The group Newton Villages Alliance has been organizing a letter writing campaign to block the appointment. The Engine 6 group is countering with an effort in response in support of Lipsitt.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Thanks to the person who forwarded me the email from Newton Villages Alliance regarding its opposition to Lipsitt’s reappointment. Here’s most of it…
The Mayor has just re-appointed Lipsitt to another two-year term on the ZBA, and the Board of Alderman (BOA) must vote soon on whether to approve her appointment. The first step is an appearance by, and possible vote on, Lipsitt at the BOA’s Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP) this Monday, February 23.
As the chairperson of the ZBA, Lipsitt has:
• consistently privileged developers over residents, allowing developers and their attorneys to speak first, as long as they like, and as often as they like throughout the proceedings at public hearings, even though she has the authority to allocate speaking time more equitably between supporters and opponents of a project;
• controlled when, how long, and what topics residents were allowed to address in their comments, interrupted, scolded and used a gavel to intimidate some into silence, and failed to ask follow up questions of opponents to explore the details of their concerns;
• made residents wait so late into the evening before being allowed to speak that many with children at home or work to go to the next morning had no choice but to leave without ever being heard;
• joked that she would allow the Board to listen to only as many public comments “as we can stand”;
• presided over ZBA hearings in an arbitrary and capricious manner;
• inappropriately asked the members of the public in the audience to raise their hands to indicate whether they supported or opposed proposed 40B projects;
• repeatedly asked her colleagues to participate in straw votes, enabling her to continue a hearing whenever a straw vote revealed there weren’t yet enough votes to approve a 40B permit, and thus keep the hearing open until enough votes for a 40B permit could be negotiated;
• refused to recognize a distinguished former State Representative, acting as pro bono attorney on behalf of residents, while this elderly gentleman had his hand raised for recognition for more than 30 minutes;
• ignored Planning Department recommendations and unilaterally cut inflow and infiltration rates and mitigation payments developers would have to pay for project impacts, potentially costing the City hundreds of thousands of dollars on proposed 40B projects;
• insisted that the Court Street 40B proposal could not be reduced in size, ignoring her ZBA colleagues’ requests to reduce the project’s size;
• refused her ZBA colleagues’ calls for an independent financial review of the Court Street developer’s claims that reducing the project’s size would make the project “uneconomic”;
• stated that the low-income residents displaced by the Court Street 40B project were not the concern of the ZBA;
• waited until close to midnight and an almost empty chamber to push her exhausted colleagues for the 3-2 vote to award a 40B permit to the Court Street developer;
• exposed the City to costly legal action because of her actions leading to the Court Street decision;
• refused to allow residents to mention the 1.5% land area standard or ask questions about it in relation to the Rowe Street 40B proposal at the December 4, 2014 ZBA hearing;
• stated on February 12, 2014, incorrectly, that the Open Meeting Law’s notification procedures didn’t apply to an executive session she had called, again exposing the City to potential legal action.
And here’s an excerpt from Engine 6 group to its supporters…
Aldermen are getting letters opposing Mrs. Lipsitt’s appointment, saying that in her capacity as ZBA Chair she (e.g.) is partial and favors developers, doesn’t act in the best interests of the City, doesn’t give residents adequate opportunity to voice their concerns, isn’t “responsive” to them.
This is crazy talk. It seems to be yet another swipe at Chapter 40B, the state law that allows residential developments to bypass certain local zoning rules if at least 20% of the units are affordable (and the only way affordable housing has been created in Newton), which the ZBA adjudicates.
It also demonstrates a misunderstanding of the role of the ZBA, which is determined by state law. Massachusetts, not Newton, stipulates the conditions under which zoning variances are to be allowed or denied. The ZBA must follow state guidelines to the best of its ability, and issue decisions that will withstand appeals from both developers and aggrieved community members. It’s not about taking sides.
If you’ve ever attended a ZBA hearing you’ll know that Brooke Lipsitt does her job with extreme patience, respect, fair-mindedness, humor, and grace, not to mention a deep and subtle understanding of the law. Her leadership is absolutely deliberate and impartial, and her replacement could well result in a body that is much less so.
THAT would not be in Newton’s best interests. We cannot allow ZBA appointments to become politicized. We cannot allow citizens with an axe to grind to take control of our democratic processes.