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Zoning board member takes panel’s mission seriously

I was taken aback by a recent Globe editorial implying that, as a labor member on the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal, it was somehow inappropriate when I occasionally have asked if a contractor had been picked for a given project (“Want to stop graft? Fix Boston’s antique zoning law,” Editorial, Sept. 5). Asking questions is part of my role on the board. I have spent my career in the construction industry and am very aware that there are a number of firms that are dangerous, irresponsible, and exploitative that do not benefit the community.

Contrary to the editorial’s insinuation, this is not a union/nonunion issue. I have voted to approve hundreds of projects built by nonunion labor during my six-year tenure and have asked far more questions about the merits of roof hatches as opposed to head houses than about contractor selection.

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I do not know John Lynch, the former city employee accused of bribery. If he pleads guilty, as he has agreed to do, then he deserves whatever he gets. But it is a reach, and a form of sensationalism, for the Globe to suggest that his egregious behavior now makes routine procedures of the board “ripe for corruption.”

Massachusetts statutes define the purpose of zoning laws “to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the community.” I take that mission seriously.

Mark Erlich

Jamaica Plain

The writer is a retired executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters and is a fellow with the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program.

There’s tension between two pressing needs: more housing, less corruption

Like many in this region who deeply appreciate the social injustice of insufficient amounts of housing suitable for average-income citizens to buy or rent, I want to see policies that will generate more and faster construction of housing in our cities and towns (“Want to fix graft? Fix Boston’s antique zoning law.”).

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But the recent bribery charges against John Lynch, a longtime city employee, without naming the board member who cast the vote in question remind me of the “old Boston” way of doing business. I recall the Ward Commission, and the times I’ve sat in the Zoning Board of Appeal hearing room on behalf of Charlestown developments, wondering who on the board a given decision might be worth something to, thus overriding logic and fairness.

This case raises a subtle but important tension between the need for rapid construction approvals and the need for avoiding opportunities for corruption. “As of right” zoning helps. But “special permit procedures” enable a better fit between a specific location and the community needs while allowing much more discretion by board members.

How can we walk that balance, get the construction, suit the community, and avoid corruption? I see Providence struggling with this same balance as well.

Barbara Thornton

Arlington

The writer is the cofounder and CEO of Asset Stewardship.