Newton Rezoning and Actions You Can Take
The City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP) is currently discussing draft versions of Article 3: Residence Districts. The tentative plan is to have a (nonbinding) straw vote and then to discuss the other 11 articles of the proposed new 12 article zoning code and the proposed new zoning map. The final planned step is to have the entire City Council vote on the code and map in late 2021. ZAP meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month, with agendas posted in the "Zoning and Planning" link in the Friday Packet at:
or directly at:
Users can usually click on the most recent memo marked "Agenda" to see the Zoom login information and also the topics to be discussed at the next meeting (although the Newton website has changed substantially since 12/1/20). If the rezoning is a scheduled topic, and it usually is, it will appear as item #88-20 in the Agenda. Past ZAP meetings can also be viewed at https://newtv.org by searching "zoning and planning." In addition, the Planning Department has a webpage dedicated to the Rezoning at:
Newton residents are encouraged to attend (or use newtv.org to view) at least one ZAP meeting and also to visit the Planning Department's webpage. There have been 30 three-hour ZAP meetings and 1,044 PowerPoint slides on the rezoning, however, and it looks there are going to be at least 30 more three-hour meetings and another thousand PowerPoint slides before the planned City Council vote in late 2021. There will be few residents with the time and the stamina to sit through all of this.
Rather than asking Newton residents to simply sit through more meetings, however, NewtonRezoning.org is also advocating that the Planning Department release the following written primary information.
- Clean, unambiguous, version releases of the proposed zoning ordinance.
- City-wide quantitative data analysis of the proposed rezoning, rather than individual visual depictions of case studies. This data analysis should contain items such as the before and after nonconformity rates, and the before and after-tax revenue rates. The nonconformity analysis should be based on more accurate GIS data than was supplied by the Pattern Book consultant.
- One example of an adopted form-based zoning code in which building size is not tied to lot size.
- One example of an adopted zoning code in New England that imposes a story number limit on single family houses of less than two stories.
- One example of an adopted zoning code in which institutions have been rezoned from residential to standalone districts such that they can put 100' buildings within 15' of their borders.
- One example of an adopted zoning code in which a golf course has been rezoned from residential to recreational in a municipality that has both a population density and a per capita income higher than the state average.
It is suggested that residents also advocate for this primary written material, rather than only attend meetings or read the secondhand accounts of advocacy groups and the Boston Globe.
It is also suggested that residents communicate their concerns about the rezoning directly and frequently to the City Council and the Mayor using the addresses on the right side of the screen. It's important that resident concerns be recorded in the NewtonMa.gov email system or verbally at a public hearing, rather than simply being venting exercises that produce no records.
In NewtonRezoning.org's opinion, much of the proposed rezoning is really about the increased centralization of the Newton government and the increased concentration of equity ownership into the hands of the few. Both of these efforts are aided by the non-quantitative denigration of the individual as being petty, selfish, and consuming too many resources.
This is where numbers can help, numbers that are not being supplied by the Planning Department. By supplying numbers about the actual quantity and diversity of Newton's housing stock, as well as numbers about land values vs. building values, and numbers about density and homeownership, Newton residents can rationally plan what they want the city to be - rather than being manipulated, hectored, and shamed into following an untested theory of what someone else wants the city to be.
And this is also where the current zoning ordinance can help. If Newton residents are generally happy with Newton, but would like FAR adjusted downwards to decrease monster houses and teardowns, then they should ask for that. Or if Newton residents would like smaller new lot sizes, allowing for the creation of more and smaller lots than the post-1953 lot creation minimums allow, then they should ask for these minimums to be adjusted downwards. Or if Newton residents would like more multi-unit conversions of single and two-family homes, they should know that the current zoning ordinance allows that NOW, with a Special Permit, in sections 3.1.11 and 3.2.13 under lot size constraints, lot size constraints that could be adjusted downwards. There is no need to throw out a set of laws, and a system of government, that has created a city that everyone likes to live in, when adjusting the current zoning ordinance can make the city more equitable in a transparent and rational manner.
The best way to affect the zoning process, and other legislation or oversight, is to contact the Newton City Councilors and Mayor directly. If you are a Newton resident, say so and include your full name, street name, and Ward (if known). Please note that all emails to NewtonMa.gov are public records, so you may not want to include too much other personal information.
City Council Members of the Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP):
- email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Planning Board Contact:
[Request that your email be forwarded to Planning Board.]
The Planning Board participates in the ZAP meetings, but does not have any voting powers.
Other City Council Members - not on ZAP:
- email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
These non-ZAP City Councilors do not vote at ZAP meetings, BUT THEY WILL BE VOTING on the final proposed new zoning ordinance, and many of them attend and participate in the ZAP meetings, meaning that residents may want to copy the non-ZAP City Councilors on their correspondence with ZAP.
City Council Members of the Finance Committee:
- email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Finance Committee reviews matters relating to the Budget and the Assessing Department, among other entities. Residents can write to the Finance Committee with issues related to rezoning and tax revenue, for example, or with concerns with the cost of the rezoning effort.
City Council Members of the Programs and Services Committee
- email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Programs and Services Committee reviews items relating to the Law Department, Rules of the Council, Election Commission - among other entities. Residents can write to the Programs and Services Committee, for example, about the Planning Department trying to replace FAR with form-based zoning without any meaningful City Council discussion - in an insular process that appears to violate the Newton City Charter. This is because that is a "Rules of the Council" issue. Residents can also write to the Programs and Services Committee, for example, about the continued role of Newton's League of Women Voters as a City Council candidate debate moderator, because this is an "Elections Commission" issue. And if residents feel that the Newton Law Department has misrepresented something or that the City Council should have its own Law Department (not reporting to the Mayor), then they should write to the Programs and Services Committee. Although the Programs and Services Committee is, perhaps, the least known of the City Council Committees, it can be a valuable resource for residents with regard to rezoning and other matters involving the integrity of the public process.
Photo Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0