Newton Rezoning and YOUR Home

[Updated: 8/15/21. Zoning content as of 8/15/21.]

This chapter contains an interactive calculator (Table 1) that allows the user to view the current and proposed zoning, as well as the nonconformity under the proposed zoning, for 98% of the non-condo detached single-family and two-family homes in Newton. The calculator also allows residents to check the often incorrect Pattern Book footprint and setback measurements against the knowledge of their properties, including land surveys they may have. Note that these footprint and setback measures were ostensibly used by the Planning Department to specify the new proposed dimensional standards, and the footprints were used to set the individual House Types, so accuracy is important. House data is displayed by street or street section for large streets. To change the data display, select a street (or street section for large streets) from the YELLOW DROPDOWN MENU in the calculator. If an address contains a dash, it will appear at the end of the addresses on a street. If your home does not appear, read about home exclusions below.

Sasaki, Inc. was the Pattern Book consultant for the Newton Planning Department. Zoning District assignments, House Type assignments, and Sasaki 2016 GIS setback and footprint measurements in the calculator were taken from the Sasaki GIS data used in the Planning Department's 2019 Build-Out Analysis, supplemented by the later R4 District assignments. All data was obtained through Public Record Requests.

To be clear, the calculator's use of Sasaki measurements is NOT AN ENDORSEMENT of the Sasaki measurements, which had many negative or zero values and did not always match the land surveys they were tested against. Furthermore, the Sasaki footprint dimensions were often very different than the Assessors Database "ground floor plus attached garage" dimensions, also shown in the table.  The discrepancies with regard to the Land Surveys have been brought to the attention of the Planning Department several times, but they have not responded. If other, more accurate, setback measures become available, these will be used in the calculator. Residents may also want to bring their own property's Sasaki measurement discrepancies to the attention of the Zoning and Planning Committee. Note that in the calculator, Sasaki negative values were set to zero.

There are two worksheets in the Table 1 calculator. The top "Nonconformity" worksheet contains current and proposed zoning districts, House Type assignments, and Sasaki measurements  - with nonconforming results highlighted in red. The bottom "DimStds" sheet contains the current and proposed dimensional standards. Users can toggle between the sheets using the top tabs. All House Type assignments and Sasaki measurements were obtained with public record requests.

HOUSE TYPE ASSIGNMENTS: Address-specific House Type assignments set the footprint and story height limits for single-family homes. The Planning Department has made these assignments and they are independent of lot size, with 25% of Newton's single-family homes (House Types C,D) getting a story number limit of under 2 stories. NewtonRezoning.org reviewed the 60 densest Massachusetts municipality (Somerville to Marlborough) zoning codes and NOT ONE zoning code had a story number limit under 2 stories for non-accessory single-family homes. We also reviewed 40 out-of-state form-based zoning codes and NOT ONE form-based zoning code had a story number limit under 2 stories for non-accessory single family homes. Furthermore, out of these 100 zoning codes reviewed, NOT ONE had single-family size limits that were independent of lot size. Clearly, the Planning Department's proposed code is not a normal zoning code.

Furthermore, The proposed zoning code section 2.4.3 is extremely clear that the mayor-appointed Inspectional Services Department (ISD) Commissioner has complete authority to impose nonuniform address-specific story number and footprint limits based on his subjective judgement alone of an address's House Type - with owners having to appeal his House Type assignments to the mayor-appointed Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). This unprecedented and easily abused subjective power of the ISD Commissioner over address-specific single-family size limits also never occurred in ANY of the 100 form-based codes reviewed.

The Planning Department has tried to minimize the bizarre restrictive nature of their proposed code in their Zoning Redesign December Newsletter  by stating that "These building type determinations were used for analytical purposes only. Property owners looking to modify their existing home, or build a new one, that is different from this proposed building type are allowed to do so by right as long as the project would comply with one of the building types allowed in that district (and with all other zoning and building code regulations)." This is true, except that unfortunately the "other zoning code regulations" mentioned include proposed section 2.4.3 giving the Mayor's ISD Commissioner and the ZBA sole authority in subjectively determining your House Type.

HOME EXCLUSIONS: In the Newton Assessors Database, there are approximately 19,809 non-condo single-family and two-family homes in Newton, a count which excludes exempt properties and two-family condos. Homes are further excluded in the calculator, however, if they A) are not in a residential district in both current and proposed zoning, B) were a single-family in the Newton Assessors Database, but did not receive an A, B, C, or D House Type Assignment, C) were attached, D) were in the group of 13 two-family "multiple houses on one parcel" where NewtonRezoning.org found it too difficult to identify their type. This resulted in a calculator population of 19,495 homes in the calculator. This is 98.4% of all single-family and two-family homes.

EFFECT of 2/12/21 VERSION CHANGES ON CALCULATION: On the 2/12/21, the Planning Department issued a new version of the proposed Article 3 draft on Residence Districts. With regard to this calculator, the only material change is that the prior 8/7/20 version only allowed House Type D in R1 by right and in R2 with a Special Permit. The 2/12/21 allows Type D by right in both R1 and R2. Thus was unchanged in the 4/26/21 Zoning Draft version.

FAMILY DUPLEX STYLE HOMES: In Version 3 of Article 3, side-by-side two families were no longer a valid two-unit House Type. There are (approx.) 277 side-by-side two-family homes, termed "Family Duplex" in the Newton Tax Assessors database. NewtonRezoning.org was not totally sure how to include these in the calculator. We called them "NoSP:FD" for "No Specification Family Duplex," and gave them a footprint allowance of two townhouses. This approach might change in the future, but it was our best guess for now.