Map shows Newton’s villages
Addressing Common Questions & Concerns
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Why does Newton need to change its zoning code?
Newton adopted its first zoning ordinance 100 years ago, in 1922. The current zoning code is based on zoning that was written in the 1950s and the last major amendment was in 1987.
For example, our current zoning code doesn’t allow housing over retail in village centers. Housing can be built in village centers only with a special zoning change and a special permit.
- less driving and lower car ownership since you have more walking and transit options,
- more affordability since you don’t need a car,
- more affordability as the housing could be smaller,
- more customers for local stores and restaurants because people who can walk to the village are more frequent customers.
Mixed income developments that have been recently constructed, permitted, or are under review includes 630 units of affordable housing.
There is one 100% affordable project in the works, the West Newton Armory with 43 units. Haywood House, which is for older adults is mostly affordable with 32 units available for up to 80% AMI and 23 units for up to 99% AMI.
To be 100% affordable, developers need to secure substantial public funding which is limited. Although zoning alone can’t ensure that affordable housing will be built, it lays the ground rules that make it more possible. Deeper affordability needs to come from other sources as it needs funding to cover some of the costs of the development.
By right means that if you follow all the rules and standards in the zoning code, you do not need to go through what is a lengthy, costly and risky special permit process. Special permits in Newton require approval by the full City Council.
While many would like non-profit affordable housing developers to build in Newton, they don’t have the financial resources needed to take the risk, take the extra time and afford all the associated legal fees.
More Housing is Needed
When a new development is blocked or reduced in size, that does not stop people from wanting to live in Newton. Some will look elsewhere but others will continue to look in Newton driving up the cost of our current housing.
Here is a recent analogy. When there were fewer new cars available due to supply chain issues during the pandemic, the price of used cars sky rocketed. Wealthier people with higher incomes still bought cars which drove up the cost of used cars. When there are fewer new housing options, people with higher incomes still need a place to live and drive up the cost of “used” (existing) homes.
Even if the new housing is expensive now it will become older housing that will be the more moderate priced homes in the future.
Because housing production has not kept up with demand, we are suffering from years and years of new housing not getting built. If new housing had been built there would be a greater supply of homes now that would cost less to buy or rent than new homes.
Many large single family homes have only one or two residents as their children no longer live there. With few options in Newton for downsizing, people stay longer than they may want in these large homes.
Although much of Newton has already been developed, there are many underused parking lots or underused buildings where new development is possible.
Most new development happens when property changes hands. There needs to be both a willing seller and a willing buyer.
In Newton Highlands, for example, some of the single-story buildings have long term leases with tenants so any new development in those locations could not happen for a long time.
Sprawl causes more traffic as people need to drive everywhere – work, stores, schools…. When people live further west and work in Boston, there’s more traffic and congestion in Newton on the Pike, Rt. 9, and the streets that run North-South, like Chestnut St., Walnut St., and Centre St.
A key way to accomplish this is to build more housing near existing transit.
People who live in multi-family buildings near amenities and transit drive less often and drive fewer miles than people who live in single family homes that are more spread out.
For example, compare Newton which has a lot of transit availability to Hopkinton, 26 miles from Boston, where new developments are being built but has little public transit.
- In Newton 12.9% of people use transit to get to work while in Hopkinton only 1.2% use transit;
- On average households in Newton own 1.6 cars while in Hopkinton the average is 2.2 cars/household; Almost 40% of households in Newton have only one car or have no cars.
- On average households in Newton drive 14,200 miles/year while in Hopkinton the average is 28,500 miles/year. In Hopkinton you need to drive almost everywhere.
They have shared walls which cuts down on energy use. They are generally smaller than single-family homes so less energy is needed for heating and cooling per person. The size of a home is a key driver in increasing or decreasing carbon emissions.
With both track and station upgrades, the Green Line will be able to use new subway cars with increased capacity, improved safety features and more accessibility. The MBTA has already approved buying more than 100 of these new supercars.
The commuter rail stations are finally going to be made accessible and will have the capacity to allow more trains to stop in Newton. This will make them more convenient and user friendly. These changes will take time but so will any new development near those transit stops.
Schools, Services & Infrastructure
Multi-family buildings have older adults who have downsized or younger couples before they have children.
Plus, since development of new multi-family homes takes time, the school department can project changes in enrollment are updated every year. With declining school enrollment, Newton has the capacity to give more students the opportunity to attend our excellent schools. If the school age population continues to decline, elementary or middle schools will have to be closed and consolidated.
In a financial analysis of new multi-family homes in Newton that had been recently built or permitted plus those in the permitting process, estimated new revenue was approximately $7.5 million more/year than new expenses (as of June 2022).
The analysis looked at over 3,500 new units including apartments, condos and senior housing. Revenue included property taxes, excise taxes, and the CPA tax. Expenses included schools and the fire and police departments.
Newton’s stormwater ordinance requires buildings with 5 or more units to follow specific wastewater requirements; pay mitigation fees for water and sewer infrastructure; and develop and implement a stormwater management plan. On previously developed land, these new systems often reduce the amount of stormwater runoff from the site.
When a project is required to take up space for parking, fewer housing units can be built. Having fewer units in a building often makes the units larger and more expensive.
Building underground parking can cost from $50,000 – $80,000 per parking spot adding a significant expense to construction.
Having more parking available encourages more car ownership.
New developments near transit that have limited parking will attract people who want to drive less and walk, bike, or take transit more.
The primary materials—concrete and steel—are large generators of upfront carbon emissions or embodied carbon. So, the greater the required parking, the higher the carbon emissions.