Alan Lobovits talks housing, schools and run for at-large City Council seat

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Newton Beacon is reaching out to all candidates for City Council for interviews and profile stories. The Newton Beacon is independent and nonpartisan, and coverage does not mean endorsement.

Dr. Alan Lobovits, a retired physician and Newton resident for more than 40 years, isn’t one to pull any punches as to why he’s challenging two incumbents—Alicia Bowman and Vicki Danberg—for the Ward 6 councilor-at-large seat on Nov. 7.

He strongly opposes the Village Center Overlay District plan, he believes the city’s administration and many members of the City Council do not pay enough attention to the views of residents, and he calls for “restoring confidence” in the school system.

“I’m running because we deserve better leadership, stronger fiscal management and better facilities and services for seniors and residents of all ages,” Lobovits said.

A ‘no’ to the VCOD

His primary concern is the proposed Village Center Overlay District plan and its potential impact on housing, and he argues that the City Council members who support the VCOD conflate it with the MBTA Communities Act—a state law requiring higher density housing near the city’s public transportation modes.

Lobovits said the VCOD would “encourage the demolition of historic village center buildings to be replaced by taller apartment buildings with street-level commercial spaces.

“Existing local independent businesses and residential renters will be forced out and unable to return due to the expensive rents in the commercial spaces and apartments in the new buildings,” he predicted.

Lobovits argues that the resulting development will “push lower-income and fixed-income residents out.” Lobovits said that only about 10 percent of city employees, including police officers and firefighters, live in the city now because of “high housing costs.”

Lobovits was particularly critical of some of the city councilors who, he said, did not go into neighborhoods to educate people about the VCOD and other projects and listen to their opinions.

“It was a terrible failure of leadership because before you start to present plans you need to reach out to people and help them understand what you’re trying to do,” he said.

“I think a large number of people felt left out from the process. It is very, very complicated and it takes a lot of time and effort to do that. It just wasn’t done.”

He added that if the council approves VCOD later this year, as expected, he thinks it’s “highly likely” that there will be a referendum and that voters will seek to reverse the proposed plan.

The Zoning and Planning Committee has presented a new version of a plan to re-zone the city’s village centers to allow higher density housing and bigger buildings, like this development on Austin Street. But opponents are worried about parking shortages and traffic issues higher-density housing can bring. Photo by Bryan McGonigle

The MBTA Communities Act requires Newton to zone for 8,330 new units. Planning officials say the VCOD, now in its third version, would potentially add about 9,300 housing units. Opponents like Lobovits, however, say the VCOD could result in as many as 15,000 housing units.

Nothing has been built, and the VCOD is a change in rules, not a contruction proposal. And property owners would have the option to stay within the old zoning rules or adopt the new ones. The vast difference in forecast comes with how potential units are tallied and with estimating what would likely be done with each lot (tear down and rebuild, add on, or leave as is), under the new by-right zoning allowances.

“There’s been no analysis or planning on the impact of this transformational growth” on the city’s infrastructure, schools, city services, traffic, parking and taxes, and city finances, he claimed.

Bringing kids back to school

Lobovits said he supports adding affordable housing and that a sharp increase in the number of housing units would be a major benefit to the Newton school system as the city looks to reverse enrollment decline.

Education is an issue that Lobovits is particularly comfortable discussing, as he is a co-founder of Gann Academy and was president of the Board of Trustees at both Gan and Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston where he was able to utilize his experience in management and finance.

While he expressed support for Superintendent Anna Nolin, Lobovits expressed concern with the number of Newton children—21 percent, he said—going to private schools. He partially blamed the “steady erosion in parents’ confidence” in what he called the school systems failure to “provide a quality education for our students and a fulfilling teaching environment for our teachers.” It is particularly important, he said, to “make teachers feel like they’re valued.”

But he also believes that the impact of Covid-19 played a role, as he said parents and children were discouraged with remote learning.

“Our new superintendent has the experience and vision to restore confidence, but we also need city councilors who will support her in every way we can,” Lobovits said.

Staying engaged

He is less supportive of city officials who, he said, do not adequately listen to nonprofit citizen groups that support public facilities such as Crystal Lake, Bulls Pond, Cold Spring Park, and Edmund Park.

Community leaders, Lobovits said, will meet with city officials, often department heads, regarding these properties, but are increasingly discouraged because “they’ll express their views and then the city goes ahead and does whatever it wants anyway.”

Lobovits, who had a 40-year career as a physician, has held a number of management and board positions, including serving on the Board of Directors of Atrius Health and Reliant Medical Group, and medical director and president of the Southboro Medical Group with later became part of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates.

The management and financial experience serving in those roles, he said, would be a major asset if he wins a seat on the City Council.

He and his wife, Lisa Rosenfeld, have three children—Esty, Ellie and Ethan—all graduates of Newton South High School.

Newton’s election will be Nov. 7, with early voting starting on Oct. 28.