As a City Councilor I would like to hear from residents on your perspectives. Generally, I’m for reasonable sized development and density with a plan for traffic, schools and infrastructure. The city also needs an overall plan, not just silos like Washington Street, Needham Street or Riverside Vision Plans. Presently the proposed developments like Northland, Riverside and Washington Street are too big. I will advocate to bring these projects more in scale with the villages.
The city has many vision plans, zoning codes and development proposals in the pipeline. Newton’s Councilors need to be able to critically analyze dense building code proposals and voluminous development plans efficiently. The sheer volume of this reading and analysis will be like no other time.
Newton’s 2020 councilors need to come ready to dig deep into this data and think like engineers with an eye on all costs, not just money but also social and environmental quality of life issues. There are no short cuts. Councilors won’t be able to rely on executive summaries. They are going to need the time and the mindset to dive into these documents. There is no margin for error because this is the future of our city. I have read and understand all 860 pages of 6 revisions of the Washington Vision plan, 434 pages of 2 Wash Street zoning code revisions, plus thousands of pages for the Pattern Book, city zoning code, fiscal analysis on vision plans, other vision plans, developer plans and many others. This work comes naturally to me.
I want reasonable development. What does that mean? It’s different in different areas of the city. The Washington Street zoning plan would allow 10 story buildings just west of the The Local. The consultant, Principal Group, said in 2 miles it would bring in 2500 to over 3000 apartments with 1000 school age children and a new elementary school would be needed. What is the plan for this? The city’s plan is to simply remove this information from the documents. Yes, it’s true such development won’t happen overnight but we must have a plan for traffic, infrastructure and schools – a plan that can change with time. And if the plan doesn’t work then the zoning needs to change.
City wide zoning will be updated in the next year and it will shape Newton for decades. There is a lot of good intent like trying to limit tear downs with McMansion replacements and increasing density throughout the city. However, I have concerns on some aspects of courtyard cluster housing density. Areas like West Newton Hill could allow nine 1800 sf (square foot) homes on an acre. In more typical neighborhoods an acre could allow thirteen 3000 sf homes. Dense neighborhoods could allow seventeen 3600 sf 2 families.
In much the same way that the scale of developments in the various vision plans are too big, these proposals for cluster housing are also bigger than many of the existing streets and neighborhoods can handle. I agree that cluster housing could be a way to spread density throughout the city, but these too must be weighed against the costs associated with increased traffic, schools and other infrastructure impacts.
The proposed zoning has significant changes. I believe the residents need to be informed and be part of the process. This will affect us in our daily lives. Zoning affects people financially with property tax levels, house values and rent levels; their quality of life with traffic, parking and streets; public transportation with increased people using services and infrastructure; and public safety. It impacts schools and I want to retain excellence in Newton Public Schools. We need the right ordinances to ensure that people of all income levels can and want to live and stay in Newton.
I support a city-wide referendum on the proposed zoning code. I understand that, by law, such a referendum is non-binding, but with huge changes in store, I believe the city council should hear from the residents before finalizing the zoning code.
Environment and Climate Change
I will advocate for Climate Change Resiliency. Dense development near transit will contribute to climate change resiliency but we need real transit that isn’t just a few trains downtown during commuting hours. If the T is so overcrowded people will drive in. There are also many actions that we can take as a community and as individuals that are far more effective at reducing climate change impacts and improving climate change resiliency from signing up for 100% solar and wind electricity, insulating our homes, eating less meat, reducing food waste, and more. An informative website explaining these actions: https://www.drawdown.org/solutions-summary-by-rank.
We will get new developments and climate change resiliency actions need to be incorporated in every project. In big projects initiatives like solar panels, electric vehicle charging capacity, and passive house standards can be required via special permit. New or renovated homes or smaller projects don’t have to follow climate change initiatives because it’s not in the state building code. I would like to see a two page informational sheet that all architects and builders that work in Newton must read and sign. The document would describe how a project could include climate change resiliency, including passive house standards, in its design. The architects and builders, in turn, must give this to their clients at the planning stage. Before the building permit is issued, the owner would need to sign that they received and understood the document. Although we can’t require climate change mitigation techniques in the projects due to present state law and building codes, at least it will get the information to residents at the beginning of their projects so that some, and hopefully most, will refine their projects.
I want our city to become a leader in climate change initiatives and I will add requirements related to climate change resilience to the zoning code.
Newton is known for our exceptional schools. I want to continue to update and modernize our schools. I support the teachers. They are the main source of excellence in Newton Public Schools. I volunteer and visit almost all the elementary schools every year and I am in both high schools multiple times a month for LigerBots and other activities.
I think it’s important to increase our commercial development in appropriate areas and at reasonable sizes. It is taxed at a higher rate than residential development and will help with the city expenses. The down side is that it brings in more traffic than residential development. We need to find the right mix that works for Newton and the residents but we can’t dig ourselves out of our monetary issues by development alone.
I will advocate for more affordable housing. Our inclusionary zoning should be set at 25% affordable units in these large developments, not just 15%. There are also other ways to increase our affordable housing stock than just building density. Accessory apartments or in law suites should be allowed by right in presently detached secondary buildings like garage space. At 1000’ or smaller, these are usually more naturally affordable and can be spread throughout the city. Residents won’t be scared away by special permits.
And let’s try to work with non profits for more really affordable housing. The city could help purchase the land for new projects or partner in other ways with non-profits to increase our affordable housing stock.
As an owner of an historic home on the National Register of Historic Places, I recognize we can learn from history. Whenever possible, the city will benefit if we can protect and preserve our architectural heritage.
I believe the seniors need a new, larger center. We have the 5th largest senior population in the state. However, ideally we would not take green space, something we should cherish. There may still be other options, including 4 sites that could merit further investigation:
(1) the old Parks and Rec HQ on Crescent Street along with the Eversource excess land. I have sent a letter to Eversource requesting information on how and when they will dispose of the property. There is a bus stop 1.5 blocks away and train stop 4 blocks away plus nearby restaurants and shops in West Newton.
(2) the Aquinas site with the new Lincoln-Eliot school. There is a bus stop 2 blocks away and a train stop about 4 blocks away.
(3) having the senior center in the Education building on Walnut Street with those offices moving to the Aquinas property.
(4) the Newton center parking triangle
Parks and Green Space
For health, play, exercise and quality of life, it is valuable to maintain and create more public green space. With a city that is almost completely built out, it’s important to safeguard open space.
It’s important to keep local representation. I would favor a smaller city council but not the one previously proposed. I would like to keep the local ward councilors and reduce the ward at large councilors from 2 to 1 per ward for a total of 16 councilors.