City Council delays maker-space zoning vote after parking dispute

Should maker-space businesses be zoned with parking space requirements? Should any businesses?

On Monday, the City Council was poised to pass a series of changes to Newton’s zoning ordinance proposed by the Zoning and Planning Committee, but not before an argument over the future of parking in Newton led to the vote being pushed back a month.

“It’s time we had a conversation, for reals, in Newton,” Councilor John Oliver said. And yes, he used the phrase “for reals.”

How it started

The Zoning and Planning Committee approved changes recently to move fast food businesses to “restaurant” zoning, define “business incubator” and add maker-spaces and amusement businesses to the zoning ordinance.

The Planning Department had recommended requiring one parking space for every 600 square feet of space in the business, but the committee voted to approve the changes without any parking requirements.

Baker’s gambit

Councilor Lisle Baker, who chairs that committee, objected to not having any parking requirements for these new types of businesses in the zoning ordinance.

So when the matter came before Monday’s full City Council, Baker offered a motion for an amendment putting parking requirements back in, at a compromise of one space per 1,200 square feet for business incubators and one space per 1,600 square feet (a compromise recommended by the Planning Department on July 3).

“As a matter of zoning policy, I don’t think it’s wise for us to create an exception for two specific uses that have no parking requirement if we still have them for others,” Baker said.

Baker’s amendment was met with pushback from fellow councilors.

Councilor Joshua Krintzman—the one whose motion to remove parking requirements was adopted by the Zoning and Planning Committee—strongly objected.

“To Councilor Baker’s point, I’d be comfortable removing all of the parking requirements, and we can do that across our ordinances,” Krintzman said. “In the meantime, we are sort of doing it piecemeal, doing it one at a time as they come up. If it’s the best we can do, it’s the best we can do.”

Councilor Alison Leary echoed Krintzman’s sentiment about parking requirements for businesses.

“Just a reminder, it does not mean parking will not be built,” Leary said. “It means that a thoughtful approach will go with the business, who will decide how much parking they need.”

But others agreed with Baker.

“Not every village center is made the same,” Councilor Tarik Lucas said. “West Newton Square, there is not a lot of parking. In Newton Centre, there is. So I think we need to protect the villages—not so much the businesses but the villages as a whole—with a parking requirement to have more off-street parking.”

‘Hobbling our businesses’

Most arguments against parking requirements focused on the idea that such mandates hobble small businesses.

But Councilor Randy Block, who opposed the amendment to add parking requirements but wasn’t sure how he’d vote on the final changes to the zoning ordinance, urged the City Council to give thought to parking policy in the city in a larger sense.

“We’re hobbling our businesses by not analyzing what the parking demands are, and they vary by village center,” Block said. “Some village centers have adequate parking, some village centers don’t. And trying to adopt citywide ratios is an exercise in futility.”

Block, who has pushed for citywide parking studies in the past, said Monday that Newton needs real data to figure out parking for the future.

“Until we have the data that tells us how much parking we need and where we need it, we can’t really make intelligent decisions,” Block said. “If there’s a shortage, that begs for government analysis and government planning. If there’s a surplus, we can remove any requirements.”

See you in August

Baker’s amendment to add parking requirements failed, with 9 in favor, 11 against and four absent.

But after the roll call was read, Councilor Susan Albright noted that multiple city councilors were absent from the meeting and motioned for the whole vote on the zoning changes to be postponed.

The changes need a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

The Council narrowly voted to postpone the vote until its Aug. 12 meeting.