To the best of it’s abilities, LWVN follows topics and issues in local government of interest to its members and takes actions or advocates when it believes it to be appropriate based on the policies and programs of the League. We can more effectively do this if members assist us by taking an interest in an issue, following it, attending meetings when possible, and reporting back so that we may decide when action or advocacy is needed. If any member is interested in helping us perform this essential role by joining our Observer Corps, please Contact Us.
2022-2023 Topics of Interest We are Following
Civility in Local Politics
The League of Women Voters is committed to fostering civility in public discourse, and LWVN joins other local leagues by first taking steps to ensure that our municipal elections are conducted with civility and respect to all participants. LWVN has adopted a policy of civility for all its candidate forums, and will be advocating for civility and respect in all local elections.
One way in which to accomplish this goal is by collaborating with the Director of Community Engagement and Inclusion to foster Newton’s core values of respect, diversity, and acceptance to provide educational programs and discussions around positive civic engagement, racial equality, and ways to support a more just society at the local level.
Transparency in City Government
In this 29-July-2021 article by Marjorie Arons-Barron, Ms. Arons-Barron laments the loss of local journalism. As time has worn on and community newspapers have shrunk and lost staff, there have been few to hold city officials, elected and appointed, accountable and transparent on what they say and do.
It is LWVN’s goal to ensure that our municipal government is as transparent as possible and accountability is made visible. To this end, the LWVN is actively
- engaging with members of the City Council and the City Clerk to determine how to best increase the transparency of the City Council.
- re-engaging members to join our Observer Corps
- reviewing the city website so as to make recommendations for improvement that will improve access to information that is critical to residents, employees, and business owners who need that information to make decisions on what they need from/do for the city.
More recently, the League of Women Voters of Newton (LWVN) has launched a Municipal Transparency and Accountability Initiative. Over the next 12 months, LWVN will assess Newton’s municipal transparency and accountability, with reference to the needs in our community as well as examples and best practices implemented in other communities. Read here for more information.
Distribution of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) Funds
The City of Newton is receiving approximately $63 million dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, often called ARPA. LWVN will be following where, when and how those funds are used by the city, and looking to see how the funds align with federal guidelines and the needs and interests of Newton’s citizens.
Information on the City’s plans for the use of ARPA Funds can be found here.
- Topic Meeting: Educational Forum on ARPA Presented by Lizzi Weyant, Director of Government Affairs at the Metropolitan Area Council
Updates on Zoning Reform Process
Beginning in 2021, the City’s Zoning Redesign project began it’s focus on village centers. The first phase of community engagement, which took place from the end of May through the beginning of October, 2021, asked community members: What do you envision for your village center(s)? What goal(s) do you want to guide updates to the village centers’ zoning?
Based on what was heard and discovered during that first phase, City staff presented to the Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP) an overarching ‘framework’ of twelve proposed changes in this memo released on May 27. ZAP workshopped these proposals and reached consensus on further developing and getting community feedback on them. Read here in more detail a summary of the city memo, merged together with ZAP’s opinions and straw votes for each proposal.
The second phase of community engagement is ready to kickoff. From September 1 through October 16th, the City of Newton will collect opinions on the proposed updates to the village center zoning regulations.
The city is still finalizing the material that community members will be able to access beginning September 1st. In the meantime, you can:
- Sign up for the Zoning Redesign newsletter to get notifications
- Review the takeaways from the first phase of engagement and analysis for the village centers’ zoning
- Get connected with a Network member if you have a connection to their community space or develop your own engagement plan to engage your own neighborhood block!
Read here for more information on the City’s rezoning 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 several goals. Most recently in April 2020, the City Council’s Zoning and Planning committee reasserted the primary goals of the Zoning Redesign:
- 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. The first community engagement phase has wrapped up, which took place from the end of May through the beginning of October, 2021.
More information and regular updates about Zoning Redesign can be found at the Zoning Redesign page on the City’s website.
- The League Presents: The Zoning Redesign Process in Newton with Deb Crossley
- Topic Meeting: Zoning Reform Presented by Jay Walter
- Topic Meeting: Redesigning our Village Centers
Elimination of Local Preference Policy for Affordable Housing
Current city policy sets aside 70 percent of affordable units for residents, people who work for the city and public schools, employees of local businesses, and families with children in the city’s schools. A city-commissioned study of three recent housing developments found that selection rates in the local preference pool were higher for white applicants seeking affordable units than for minority applicants.
A reduction in the set aside to 25 percent, which was proposed by city housing officials and political leader, is before the City Council and Planning Board. It comes at a time when Newton is examining how the city can create more access to housing for people of color.
Public Buildings/Recreation Areas
- NewCal – Newton Center for Active Living (or Senior Center) On July 16, 2021 the Mayor announced that the City would be building a new Senior Center building on the current site in Newtonville. On August 8, 2022, the Newton City Council voted Monday night to fund the proposed Newton Center for Active Living, which will replace the existing senior center in Newtonville with a new, larger facility. In a pair of votes, councilors allowed the city to move ahead with the $19.5 million project at 345 Walnut Street and break ground on the roughly 33,000-square-foot facility as soon as next year.
City councilors voted 21-0, with three members absent, to approve funding for the project and, in a separate action, approved the project’s site plan by a vote of 20 to 1. City councilors also authorized the purchase of 47 Walnut Place, a property abutting the current senior center. the city has an agreement with the family that owns the land to purchase the land, and will be using $1.5 million in federal pandemic relief money for the purchase.
The current senior center building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the subject of a lawsuit filed in May by Neighbors for a Better Newtonville, which sought to preserve the building and prevent the city from funding the project. That case remains pending in Middlesex Superior Court.
The next community meeting for the senior center project is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m., according to the project website,
More information on NewCal can be found on the NewCal page on the City’s website.
- Gath Pool Newton’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Department (PRC) is working with the Public Buildings Department and the Friends of Albemarle to complete an existing conditions study of the Gath Pool facility that will include an examination of existing conditions and develop proposed improvements along with costs for a phased renovation of both the main and wading pools. More information on the renovation of the Gath Pool can be found on the Gath Pool page of the City’s website.
See the City Council’s Memo to the Mayor, dated January 18, 2022, urging the City to enter into a full discussion with the City Council regarding building a year-round aquatics facility to replace the current Gath Pool facility.
- School Construction Projects On October 6, 2021, ground was broken on the new Newton Early Childhood Program (NECP building to be opened next year at 687 Watertown Street (the former Horace Mann Elementary school). On November 9, 2021,the Lincoln-Eliot School Building Committee voted unanimously to focus on addition and renovation options for the site at 150 Jackson Road. Discussions are being held about the renovation/construction of Countryside Elementary School and Franklin Elementary, and potential merger of the Underwood and Ward elementary schools.
Redesign of City Seal
We see the Newton City seal on city letterhead, on recycling bins, and in the rotunda at City Hall. It shows Christian missionary John Eliot proselytizing to Waban and other native people in the 1640s. Why did city leaders choose this image for the seal in 1865? What does the image convey? Is the image and its message still appropriate? Is it time to reconsider the City seal?
The Mayor has convened an ad hoc working group to reconsider the city seal. Recommendations for the redesign of the City Seal are expected before the end of 2021.
Find information on the City Seal Working Group.