CAMH Board submits Open Meeting Law complaint against ZBA

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

According to a document obtained by the Mission Hill Gazette, the Community Alliance of Mission Hill (CAMH) Board has submitted an Open Meeting Law complaint against the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) regarding an issue with advertising a hearing on an Article 80 project in the neighborhood.

The abovementioned document, dated May 24th and signed by CAMH’s President Martin Beinborn, alleges that the project at the April 30th ZBA hearing was “misleadingly advertised” as 100 Saint Alphonsus Street when it had been frequently known as and was approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) Board in October under the address of 1558 Tremont Street.

The abovementioned project, which proposes a six-story building with 95 residential units and 53 parking spots — 44 for the Mission Church —was approved during the April ZBA hearing, where the violation was alleged, by a vote of 5-1.

In the aforementioned document, Beinborn argued that the alleged violation compromised community participation in that the CAMH Board received correspondence from residents who felt “misled” and thereby “excluded from providing input.”

“Relabelling, without prior warning, from ‘1558 Tremont’ to ‘100 St. Alphonsus’ was particularly misleading as some mistook this for another pending, similarly sounding Article 80 project in the area, 100 Smith Street/corner of St. Alphonsus St., a project that also involves 80 Smith Street / St. Alphonsus Hall,” wrote Beinborn in a description of the alleged violation.

“The fact that ‘1558 Tremont St.’ was suddenly relabeled as ‘100 Saint Alphonsus St.’ without any highlight of the address change (not even ‘100 Saint Alphonsus aka 1558 Tremont’) significantly obscured what would be on the ZBA’s hearing agenda on 4/30/2024.”

The only member of the ZBA who voted against the project was Hansy Better Barraza, who actually requested clarification regarding the address change during the April hearing due to concerns raised by community members.

John Pulgini, the project’s Attorney, spoke about the address change, saying, “As with any project, when you go through the Article 80 process, the address at that time was 1558 Tremont, when you submit your plans to ISD (Inspectional Services Department)… the address is established where the front door is, the entrance to the building, so that is where the Saint Alphonsus address came from.”

Daniel Polanco, a BPDA project manager, also spoke about the address change but said he was unaware of it and that the BPDA Board approved the project under the Tremont Street address.

Polanco also addressed the community’s sentiment about the project during the Article 80 process. He acknowledged “a lot of opposition” but attributed it to the proponent’s relationship with the community, something Beinborn disagreed with in his description of the alleged violation.

“The misleading relabeling for the ZBA hearing is noteworthy because, during the preceding Article 80 process, the proposal had been met with overwhelming community opposition as documented by many letters and multiple recordings on the BPDA website,” wrote Beinborn.

“By keeping much of the critical public out of the ZBA hearing, incorrect statements could be made by proponents with insufficient pushback, e.g. the community did not like the project mostly because of the developer.”

In describing the alleged Open Meeting Law violation, Beinborn argued that most of the opposition’s concerns were about height, density, parking, and other issues.

Further, Patricia Flaherty, the Executive Director of Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services (MHNHS), disagreed with Polanco’s assessment in the meeting, indicating that MHNHS has supported past projects on Tremont Street from this developer and said that this project was too high and too dense.

Not only that, but back in October, during the meeting in which the BPDA Board approved the project, the Board’s Chair, Priscilla Rojas, acknowledged a “bunch of” emails in opposition leading up to the meeting, which dealt with height, density, parking, and unit size.

As part of the complaint filed, Beinborn requests that the ZBA hold a new meeting, which is advertised and labeled appropriately, so the community “has a fair chance to testify and refute incorrect statements.”

Earlier this week, at a hearing on Tuesday, the ZBA unanimously approved a motion to “refer the complaint to ISD legal advisor to prepare a response on behalf of the board.”

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