The Planning Board committed at its Aug. 15 meeting to study possible changes to town zoning bylaws that impact teardown activity. But because they put it low on their priority list, a local resident may seek a more accelerated path to change.
Joe Matthews, a Precinct I Town Meeting member, had petitioned the board in July to bring a proposal before Town Meeting to address what he sees as flaws in the current rules, which have been in place since 2017.
Matthews suggested the board incorporate the changes in its planned efforts related to the MBTA Community Law, which potentially could have led to a Town Meeting vote as early as May 2024.
Citing the need to work on more pressing issues, as well as limited staff capacity, the board indicated it would not be able even to begin a study of the proposal until it completes its work on the MBTA effort, which has a fall 2024 deadline.
“The MBTA Community work is really taking all the oxygen out of the room,” said board Chair Adam Block. “Our staff may not have the time to take this up as quickly as Joe would like but we recognize it as a priority.”
Under the board’s preferred scenario, any Town Meeting vote would be unlikely to occur prior to the fall of 2025.
Matthews indicated late 2025 was far longer than he is willing to wait. He plans to explore bringing the issue directly to Town Meeting as a citizen’s petition, as opposed to the more conventional route of seeking sponsorship by an elected board.
“Making a change to zoning bylaws, even if simple, via citizen’s petition is not ideal,” he said.
“At the same time, I think that this issue could be handled by May 2024. It synergizes very well with the other housing affordability initiatives the town is pursuing.”
Planning Board member Paul Alpert, while agreeing Matthews’ proposal is worthy of study, cast doubt on its chances of success.
“If he brings a citizen’s petition, he’s probably not going to have Planning Board support,” said Alpert. “Without that, it’s not going to pass.”