By Kristina Johnson
FRAMINGHAM – There is a proposal before the City Council to amend the Framingham Zoning Ordinances to have the Council be designated as the Special Permit Granting Authority (SPGA) for large – scale developments.
While there is no argument that the City Council pursuant to State statute and the Framingham
City Charter has the authority to designate themselves as the Special Permit Granting Authority , this proposal may be nothing more than a strategic power grab by some.
When the Charter language was developed, there were concerns expressed that an appointed Planning Board would act as a rubber stamp for all development proposals. In fact, the opposite has played out as the Planning Board has conducted its business in an independent and unbiased fashion. So why is this zoning amendment being proposed now?
The Planning Board has demonstrated competency in planning and zoning and has the skills to
effectively review projects, facilitate meetings, listen to concerns from neighbors, negotiate
agreements in good faith, and hold all parties responsible to their obligations.
It is very tempting for Councilors to want to have this power, but is there really a clear understanding of the level work it takes to permit projects? And is there an understanding that when Councilors are acting in their authority to review and permit projects that they have to stick within the four corners of the Zoning Ordinances. “Not liking a project” is not grounds for a denial.
There are specific criteria prescribed in the Zoning Ordinances for issuing a special permit; deviating from those criteria will set the City up for appeals and potential litigation.
There is no doubt that any development proposal before the Council will become politicized.
Project approvals will become more about appeasing the loudest voices in the process, the
individuals who post the most frequently on social media, or the developer with the deepest
pockets, rather than meeting the broader interests of the City.
The overall process of development review will become cumbersome and less certain. This is bad news for the City of Framingham as we are trying to shed our image as a place that’s “bad for business.” Not only will this add more time to the permitting of the projects, it will add a layer of political complexity that has the potential to scare away quality outside investment. For a developer, it is more efficient to deal with a five-member Planning Board who has a level of expertise in planning, zoning, site planning/civil engineering, and conducting public hearings.
The tireless work of the Planning Board is being ignored and undervalued, and our unbiased and professional process is being replaced with a direct copy and paste of an ordinance from the City of Newton.
The Planning Board should be trusted to continue the job we have been appointed to
do, and a job we do well.
Kristina Johnson is chair of the Framingham Planning Board and a Framingham resident.