On Wednesday, November 29, at 6:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a special meeting in person (Council Chamber) and virtually (Zoom link) to vote on the proposed Village Center Overlay District (VCOD). The City Council met previously to vote on the VCOD on November 15 and November 20. In each meeting, there were a number of proposed amendments, and the City Council was not able to get through them all. The November 29 special meeting continues the process.
LWVN supports the VCOD, and we encourage LWVN members to show support for passage of the VCOD by attending the meeting in person at City Hall or on Zoom. In addition, LWVN members can call or write to their city councilors to encourage passage of the VCOD with, at a minimum, the five villages required by the MBTA Communities Law (Newton Centre, Newton Highlands, Waban, West Newton, and Newtonville), plus Auburndale. While including Auburndale in the VCOD is not required by the MBTA Communities Act, the City has received indications that failure to include Auburndale will decrease the likelihood of receiving long-hoped-for funding to renovate all three of Newton’s commuter rail stations.
The VCOD furthers the regional plan adopted, through a 2021 state law, the Massachusetts Housing Choice Bill (MBTA Communities Act), to address the state’s critical housing shortage by increasing the housing supply statewide, particularly in connection with transportation hubs. The VCOD is structured to promote safe and secure housing at a range of price points, while incentivizing increasing the supply of smaller housing units. The VCOD concentrates the opportunity for compact development near transit and where key infrastructure exists, providing support to our local economy with minimal increase in car trips, while supporting walkable village centers. Newton, along with other communities that have transit stations, is required by the MBTA Communities Act to change zoning regulations to comply with the law.
On June 26, 2023, and November 13, 2013, LWVN sent letters to the City Council in support of the Village Center Overlay District (VCOD), which furthers the positions of LWVN and implements the MBTA Communities Act. You can read the entirety of LWVN’s letters here: November 13, 2023 and June 26, 2023.
In October 2023, LWVN joined the Newton for Everyone coalition (NOT the Newton for Everyone PAC formed shortly before the November 2023 municipal elections), a group of civic, housing, climate activists, clergy, and local businesses supporting the proposed VCOD.
For further information about the VCOD, see the City of Newton’s website page on the Village Center Overlay District.
Background Information on the City’s Zoning Reform Process
What is Zoning Reform?
Zoning is the set of laws governing such things as the size and shape of buildings, additions and renovations, and what types of activities can take place in which buildings. The City of Newton’s Zoning Redesign project is a multi-year effort to update and rewrite Newton’s Zoning Ordinance.
The current zoning redesign efforts build off of many years of research, study, and engagement. The 2007 Comprehensive Plan recognized the constraints imposed by our zoning rules, which sometimes prove inflexible for homeowners looking to change their property and create hurdles for new development.
In 2011, the mayor and the Board of Alderman created a Zoning Reform Group (ZRG) charged with articulating a process and framework for revising Newton’s zoning ordinance to facilitate the vision in the adopted Comprehensive Plan. The Zoning Reform Group Report created by this group has provided guidance to the overall Zoning Redesign process. The ZRG recommended a three-phase process to develop a plan for reforming Newton’s zoning ordinance:
- Phase I – Reorganize and reformat the current Zoning Ordinance to make it easier to use, resolve confusing or contradictory passages, incorporate illustrations and tables
- Phase II – Comprehensively rewrite the Zoning Ordinance and revise the Zoning Map to address the themes within the ZRG report and to better implement the Comprehensive Plan
- Phase III – Review the new Zoning Ordinance after one year to consider how well it has worked and make coordinated adjustments leading to an ongoing process of regularly scheduled zoning maintenance
Since that time, the City has been slowly leading a comprehensive Zoning Redesign effort to achieve the following primary goals.
- Housing: A zoning code more responsive to a demand for housing that serves a range of incomes; Promote sustainable community development patterns
- Sustainability: Environmental stewardship, fiscal strength and meeting community needs
- Context: Preserve and protect what we like in our neighborhoods; Encourage new development to fit in the context of our neighborhoods and villages.
Zoning Redesign is currently focused on village centers.
LWVN Educational Materials on Zoning Reform
Given our goal of educating and informing citizens by engaging them through public conversations on timely and important issues, LWVN offered a League Presents series on the zoning reform process. You can view that three part series here:
- The League Presents: Zoning Redesign, Part 1 – May 2022
- Zoning Redesign Part 2: MBTA Communities – October 2022
- The League Presents Part 3: Village Center Overlay District Ordinance – August 2023
Here are further informational forums and materials put together by LWVN on the zoning reform process: