development Agency. According to Arthur Jemison, the city’s new chief of planning, the aim at the board is “to reduce reliance on variances as the BPDA prioritizes planning-led development.” This is magical thinking. I’ve seen no attempt to confront the real issues we have in Charlestown, for instance, where we continue to have development without proper planning. It’s planning by pieces.

We have been advocating for a master plan since 2019, when Marty Walsh was mayor, with a petition signed by 2,700 residents. We need proper planning before development in our dense community.

In October 2019, as city councilor, Michelle Wu released a report titled, “Fixing Boston’s Broken Development Process: Why and How to Abolish the BPDA,” which argues that we must empower a planning department to create a master plan for updated zoning and “clear, consistent rules.”

Now that she is mayor, I ask her to please listen to her constituents. In her 2019 report she wrote that if we want Boston to “be a city for everybody, then everybody should have a say” in shaping it. The people have spoken, and we are waiting.


Ann Kelleher