Local Government and Politics, News

Medford is taking its Zoning Board to court. Again.

MEDFORD — The City Council wants to go another round in court despite a January dismissal of its legal challenge against its own Zoning Board. The council wants to overturn a decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals to approve the construction of an apartment complex on the site of the former Shaw’s market on Locust Street.

The project was backed by Mayor Stephanie M. Burke and other city officials, but also drew opposition by a number of abutters, some of whom joined the City Council in their appeal suit against the Zoning Board.

The nine-member Council voted unanimously to appeal a Massachusetts Land Court dismissal of a suit the Council filed against the Zoning Board which challenged the variances granted the property owner Equity One, to build a 490-unit apartment complex.

The Council sued the Zoning Board in 2016, citing a ruling by the Mass. Attorney General’s office that the board had violated the state’s Open Meeting Law and “exceeded its authority in granting variances because none of the statutory criteria are met and use variances are not authorized in the City of Medford.”

The Land Court ruled it had no jurisdiction to hear the legal challenge on the open meeting law violation and dismissed that chase, stating that such rulings on that part of state law can only be made in Massachusetts Superior Court.

The other part of the Council’s allegations were dismissed as well with the court ruling fhe zoning and variance issues in question in the Shaw’s site were not part of the Council’s governing “duties.”

Medford Council President Richard Caraviello said an appeal of the Land Court’s dismissal decision allows the Council to keep pursuing the matter.

Opponents cited traffic concerns and the size of the project and questioned the number of ordinances, as the Zoning Board approved all 11 variances requested by Equity One, including parking spaces, lot size and residential development in an area zoned for industrial use.

In supporting the vote by the Council on continuing the court case. Medford City Councilor Brianna Lungo-Koehn said she disagreed with the Land Court’s ruling the Council had “no standing” in the matter, saying the Council does have oversight and votes up or down on approval of zoning ordinance changes.

The veteran Councilor also noted that while some of the abutters had reached settlements with the land’s owners and ceased legal opposition, “we had over 100 people here” in a meeting in June 2016 where Councilors backed the opponents of the Zoning Board’s move.

Equity One’s plans include the demolition of the existing 60,000 square foot former Shaw’s market building and the still-in-operation, 5,000-square-foot Eastern Bank building. Three new buildings would then be constructed there, totaling more than 500,000 square feet, including a relocation of the Eastern Bank business to the first floor of the main structure at the new development.

When the project was first proposed in spring of 2016, Burke said, “I think it is a fabulous opportunity to create a neighborhood in that part of the city. Those are all benefits of adding a streetscape to that neighborhood. I almost anticipate that it could like a little like Station Landing on that site.”

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