Hello Neighbors,
I am departing from my usual correspondence format to send you Marc Laredo's most recent newsletter in its entirety along with suggestions. I do this because I could not improve upon his words. I hope you will read this missive closely and take its content seriously. Once you've read through Councilor Laredo's email, if you have concerns, please take a moment and consider one of the action items outlined here.

"Dear Friends,

Over the past several months, our community has been grappling with a number of critical issues, including the health and financial crises caused by COVID-19, how best to provide public safety, and difficult but necessary conversations and actions to address racism. At the same time, but with much less visibility, the City Council also has been debating a potential overhaul of Newton’s zoning code that will have far-reaching, long-term implications for every resident of our city. 

Recently, we began discussion of a new question – whether to allow multi-family housing “by right” in most, if not all, of the city. 

“By right” means that a developer has the right to build something without any city approvals other than ordinary construction permits.  If the zoning code is changed to allow multi-family housing “by right”, that means that neighborhoods and lots that are currently zoned “single family” can have multi-family dwellings built by right where today only single family dwellings are allowed by right.  The City Council has not yet begun discussing whether multi-family units will be limited to two, three or four-family units or some other number, or whether no restrictions at all will be put in place.  These discussions about whether to change to “by right” multi-family housing in the city and the limitations, if any, on what that allows, will be taking place over  the next several months in the Zoning and Planning Committee of the City Council with a decision of the Committee expected this fall.  The full City Council is not expected to vote on the full proposed Zoning Code, including this proposed change if it is adopted by the Zoning and Planning Committee, until the fall of 2021.

During our prior public presentations of zoning change, including the Washington Street vision plan and the initial draft of a proposed zoning code in 2018, Newton’s Planning Department’s stated objective was to increase density of housing in and near our village centers but otherwise preserve the current housing patterns in our city. However, the Planning Department has now raised the following question to the City Council: should Newton eliminate single-family zoning within 0.5 miles (it also asked about 0.25 miles) of a Green Line station, Commuter Rail station or an express bus stop (express buses pick up passengers in Newton and take the Massachusetts Turnpike into downtown Boston) and within 0.25 miles of a MBTA bus stop (there are a number of non-express MBTA bus routes that run through Newton)? 

Today, over seventy percent (70%) of the residential lots in Newton are in single family only zones.   Set forth below is a map of Newton, with the area colored pink to show the parts of Newton that would have multi-family housing allowable “by right”.  Areas colored green are areas of the city that would be single family only housing under the proposed code.  Areas in white are non-housing areas outside of the “by right” multi-family housing zone such as parks, conservation land, golf courses, schools, and commercial areas (for ease of viewing, those areas are not delineated in the multi-family “by right” zone).  You can see that most of the City - over eighty percent (80%) of our housing lots - would become multi-family “by right”, a very significant change from our current rules.
Advocates argue that it will provide greater diversity of our housing stock, make it easier to build in our city, and is climate-friendly because smaller homes use less energy, and living near transit makes it easier to travel or commute without a car.  Opponents argue that it is designed to benefit developers, will encourage teardowns and gentrification, will not add to our affordable housing stock, and will result in negative changes to our neighborhoods. 

While I have long-supported efforts to diversify our housing stock and add appropriate development in our village centers, I do not believe that we should make a major departure from our current zoning code and the previously stated goals of our zoning review efforts without considerable thought and analysis and significant input from our entire community.  I am especially concerned that we are doing this work while our collective time and energy is focused elsewhere and we are unable to meet in person.  Therefore, I need to hear from you – the people I work for – about what you think of this proposal.

I look forward to your thoughts, questions, comments and criticisms!


I join Councilor Laredo in saying:
"I can’t emphasize enough how important public participation is on this zoning work, especially when we are meeting virtually and we are dealing with so many other critical issues in our city, state, and nation."

What can you do if you have concerns? Or if you'd like to be more involved in this process?
  1. Forward this email to everyone you know who may be interested. Have them sign up for my newsletter or for Marc's newsletter
  2. Email the City Council and the Mayor with your concerns (send emails to David Olson, our City Clerk, and ask him to distribute it to the Council ( and Mayor Fuller (  Public input is very important.
  3. Follow the work of the Zoning and Planning Committee (you can attend meetings via Zoom (information on access is on the City Council’s weekly calendar and/or read the Planning Department memos and summaries of our meetings on the City Council website – it is updated on Friday for the following week (www.newtonma/citycouncil/fridaypacket). OR email me and I'll try to get you the information in an easy and fast way. 
  4. Continue to write to the City Council and the Mayor about other issues involving the Zoning Code as we continue our review process over the next year and a half and speak at public meetings when there is time for public comment.
  5. Share your views with your friends and neighbors and encourage them to follow Zoning and Planning work and write to them (see item 1.)
Warmest regards,

Copyright © 2020 Lisa Gordon, All rights reserved.

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