AG: City’s Zoning Board Intentionally Broke the Law During Egleston Square Hearing

A state official says the ZBA gave insufficient public notice.

The city’s Zoning Board of Appeal intentionally broke the law during a hearing on a controversial housing development in Jamaica Plain, the Attorney General’s Office has ruled.

The seven-member board violated Open Meeting Law when it voted to approve variances for the project at 3200 Washington Street in Egleston Square on September 15, 2015, Assistant Attorney General Kevin W. Manganaro wrote in his opinion, obtained by Boston.

Typically, public bodies post notices on the bulletin board on the first floor of City Hall at least 48 hours prior to a public meeting, excluding weekends and legal holidays, as required by the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Manganaro found that the ZBA had neither filed a notice with the City Clerk, nor posted on the bulletin board. The online notice for the meeting made no mention of the project until it was updated the day before the hearing, Manganaro wrote.

Prior to the September 15 meeting, two members of Group Working for 100% Real Affordability in Egleston, which has fought to make all units in the development affordable, presented each of the board’s members and its executive director with a letter explaining why the hearing would be in violation of Open Meeting Law.

During the hearing’s public comment, the two members urged the ZBA against voting on project, as it would violate Open Meeting Law. During a recess, they handed the board chair another copy of their letter. The board proceeded anyway, approving the variances.

“The Board did so despite having received clear warning immediately prior to and during the meeting that the meeting had not been properly noticed,” Manganaro wrote. “Because the Board had been provided with written notice that the September 15, 2015 meeting had not been properly posted, we find that this violation of the Open Meeting Law is intentional.”

The Attorney General’s Office recommended a civil penalty of $1,000, as well as mandatory training in Open Meeting Law for all members of the ZBA.

“The ruling that the ZBA illegally approved 3200 Washington Street affirms what the community has known all along: the City does not prioritize community input and needs, and instead is rushing to approve expensive, unaffordable housing at the cost of the diversity and affordability of our neighborhoods,” 100% Real Affordability in Egleston said in a statement Thursday.

The mixed-use project, located at the corner of Washington Street and Iffley Road near the JP-Roxbury border, would build 76 residential units, 12 of which would be made affordable in accordance with the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy. The group, as its name would suggest, has pushed instead for 100-percent affordability for those making $26,000 a year, and erected a 26-hour tent city at the site last August.

“Affordable housing is a real concern in Boston, and we’re working with the community and our partners in city government to encourage the creation of more affordable housing,” Boston Redevelopment Authority spokesperson Nick Martin said at the time. “While we can’t solve this complex issue with one project, nearly 24 percent of the units at 3200 Washington Street will be deed restricted as affordable, more than ten percent above what is currently required.”

You can read Manganaro’s decision below.