Group gears up for referendum on village center rezoning before Council votes

Newton’s City Council hasn’t voted on the Village Center Overlay District proposal yet, but there’s already a plan for a referendum to repeal it.

Right Size Newton, a local nonprofit opposed to large developments and the village rezoning plan, sent out an email to supporters on Wednesday asking for volunteers to help with a repeal effort if and when the VCOD is approved.

The city has until Dec. 31 to comply with the MBTA Communities Act by up-zoning areas near its MBTA stops for higher density housing. Newton has several MBTA stops, and  the city is required by the new state law to zone for 8,330 potential new housing units near them.

The Village Center Overlay District plan has been in the works for a couple of years, with city officials looking to revitalize several of the village centers by up-zoning them for more housing, which would also put the city in compliance with the MBTA Communities Act.

The City Council is weighing amendments—most of which are aimed at downscaling the plan by removing some parcels and moving others to les-density categories to get the total number of potential new units down—as it makes its way to a vote.

As of now, the potential unit count is around 9,300.

“Many Newton residents are upset that the city is considering rezoning far more parcels than the state MBTA Communities Act requires,” the email from Right Size Newtojn Treasurer Diane Pruente reads. “The recent election results showed our discontent. We are hoping that when the city council votes on rezoning, they will listen to us, their constituents! If not, our recourse is to conduct a petition drive that will lead to a referendum.”

Newton’s recent municipal election saw three incumbents—all of whom support the Village Center Overlay District plan—ousted and five candidates elected who ran in opposition to the plan.

Why start a referendum push before the vote even happens? Pruente said it’s about timing.

“Once the city council votes, we have 20 days to collect signatures,” Pruente said Wednesday evening. “Since that isn’t very long, we need to be ready to go whenever the vote happens, which may be tonight. We expect we will receive the final paperwork we need from the city tomorrow, so we can start collecting signatures then.”

Pruente added that Right Size Newton is playing things by ear and may not have to do anything at all.

“Of course, there is the possibility we decide not to pursue a referendum based on what exactly the city council votes on and what passes, in which case we won’t be collecting signatures.” She said.