New Police Chief
New Police Chief
Last week, City Council welcomed and interviewed Chief John Carmichael. His candid, forward-looking answers to our many tough questions were impressive. I invite you to listen to the meeting (link here). The chief stressed the importance of trust and strong relationships with both the community and the officer corps. He also emphasized policing as community service, as a problem-solving branch of government (particularly on quality of life issues), and the importance of teamwork with other entities when responding to mental health and addiction disorder calls.
Chief Carmichael has experience with creating a more diverse department by removing it from the Civil Service system. We will undoubtedly be examining whether that is the right move for Newton.
I look forward to working with the new chief as Newton moves forward to implement recommendations from the Police Reform Task Force and other citizens, while also taking care of our officers’ mental and physical health.
The mayor's budget for next year (starting in July) is here, and the capital priorities are here. I am pleased that the roads budget will gradually return to our $9.5m/year investment, that school renovations and re-builds are resuming, and that the Library Children's Room is back on track for expansion and remodeling. Good to see parks and the library back to normal funding, also. Council's review and debate will continue for the next few weeks.
US Rep. Jake Auchincloss, Sen. Cynthia Creem, Rep. Kay Khan, Mayor Fuller and 10 city councilors met last Monday to share ideas on how to restore good transit to the north side of Newton. Sen. Creem has filed a state budget amendment to restore hourly train service and the #505 Express Bus. It will take at least 9 years to achieve two-platform. accessible stations for the Worcester Line--which are needed if Newton is to get the same hourly service as other communities--even if Newton can secure Federal money now. Newton might also be able to leverage development increment tax financing. I am filing a resolution from the Council to push the state to fully fund refurbishment of the three stations and to do so in this budget.
Gun Store Debate
The idea that a firearms vendor might open on Washington Street has many of us concerned. Ensuring Newton’s safety and strictly limiting the ability of gun stores to operate near schools and residences is a priority. As the store owner works to get a building permit, prompt action is crtiical.
Some have suggested we ban gun stores. But many in the gun-control community warn that this approach will lose in court, and could make it more difficult to regulate gun stores anywhere in the US. I am not willing to gamble with Newton’s future, and will be supporting strong, effective zoning that is easier to defend. The ban will be discussed Wednesday, May 26 at 6:30 pm. Council debate on the strict zoning will continue June 7th at our regular meeting, which may start early to allow enough time. More details here.
Room for Walking
Fight for Transit
Silver LiningsAs we start to see the end of this painful pandemic year-plus, I have been taking time to assess what we learned; and what we may want to retain in the months and years ahead.
Below is my short list--I would love to know yours (here’s another):
More safe walking roomThis is the Commonwealth Avenue Carriageway at Bristol Street in West Newton.
The barriers are part of a pilot to open this section for walking and biking only.
Eventually, neighbors hope to reclaim some of the asphalt, plant trees in the median--create a “Bristol Park.”
I was happy to usher this through the process so that a little more of this popular walking route is even safer.
The spring bulbs are coming up, vaccinations are getting distributed, and plans are afoot to get students into classrooms safely. There's finally hope!
Police Task Force
New Senior Center
Grace Church Tower
Police Task Force ReportThe final report of the Police Reform Task force is here.
It's a remarkable and thoughtful document, worth your time to read if you are at all interested in how policing in Newton might change to meet 21st century needs and budgets.
The Public Safety committee will be scheduling meetings with the Administration & the new chief, due to be hired by early April, to determine what the Council's role might be, and how to move forward.
NewCAL Taking Shape
Two general options have come out of the extensive process to build a new, functional senior center at its current site. All-new? Or retain the old façade?
An all-new structure has several advantages--better and more equal access for all, it can grow with the future programming needs, more parking (some covered), and is $2-3 million cheaper.
Many members of the public who have reviewed the two options --including seniors, the Council on Aging, the Disabilities Commission--prefer the all-new option. The possible other option--retaining the façade of the current center--is below:
Personally, I'm not fond of the big-boxy structure pictured in 2C above, but staff told us there are many ways to mitigate that. It could, like the library, retain a cupola, the stained glass windows, and other features that would help the building fit in with the existing architecture of Walnut Street in Newtonville.
What do you think? What is most important to you?
#Stop Asian Hate
It was gratifying yesterday to join hundreds of Newton residents standing against the recent horror in Georgia and anti-Asian bias. Diversity makes our community stronger, especially when we stand together.
Grace Church Tower
The parishioners of Grace Church asked for $1.4 million, a 50% match, from the Community Preservation fund to salvage their historic steeple. The Community Preservation Act in Newton is funded by a 1% surcharge on the property tax. It was passed by the voters of Newton in 2001 to fund historic preservation, community housing, open space and recreation.
It is a huge request--probably the largest single historic grant Newton’s CPA has been asked to fund--and there was a question of separation of church and state, as well as the possibility that Council would open the floodgates for the many religious institutions in historic structures with dwindling congregations and funds.
But other arguments persuaded me to support the project--neighboring Farlow Park was built with the tower as a focal point. This is one of the few intact places in Newton Corner, which was fragmented by the building of the Massachusetts Turnpike. The tower has no religious iconography, which may satisfy court findings on the church-state issue.
Ultimately, my respect for the work of the Community Preservation Committee-an all-volunteer 9-member board drawn from city committees in all the interest groups, and the public benefits the church community agreed to offer--among them allowing access to the tower during historic tours and developing a program of public secular bell concerts and classes--that tipped the balance for me. I hope the tower remains a landmark in the neighborhood for generations.
Police Task Force Discussion
The 12-member Police Reform Task Force outlined these draft recommendations February 3 to the Public Safety committee.
They also told us that police morale is poor, possibly linked to both the state of their workplaces as well as their relationship to the community. But they also found that the community is generally satisfied with safety, with Black residents expressing less safety and comfort with police than other demographics in Newton.
A final report is due to the mayor on March 1. To join the email list for Task Force updates, click here.
Following release of the final report, I will be working with the Public Safety & Transportation committee, the mayor and the department to outline areas where Council can help make changes and in planning how to move forward. We will start at our March 27 meeting with Interim Chief Howard Mintz. Like the Task Force and the department, I want to ensure that everyone in Newton is and feels safe.
Budget SeasonCouncil is already preparing for our next big task--passing the next city budget. Councilor Grossman, who chairs the Finance Committee, is asking for questions from councilors so that these can be answered by the administration before our deliberations begin. What are your questions?
Village vitalityEven before the pandemic I and my colleagues were looking at ways to enliven our village centers. Here are two initiatives I am excited about:
Food pantry exploring new locations
(From the Chamber of Commerce (excellent newsletter, by the way):
The Centre Street Food Pantry in Newton is exploring options for new space.
Cost is very important and the pantry is open to partnering with religious organizations or other non-profits or commercial partners who want to be generous with their space at low rent.
Needs include: 2000 square feet (minimum) open floor plan or one that allows for a reconfigurable room division; ground level access, with no stairs, for moving food easily; and space where cars can pull up near the entrance, or a parking lot. Email Saadia Baloch for more specifics or you have any ideas.
Hoping you get vaccinated soon!
Happy New Year!!
I was waiting to say that until the country had passed several milestones--including the Georgia run-offs, election certification and the inauguration. Let's hope this year is healthier and easier than 2020.
In this update:
More "Park" in the Parkway
Zoning and Housing Discrimination
The Police Reform Task Force is close to issuing its recommendations to the mayor. Council will hear from them on February 3, at a committee meeting hosted by Public Safety and Transportation. To facilitate a thorough report and discussion with councilors, this meeting will be open, but will have no public comment. However, residents can email me or the council at our council emails (citycouncil@newtonmaDOTgov) To join the email list for Task Force updates, click here.
The city’s search for the next police chief continues. The job has been posted internally, statewide and nationally. The mayor hopes to hire a new chief by the end of March. PS&T just voted to extend the agreement with interim Chief Howard Mintz until the new chief is on board.
Like many, I was shocked and saddened by the tragic police shooting of a Newton resident in Newton Highlands this month. I feel terribly for Michael Conlon’s family and friends, and support efforts to improve mental health supports and services for all. I am glad that professionals in Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office are taking the lead on investigating this incident, and look forward to reviewing their findings.
More “Park” in the Parkway
Hammond Pond Parkway north of Route 9 functions more as a highway than as a road through one of Newton’s largest parks. The Department of Conservation and Recreation finally released plans (in the works since before Mishkan Tefila was sold to Boston College) to allow pedestrian access to parks on both sides of the road, and create safe, off-road biking.
By reducing lanes and adding crosswalks, the new design improves safety for drivers, too. The 12' wide multi use trail will allow walking and biking along the parkway, access to trails, and a safe crossing halfway down.
The long-term vision is to continue the trail along the Brookline section to Horace James Circle, and then eventually along DCR parkways all the way to VFW Parkway--real connectivity!
Despite worries heard at the meeting, the redesign should not increase traffic congestion. Slower roads have more vehicle capacity and fewer crashes.
DCR is taking public comment through Thursday, February 4. View the slideshow and comment here.
Zoning and Housing Discrimination Another study out this week on racism and housing pointed out that wealthy, predominantly white suburbs don’t fail fairness tests as often as more mixed areas. This analysis argues, I think correctly, that exclusionary zoning does the job instead: “...the most widespread and pernicious forms of housing discrimination are the subtle institutionalized racism embedded in systems like zoning”
While our intentions today may not be racist, “preserving” our current zoning doesn’t just continue to allow the destruction of modest homes for mansions, it effectively acts as a barrier to sharing the benefits of living in our great city with a more diverse population.
Funds for non-profits
The Feb. 1 deadline is fast approaching for local non-profits to apply for a grant from the Rebecca Pomroy Foundation. Organizations that strengthen the health, social support and educational opportunities available to girls, women and other residents in Newton can apply and learn more here.
Stay masked, stay safe, stay warm!
New Year's Resolutions
Police Task Force
Green Gateway to the Garden City Wishing you and your family health, warmth and increasing sunlight as the season moves from the shortest day toward 2021, the inauguration, spring, widespread vaccinations, and so much more to look forward to once the pandemic is under control!
New year’s resolutions: I have been reading Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy, which is about how every one of us with a yard can save, not only butterflies, but life in this corner of the earth. If you were looking for a good read (and beautiful pictures) before planning your spring seed orders, this is it.
Shop Local: I am thankful that Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has made it easier for restaurants and shops to provide curbside pickup. If you own a business that needs a 15-minute parking spot in front--the request form is here. Questions? Contact Newton’s Economic Development Director Devra Bailin who is the City’s coordinator for this program at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-796-1122 (office) and 617-831-0103 (cell).
If you still have holiday shopping--check out the local options! Local businesses sustain our economy, our tax base and our non-profits. The Newton-Needham Chamber has a handy directory.
Police task force: If you are interested in the progress of the Newton Police Reform Task Force, there’s a Town Hall Tuesday, Dec. 22, 5:30-7:30 pm (remote) to develop a framework to guide their recommendations. Share your ideas and hopes for the NPD and the community. Register here. To join the email list for Task Force updates, click here.
Meanwhile, the city’s search for the next police chief continues.
Weigh in on Zoning, too: To get a sense of your questions and thoughts on zoning, the Planning Department has generated a presentation (because zoning is complicated) and a survey. Deadline to participate is January 10th, so make this an early resolution. If the survey isn’t enough for you, send questions and ideas to email@example.com.
Green gateway to the Garden City? As part of the bridge work for the Commonwealth Ave/Route 95 area, Newton has the opportunity to have MassDOT rebuild the Auburn St./Comm Ave intersection, which is between the boathouse and the Marriott. Right now the only crosswalk in that section is at Ash St. to the east; westbound traffic is not stopped by the current stoplight at Auburn St. and is fast moving as it approaches the highway entrance ramps so there are no safe crossings for people on foot.
MassDOT has proposed a roundabout, which would improve pedestrian safety, including for those with limited vision, connect the trails coming north from Riverside with the riverside trails coming south from Waltham via Lyons Field, and knit together the Carriageway east-west protected bike boulevard (which eventually will extend west to Natick and east through Boston).
At its presentation to Public Facilities recently, MassDOT representatives indicated that they would build this roundabout, which greatly increases the green space here, or return the intersection to its current, unsafe, design.
Read more about roundabouts and safety for all users (driver, pedestrian, cyclist) at the Federal Highway Administration website which includes a helpful 10 minute educational overview video.
If you are interested in better safety and more greenspace at our western gateway, please plan to attend the meeting on January 14, 7-8:30 pm
Meeting ID: 867 1865 9714
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+16465588656,,86718659714# US (New York)
Please stay safe through the holidays, so we can gather in person again in 2021!
Just after my November update went out, Newton lost a valued public servant. Ward 1 Councilor Allan J. Ciccone, Jr., known to us as Jay, passed away suddenly at 55, leaving his father, siblings, children and grandchildren. I join my colleagues and the city in mourning a good, kind man who loved Newton and worked to make life better here for all.
David Olson, our trusted city clerk, announced this month that he will retire in February. David has just shepherded us through two difficult elections in the midst of the pandemic. As with everything he does, David pulled through with equanimity and professionalism. I know Council will miss his presence at our meetings and his competence in office, and wish him well in retirement.
It is of course not a loss for Representative-elect (and former Ward 2 City Councilor) Jake Auchincloss, but in terms of City Council, his presence and his perspective will be sorely missed. His resignation, effective Nov. 10th, means that I am now the chair of the Public Safety & Transportation committee. Personally, I will miss having his advice and collaboration on many important topics of very local import--while welcoming his strong voice on transportation and climate in Washington.
All this means two vacancies, and a special city-wide election, coming soon.
Zoning & Planning
A new Planning Department hire, Nevena Pilipović-Wengler, is coordinating a series of listening sessions on Zoning Redesign. You can tune in remotely (only) Dec. 2, 7-9 pm and Dec. 3 12-2 pm. You need to RSVP to attend. The presentation will be posted Dec. 4 on the Zoning Redesign website along with a survey for those who can’t comment during these sessions.
If you want to read the original documents yourself, as well as all the memos from councilors, architects and planners, you are in luck. Thanks to volunteer Richard Rasala zoning documents organized by subject (as well as date) are on his website here, where they are easily found and cross-referenced.
This month I collaborated with colleagues to weigh in on proposed service cuts to the MBTA, which, if effected as planned, would make regional economic recovery difficult, increase traffic congestion and work against state goals on climate mitigation, equity and air quality. Our letter is here. More detail is available here. Add your own comments here.
Newton’s own Ashish Jha has been weighing in on the necessary steps to contain the pandemic--in case you missed this Boston Globe article.
What we can all do: wear a mask; don’t gather inside.
Worsening numbers also mean that travel is now even more restricted without a 2-week quarantine (this may change, so check the state’s travel order). It’s another loss, but there’s hope that by this time next year we will be able to gather with our families and friends again.
Just as in April, it is important to get outside, particularly as it gets dark and we are more likely to hibernate, for our mental and physical health. It’s good to see each other, even at a distance, and we still have open walking trails, sidewalks, and the Carriage Lane. Send me your best ideas, and I’ll post them on my website!!
One idea just appeared in Cold Spring Park thanks to Newton 9th graders (Zoe Hong, Ellie Gish, Naomi Weitzman, Elliot Heywood, Edward Macklin, Sylvia Jacobs, Seth Korn, Josh Wolf)--a purely visual scavenger hunt. Use this document to find the clues & surprises.
In this time of giving, and giving thanks, I am going to give YOU Jerry Reilly’s ideas (and post) for creative ways to help others now (link here). There’s also the three Newton food banks (Newton, Centre Street and Arabic). And so much more.
I am thankful for you, so stay healthy, stay warm, mask up!
In this issue:
School in a Pandemic
Road Changes around Schools
What’s this Picture About?
Learn more about this picture at the end!
As I write this, ballots are still being counted. Things are still unsettled.
But in the sleepless hours of last night, I realized something--whatever the outcome.
Those of us who believe the United States should stand for “liberty and justice for ALL” have a lot of work ahead of us.
A lot of that work will be at the local level. Economic insecurity, inequality, climate action--all need localities like Newton, states like Massachusetts, to step up and do our best to build back better.
We are blessed in Newton with organizing dynamos who put together times and places for us to dine (Feast of the Falls), ride (Tour de Newton), run (Heartbreak Hill race) and see each other as a community. If we stay behind our screens and fire salvos at each other’s’ imperfect political positions, we lose the ability to work together across differences.
So let’s walk. Talk on the phone. Find each other outside of our political “teams,” and build the bridges that make for better policies and politics.
October’s Monday Holiday
We are blessed in Newton with several vibrant communities who persevered and remained in Newton despite facing down redlining and discrimination. So while I supported removing Columbus’ name from the Monday holiday name on official Newton calendars, I also supported a more nuanced approach to it.
We need to understand our history but also include all our communities in determining how we as a community can honor Italian-American pride as well as to recognize and educate around the damage unleashed by Columbus and his “discovery.”
School in a Pandemic
Parents, teachers and students are all struggling within our schools’ hybrid model for elementary students and distance learning for all the rest (which soon becomes hybrid for middle schools).
The issues of equity (some students cannot return to in-person learning, but some families can pay for additional enrichment or private schools), social and emotional needs (of students and teachers) and just how much education can happen in the hybrid vs. distance learning models are all being vigorously discussed on social media and in Zoom meetings.
Council has been asking questions of our School Committee colleagues, but ultimately, outside of budget and wider public well-being decisions, school policy rightly belongs in the School Committee’s hands, not ours.
Here’s my take:
So to the extent in-person education happens (and because infections in schools will translate to infections in the wider community, this is important for all of us), Newton needs to ensure:
I expect we will continue to hear a variety of voices around the issue of in-person vs. distance learning models, and I will continue to listen and learn.
Changes around Schools
COVID safety protocols have limited school bus seating capacity, and we also know that our schools, even at half enrollment, cannot handle many more vehicles at arrival and dismissal.
The school transportation working group--on which Councilor Alicia Bowman and I sit and the Complete Streets Working Group—have accelerated changes to streets around schools to improve safety at arrival and dismissal. These include traffic calming on Lowell Avenue near Newton North to create an additional drop off zone and protect students’ crossing, a contra-flow bike lane near Newton South, and more.
The nimble and creative response to make streets around schools safer is a model of what city and school staff can do. Kudos go to Mayor Fuller, Superintendent Fleischman, LIam Hurley, the entire Transportation Division, and many more
Admit it--you were curious about the photo at the top! That’s our neighbor Vince McKay helping to mark the newest official pedestrian off-road trail atop the southern section of the Sudbury Aqueduct. I confirmed this week that both the MWRA and the City have signed the official permit.
Now I am looking for volunteers in the neighborhood to help construct some sturdy erosion-controlling box stairs at the Stanley-Canterbury crossing. Send me an email if you’d like to help!!
I’m not holding office hours, but am always willing to listen--email to set up a time to talk.
Stay healthy, stay warm, mask up!
September was eventful. October equally so. Here's what you need to know:
Helping our Restaurants
Bullough's Pond Dam
Beacon Street Bike Lanes
Helping our RestaurantsCOVID has been devastating for local businesses, but particularly our restaurants. Last week, we heard from owners of our most established and successful independent eateries.
Heading into the colder weather and without the federal bailout money that sustained jobs in the spring, they are fearful.
"I am terrified," said Seana Gaherin of Dunn Gaherin's, noting that restaurants employ hundreds. To Council, she said "If you guys don't help us survive, we will not be around. We can't do this without you."
Losing restaurants will mean losing nearby stores," warned Newton Needham Chamber president Greg Reibman. He noted that already 1 in 5 restaurants had closed for good in Massachusetts. And that offices locate in Newton to be near eateries. And most of our commercial landlords are small, so lost rents from restaurants and offices would be tough to make up.
"It is as serious and as dire as it gets," agreed Johnny's Luncheonette owner Karen Masterson.
Councilors who have been working on this all spring & summer know that Newton has allowed on-street dining in the parking strip (but that other communities have allowed more). We know about the city-installed picnic tables in parking lots (but we also see Moody Street in Waltham, which, by the way, has extended its outdoor dining through Dec. 1).
And we know Moody Street's restaurants have had a better summer this year than last--and nearby stores saw more foot traffic.
That is why I (and many of my colleagues, notably President Susan Albright) have been urging the administration to be more flexible with street space allocation. And why I have signed on to multiple letters to the Licensing Commission asking them to cut liquor fees for restaurants (which they did Tuesday night).
Here’s how you can help: Give yourself a break from cooking and isolation. If you are comfortable doing so, eat (outside) at our local restaurants. Otherwise, order takeout. #SaveOurRestaurants.
Bullough's Pond DamDexter Road runs atop a 350-year-old dam that created the scenic pond near City Hall. Part of the scenery is a stand of trees that shields Dexter and Laundry Brook from Walnut Street.
The state is examining all dams for likely failure because storms with a 1% chance of occurring in any year (also called the 100-year storm) are more intense than before--more rain and higher winds—a consequence of warming climate.
The state determined that this dam would not withstand such a storm—for Newton that’s more than 8 inches of rain in 24 hours. In this scenario, trees rooted in the dam could pull it down when water overtops Dexter Road.
If the dam fails, many homes and businesses in Newtonville, and perhaps also Newton North, could be washed away. Laundry Brook drains much of Newton—all the way to Hammond Pond!—and that’s a lot of water. If the pond is dredged, it is even more water.
Newton is responsible for ensuring the dam is safe. This summer, an engineering firm was hired to survey the dam. In the process, they marked all the trees to ensure they were in the final model.
The marking does not mean those trees will be removed.
Newton’s engineering division has committed to working with the Bullough’s Pond Association to ensure that whatever dam repairs are needed, they will spare as many trees and as much of the natural landscape as possible.
Council has heard from many residents who believe the plan is to remove all the trees downstream of the dam on Laundry Brook. The truth is, we don’t know. But to find out what repairs are needed and devise a final plan, the engineering division needs the help of dam experts. I support appropriating funding for those experts
New Senior CenterI am pleased to see progress on a new Senior Center. To see the proposals so far, go to page 7 of this report—and also scroll to the slides at the end:
Quinobequin UpdatesNew Trails Proposed Riverside to Quinobequin
Exciting news out of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) last month—they are planning for a shared trail to connect the Charles River Parks near Riverside and the Quinobequin Road trail south of Washington Street.
The presentation from the meeting is here.
Yesterday, Councilors Alicia Bowman, Alison Leary and I sent comments to DCR suggesting that people on bikes be directed over St. Mary’s Street (significantly shorter), thus sparing the mature pines along Pine Grove and Concord. We also suggested that DCR create a hiking trail that is closer to the river than to the roads.
Speaking of this state river parkland, a number of my colleagues and I proposed a resolution to the state (which owns the road) proposing a pilot “shared street” for the stretch. This would allow local access, but also allow families and others to use more of the road for recreation. The idea is to try it one weekend afternoon this fall, if the state allows. Council has passed this resolution, which now goes to DCR.
Tomorrow night at 6:30 is another meeting about how to better accommodate hikers and bikers -- shared use trail? Slower traffic?
You can participate via Zoom if you register here:
This international data-driven approach to traffic deaths and injuries would use crash information to determine where Newton most needs to fix its streets. I and 10 other councilors are proposing a resolution to make this Newton’s policy. If passed, it would request that the administration create a plan and a priority list that would target the most dangerous street sections first, and would put safety first in our street design decisions.
The longest new stretch of bike lanes
Beacon Street is a cycling superhighway through Newton, but parked cars mean that some of us—including students making their way to school—have to swerve into traffic or onto the sidewalk.
In September, Traffic Council approved a measure to remove parking (and extend the bike lanes) from just west of Newton Centre to the end of Beacon at Washington Street. I was proud to cast a vote to approve the longest single stretch of bike lane creation in Newton’s history. Look for new signage and markings by this spring.
More next month!
I write this August update to put the current draft of Zoning Redesign into perspective, including new proposals to allow two or more units in more parts of Newton.
Briefly, Council is looking to preserve Newton’s leafy look and feel while adding resilience and diversity.
Draft Zoning--A Question of Size
Council has been working to improve the rules that control what we may or may not build on our property (zoning ordinances) since 2011, but have been more intensely focused since 2018 (my first update on it is March of that year).
After many meetings, and public input from each ward, the Zoning and Planning committee (ZAP), decided to establish some rules controlling the size of new structures according to a detailed accounting of the scale and style of the neighborhood (aka the Pattern Book).
As I explained in April 2019, this is in part to reduce the number of tear-downs—ensuring that all new structures “fit” within the existing neighborhood.
To be clear: right now, current zoning, prefers BIG houses on BIG lots with room for lots of cars. And that’s part what makes tearing down perfectly good homes on spec so attractive—keeping the existing structure is less profitable under these rules.
The massive 2-4 unit structures that replaced torn-down modest housing in West Newton, Newtonville and other neighborhoods are allowed under our CURRENT zoning.
What Council is considering is allowing the kind of multi-family housing now existing in single-family-only zones—like Lincoln Street in Newton Highlands (yes, many of those majestic Victorians have more than one unit of housing, and could not be built—or altered—today by-right).
After all, if the exterior looks and feels the same, what do we care if the building contains two or more units? (Health and safety issues are covered in the building code)
Newton zoning already allows granny flats, but with many controls. The above proposal would also ease some of these controls, giving homeowners a few more options, and perhaps the wherewithal to stay or move.
Could a developer still choose to tear down a home and rebuild something big? Yes—but only in the right neighborhood (one with big houses), and within the environmental controls in the draft (to prevent flooding of neighboring properties, the draft zoning limits on how much of a lot can be covered with structures and pavement).
But as I reported from the Planning Department’s 2019 analysis of what makes for a tear-down, most developers won’t take that step if they can’t make a substantial profit (usually by exceeding 3,000 square feet per unit!). The draft makes it less profitable to tear down a home, and much easier for a family needing to reconfigure a property to do so.
As I’ve written before (February 2019), we had more people in fewer homes in the 1970s than we do now. As Newton has become richer, older and less dense, our village center businesses declined.
Smaller units are also easier to maintain, heat, and cool—even before new building codes add insulation and leak-sealing.
By allowing more, smaller housing units near transit and village centers, we create more of the 15-minute neighborhoods that add resiliency to our city in crises like pandemics or blizzards.
But doesn’t density increase the spread of disease? Some continue to argue this, but there’s little science to back it up. What we know is that when multiple families crowd into one unit, diseases can spread. What this zoning draft would do is enable Newton to add more housing units, and reduce crowding across the region.
By the way, riding public transit may be safer than thought, according to this NYT article.
As always, call or email if you want to chat.
Stay well; stay cool; and mask up!
Almost every month I write constituents about a topic before the city