What Makes a Difference? Most of this Handbook focuses on the Chapter 40B technical requirements that ZBAs really need to know. It identifies and emphasizes the most important points in the statute, the Chapter 40B Regulations, and DHCD’s Comprehensive Permit Guidelines. Requirements matter, but practical aspects of managing the comprehensive permit process belong in this Handbook, too. Here are some “lessons learned” from Massachusetts communities that have had constructive experiences with Chapter 40B. 1. A strong chairperson can help the ZBA, the applicant, and the neighborhood.
It could be the ZBA’s elected chairperson or a chair pro tem designated for a particular case, but having an experienced ZBA member conduct the public hearing almost always makes the comprehensive permit process run smoothly. It can be challenging to keep the public hearing moving forward and focus the ZBA’s attention on public health and safety, project design, and valid planning and open space issues. Good organizational and communication skills, experience working with city or town staff and consultants, and a commitment to basic fairness will go a long way toward making the comprehensive permit process manageable for all concerned.
It is important to remember that while developers and their consultants understand how the permitting process works, many abutters do not. Seemingly basic public hearing protocols are not always intuitive for people, e.g., allowing the developer to make a presentation before the neighbors have a chance to speak. A strong, experienced chair anticipates the kinds of questions that residents may have and addresses them at the outset. 2. Get professional support for the ZBA. The timeline for comprehensive permits differs from that of other permits ZBAs typically administer. Often, neither the ZBA nor their administrative staff know the Chapter 40B deadlines for certain actions (see Chapter 4, Critical Timelines), let alone the Chapter 40B regulations or recent case law.