City, Zoning Board Looking to Revamp Order of Project Approval Process

A new set of development design standards will help building projects adhere to a more uniform vision for the city, and help take some pressure off the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) from being the “bad guys” during the design permitting and approval process.

Representatives from consultant Stantec Engineers presented a draft of those design standards to the ZBA Monday night.

“We are trying to refine the design review process so that it is predictable throughout for everyone,” said Tamara Roy of Stantec.

The design standards promote Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s vision of a more walkable, transit-friendly Everett with a mix of office, retail, and residential uses for larger projects.

Roy said more uniform design and site plan standards would also help developers when it comes to knowing what to expect when presenting a project to the city. The new standards would also streamline the approval process for building projects, she said.

The current plan is to adopt the guidelines as a pilot project for the Planning Board before being officially adopted by the Planning Board and possibly being adopted as a city ordinance for greater enforcement, according to Stantec officials.

Of major interest to ZBA members was the proposed change in the approval process, putting ZBA approval of special permits and variances later in the process.

ZBA Chair Joseph DeSisto asked if the guidelines addressed two of the major issues facing the ZBA and other city boards – parking and traffic.

Roy said the guidelines address issues related to parking and traffic such as the design of parking areas and entrances and exits from properties, they do not address the city ordinances that require two parking spaces per residential unit.

However, James Soper, the city’s Inspectional Services Director, said a transportation plan that addresses parking and parking ratios is in the works.

“Two of the major issues in the city are parking, like every other city, and traffic,” DeSisto said to Roy. “You should be aware of that. A lot of your plan may be magnificent, but if you ignore those two issues …”

While the parking issues remain on the table, DeSisto and several other ZBA members were receptive to a proposed change in the approval process that puts applicants before the Planning Board before coming to the ZBA for any necessary special permits or variances.

Currently, applicants come before the ZBA seeking relief before heading to the Planning Board for overall site plan approval.

DeSisto said this can often leave the ZBA in the dark about Planning Board input on projects. He said the ZBA is bound by city ordinances and determining hardship when it comes to letting projects move forward.

“We end up being the bad guys,” said DeSisto. “We have to comply with all the laws passed down the hall (by the City Council).”

Soper said the revised process would take a lot of pressure off the ZBA. In addition to building proposals going to the Planning Board before the ZBA, developers and applicants would also meet with Planning Department and City officials during the early schematic stages.

“You’re really the last stamp on this on whether (a project) is a go or no go,” said Soper. “A lot of work will be done before it gets to you or the Planning Board.”

Soper also noted that the ZBA would maintain its ability to put conditions on any projects that appear before it.

“We are getting a lot of developers interested in our community, and I think this is a good way to get not a good project, but a great project,” said Soper.

•In other business, the ZBA accepted a continuance for the 108 Ferry St. project (Ferry Street Grille) calling for 20 residential units and just under 1,500 sq. ft. of commercial space.

The developers will bring the project back before the ZBA at its May 20 meeting, when the board is expected to have all its members in attendance. ZBA member Richard Zullo could not attend Tuesday night’s meeting, meaning the Ferry Street developer would have needed a unanimous vote to move the project forward.

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