Newton, Politics, Metro

Newton’s Zoning and Planning Committee Talks Post-VCOD Development Impacts, Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance

Newton’s Zoning and Planning Committee discussed small business protection during city center development following the implementation of the city’s new zoning regulations.

“I think there needs to be a strategic framework about how we approach this and the priority in which we take these things on,” Newton Economic Development Director John Sisson said. 

The previous City Council passed the Village Center Overlay District (VCOD) in December 2023. The ordinance loosened zoning restrictions in certain areas, allowing for more mixed-use developments and multi-family housing. 

In November, candidates supported by Save Newton Villages—an organization opposed to these rezoning efforts—swept the city council elections.

According to Sisson, the city has been speaking with small businesses about the impacts of city center development.

“There’s some really good ideas that we can bring in from other places in terms of disruptions caused by construction,” Sisson said. “Along with [Construction Coordinator] Terry Crowley, I go out a lot to canvass businesses.”

Sisson also noted that the permitting and licensing process has posed obstacles for smaller businesses trying to open in Newton and suggested that speeding up the permitting process for smaller businesses could better incentivize their presence in the city.

“It’s helpful, perhaps, looking at the sizes of stores … under a certain threshold—maybe [making it so] it’s easier to permit a small business under a certain number of square feet,” Sisson said.

The committee also discussed reviewing the city’s Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) Ordinance, which the Planning and Development Department is required to review and amend, if necessary, every five years. 

According to Director of Housing and Community Development Lara Kritzer, the city is hoping to work with RKG Consulting Group—the firm that assisted with the previous IZ review—for the 2024 IZ review.

“We’re moving forward right now, reviewing the scope of work from [RKG] to hopefully contract with them soon to have them work with us again to review the ordinance,” Kritzer said. 

Among other amendments, the city is looking to potentially raise the minimum number of affordable units in large developments and to mandate bias training for developers and property managers, according to docket items #44-24 and #45-24.

For the bias training, the city is hoping to consult with the city of Cambridge, where a Case Western Reserve study recently examined the experiences of affordable housing residents.

“We’ve talked to Cambridge, they’re still working through how to train and how to best address the issues that came up there,” Kritzer said. “And I think we would continue to reach out to them for their ideas, but also work with the consultants to try to see if they have any best practices or ideas that we could work with there.”

March 27, 2024

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