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June 24, 2004
Feaster ouster spurs call
for board reform
When the story of Zoning Board of Appeal President
Joseph Feaster’s apparent conflict of interest reached the
Boston Globe, Mayor Thomas Menino was quick to remove him from
his post on the board, which reviews controversial development
The conflict arose when Feaster agreed to serve as an attorney
for a developer — Joe LaRosa — whose projects often
generated significant neighborhood opposition. Much to the chagrin
of activists in Mattapan, Roxbury and Dorchester, LaRosa’s
projects often sailed through the Zoning Board of Appeal’s
process despite clear violations of building codes.
Despite Menino’s speedy response, however, many activists
are concerned that Feaster’s apparent conflict of interest
may be just the tip of the iceberg for the board. City councilors
Maura Hennigan, Chuck Turner and Charles Yancey wrote a letter
to Boston’s Corporation Counsel last week asking for copies
of all guidelines governing city review boards.
“Much of this is really a failure of the
city administration to provide parameters, not only to the ZBA,
but to all city boards,” said Hennigan.
The Banner first reported on Feaster's business dealings in May,
when residents of Monroe Street in Roxbury butted heads with LaRosa
over a home on which he had begun construction. The neighbors
called the city's Inspectional Services Department, which shut
the project down for violation of the city's building code —
a move which normally sends developers before the Zoning Board
Feaster, who represented LaRosa at a meeting with the local neighborhood
association, maintains a residence a block away from the lot on
which LaRosa was building. Feaster also owns a home in Stoughton,
where his car is registered, and has since come under fire for
his claiming Boston as his primary residence.
Since removing Feaster from the ZBA, Menino has asked that members
of all boards meet with members of the Ethics Commission for review
of possible conflicts of interest.
But Turner questions whether the mayor has gone far enough, noting
that although Feaster recused himself from votes when LaRosa came
before the board, the other board members voted in favor of the
developer’s unpopular projects.
“My own view is that there is such an extensive number of
projects approved by the ZBA that an examination of the records
to determine how many of the projects had support of the community
would be warranted,” he said. “We need to have a clear
idea of how the board handled these cases.”
The Globe investigation found that LaRosa received variances to
build on 43 lots in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan while represented
by Feaster. Projects typically come before the ZBA when a developer’s
plans are in violation of city zoning codes. Many of the lots
LaRosa built on were smaller than the 5,000 square feet required
for a two family house in city building codes.
Many of LaRosa’s projects went before the ZBA after abutters
complained about them to the city’s Inspectional Services
Department, according to neighborhood activists interviewed by
“He was doing really outrageous things,” said Shirley
Kressel, who heads the Alliance of Boston Neighborhoods. “People
were always asking ‘how does he get away with it?’”
The ZBA includes representatives from the building trades, developers,
real estate professionals and neighborhood representatives. Feaster,
a longtime supporter of Mayor Thomas Menino, was appointed as
a community representative shortly after Menino took office in
Kressel said the ZBA, the BRA’s board and the Zoning Commission
are rife with potential ethics violations.
“All of these commissions have people who are likely to
have conflicts of interest,” she said. “People who
are lawyers, who work in real estate. Arguably, people in the
construction trades are a conflict of interest. It’s just
a collection of conflicts of interest.”
Ousting Feaster from the board will prove little more than a symbolic
gesture if the city fails to conduct a comprehensive review of
its boards, according to Kressel.
“This is corrosive to public confidence,” she said.
“Rather than getting rid of the offending party and hoping
the problem goes away, it would be better to conduct a thorough
review and make sure this is not just the tip of the iceberg.”
Hennigan said she has not yet received a response to her letter
to the city’s corporation counsel, which was dated June
8. The mayor’s press office did not respond to calls for
comment by the Banner’s press deadline.
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