For over a year, the city has been working to create a shared vision of the Washington Street corridor from the MassPike entrance in West Newton east to Crafts Street—where Whole Foods is now.
This document is the template for zoning, and is the result of hundreds of community meetings, workshops, surveys and public hearings. The mayor and council wanted to ensure that residents had input into a strategic vision of what the corridor could be, rather than simply reacting to developer proposals here.
The vision, and eventual zoning, will allow for complex, mixed-use projects with vibrant commercial areas and parks, and which can create community benefits and linkages that residents have told us they want.
I think they reflect Newton’s desires—for better village experiences, safer streets, better transit, housing for the small households (1-2 people) we now have, historic preservation, good planning practices and responsiveness to climate change.
Here’s what I particularly like about what is in the vision:
* It is ambitious in outlining what the area could be—with more parks, more pedestrian and bike connections, more trees, more and better transit.
* It links development to these benefits.
* It breaks up current massive blocks to allow pedestrian and bike passage through them—asking the area more walkable and pleasant.
* It specifies shorter storefronts and bans blank walls—this allows for an interesting walk, but also for small businesses.
* It does not allow the dreaded “concrete canyon” of six story buildings across from six-story buildings.
* It requires militate heights and roof types, using high-quality materials and encourages sustainable, energy efficient buildings.
* It shields the neighborhood from the highway, and calms feeder streets like Eddy and Harvard to protect current residents from cut-through traffic.
*It will help us achieve our climate and environmental goals: * Shorter trips because of mixed uses, which mean less traffic and fewer car trips * Storm water infiltration and treatment, which means more trees and grass, cleaner water * Better parking management and less walking through or along parking lots—both reducing circling for parking, but also cutting into the very thing that creates traffic—free and abundant parking. * Programs to reduce demand for car trips, with city-set goals rather than a prescribed set of tools. * Added solar panels.
The vision has been revised several times in response to public comments. How it manifests in the zoning will be the subject of Council work following the adoption of the final vision in the Comprehensive Plan—this will also get into the touchy subject of height and how much will be allowed in the zoning vs. by special permit.
Whether we approve the vision this month or not, public comment is still welcome on the zoning.