Newton City Council finalized more amendments to the Village Center Overlay District (VCOD), including the removal of six villages from the plan, in a special meeting Wednesday night.
Wednesday’s meeting was the second to finalize amendments to the zoning plan ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline to comply with the MBTA Communities Law. The state law requires Newton to allow for at least 8,330 units of multi-family housing close to public transit.
“We need to zone for 8,330 units by the end of [December],” Ward 3 Councilor-at-Large Pamela Wright said. “We don’t have to zone for the other seven villages at this time.”
The Council removed Newton Lower Falls, Newton Upper Falls, Thompsonville, Four Corners, Newton Corner, and Nonantum from the plan in a 19–5 vote. Wright, who introduced the amendment, said these villages should not be included because they do not contribute to Newton’s compliance with the MBTA Communities Law.
“This is beyond the 8,330 [MBTA minimum],” Wright said. “There are hundreds of more units lining up for approval. This is three times more housing in the last four years compared to the previous decade … Newton is producing multifamily housing at a fast pace comparatively.”
Ward 5 Councilor-at-Large Deborah Crossley expressed disappointment with the vote to remove the villages.
“We’ll be lucky to get 15 percent of [the housing] we put forward here,” Crossley said. “We’ve already eliminated six villages. And in my mind, we are preventing them from the opportunity to evolve and grow.”
Early in the meeting, Ward 7 Councilor-at-Large Marc Laredo expressed willingness to compromise on certain zoning measures to avoid a referendum on the plan.
“I personally think it would be horrendous for this city to have to go through any kind of referendum on our vote, regardless of the outcome of that referendum,” Laredo said.
RightSize Newton, a nonprofit organization that opposes VCOD, has begun efforts to gather support for a referendum to repeal the VCOD if it passes. Ward 2 Councilor Emily Norton said a referendum would undermine the council’s work and risk noncompliance with the MBTA Communities Law, jeopardizing state funding for the city.
“It would be divisive, regardless of what the final vote on it would be,” Norton said. “And especially if a referendum was successful—well, then what? Would we even be in compliance with the state law if the city council had taken the right action, but our residents had reversed it? I don’t want to have to find that out.”
Ward 6 Councilor Brenda Noel warned that the largely anti-VCOD, Save Newton Villages–backed incoming city council may not pass upzoning-focused reform if the VCOD fails to pass this year.
“We know how the next council campaigned,” Noel said. “There’s not going to be a lot of upzoning in the next two years, so let’s not pretend that it’s going to be easy to upzone something if it doesn’t work out. This is very important. We got one shot at this to make it right.”
The City Council will meet on Dec. 4 to finalize amendments and potentially vote on the final VCOD.