Metro, Politics, Newton

Newton Free Library Hosts Exhibit on Proposed Updates to Village Center Zoning Ordinances

An array of colorful posters in Room C of the Newton Free Library catches plenty of wandering eyes, though only a handful wander in to observe the information about proposed changes to zoning in Newton’s Village Centers.

Since Sept. 1, the Newton Free Library has dedicated a section of its second floor to informing the public about the Department of Planning & Development’s efforts to update the city’s village centers.

“[The city] has shared with us that they really do want to hear the public’s opinion,” said Newton resident and library docent Anne Jacobsen. “They want our thoughts and opinions on what our city should look like in the future years.”

This exhibit is part of a continued effort that began last summer to gather community input for the village centers’ futures. City Council Members make periodic appearances at the exhibit, and the city created an interactive feedback tool to be filled out by phone or computer, according to the City of Newton’s website.

The exhibit explains zoning basics, the history of zoning in Newton, and details on each of the proposed amendments to the current zoning regulations. Zoning guidelines for village centers have not received any major updates in over 30 years, according to a Department of Planning & Development flyer

The Zoning & Planning Committee, consisting of eight city councilors, is responsible for the zoning redesign project. 

Business at village centers was stagnant even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the city plans to improve the situation through updating its zoning ordinances, said Deborah Crossley, committee chair and Ward 5 councilor-at-large, in an interview with Newton News.

“We have to figure out how we use our zoning rules and land use–development rules to help our villages evolve into economically and environmentally sustainable places that are wonderful places to be, so people want to be there,” she said.

Crossley said the city aims to promote the environmental and economic security of business districts and village centers, contextual and aesthetically appealing construction of buildings, and encouragement of small- and medium-sized developers.

The exhibit details the eight framework updates the Zoning & Planning Committee has set forth. Key topics include the creation of three zoning districts with unique limits on stories and floor-to-floor heights, implementation of design standards, and reduction of parking requirements for storefronts.

The city also intends to comply with the new MBTA communities law that mandates new multi-family units be built in cities and towns served by the transit agency, according to a Planning & Development Department memo.

The city plans to compile community feedback from the exhibit and present a more developed iteration of the proposed zoning changes in late October.

If the committee chooses to move forward with some or all of these changes, it will hold a formal public hearing on the proposed amendments to the city’s Zoning Ordinance. Then, there will be a vote on whether to recommend adopting the changes. The entire Newton City Council will then vote on whether to adopt the redesign.

“We have about two weeks left, and zoning is incredibly important,” Jacobsen said. “[It] has a direct relationship to many things near and dear to the Newton community like helping small businesses thrive, responding to climate change, developing more diverse and affordable housing, and creating more communal and active spaces.” 

The exhibit is available during all regular library hours until Oct. 16.

Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

October 11, 2022