Planning Board Not In Favor of Framingham ZBA Expansion

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By Sydni Williams

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FRAMINGHAM – The 5-member Framingham Planning Board is recommending the City Council does not increase the Zoning Board of Appeals membership to five full members. The Board voted 4-1 last night, July 16, against the expansion of the ZBA.

Framingham’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) currently has three voting members and four alternates or associate members. The proposed amendment to the Zoning Bylaw from City Council aims to increase the number of full voting members from three to five members. 

The 11-member City Council will hold its public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, July 21. The public can weigh in on the issue remotely.

Steve Meltzer, current chair of the ZBA spoke at last night’s public hearing, not on behalf of the ZBA, but on behalf of his own opinions on the matter. For the past 14 years, Meltzer has served on the Framingham Zoning Board and in that time, he reports it “has been a very functional board with three members.” 

Meltzer continues, “in over 90 percent of circumstances and cases, we’ve been able to gain consensus” and “when we haven’t been able to gain consensus… when we’ve voted in disagreement, we have done so in a very civil and constructive way.”

Addressing the Planning Board, Meltzer explains his experience on both sides of a board, as an applicant and as a board member. With that experience, he advises that “if it’s a functioning board, it’s far more efficient and far preferable working with a 3-member board than a 5-member board.”

However, in the case of a dysfunctional board, Meltzer agrees that a 5-member board is preferred. “So long as we are able to maintain a good functional 3-member board, it is my opinion that that is a far superior way to function as a Zoning Board of Appeals” said Meltzer.

Theoretically, the ZBA has three full members and four alternates, but Meltzer clarified that for the past two and a half years, the ZBA has not been fully constituted.

Heather O’Donnell, current member on the ZBA, and Joseph Norton, former member on the ZBA and current member of the Planning Board, both confirmed that the ZBA has not been fully constituted for a few years. Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer hs struggled to get her nominations to the ZBA approved by the City Council. She recently made new nominations this month.

Increasing the full members from three to five “doesn’t make any sense”, Meltzer said, “until we can have at least seven members of the board, three full members and four alternates,” a fully constituted board. 

Concluding his statement, Meltzer said “It’s not a bad idea to have a 5-member board, I think there are merits to it, but it’s time has not come in the city of Framingham.”

After the Meltzer’s remarks, members of the 5-member Planning Board expressed differing opinions on the proposed amendment to the Zoning Bylaw. 

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Norton, who previously served on the ZBA said he “would support keeping a 3-member board.”

Planning Board member Aaron Bober agreed: “I would be inclined to give difference to Chairman Meltzer’s opinion that it is best now as a 3-person board.” 

Shannon Fitzpatrick disagreed, communicating that a 5-member board would “allow for more voices and a more diverse decision-making group.” 

Planning Board Chair Kristina Johnson conveyed the pros and cons of a 5-member board and ultimately agreed that “it’s probably a good idea, but not yet.”

Johnson proposed “a motion to send a recommendation to the City Council to not support increasing the Zoning Board of Appeals membership to five members.”

By roll call vote, the members of the Planning Board voted 4-1, with Fitzpatrick in opposition.

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Sydni Williams is a high school student at St. Mark’s School. As a junior, she invests her time writing for the student-run newspaper and editing the school’s literary arts publication, the Vindex. She is a SOURCE intern for summer 2020. SOURCE is accepting applications for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 for internships. If interested email petronimedia@gmail.com

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