Green Spring: New environmental ordinances take effect in March

March brings with it longer days, the start of spring and some madness over college basketball. In Newton this year, March also brings a few new regulations aimed at protecting Newton’s environment.

If you’re someone who enjoys picking up takeout dinner in plastic containers on the way home to chop down a tree to make room for a helium balloon release party, March is not your month.

The regulations are meant to protect the city’s natural resources, mitigate pollution and address climate change. But restaurant owners and homeowners with small yards who want to build additions but have trees may see a financial hit, too, as several policies voted into place last year become reality this month.

Plastic is out

A new ordinance that takes effect on Friday—the Sustainable Food and Beverage Serviceware, Packaging, and Single Use Ordinancebans single-use plastic containers from restaurants throughout the city. Takeout containers must be recyclable or compostable.

Restaurants and shops are only allowed to give plastic utensils if a customer asks for them.

Trees are in

In December, Newton’s City Council passed an enhanced Tree Preservation Ordinance to alleviate the loss of trees seen citywide in recent years.

Trees cool the air, they mitigate flooding, they provide life to whole ecosystems, and the newly enhanced ordinancewhich also takes effect Fridaymakes removing them a little costlier.

Trees of a certain size and larger will be subject to a removal fee, even those on single-family yards. The bigger the tree, the bigger the fee, and you have to replace the total inch count of the tree (measured in diameter at breast height, or diameter at 4.5 feet high), not just pay to have a sapling planted in place of a mature tree.

Property owners have to notify abutting neighbors when they get a tree removal permit, and property owners have to have a plan from an arborist showing that abutting land will be protected from impacts from that tree removal.

Dead, diseased trees, as well as trees under a certain size, are exempt from the removal fee.

And hold on to those balloons

Included in the ordinance banning single-use plastic containers was a ban on intentionally releasing helium balloons.

Balloons are a major culprit in trash pollution, and they choke wild animals (and sometimes pets).

After muchvery, very muchdebate over how to word the measure, the City Council passed an all-out ban on releasing helium balloons in the city.

The violation must be intentional, however, so several city councilors expressed skepticism over the city’s ability to enforce such a ban.

Watts (maybe) next?

The Zoning and Planning Committee is about to vote on a plan to join the Ten Communities program and require electrification for all new construction and major renovations.

There were some hurdles to get the state to allow the bold new policy, including certain housing requirements. Newton cleared those hurdles when the City Council passed the Village Center Overlay District plan in December and when the city reached Safe Harbor status in January.

Energy and Sustainability Director Ann Berwick recently gave a presentation to the committee about the electrification ordinance proposal, but with several potential amendments to discuss, the committee chose to hold it for a meeting in March.