Newton For Everyone, a coalition of organizations that support the Village Center Overlay District (VCOD), created a petition on Monday protesting lawn signs created and distributed by Save Newton Villages, an anti-VCOD organization.
According to the city’s website, VCOD is a proposed set of zoning regulations for Newton commercial centers and surrounding residential areas, meant to increase housing accessibility. Newton City Council will consider the rezoning proposal on Nov. 15, following the Zoning and Planning Committee’s recent approval of the third version of the plan on Oct. 23.
VCOD sets limits on building heights from two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half stories, depending on the location. The Save Newton Villages lawn signs feature a graphic of a nine-story building and a six-story building, which the petition argues is misleading.
“Newton residents deserve accurate information, and that seems like the right thing to do fundamentally,” Newton For Everyone member Dan Powdermaker said. “The event that organizations are putting out and printing and posting misleading information is a disservice to our city, and it is very sad.”
Charles River Regional Chamber President Greg Reibman expressed similar complaints about the building heights in the lawn sign graphic.
“It is a disservice to the public to continue to use those signs and to continue to use that logo because it misrepresents what the upzoning plan is about,” Reibman said.
Save Newton Villages argued that the lawn signs are not dishonest and instead are a part of its efforts to protest the proposed upzoning.
“Our signs are not misleading, [but] they are a rallying cry for residents to stand up and have their voices be heard on the issue of our villages,” Save Newton Villages said in an email.
The organization said the lawn signs distributed by Newton For Everyone—which feature a graphic meant to reflect the diversity of people in the Newton community—are more misleading than its own signs.
“Does anyone really think their signs represent “everyone?” Save Newton Villages said. “Given the tidal wave of opposition to this zoning plan, and the amount of people speaking out that the plan does not represent their wishes.”
Save Newton Villages said that the proposed rezoning itself is a much greater issue than the complaints against its lawn signs.
“Newton’s rezoning plan is severely flawed and loaded with incentives for developers,” Save Newton Villages said. “Additionally, the Planning Department simply has done nothing to project the impact of this plan; they claimed projections were too hard, not accurate and actually referred to projected impacts as being ‘irrelevant.’”
Those in favor of VCOD argue that upzoning will aid the housing shortage in Newton.
“I think the rezoning plan represents a very needed change for Newton,” Reibman said. “We have a housing shortage in Newton, and we have a shortage of different kinds of housing, especially housing for workers, young families, and places where seniors can go when they no longer can keep and maintain a big house.”
But, there are also opposers to VCOD who believe the rezoning proposal will have the opposite impact.
“Not just in Newton, but across the country, there is a market-based solution to our housing issues through the zoning process,” Newton architect Robert Fizek said. “There are often claims attached to equity, inclusiveness, affordability … but we see little to no evidence that any of that is a result of the upzoning or rezoning process.”
Moving forward, Newton For Everyone member Joshua Herzig-Marx emphasized that remaining civil about the zoning debate is important for the community.
“We are still going to be neighbors, and we still will be living together, shopping in the same shops, sending our kids to the same schools, going to the same village days, going to the same town-wide events, so I hope that we are both able to argue with each other and convince each other on the merits of our arguments rather than try to mislead each other,” Herzig-Marx said.