AG: City Broke Open Meeting Law in Approving Controversial Egleston Development

Washington St elevation of the approved 3200 Washington St development

RODE Architects

Washington St elevation of the approved 3200 Washington St development

The Attorney General’s office ruled that a major city board intentionally violated the Open Meeting Law the day it gave final approval for a bellwether development at 3200 Washington St.

Public notice laws let residents know what subjects government boards will discuss. The office of Attorney General Maura Healey announced on Friday that the Zoning Board of Appeals acted improperly by failing to post that 3200 Washington St. would be up for a vote. That vote, taken way back on Sept. 15, 2015 was the final hurdle for a controversial development at 3200 Washington St. The $23 million project is set to bring 73 apartments and three townhouses to Egleston Square.

Affordable housing advocates warned the ZBA members that by meeting that day, they would be breaking the Open Meeting Law, according to the AG’s ruling. Advocates from what the AG’s office called the “Group Working for 100% Real Affordability in Egleston” gave the ZBA a letter outlining the impending violation not once, but twice during the meeting.

We’ve posted the Attorney General’s four-page ruling below. The AG has imposed a civil fine of $1,000 against the board and will require that its members taken training on sunshine laws.

Jamaica Plain News has closely followed the saga of 3200 Washington St. Here is an archive of our stories.

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  • supply&demand band

    The affordable housing advocates are so meticulous and detail oriented. I wonder what JP would be like if they actually tried to get more affordable housing approved and built. They spend all their time and effort opposing development causing prices to rise. They are a true disgrace.

    • Robert Ellis

      Agreed, their approach is entirely negative rather than positive. Instead of actually working in a positive way towards their professed goal, they just try to interfere with everyone else. Imagine if they redirected those energies. Of course, that would require actual hard work and diplomacy rather than chants and arts & crafts projects.

  • FrancisMcManus

    The Federal wiretap leaked by someone connected to US attorney said Rep. Walsh had the Zoning Board of Appeals in his back pocket when he told a labor guy in Somerville that a developer who had a project in Somerville wouldn’t get approval in Boston unless he hired union in Somerville.

    Is the ZBA a bunch of knuckleheads or did they decide not to comply with open meeting law for a reason in this case?

  • LHG

    Chris: what happens to the project now?

    • JamaicaPlainNews

      I’m trying to confirm that; my guess is that this changes nothing except the ZBA gets a slap on the wrist.

  • susanblack

    Is the project just going forward? If so $1000 fine is nothing for a
    multimillion $ project. It just allows one to break the rules
    instead of going through red tape. I do not agree with these comments. I
    feel this project should start over and go through the proper channels
    for community input. Its not only about creating more affordable
    housing, but keeping the community and the current diversity, but also the ascetics of JP in tact. Affordable housing is not even affordable to many of the people who have spent their lives in this community. The input cannot be positive if one doesn’t get a chance to even give it.

    • Hugo_JP

      This project had many public meetings so the various city authorities had gotten more than enough feedback on the project.
      Was the ZBA wrong to skirt the Open Meeting Law? Of course, and while the repercussions should be more than a slap on the wrist, this project had already been fully and publicly vetted.

    • Robert Ellis

      Susan, don’t “the people who have spent their lives in this community” already have places to live? Why does every new building have to be affordable to them? Should they receive new cars as well? How about an all expenses paid vacation courtesy of some developer? The point is to create new housing for new residents.

      • Keepin’ It 13.6% for Egleston

        It’s a loony thought process that doesn’t seem to apply to any other industry.

        Ford must make 20% of all of its new cars the same price as a 15 year old Taurus with $200k miles because that’s the car some people are driving now.

        Capitol Grille must sell half of its steaks for the same price as a Big Mac or else no one gets steaks!

        It’s like a 5 year old’s idea of fairness. “I want ice cream. That person has ice cream. If they don’t give me as much as I want of it, I’m knocking the cone out of their hand.”

        • susanblack

          It seems you both are missing the point. There are a lot of jobs that need to be done in the world. Some of these jobs pay a lot and some of the jobs pay a little and in everything between. If you kick out all the people who do jobs that pay little, who will do them? We need a diverse community if only for that reason. This project may not kick people out, just add new housing, but there is major rezoning happening on Washington street that is going to displace a lot of people. Also as new developments come in prices soar. Other buildings then raise their prices displacing people. Some of these people end up homeless. In my mind the solution is to raise base salaries and build housing that is not segregated pricing it in mixed ranges so that people have a chance to have access to the same resources and education. This will reduce crime and violence, keep diversity, as well as give people a chance to improve there circumstances. It ends up being more expensive in the long run to have homeless people in communities. This is a proven fact now. And for me, who has lived in JP for 32 years, it will be a terribly boring place if only rich people can afford to buy here.

          • Keepin’ It 13.6% for Egleston

            “as new developments come in, prices soar. other buildings then raise their prices, displacing people.”

            This is a sentiment thrown around on forums like this so often, people treat it like a fact when it isn’t. The laws of supply and demand do apply to housing like any other market. It isn’t exempt.

            What you are doing is confusing causation and correlation. You see prices raising at the same time as new developments going up and assume the developments are causing the rising prices. When actually its the reverse, the rising values are causing people to want to develop in the area.

            What’s happening is that, for whatever reason, a neighborhood becomes a place increasing amounts of people want to live. Seeing such unmet demand, developers seek to build more units to accommodate all of these new people.

            If you block people from building, these new entries into the neighborhood will turn to the existing stock, which as you correctly point out people currently live in. Alternatively, these new people can congregate in large, dense new buildings, leaving the existing stock for existing tenants.

            Sorry to break this to you but a lot of people want to live in JP whether anyone builds or not. The value/prices are going to rise due to the inherent desirability of the area. But if you compound that rise in prices with an artificial shortage by blocking anyone from building, then you get a real crisis.

          • susanblack

            I am certainly not saying new developments should not happen and that new people shouldn’t move in to an existing neighborhood. I simply disagree that housing is like a car. Housing should be affordable to those that make up the community. A car, one can live without if they live in a city, or buy used if they can afford it. I am very firm on my belief that new developments should have places for residents with a balanced mix of income to prevent the problems that come with projects and homelessness and keep the existing diversity. I do not believe people should be displaced for projects like the rezoning project planned by the city in JP from Egleston Sqare to Forest Hills along Washington street and its connection to Center through Green and Boylston streets. The City has a chance to do something great or repeat old mistakes. I chose the former.

          • Keepin’ It 13.6% for Egleston

            I’m having a tough time following your logic.

            So you agree new development should happen as long as it doesn’t force existing people to move? If that’s correct, you should be in support of new developments that are replacing vacant auto body shops/glass factories like this one and the one across the street.

            So there you go. Win, win. People with higher income who want to move into the area can move into the new buildings and not bid against existing community members for the existing housing stock.

            Otherwise, you’re just saying that projects only have merit if they give a large portion of their units away for below cost, regardless of what they’re replacing. That’s where my car example comes in. These builders are private companies the same as auto manufacturers, et all. There is no reason to expect them to subsidize people’s living. People aren’t owed a brand new apartment just because they’ve previously lived nearby.

            If you want more free/cheap housing, then put your political energy towards getting the government to build it themselves because that is their duty to the people. Don’t let them off the hook by letting just shift this responsibility to private citizens.

      • susanblack

        In the bigger project -from Egleston Square to Forest Hills that’s in the process of being rezoned by the City for tons of housing 5-10 (or higher) story buildings (commercial on the 1st floor)- there will be a lot of people displaced. Its already a requirement that every new building with over a certain amount of units contain affordable housing, but “affordable housing” is not affordable to those that will be displaced. There is a solution here that allows developers to make money, more people to move in, and people to stay in their communities. It just takes open minds and creative thinking.

  • Monster

    For clarity, the violation in question involves failing to post a piece of paper to a physical bulletin board located on the first floor of the City Hall building. The notice was posted to the city’s website, albeit with full details not appearing until a day prior to the meeting (rather than the required 48 hours). To my understanding, time for public comment on the issue had already ended, and the only matter to be settled was the vote itself. So yes, the ZBA broke the rules, but the level of malice seems very low.

    To me, the takeaway here isn’t so much that the ZBA was deliberately misleading, but that public notification laws are hilariously outdated.