Making room for maker-spaces: City Hall seeks to change ‘business incubator’ zoning

The City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee recently approved (three “yes” votes, one “no” vote and three abstentions) amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance to allow more variety in maker-space businesses—specifically the kind with food.

“The city approved changes related to home businesses in April, and this item is a continuation of that process to support local businesses through amending Newton’s zoning ordinance,” Nora Masler, long-term planning associate with the Newton Planning Department, adding that removing roadblocks to small businesses will help create more jobs in the city and help the city deal with the impacts of development.

The changes delete “fast food” from what can be built by-right as well as require a special permit for any restaurant with a drive-through and allow maker-space kitchens that aren’t restaurants.

The changes will now head to the whole City Council for a vote.

What’s a ‘business incubator?’

Typically, the term “business incubator” refers to what is still in the ideas stage but working toward launch. The in-between time is seen as an incubation.

“Currently, business incubators are not defined in the ordinance,” Masler said.

So the changes from June 27 explicitly allow for maker-spaces, start-ups and co-working spaces.

A co-working space is a business in which people who don’t work for the same company share office space to do their respective work.

The Writers Block on Adam Street is an example of such a business.

“A strictly coworking space like the very successful Writers Block in Nonantum can be categorized as ‘office’ and is therefore allowed,” Masler explained. The new changes will allow for a bigger variety in shared collaborative businesses, including maker-spaces and culinary incubators.

Cooking and amusement

The changes also strike fast food restaurants from the ordinance, putting those businesses in with restaurants in the ordinance, and it requires a special permit for drive-throughs.

So a business where cooks and culinary entrepreneurs can gather and test out new recipes won’t have to register as a restaurant.

“Ghost kitchens,” which are restaurants that have delivery only, will not be included in the changes, Masler said.

Amusement business are included in the changes, too. Currently, the city’s zoning does not allow for any amusement businesses without a special permit.

The June 27 amendments would allow amusement businesses by-right, for those of with less than 12,500 square feet.

What about parking?

The change comes with no parking requirements.

Originally, the plan was to allow for one parking space per 1,000 square feet requirement suggested by some city councilors for business incubators. And for amusement business, the requirement would have been one space per 600 square feet.

Multiple councilors were concerned about that. Brookline, for example, has no parking minimum for these businesses.

“If we are looking to minimize traffic and if we’re looking to make it easier for businesses to open without placing undue burden on them, I fail to see the logic of requiring any parking for any business use,” Krintzman said before offering an amendment to eliminate the parking requirement.

“If we want to have success with any of these changes, it feels to me like you’ve made too high of a standard for the parking requirement,” Councilor Susan Albright said, noting that a 3,000-square-foot business would require five parking spaceds.

“I don’t know where that’s going to go in our city,” Albright continued. “And then you end up having to go for a special permit for a parking waiver, which defeats the whole point.”

Committee Chair Lisle Baker disagreed and supported parking requirments.

“Remember that we’re talking about potentially uses that gather people to them, and certainly something like the West Newton Cinema would fit into that category,” Lisle said.

Albright noted that the West Newton Cinema has no parking requirement but has still existed for nearly 100 years. If the cinema (which is slightly more than 11,000 square feet) had been required to have one parking space per 300 square feet, the Planning Department said, it would need 20 parking spaces.

“Which tells me that this parking requirement is kind of fool-hardy,” Albright said. “A hundred people come there at one time and they somehow find parking in West Newton.”

In the end, the committee scrapped all parking requirements for business incubators and amusement businesses.