letters | clash over project in jamaica plain

Neighborhood council right to fight development in court

Paul McMorrow’s understanding of the zoning dispute in Jamaica Plain over a proposed apartment development at 161 South Huntington Ave. would certainly justify his palpable frustration — if only his understanding were on target (“A Byzantine Boston battle,” Op-ed, Aug. 27).

The proposed project violated several provisions of the zoning code, and therefore approval was needed from the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal for variances. The board can only grant variances that meet an exacting standard. The Supreme Judicial Court stated as far back as 1971 in Damaskos v. Board of Appeal of Boston that “no person has a legal right to a variance, and they are to be granted sparingly.”

The proposed development does not pass muster under what the court characterized in 1971 as a “rigid standard imposed upon boards of appeal with respect to granting variances.” However, zoning has become politicized, and the board pays little attention to the legal requirements for variances. Rather, politics usually determine whether a variance will be granted.


The developer, however, wanted its cake and to eat it too. It chose to seek legally unsupportable variances, but at the same time thumbed its nose at the various institutions that regularly review and approve projects in Jamaica Plain, including the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, which unanimously rejected the project. The developer calculated wrongly that it could get through the process nonetheless.

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The true root of the frustration expressed by McMorrow is that the neighborhood council asserted its rights in court to object to the granting of the illegal variances.

Jeffrey Wiesner


The writer is an attorney representing the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council in its zoning dispute.