Note: This letter was written for submission to the Cambridge Chronicle by ABC member Seth Zeren, a City Planner with experience working in a town where Special Permit Granting Authority was administered by elected officials. We reprint it here to help you become better informed about this complicated proposal. Click here to take action against designating the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.
The City Council is discussing a zoning petition filed by Councilor Dennis Carlone that would take the authority to grant special permits from the Planning Board and give it to the City Council. I understand that some are frustrated with recent decisions made by the Planning Board; with 90 years of hindsight, few in the planning profession would suggest that the typical Planning Board process is perfect. There are many ways that we could improve it—for example, requiring early community meetings before a developer spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on a complete design, or making better use of online forums to expand the number of voices who can weigh in on projects.
I have worked for a municipality where the legislative branch had taken on the power of granting special permits. The system was so problematic that there were active attempts to move away from it. The underlying problems were:Read more