Zoning and Planning Committee talks preservation of existing homes in Newton

Newton City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee discussed possible amendments to city zoning laws to enhance the preservation of existing homes across Newton on Thursday night. 

This discussion comes after the previous City Council passed the Village Center Overlay District in December, which loosened restrictions on the construction of multi-family housing in certain areas.

“This is about eliciting a prioritization of understanding the loss of moderately priced homes,” said Newton Long Range Planner Zachery LeMel. “There is a goal to create an opportunity for either existing starter homes to be maintained as starter homes, or for the new development or construction of starter homes.”

Much of this issue stems from larger remodels that are both housing multiple families within a single tenement and becoming more expensive, making them marketable to only specific demographics, according to Ward 6 Councilor-at-Large Victoria Danberg.

“There are several houses that have been torn down in my neighborhood and replaced with slightly larger homes, but instead of being a single-family home, there are three and sometimes four units,” Danberg said. 

Ward 3 Councilor Julia Malakie explained that while residents are technically following the new zoning regulations, the system as it is now incentivizes demolishing older homes in Newton and replacing them with larger, more expensive developments, leading to the loss of moderately-priced homes.

“Just the existence of zoning puts some limits on what you can do with your property,” Malakie said. “And in exchange, you get predictability and you get some benefits of not having crazy stuff go up next door to you. I don’t think the purpose of zoning is to maximize the resale value of their property.”

Malakie said the new developments also raise some environmental concerns. For example, bigger housing requires underground retainment systems and tanks to replace the natural stormwater containment, according to Malakie.

“We’re losing green space, we’re losing trees,” Malakie said. “We’ve got builders maximizing the footprints of houses, instead of just keeping the trees and the grass that we’ve got that people enjoy and that contribute all the other benefits in terms of cooling the air and getting rid of air pollution.”

According to Ward 7 Councilor R. Lisle Baker, the problem surrounding the preservation of existing homes across Newton is more complicated than merely sustaining the houses that already exist. 

“There is the question of dimensional controls on what gets built … so that the larger, more expensive structures don’t get built to replace them,” Baker said.

Baker explained that before they can begin offering new construction options, they need to consider ways to limit the opportunity to demolish and renovate older homes.

“Otherwise, we’ve decided, instead of replacing the charters in Ward 8 with big, single-family structures, we’re replacing it with big, multi-family residences,” Baker said. “You’re going to end up with the same difficulty.”

The Committee voted 7–0 on a motion to hold from Ward 4 Councilor-at-Large Joshua Krintzman and will re-address the issue following communication with Newton’s Department of Planning and Development.

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