Metro, Politics, Newton

Newton Zoning and Planning Committee Reviews Village Center Zoning Redesign Framework

Newton city councilors reviewed a framework for revised zoning maps of the city’s village centers at a Zoning and Planning Committee meeting on Monday. 

During Monday’s meeting, city representatives reviewed findings and public feedback regarding an original set of maps created by the Planning and Development Department. These maps depicted proposed changes to zoning of the city’s village centers, which have not received any major zoning updates in over 30 years. The findings and feedback influenced the framework, or set of proposals, that will inform the final version of a second batch of zoning maps, according to Jennifer Caira, deputy director of the Planning and Development Department.

“These are not the version two maps, these are the version one maps with a proposal to us for what streets … where we wanna make sure we get retail and restaurants active uses on the ground floor,” Deborah Crossley, chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee, said.

Some priorities of the framework planning include prioritizing historic preservation, reducing residential parking requirements in village centers, and incentivizing additional affordable housing, according to a memo submitted to the Zoning and Planning Committee by the Planning and Development Department.

“These are the topics that have been bubbling up, that we’ve said we’re working on, that we’ve been thinking about changes,” Caira said. “So we just wanted to put together something saying, ‘okay, these are the changes we’re recommending prior to releasing a second draft.’”

Caira said the Planning and Development Department presented at the meeting to receive  more feedback prior to the creation of a second version of village center zoning maps.

“So we haven’t made any updates to the text or the maps, this is just to discuss these main topics,” she said.

The City of Newton is currently undergoing the first overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinances in over 60 years, according to its website.

The Newton Free Library hosted an exhibit displaying the original maps depicting zoning changes from Sept. 1 to Oct. 16, 2022.

In the initial stages of Zoning Plan Phase Two, city representatives presented the maps to the public and received input from residents.

Caira said one item of feedback the department frequently received was to better balance historic preservation of churches and buildings with the concept of adaptive reuse, which refers to maintaining a building’s structure but changing its internal purpose. 

She said, though, that some buildings will be exempt from this shift.

“To incentivize—and make it easier—to retain the churches … we wanna provide an adaptive reuse section,” she said. “Some of the things we’re thinking, is applying this [exemption] to buildings built before 1940.”

Marc Laredo, at-large councilor from Ward 7, said the department should take more time to review the idea of adaptive reuse.

“I’m supportive of the concept, I think it’s a really good idea to incentivize reuse of historic structures … but I really think this needs some more thought,” Laredo said.

Caira said the department will present the second version of proposed rezoning maps in March, after implementing the feedback from Monday’s meeting and completing an analysis on three final items—revising village center one, which is the first of the three village center classifications that determine how large and tall a building can be on a plot of land, incentivizing affordable housing, and maximizing MBTA community compliance.

“We’re wrapping up some analysis on the last three and then we’ll have that second part for everyone in March,” she said.

February 28, 2023