LWVN urges Aldermen not to rezone Austin Street site

Below is a letter that LWVN sent to the Board of Aldermen today urging them to reject the petition to rezone the Austin Street parking lot.

May 14,2014

Dear President Lennon and members of the Board of Aldermen:

 The League of Women Voters of Newton strongly urges you to reject the petition # 47-14(2) to rezone the Austin Street parking lot. We feel that the current Mixed Use 4 district is the most appropriate for the site, and for the City.

The Austin Street parking lot, an under-utilized City-owned property, was identified during Newton’s Comprehensive Plan process as a site that could add vitality to Newtonville’s center through a mix of commercial and residential uses, as well as contribute to the City’s financial base through tax revenue.

The League of Women Voters has strong and longstanding positions supporting the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan, creating affordable housing in mixed income developments and in-fill developments in Newton, making city-owned sites available for such housing, and creating open and recreational space, which this project includes. Our positions also support mixed-use development near transit, which minimizes adverse environmental impacts.

The League is a multi-issue organization that considers a wide range of topics. Forward-thinking solutions such as sustainable, transit oriented, mixed-use developments that include retail, commercial, residential, parking and access to public transportation are ways to meet often conflicting and complex needs. There are always trade-offs that must be weighed in balance to determine what is in the long-range best interest of the City.

Community input is an important component for a successful outcome. Public meetings have been held over the years, soliciting comments and questions from citizens and businesses on this project. This process is far from over; once the Mayor selects a developer from the short-listed, qualified finalists, the program and design will be subject to further detailed review.

Via the Special Permit process, controlled by your Board, additional engineering, traffic and financial feasibility studies will be commissioned to inform the design and ’right size‘ the project. That phase will involve open public hearings and in-depth review and analysis in full public view. The next design phase must include well-functioning vehicle circulation, sufficient parking, context-sensitive building massing and design, engaging and well-landscaped outdoor spaces. All this should be explored further with professionals, City staff, and the public.

Once the Mayor selects a developer, we can work together to help shape this project into something that will benefit Newtonville and the entire City. The League of Women Voters urges you not to undermine the process by rezoning this parcel.


Susan Flicop



Membership Meeting on Transportation

Thursday, April 3

7:30 – 9:00 pm

Waban Library Center, 1608 Beacon Street, Waban

Join League members as we discuss potential local positions on transportation.  We’ll decide on whether or not we’d like to put two proposed statements forward for a vote at the Annual Meeting in May.  This League process needs 25 League members to participate, discuss, and review the material, so join us on April 3rd!

Click here for the LWVN-Transportation-Discussion-Book–Updated

LWVN urges Mayor to reopen public comment period for Engine 6 proposal

The letter below was sent to Mayor Warren on July 19, 2013.  Click here for links to the discussion on the Newton TAB and Village 14 blogs:  Newton TAB BlogVillage 14 Blog

Dear Mayor Warren:

The League of Women Voters of Newton (LWVN) strongly urges you to reconsider your decision by reinstating the Engine 6 proposal and permitting the process to proceed with an extended period for public comment.

The LWVN supports adequate housing to promote self-sufficiency for a diverse population of low-income residents.  We recommend that low-income residences be spread throughout the city rather than concentrated in a few neighborhoods, and that there be a preference for Newton residents.  The Engine 6 proposal meets these requirements and should once again be brought up for public discussion.

Public understanding and participation in decision-making is a core belief of the League.  LWVN is concerned that closing down discussion before the public comment period was over did not encourage more understanding and participation from the community.  We recommend treating the 30-day public comment period as a minimum, extending this period to encourage all residents to review the facts, and letting MetroWest/Pine Street Inn make revisions to address Newton’s concerns.

In particular, our review has led us to the following conclusions:

1. The community impacted by projects such as Engine 6 is the entire city of Newton, not just the immediate neighborhood.  Distributing low-income and special needs housing throughout the city adds diversity to villages, as well as opportunities for all Newton residents to work together to address socioeconomic issues and stereotyping.

2. The standard notification process for affordable housing projects requesting CDBG funding is one of the sources of the present controversy.  The existing communication process of contacting the local paper and posting meeting information in City Hall may no longer be enough.  We suggest that the Planning and Development Board, which has significant jurisdiction in the area of CDBG funding, reconsider current notification policy and entertain changes that would inform abutters and community members more effectively. However, attention to a notification process should not preclude action on pending/available proposals that can benefit the entire city.

3.  While it is not required, an early community meeting is usually held before any low-income housing project is approved by the Planning and Development Board.  A community meeting in May where residents could have expressed concerns and asked questions would have led to changes and improvements in the proposal before the official 30-day public comment period.  Without this meeting, many Waban residents felt blindsided by elements of the project.  While opposition to the proposal was vocalized loudly and quickly, those in support of the Engine 6 proposal needed more time to adequately prepare their statements.

4. The MetroWest/Pine Street Inn group was not fully prepared for the comments from the community.  Stereotyping and fear regarding the potential Engine 6 residents took hold before the petitioners were able to present accurate information.  MetroWest/Pine Street Inn made changes in response to the expressed concerns, but they were not able to present them when the process was cut short.

A proposal that encounters such intense opposition, much of it based on emotion and incorrect assumptions, needs strong leadership. We firmly support an open and honest conversation about low-income housing, and consider this process the community equivalent of a “teachable moment,” where neighborhood fears are expressed, questions responded to, and information from similar residences in other communities used to show how a proposal such as Engine 6 may enhance our community. We will be sharing our position with the community via the Newton TAB.

An extended comment period is a better solution than cutting the process short.  We ask you to reinstate the Engine 6 proposal.


 Susan Flicop

President, League of Women Voters of Newton

 cc: Emily Costello, Editor of the Newton TAB

LWVN March Topic Meeting – Local Program Planning

Date: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Time: 11:30am-1:00pm
Location: NewTV Conference Room, 23 Needham Street, Newton Highlands

Join us to discuss our program proposals for next year.  We will talk about the local Education Consensus Study, committee reports and proposals, and action priorities for next year.  This is your chance to have input into what the League will be doing next year.

If you would like more information, please visit our League Program Planning page.

Charter Commission Initiative

The League of Women Voters of Newton has been working since this fall to get enough signatures to put the question of a Newton Charter Commission on the November 2013 ballot. More information about this initiative, the League’s 2009-2010 Charter Study, and how you can help can be found here.

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