City Council Appointment Subcommittee Rejects Mayoral Nominees to Zoning Board

FRAMINGHAM – The Framingham City Council subcommittee on appointments rejected Mayor Yvonne Spicer’s nominees to the Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday night.

The 5-member subcommittee voted 3-0-1 to reject the 3 full members and the 4 associate members nominated by the Mayor in July.

Subcommittee Chair Cheryl Tully Stoll, City Council Chair Dennis Giombetti, District 4 City Councilor Mike Cannon voted to reject the nominees. District 7 City Councilor Margareth Shepard abstained from the vote. District 9 City Councilor Edgardo Torres was ill and did not attend

The full City Council will vote on the nominees at its meeting on Tuesday, August 21.

Under the Charter, a majority of the City Council must approve the nominees. If no action is taken on the nominees within 30 days of the Mayor notifying the Council, then the appointments are approved automatically.

The 4 members present at the subcommittee meeting interviewed six of the seven nominees for the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is a quasi-judicial board, whose role is to interpret the Framingham Zoning Bylaw in appeals of denied building permits or other determinations of the Building Commissioner; and to hear petitions for special permits and variances subject to the requirements of Mass. General Laws. The Board acts as the Sign Appeals Board, and has  jurisdiction over affordable housing projects proposed under state law.

The Mayor re-nominated Steve Meltzer from the current 3-member full Zoning Board of Appeals. Current member Suze Craighead did not re-apply, and current Chair Phil Ottaviani was not re-nominated by the Mayor.

The three members of the subcommittee, who voted against the nominees had serious concerns about the experience of the two new members nominated for a full position on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Nominated for a full position on the Zoning Board by the Mayor were:

  • Meltzer, a lawyer, who has served on the Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals for the past 11 years, and one year as an associate member. He has experience in zoning laws, real estate development and the permitting process, and lives in District 6. He was nominated for a 3-year term
  • Heather O’Donnell , who holds a M.S. in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern University and a B.A. in History from Messiah College, was nominated for a 2-year term. She lives in District 5.
  • Timothy Sweeney holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree and is a registered architect in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is employed by Perkins+Will as a project architect, and lives in District 6.

O’Donnell told the Councilors she had never attended a Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals meeting nor watched a Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on television before she applied. She said she applied for the associate member position, but was asked if she would be willing to be a full member, and told the panel yes. She said she was surprised to be nominated for a full member.

She said she was searching the City’s website looking for information on recycling programs, and saw the advertisement for the zoning board, and wanted to give back to the City and thought she was a good fit, so she applied.

She told the Councilors she is involved with her church in Waltham and with her condo association in Framingham. She said she has lived in the City for the last 5 years.

O’Donnell said she is currently unemployed and has a toddler, and thus has the time to devote to learn and grow in the position.

Sweeney, who has lived in Framingham just over a year, also said he applied as he wanted to give back.

He said he understood the different neighborhoods in the City, and how the Zoning Board decisions could impact them.

He said he has friends who are Zoning Board members in other communities, who thought he would make a good Zoning Board member.

Sweeney was asked by Councilor Cannon his position on the “Dover amendment.”

His response: “Can you elaborate more on that?”

Canon’s response: “If you are going to be a member of the Zoning Board of Appeal, you have to have a better answer than that! I have no more questions.”

The Dover amendment is a common name for Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40A, Section 3. That law exempts religious, and educational corporations from certain local zoning laws. “The Dover Amendment allows many developers to build facilities that are substantially larger than zoning laws would ordinarily allow or which would be considered inappropriate, by some, for the neighborhood.”

Framingham has seen several Dover petitions before the Zoning Board of Appeals over the last decade.

Councilor Giombetti said he was concerned about the “amount of turnover on this very, very important board.”

We are looking at five out of the seven are new members and two out of three are new members on the full membership, said Giombetti.

He said many of the nominees have never made a vote on a municipal board or commission and most have inexperience from a legal perspective and inexperience about the neighborhoods of this community, said Giombetti.

Giombetti said he “saw a lot of good associate members” during the meeting, and that he would prefer to see members be associate members before becoming full members, like Meltzer.

Giombetti said he had concerns just looking at the nominees on paper, and interviewing the nominees did not alleviate his concerns.

“There are some outstanding candidates for associate members,” said Giombetti, who again stressed that 2/3rd turnover is too big for such an important Board.

Giombetti said he had concerns with the Planning Board turnover earlier this year when two new members were nominated by the Mayor, but at least one of the new members had experience as a Zoning Board of Appeals associate member.

“This I feel is more risky,” said Giombetti, “This is a major board in our community- one that impacts our neighborhoods.”
Appointment subcommittee Chair Cheryl Tully Stoll “we can not blame the Mayor or the process. I don’t think we can blame the applicants. I blame the Charter. A Board this important should have had a provision in the Charter. This is one the Charter Commission missed. There should have been a better transition.”
“We should not be looking at entire new slate with a Board that requires years of knowledge and expertise,” said Tully Stoll.

Cannon said he had concerns that some of the nominees “don’t appreciate the severity of the impact that the ZBA has on the landscape of our community.” He said decisions by the ZBA can change neighborhoods and have an impact for generations.

He said he didn’t doubt any of the nominees commitment of wanting to get involved, but the Zoning Board of Appeals was “not a place to get involved for the first time.”

The three nominees told the City Councilors that the Mayor did not interview any of them.

Given the importance of this Board, “I was surprised to hear the Mayor didn’t interview any of the candidates,” said Giombetti.

“I didn’t realize that the Mayor didn’t interview the candidates. I don’t understand why that was the case,” said Cannon.

The 3 nominees said they were interviewed by a panel. According to a press release by the City, the panel consisted of “municipal representatives from the Inspectional Services, Community and Economic Development, Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board, as well as a representative from Human Resources.”

That same press release said the Mayor made her nominations based on the “recommendations of the ad hoc interview committee” panel.

The City Councilors mentioned they were never given contact information on any of the nominees by the Mayor’s office.

The Mayor also nominated four white men for the associate positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals for 1-year terms.

They are:

  • Jason E. Brown, who holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. Brown has experience in United States and international laws and regulations regarding design, manufacturing and distribution of medical devices. He lives in District 3.
  • Brandon Graska holds a Masters of Architecture from Boston Architectural College and is currently employed as tenant coordinator with WS Development. Graska has worked in the architectural and development disciplines for the last decade, and has extensive knowledge of local codes and regulations. He lives in District 4.
  • Rick McKenna holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Northeastern University. McKenna has extensive experience in construction, and is the owner of Symphony Builders general contracting firm. He live sin District 1. McKenna currently serves as an associate on the ZBA.
  • Joe Trainor is a licensed construction supervisor and registered home improvement contractor and is also the owner of CustomWorks Contracting, LLC.  He lives in District 6.


Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: Phone: 508-315-7176

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