Metro, Newton

Outspoken Residents Argue For, Against Proposed Zoning Maps at Public Hearing

In the first public hearing for the City of Newton’s ongoing rezoning plans since June 26, residents expressed their reasonings for and against the process in light of the city’s recently published third version of maps on Tuesday night.

“We think your plan is discriminatory,” Janine Stewart, a resident of Nonantum, said during the meeting. “Nonantum is a working class village and your plan will not attract new working families. It will gentrify Nonantum.”

A contingent of Nonantum residents—ranging from elderly people to a young child—spoke out against the zoning efforts, which some referred to as “upzoning” in public comment. Upzoning is when a municipality codifies the ability for further development.

Another resident, Cindy Roche, who lives in Newton Centre, said she weighed the zoning proposals and believes that more development—including the building of residential units—will benefit Newton.

“I’ve listened to more [Zoning and Planning] meetings than I care to admit or to remember,” Roche said. “What I’ve learned is this: Living in a single-family home with single-family home neighbors might be lovely … but I realized that I cannot in good conscience make my preference a policy choice.”Roche said that any preference she might have would be a detriment to the city.

“My preference comes at two bigger costs—it has environmental impact and it contributes to regional housing shortage,” she said. “So I support village center zoning, and I hope you will too.”

While residents who commented spoke more generally about village rezoning and the impacts of further construction of buildings in the city, the Zoning and Planning Committee meeting occurred after city officials released a memo on Sept. 22 detailing recent updates to zoning plans.

Changes to proposed rezoning for the city’s village centers included increased protections for village center–adjacent residential neighborhoods and allowed for added open space in the Multi-Residence Transit (MRT) zones, according to the memo. There are other small modifications made to the plans, such as the implementation or removal of a handful of properties in the maps of select village centers.

The city’s rezoning plans must consider the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Communities Law, which requires that communities create a zoning district in which multifamily housing is allowed to be built by right, meaning that—as long as a development adheres to zoning laws—it does not need a special permit to proceed. Massachusetts government officials include Newton as one of the 177 MBTA communities across the commonwealth.

The city must adopt certain zoning ordinances by Dec. 31, 2023 to remain compliant with MBTA guidelines and thus remain eligible for funding, according to the city’s website.

The Zoning and Planning Committee will discuss the public comments from Tuesday night’s meeting, incorporate any changes from the hearing, and begin the process of proposing a final set of maps that the full Newton City Council will consider for a vote.

In her newsletter, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller commended city councilors and employees for their efforts during the rezoning process and projected optimism for the final approved version.

After almost four decades since the last major zoning revision for village centers, we are taking charge of our future and ensuring the long term health of our villages,” Fuller’s newsletter reads. “All of this also means thriving village centers and an increased commercial tax base.”

September 26, 2023