Map of how land is currently used in Newton
Zoning: Where We Are Now & How Did We Get Here?
Download: Working Together to Save Newton’s Villages. The way to Save Newton’s Villages is to let them evolve. Find out what is in the plan. Don’t be misled by the number’s game. Check out some answers to frequently asked questions.
We believe our new zoning ordinance should enable us to significantly increase our housing opportunities—in number and kind, for all sorts of people, all across the city—and improve our response to climate change.
Adding more homes, especially within walking distance of village centers and transit stops, will help revitalize areas that made Newton a desirable place to live well before the advent of zoning in 1922 and the predominance of transit by automobile.
Newton’s current zoning code has not been substantially updated since the 1950s.
A quick example of a problem with the current code – even though people already live in Newton’s villages in the older buildings (most built before zoning), our current zoning code doesn’t allow new buildings with housing in our villages. To build housing now, builders need to go through the extra step of rezoning just that one lot.
It is well past time for a change.
Where We Are Now
Over the years Newton has developed plans for improving the city – from the Comprehensive Plan approved in 2007, to the Zoning Reform Group of 2011, to housing, climate, economic and transportation plans. Based on this groundwork, Newton has been developing new zoning.
Beginning in 2021, planning for new zoning has focused on Newton’s village centers. Also in 2021, the state passed the MBTA Communities Law requiring cities and towns to develop zoning that would allow more people to live near transit. Newton is required to pass this new zoning by December 31, 2023.
Version 1.0 of the new zoning for the village centers was released in December 2022 after multiple phases of community engagement (see below) and discussion in the Zoning and Planning Committee.
Version 2.0 was released In April 2023 after additional feedback from the community and from city councilors. At this point, the zoning for the MBTA Communities District was defined as a subset of the village center zoning.
Public hearings on this latest draft of the zoning code began on June 2023.
The Zoning and Planning Committee continued to refine the zoning text and maps over the summer and early September.
Version 3.0 will be released on September 12, 2023.
A public hearing at City Hall and on zoom will be held on September 26, 2023.
Amendments to the zoning text and maps will again be considered after hearing public testimony.
The Committee will vote on whether or not to send the proposed zoning to the full City Council for discussion and a vote.
To comply with the MBTA Communities law, Newton needs to pass new zoning by the end of the year.
A Bit of History of the Process
Ever since the Comprehensive Plan was developed in 2007, Newton has been working its way towards developing a new set of rules for development.
First in 2011, the Zoning Reform Group developed a plan to revise and update Newton’s zoning including a set of themes to guide the development of a new code.
A number of studies were completed to develop plans for specific aspects of development in Newton including:
- Newton Leads 2040: A Blueprint to Promote Affordable, Diverse Housing & Economic Growth “Recent trends in the housing market are severely limiting housing options in Newton today. If action is not initiated, there are clear consequences for the City in terms of housing diversity and economic development.”
- An Economic Development Action Plan “To support commercial development, it will be necessary to make transportation improvements and to increase both the number and types of residential units.”
- A Five-Year Climate Action Plan “Work with City Council to adopt Zoning Ordinances that encourage additional, appropriate low-carbon, housing near public transportation.”
- The Washington Street Vision Plan “The nature of Newton’s housing stock determines the diversity of the community. Housing affordability determines the range of households at different income levels in the community,”
A Pattern Book was completed in 2017 to help understand the development patterns of Newton’s villages and lay the groundwork for developing a new zoning code that would address these patterns.
Finally, in 2018, an initial draft for a new zoning code citywide was developed. Meetings were held throughout the city to help people understand this draft and to gather feedback.
The Zoning and Planning Committee of the City Council (ZAP) started their review of this draft in 2020 by looking specifically at the residential areas throughout the city. However, after much discussion, it was clear that there were still many questions and a range of thoughts on the proposal.
Community Engagement: Our Vision for Village Centers
Beginning in 2021, planning for village centers zoning began. One of the first steps in this process was to reach out to the community to see what people thought the city’s goals should be for our villages. Close to 2,000 people gave input through vision kits, on-the-spot surveys and an on-line forum.
Based on the takeaways from the community engagement and from the analysis by the Planning Department and Utile, the city’s consultant, the new zoning code will strive to:
- Create more communal & public space + activation
- Increase accessibility to buildings and infrastructure within Village Centers
- Incorporate climate resiliency through built structures and green spaces
- Help small businesses to begin, stay and thrive in Village Centers
- Make permitting process easier, clearer, and multi-tiered
- Add more diverse housing options and encourage mixed-use projects (although to what extent had a spectrum of opinion)
- Prioritize safe and accessible routes to and through village centers, especially walking and biking
Developing a Zoning Framework
At the start of 2022, Utile presented an economic analysis of Newton’s current zoning showing how it negatively impacts the village centers. At the same time, Utile began to outline ways that zoning could help the city meet the goals that people said were important during the initial phase of the community engagement.
Based on the community feedback and the economic analysis, Utile and the Planning Department developed a 12-point framework for making changes to zoning in the villages. To address both the different sizes of Newton’s villages and the diversity of scale within the villages, the framework proposed 3 tiers of zoning. Each tier represents different scales of development with different height limits and different size buildings.
This proposed framework had 12 points that were carefully considered in May and June by the Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP). Many Councilors not on the ZAP Committee attended these meetings to weigh in on the framework. After each point was discussed, a straw poll was taken to get a sense of the extent of agreement among the Committee members. There was unanimous support for most of the 12 points and the balance had support from a super-majority of the committee.
Community Engagement: Zoning Framework
The second phase of the community engagement occurred during September and early October 2022. The Planning Department and Utile developed visual materials to help clarify the options within the framework. These materials were on display at the Library and are still available online.
Over 90 people volunteered to hold meetings throughout the city to present the ideas and gather feedback. There were also on-the-spot discussions in places people gather, focus groups, and a citywide virtual event. The online feedback survey had over 1,000 responses.
This feedback was compiled, analyzed and then presented at a Zoning and Planning Committee meeting in November 2022.
Developing Zoning Code and Maps
Taking the framework and writing an actual zoning code is very complex and technical and involves the city’s Planning and Law Departments plus the city’s consultants, Utile. A first draft of the village center maps showing the different zoning districts was presented at ZAP in October 2022. In November, a first draft of the zoning and design standards for village centers was presented.
Feedback on Version 1.0 of the Zoning Code and Maps
In December 2022, Newton’s Planning Department held a series of community meetings centered on each of the villages to inform people of the proposed zoning and to get feedback. The summary of those meetings was presented to the Zoning and Planning Committee in January.
Community Engagement at Any Time
Of course throughout this process City Councilors welcome comments and feedback from the community and from groups in the community. To send an email to all of the councilors, use email@example.com. To send an email to all members of the Zoning and Planning Committee, use firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Hearing Begins June 26, 2023.