Mark Holt, Ward 6 candidate, wants to put the brakes on Newton re-zoning plan

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Newton Beacon is a nonpartisan news organization interviewing all candidates running in the upcoming Newton municipal elections for this candidate profile series. Profile pieces are not endorsements.

By Barry Wanger

When former New Hampshire state legislator Mark Holt moved to Newton 21 years ago to start a family with his wife, Imelda, running for office again was not on his priority list.

They had purchased the least expensive house they could afford in Newton—a small, 75-year-old home in Thompsonville—and Mark’s budding real estate career kept him busy while the couple raised their two kids, Aidan and Jacqueline.

Now, the kids are in college and Mark Holt is running for a seat on the Newton City Council representing Ward 6.

‘Living proof’

Holt has been an active Newton parent. He’s coached youth soccer, lacrosse and football. He’s served as Oak Hill PTO treasurer and a grants committee member at Newton South High School. And more recently, he had his kids assist him as general contractors to double the size of their home.

Holt now leads a team in the Pan-Mass Challenge. The annual Jimmy Fund bike ride has a particular meaning to Holt. A few years ago, he became not only a donor but, as he likes to call it, a customer of Dana-Farber.

“It’s not something you wish on anyone but now I ride with a ‘living proof’ badge,” he said with pride and appreciation.

Growing concerns

Holt wants to focus that kind of determination to help the Newton community address what he sees as important issues and crises in the city, noting that he’s concerned about the “failing reputation” of Newton’s public schools.

“Why are our schools falling behind?” Holt asked. “Why are teachers being laid off? Why are our roads and sidewalks in such terrible condition? And why are unsuitable, high-density apartment buildings being planned for Newton?”

A little more than a month ago, Holt decided that the most effective way to address his concerns and passion was to run for the Ward 6 council seat currently held by Brenda Noel, who is not running for re-election.

Holt is one of three candidates running for the seat, joining Martha Bixby and Lisa Gorton. The two top vote-getters in the Sept. 12 municipal preliminary election will run against each other in the Nov. 7 general election.

A ‘no’ on re-zoning plan

Holt is firmly opposed to the MBTA Communities Act—a new state law requiring cities and towns rezone their neighborhoods near MBTA stops for more housing—saying it strips Newton of its municipal sovereignty. He’s also opposed to the Newton Zoning & Planning Committee’s proposal to re-zone the city’s village centers to allow more housing with less parking to encourage public transportation use.

“Forcing Newton to rapidly urbanize with the construction of 8,000 high density ‘eastern bloc’ types of housing is something few want,” Holt said. “This will cause overcrowding and underfunding of our schools unless existing taxpayers put up another 30% atop our already unaffordable property tax bills.”

Holt added that while he supports mixed-use development, affordable housing and revised zoning regulations, he believes the city needs to take a step back before approving something with the broad scope of the Overlay District plan.

This design by the Newton Planning Department shows a plan to re-zone the city’s village centers to allow more housing near the city’s MBTA stops. Courtesy Photo

“The City Council must defer action on the village zoning plan until a full fiscal study is completed and sent to the State Auditor for compliance review,” Holt said. “Governor Healy along with her housing director should not be dictating Newton’s development future.”

Holt predicted that if 8,000 new units of housing were built it would cost existing Newton property owners and additional $95 million to $200 million in additional taxes. In addition, he said, it does not make sense economically to build so many new units.

“An unfunded state mandate is a real threat to Newton’s fiscal situation,” Holt said. “High density, mid-to-high-rise buildings are not affordable to build, not affordable to maintain and actually depreciate much more rapidly than anything else.”

[Editor’s note: Holt did not say where those dollar amounts come from, but neither the MBTA Communities Act nor the Village Center Overlay District plan require any municipal funding and the city is not actually planning to build anything. The re-zoning proposal is about what private developers would be allowed to build without a special permit in the future.]

Real estate solutions

Holt is a real estate broker and serves the technical and data-nomics needs of the National Association of Realtors, which Holt describes as the political voice for home ownership. He also serves on the Association’s Federal Tax Policy Committee, which advocates for the restoration of property tax deduction and mortgage availability for homeowners.

Holt believes that seven acres of land that Boston College still owns in the disputed Webster Woods area could be the answer to some of the city’s real estate needs. He is in favor of taking that land where the original Temple Mishkin Tefilla once stood by eminent domain.

“We need to take the whole remaining parcel because we are going to do need that land for public use,” Holt said. “We desperately need land for affordable housing and if we’re going to build 8,000 new units of housing, we’re going to need land for an additional school.”

Boston College has sued the city for acquiring 17 acres of adjacent Websters Wood land, claiming that the $15.2 million purchase price was unfair compensation and that it diminished the value of the remaining seven acres of land.

“I think Boston College’s position to seek additional compensation is shameful and wrong,” Holt said.

Newton’s preliminary elections for Wards 2 and 6 will be held on Sept. 12, with early voting to start on Sept. 5. In each race, the two candidates with the most votes will proceed to the general election set for Nov. 7.