Campaign Week-in-Review: 4/19/19 - Support for Unions and Conversations with Constituents

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

On Saturday, Bill had a successful meet & greet event, hosted by community member Susan Forrow. Voters from around the neighborhood had the opportunity to meet Bill and voice their concerns about city issues. Some of the top points that were brought up at the event had to do with creating a plan for environmental action in Ward 5, road repair, and constituent services!
 

Door-knocking continues as well. Bill has now reached a milestone of personally knocking over 75% of the Ward! This week, Bill spoke to voters at about half of all the homes he stopped by. Starting in May, we’ll be going back to the beginning and trying to talk to people who were not home the first time.

Labor Unions

Bill joined a Stop Stop & Shop strike picket on Monday in Watertown, supporting the workers who are protesting the company’s proposed contract that would hurt wages, pensions, and health insurance, as well as cut staff. As mentioned in last week’s newsletter, we urge shoppers to respect the picket line (and avoid shopping at the new Needham St location of Stop & Shop, despite its unusual contract status and lack of a visible picket, along with other locations), as the union bargains for a better contract.

Also this week, the Newton TAB published Bill’s letter to the editor in support of the Newton Teachers Association in their contract talks. The letter can be found in print, but here is the full letter as well: “As a graduate of the Newton public school system, I saw every day how hard our teachers work and how highly they value providing a quality education for every student. That’s why I fully support the Newton teachers and other union faculty in the Newton Public Schools in their current contract negotiations. Giving educational aides, including one-on-one special education aides, more hours would allow them more time for the coordination with teachers and professional development that will help them better serve the needs of students with special learning requirements. Moreover, the modest changes to the parental leave policy requested would better reflect modern families and will help teachers return to work rested, re-charged, and ready to teach after spending time with new family. We pride ourselves on our strong public schools and Newton, and the Newton Teachers Association is negotiating to make them stronger.”

Budget Season

On Tuesday, Bill attended Mayor Fuller’s FY2020 Budget Address, which touched on funding for a number of different areas in Newton for the upcoming fiscal years. Here are just a few key points Bill wanted to highlight from the speech:

  • Education

    • The proposed education budget would increase for the Newton Public Schools by $8.8 million, including coverage of full day kindergarten to start in September and the expansion of daycare facilities.

  • Making Newton All Age Friendly

    • She announced further details for “NewMo” (Newton in Motion), the new senior rides program. It will allow seniors to request on demand or pre-reserved rides through an app or through calling or emailing.

    • More seniors in Newton are taking advantage of the Senior Tax Deferral Program, now that eligibility has expanded.

  • Improving Streets, Sidewalks, and Buildings, while Promoting Vibrant, Wakable and Financially Robust Village Centers and Commercial Corridors

    • The accelerated pavement program is set to enter its third year in FY2020 with a $9.5 million investment to improve roads.

    • The average index rating of street conditions rose from 62.5 to 68 (where 100 = new road in top condition) this past fiscal year.

    • Upgrading to kiosks and replacing parking meters is a priority for the upcoming fiscal year, considering that right now 35% of Newton parking meters are broken

    • There is also a proposal that would add funding to the Planning Department in order to help them evaluate major special permits and the zoning redesign all currently coming down the pipeline.

  • Housing

    • Fuller announced that there are plans to explore the preservation of the National Guard Armory building on Washington Street and repurpose it to 100% affordable housing.

    • The state is willing to sell the building to the City of Newton for $1 on the condition that it will be used exclusively for public affordable housing.

  • Sustainability

    • The Mayor proposed electrifying all non-emergency city vehicles over the next two years and pilot projects on composting at public facilities like school cafeterias.

  • Public Health

    • Focusing and increasing support for mental health and addiction was on the list of priorities.

    • “With funds from our one medical marijuana facility host community agreement, we will add a clinical counselor in our high schools to support substance abuse prevention and mental health,” said Fuller.

  • City Services

    • Crosswalk painting is set to be in-sourced to save money and provide better service. (Bill has been campaigning on the issue of de-privatizing city services for exactly that reason. The Mayor’s team told Bill that this specific in-sourcing decision will “pay for itself” almost immediately.)

  • Assuring the City’s Financial Health and Spending Wisely

    • Fuller emphasized the importance of honoring our commitments to public employees for their retirements.

    • Mayor Fuller said that, while her budget is “disciplined”, it has not yet set aside sufficient funds for pensions, infrastructure, maintenance, climate mitigation, snow removal, and other city services. She urges that “ambitious” goals not outstrip our ability to pay for these services.

  • During the speech, Fuller also announced that her Executive Aide, Noah Rivkin, will be leaving Newton for the US Marines. Noah has been a hugely important resource to us in referring questions from constituents to the relevant city departments during this campaign, as he has been a resource for everyone in Newton, and he will be missed.

Upper Falls Area Council

Bill attended the monthly Upper Falls Area Council on Thursday evening, where a proposed Greenway plaque, Oak St entrance/exit, and the Upper Falls Historical Archive were among the issues on the agenda.

  • On the subject of the Greenway, a local resident spoke during the meeting to request a plaque honoring the local community members who put in hard work to get the Greenway built a few years ago. She hoped that the Area Council would decide what the plaque should say and who, if anyone, should be named on it.

  • The discussion of Oak Street followed up on the peer review presented at last week’s Land Use committee hearing, which contended that traffic wouldn’t be affected either way by having or not having an exit or entrance there. There was a great deal of skepticism at the Area Council about this contention. Jack Neville said that decades ago the community blocked an attempt to make a Tower Rd bypass from Needham St to Oak St based on concerns similar to those with this plan.

  • The discussion on the Upper Falls Historical Archives consisted of what should be done to collect current news stories about Upper Falls for future archives. At the recent soup social, a number of old clippings were posted as a temporary display, and the council wants to ensure that this continues. It is possible that there will be a memorabilia room at the local community center in Upper Falls at some undetermined point in the future.

  • Other reminders brought up at the meeting:

    • Upper Falls Village Day has been tentatively scheduled for Saturday, September 14. In past years it has been held on a Sunday.

    • Newton SERVES will be on Sunday, April 28. (Bill will be at the Richardson Field cleanup, but there are also projects in Upper Falls to help out with.) Don’t forget to sign up for volunteer opportunities!

Reminders:

  • May 5 Meet & Greet

    • Please join us at 4pm on Sunday, May 5 at 170 Evelyn Road in Waban for a conversation with Bill on the urgency of climate action, green energy, and strong public transportation at the municipal level. No donations are required to attend the event! Please email me (irina@billhumphrey.net) to RSVP!

  • D-Line Project

    • As mentioned in recent newsletters, the track replacement and signal upgrade project on the D Line is ongoing. There will be noise from construction between 8:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. As replacement for the D Branch train services, shuttle buses between Riverside and Newton Highlands will be operating on Mondays to Fridays after 8:30 p.m. through July 3. More info is available on the project website at mbta.com/GreenLineD. You can also call a 24/7 noise hotline at: 508-676-3550. And you can email the project team at DBranchInfo@MBTA.com

  • Hemlock Gorge: The Friends of Hemlock Gorge annual cleanup day is on Saturday April 27!

Week-in-Review 4/12/19 - Meet & Greet Tomorrow, Northland Updates, Labor Union Actions, Road Closures

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

Candidate Meet & Greet tomorrow

This weekend, we have an opportunity for voters to meet and speak to Bill about the city issues they care about! Join us tomorrow, April 13, at 3pm for a wide-ranging discussion and Q&A on important Ward issues. The event is hosted by Susan Forrow at 86 Varick Rd. No donations are required to attend the event. Please email me (irina@billhumphrey.net) to RSVP. We hope to see you there!

Having finished knocking doors in precincts one and four this week, Bill began knocking doors in precinct 3, including the one Ward 5 turf located in West Newton. Once again, the top voiced concern was road repairs, but Bill also heard from multiple voters about parking, affordable housing, environmental action, and the importance of having young elected officials. He has now had over 500 conversations at the doors!

Northland Update from Land Use

There was another Northland hearing before the Land Use committee this past Tuesday night, this time focusing again on traffic and parking. Bill attended, sitting in the balcony, staying all the way through the public comments ending at 10:30 PM. It was a fairly chaotic session with audience members screaming things at random points, usually while someone was talking, sometimes at least partly in frustration about the sound system not reaching the balcony.

But here are a few new notes from the 3.5 hour session, which included a commentary by the Planning Department, then presentations by the developer team, an opposition group, and a proponent group, as well as finally members of the audience as a whole:

  • The Planning Department thinks ride share app trips (and therefore traffic) will increase if parking is reduced because people will order one car to get there and one car to leave.

  • The city’s peer reviewer has now studied Oak St exit options, because of neighborhood objections. These options were: 1) No exit or entry, 2) exit only, 3) entrance only, 4) left turn exit only (i.e. toward Needham St). They contend that there would be no change to Oak St traffic volume in either direction with or without an exit or entrance, and so the Planning Department recommends no change to that part of the plan but possibly a city council "look-back" provision on the point. Bill remains unconvinced that it is needed or that it would really have no adverse effect on Upper Falls.

  • Most of the scenarios show increases in traffic wait times of around 30 to 60 seconds, which is not too long, but some community members worry that will be enough to push a great deal more traffic onto diversionary streets when using GPS apps to choose the fastest route. That also speaks to a more systemic issue we need to deal with apart from this project specifically.

  • The Planning Department says they do not believe the petitioner projections for the shuttle usage are reasonable, citing long headway times and competition with MBTA service (59 bus) & ride share apps. The Planning Dept advises that the shuttle plan should be refocused to solve last/first mile access to existing T rail service rather than the grand plan currently proposed. It also should supplement 59 bus, not be redundant to it. The Planning Dept also wants to continue encouraging people to work for home (eliminating commute) based on ACS data showing this effect already at work in Newton among a sizable number of people working from home. The Planning Dept is also proposing an extensive set of compliance-in-perpetuity requirements for transit demand management to the site.

  • The Planning Dept also advises city should require one large upfront payment into an offsite transportation mitigation fund and a onetime payment for a city study on the issue. The Planners also have a huge laundry list of offsite capital improvements they hope to get as part of the deal which would also mitigate problems around it. They acknowledged that the full list costs $5-6 million.

  • The development team contends that their proposed project would generate 800+ fewer peak car trips than the by-right commercial development currently zoned on the space if they built that instead of the mixed use proposal they have offered.

  • If one actually accepts the idealized maximized shuttle usage Northland aspires to (which seems overly ambitious), there would be only 119 net new trips on weekday AM and PM peaks, and 209 net new trips on Saturdays, as measured from the driveway points of the project. These “net new” trip figures compare against the mostly vacant space now. Net new trips metric excludes the existing trips to the non vacant operations on the site now. Including those would be about double or so, per the peer review.

  • The 128 Business Council nonprofit shuttle team says they were happy to take on this project and stake their reputation to it because they were part of the project design process, rather than being brought in after the fact to try to fix a disaster already built. The shuttle would become operational at the beginning of the project not after it's finished to encourage prospective residents to decide to live there based on the shuttle. They acknowledge there is no other system they feel they can compare it to nationwide.

  • They have opted not to serve Newton Center with the shuttle, as floated sometimes before, in order to focus on Highlands and Newtonville service. The Boston Express service plan has been scaled back on weekdays but increased on weekends. The Cambridge route would serve Kendall Sq and Central Sq. It does not pass through Watertown. Needham service ideas seem to have been scaled back in the latest draft.

  • Shuttles would end service earlier in the evening than the Green Line service by a couple hours, which seems concerning, and would resume at 6 AM.

  • Under the latest concept, Newton Highlands would now have 31 round trip runs on weekdays. 10 to Newtonville. Newton Local would run 30 trips on weekends.

  • Fare proposals: $2.50 trip fare for Newton trips or $7 fare for Boston and Cambridge routes. Remains an open question how many people would really pay $7 to go to either destination, whether for the weekend or for regular commuting, particularly compared to other potential options.

Newton Teachers

On Wednesday morning, Bill joined the Newton Teachers Association at Newton North High School for a 7 AM standout demonstration in support of the union’s bargaining efforts on their new contract. They are seeking cost-of-living adjustments that keep up with rising regional housing expenses, modernized parental leave arrangements reflective of a variety of family structures, and more hours for educational aides to undertake professional development and coordination with classroom teachers to better assist their students with special learning requirements. All of these requests will strengthen the learning environment and experience of Newton public schools students.

Bill had a great chance to re-connect at the demonstration with a teacher who used to be one of the advisers to the student government at Newton South High School when Bill was part of it.

Waban Area Council

Bill attended the monthly WAC meeting as usual this Thursday. Unfortunately, the developers of a possible retail marijuana store in Four Corners canceled their presentation last-minute; so, there are no updates on that front. There was a community discussion among abutters to the traffic island at Waban Ave, Alban Rd, and the southern part of Varick Rd about a proposal by one neighbor for a small play structure for nearby families to walk to. This would need to be approved by Parks & Rec (which had a representative present) but would be privately funded. It would require some small changes to the island, including improved drainage, some small safety fencing, and some slight traffic pattern adjustments around the island. Some neighbors spoke in support and some neighbors spoke against. Currently the island has a park bench and is used by dirt-biker kids for practice. As there was some uncertainty about the approval process, since it is not technically a public project despite being on public land, Bill suggested sending out straw poll ballots by mail to abutters (who had received notification by mail about the meeting this week) with an explanation of the project and arguments for and against, which audience members on both sides (and the Parks rep) seemed to think was a reasonable idea, but the Area Council ultimately did not adopt this suggestion. It is unclear what will happen now.

Temporary Road Closures

  • Boston Marathon closure information from the Mayor: The road closures and parking restrictions along the route begin at 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning: Washington Street at the Wellesley line to Beacon Street will close at 8:30 a.m. Washington Street at Beacon Street to Commonwealth Avenue will close at 8:00 a.m. Commonwealth Avenue to the Boston line will close at 8:00 a.m. Parking restrictions will also be in place along Commonwealth Avenue and the carriage lanes, and along sections of the streets that feed into the Marathon route along Commonwealth Avenue. Roads are expected to re-open at approximately 6:00 p.m.

  • TV filming is nearly done for the project in Cold Spring Park. A previously scheduled temporary road closure of Plymouth Road between Cochituate Rd and Kingston Rd may still happen on Tuesday (April 16) from 7 AM to 8 PM, but we are not sure if that is still happening or not. According to Mayor Fuller, the City of Newton received $20,000 for trails improvement in the park from the production studio as a fee for using the area for filming, which is great news for Ward 5.

Reminders: Store strike, D Line work, Volunteer opportunities

  • Stop & Shop workers across New England walked off the job on Thursday to strike against the company’s proposed contract (the old one expired in February), which would severely affect wages, pensions, and health insurance, while cutting human staff in favor of automation (but not sharing any profit gains from automation in the form of worker compensation). Stop & Shop is based in Massachusetts but owned by a Dutch company that has experienced huge recent profits, benefited from U.S. tax breaks, and last week gave shareholders a big increase in dividend payouts at the expense of workers. We talked to the union to find out more. There is one brand-new Stop & Shop location in Ward 5, on Needham St, which the union contends is part of the same contract as older locations, but which the corporate side contends is under a different contract for a subsidiary, thereby blocking a strike there for the moment. Nevertheless, we urge everyone to respect the union and workers by not shopping at Stop & Shop during the strike, even if you don’t see picketers at that location in Ward 5.

  • D Line track replacement project under way: The track replacement and signal upgrade project on the D Line resumed this week at Waban Station. Noisy work will be conducted overnight most weeks Monday through Friday between 8:30 PM (later on Red Sox game nights) and 5 AM. Replacement shuttles run during night construction (during normal operating hours), but in daytime hours most days, light rail service will continue normally. More info is available on the project website at mbta.com/GreenLineD. You can also call a 24/7 noise hotline at: 508-676-3550. And you can email the project team at DBranchInfo@MBTA.com

  • Friends of Hemlock Gorge annual cleanup day is April 27: http://www.hemlockgorge.org/ & Don’t forget to sign up for Newton Serves Day projects (April 28): http://www.newtoncommunitypride.org/NewtonSERVES.html

Campaign Week in Review - 4/5/19 and Alerts about Upcoming Projects & Road Closures

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

This week, Bill continued to knock doors, reaching over 150 more homes in Ward 5! Road repairs remained at the top of voters’ concern list. Another top issue that Bill heard from voters about this week was the potential added traffic from proposed city developments.

Engine 6/Livable Newton

On Wednesday, Bill attended the monthly meeting of Engine 6/Livable Newton, the affordable housing activist group, which heard this month from the Planning Department about Washington St and from Mark Development about Riverside and Washington St (Cheesecake Brook) development filings now before City Council.

Newton Highlands Area Council monthly meeting

On Thursday night, Bill attended the monthly Newton Highlands Area Council meeting, where the agenda mainly consisted of giving updates on items from previous meetings. Here are some points to note:

  • 965 Walnut Street Project

    • This is the project that was previously presented for near Whole Foods at Four Corners. A representative of the developer was present at the meeting to answer questions and to defend/explain their proposal again

    • A community member spoke out, arguing that the proposed five connected units are too dense and will “ruin the neighborhood”

    • The special permit for Walnut Street may be filed as early as next week

  • Right Size Newton

    • The group opposing large housing developments in Newton presented to the area council against the Northland project and urged people to make public comments at the transit/traffic hearing before Land Use next week

    • One concern that was emphasized was about ride-share apps vs the shuttles. The presenter argued that these apps are likely to have more ridership than the proposed shuttles because of their better flexibility and likely similar fares. This would mean that the city would take on all of the traffic problems that come with those apps, like their size to occupancy ratios compared to shuttles/buses, and gain none of the benefits of the proposed shuttle.

  • The area council also spent half an hour to plan the Newton Highlands Village Day in June. Our campaign has already signed up for a booth!

  • Area Council Secretary Srdj Nedeljkovic presented an item that advocated for a city ordinance on utility undergrounding, for which he offered a draft text

    • Area Council President Nathaniel Lichtin recommended that there be an exemption or deferral provision to protect fixed and low income residents, especially retirees, from exorbitant expense from an undergrounding mandate

  • Other updates from issues brought up at previous meetings

    • Zoning redesign has been delayed to the next term

    • The city council in their city charter reform process has reduced the proposed 20% turnout threshold for a referendum down to a 15% threshold. There has been a bit of a stumbling block over the discussion of giving the Council a separate attorney.

    • A hearing will be held soon on the Elliot St marijuana retail petition. Community meetings on the Beacon St marijuana retail proposal will also begin next week at the Waban Area Council.

Reminders

  • The Oak St/Christina St alignment project is underway, so expect temporary lane closures soon

  • As noted in last week’s newsletter – the track replacement and signal upgrade project on the D Line is resuming, starting at Waban Station, on Monday April 8. Work will be conducted overnight most weeks Monday through Friday between 8:30 PM (later on Red Sox game nights) and 5 AM. More info is available on the project website at mbta.com/GreenLineD. You can also call a 24/7 noise hotline at: 508-676-3550. And you can email the project team at DBranchInfo@MBTA.com

  • A number of Newton Highlands streets by Cold Spring Park’s south corner, on both sides the Ward 5/Ward 6 boundary, have temporary restrictions beginning today due to the filming of a TV miniseries based on a book by a Newton author. According to the email update from Ward 6 Councilor Brenda Noel, they are as follows:

    • Temporary road closure:

      • Plymouth Road, between Cochituate Rd and Kingston Rd - April 8, 9, 16 from 7AM to 8PM

    • Temporary no parking and tow zone:

      • Cold Spring Park- Plymouth Rd: April 8 - April 9

      • PLYMOUTH RD (Both sides) Cochituate Rd to Kingston Rd - April 5, 8am-6pm

      • PLYMOUTH RD (Both sides) Cochituate Rd to Kingston Rd- April 6, 10am- 5pm

      • PLYMOUTH RD (Both sides) Cochituate Rd to Kingston Rd- 6am April 8 until 7pm April 10

      • PLYMOUTH RD (Both sides) Chatman Rd to Bellingham St- 6am April 8 until 10pm April 9

      • KINGSTON RD (100ft @ 48 Kingston Rd)- 8am April 7 until 10pm April 9

      • BRADFORD RD (Both sides) Endicott Rd to Bellingham St - 6am April 8 until 10pm April 9

      • ENDICOTT ST (Both sides) Plymouth Rd to Carver Rd - 8am April 7 until 10pm April 9

      • COCHITUATE RD (Both sides) - 8am April 7 until 10pm April 9

      • NANTUCKET RD (Both sides) Cochituate Rd to Wood End Rd - 8am April 7 until 10pm April 9

  • Don’t forget to sign up for Newton Serves Day projects (April 28): http://www.newtoncommunitypride.org/NewtonSERVES.html

     

Upcoming Meet & Greets

Saturday April 13 at 3 PM: Please join Susan Forrow at 86 Varick Rd in Waban for a wide-ranging discussion and Q & A on the issues with Bill Humphrey.

Sunday May 5 at 4 PM: Please join environmentalists Marcia Cooper, Helen Rittenberg, and Nathan Phillips at 170 Evelyn Rd in Waban for a conversation with Bill Humphrey on the urgency of climate action, green energy, and strong public transportation at the municipal level. No donations are required to attend either event. Please email irina@billhumphrey.net to RSVP for either event.

Campaign Week-in-Review 3/29/19 - Sustainable Construction, Housing in Waban Square, Loud D Line Upgrades Begin

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

Upper Falls Soup Social

This past Saturday, Bill attended the Upper Falls Soup Social at the Emerson community building. It was another great round of delicious soups from various restaurants around the city. Bill spoke to Mayor Fuller about the Oak St entrance/exit controversy with the Northland proposal, which some other residents mentioned to her at the social as well.

Door-Knocking Recap

  • This week, Bill knocked over 250 more doors. As of yesterday, Bill has personally knocked through 56% of the ward and spoken directly to one in ten regular voters in Ward 5. We’re looking forward to expanding out from there to get even more people engaged and involved in the coming months!

  • Sunday, Bill knocked doors in the part of Newton Lower Falls that falls within Ward 5 by Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Woodland T station.

  • Once again, paving and street repairs were the number one issue voters on the doors brought up. Bill has been talking to various city officials and councilors to get more information about this topic, but we will have to leave that for a future newsletter.


Green Newton & Sustainable Construction

On Monday, Bill attended the Green Newton meeting in order to get more information on their Four Principles for new buildings in our community. These principles will help to guide the environmental sustainability evaluation of new constructions in Newton.

Overall, Green Newton holds the stance that any new developments in Newton need to address both the housing and climate crises that our city faces. Specifically, we need more housing supply in areas like Newton so that people aren’t pushed too far out to the exurbs with long car commutes. This doesn’t mean, however, building more single family homes with no transit access or replacing modest (energy efficient) homes with singly family mcmansions. What we need is to locate new developments appropriately (near transit) and make sure they are sustainable in construction and operation.

The four principles created to address questions from developers about what counts as sustainable are:

  1. Low energy buildings that are targeted to meet Passive House standards for new construction

    • Passive House is a construction design concept (originating in New England several decades ago) based on building homes to keep in the heat and make effective use of natural sunlight

    • Much of the heating is done by capturing sunlight from the sun-facing side of the house.

    • German researchers made key improvements to make these buildings airtight (with mechanized/automated circulation systems to the outside) and using high performing windows and doors. American doors and windows remain inefficient.

    • For each climate zone in the US, there are different passive house/building standards

  2. Completely off the gas grid for new constructions or on a pathway to get off the gas grid for existing buildings

  3. Low embodied carbon or carbon storing for all types of construction

    • Given that we are in the final countdown phase toward a climate apocalypse, we can not afford to blast through our carbon budget with high emission construction and Embodied Carbon in new buildings. Even construction and the materials used must be sustainable

    • We can not continue to stand for just slowing emission growth - every new construction of any scale must actively help Newton reach its goal of reaching its net zero emission goal

    • Already, single family homes can be built with low Embodied Carbon materials (which refers to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the production and transportation of the materials). Examples of high Embodied Carbon materials are concrete, steel, or foam-based insulation. Some much lower embodied carbon materials include cellulose and other plant/wood based materials.

  4. Transportation efficiency for all types of construction (not just location choice, but also efficiency for bringing materials and equipment to the construction site)

Other notes:

  • Until recently, it was thought that to fully electrify single family homes, very high efficiency upgrades and insulation measures would be necessary. However, the trend now has shifted toward all-electric “shallow” energy retrofits (insulating any renovated areas, heat pumps for heating & cooling, heat pump water heaters, induction cooktops. These account for big reductions in the usage of energy and carbon but at a cheaper price).

  • One important note to consider is that the construction sector globally emits 11% of all emissions before a building even begins its operational emissions. This also holds true for renovations, thus we must be wary about how much carbon is burned compared to what would be saved in a “green” renovation

  • One Energy Commission member noted that we need to figure out a way to mainstream new designs and technologies, especially in single family homes so that they are not just seen as experimental concept homes. There has been some reluctance from the public toward wall mounted heat pump units, induction stoves, or electric ranges.

It is hoped that the Four Principles will be incorporated into the Newton Climate Action Plan and five-year plan, but overall building code requirements are controlled by the state. It might be possible to integrate some of these principles into zoning reform and certainly into special permit project reviews.

 

20 Kinmonth Rd Project Briefing

  • This morning (Friday March 29th) Bill Humphrey was invited to meet on-site with the owner/developer & the architect of the 20 Kinmonth Rd project, along with Nancy Zollers (of the Engine 6 affordable housing activist organization) and Kathy Winters (President of the Waban Area Council), to get a briefing on their proposal. Bill has been pressing for information on this for many months and it was great to have this opportunity to get answers straight from the source.

    • Armando Petruzziello is the new owner & developer for the site. Michael McKay is the architect. Terry Morris will be the lead attorney but was not present for today’s meeting. Councilor Andreae Downs (Ward 5-at-Large) facilitated today’s briefing meeting, but was not present today.

    • The developer mostly does large single-family home construction

      • This would be his first project in Newton that is not a mansion-sized single-family home. (Previous Waban projects have been on Wilde Rd, Plainfield St, Varick Rd, and Rokeby Rd.)

      • However, he has done a multi-unit project in Dedham previously.

    • The developer spent over $4 million to acquire the property on Kinmonth Rd from the nursing home operator as it entered bankruptcy & receivership.

  • The developer and architect reported favorable discussions with abutters they have met with so far about their plans. In particular, the housing development will have significantly less ambulance traffic than the nursing home.

  • The proposal is either to retrofit the existing building and add one floor on top or to teardown the current structure and rebuild a new one that matches the existing footprint almost exactly (except for one five-foot adjustment at one spot). A new building, as in the retrofit plan, would also have the one extra story for a total of three stories.

    • While they are not opposed to considering another story beyond that, they believe that just adding one is probably the most broadly acceptable to the community. The Planning Department staff had advised them that three stories total was probably at about the upper limit of what was appropriate to the site.

  • All 24 units would be condos for sale, which is a departure from the architect’s other multi-unit projects that have been rentals.

    • There would be a mix of size compositions: 13 1BR, 4 2BR, and 2 3BR

    • By law, a minimum of 15% of these 24 units (i.e. 4 units) would be deed-restricted affordable condos in perpetuity. (It would be great to push for more.)

    • The remainder would have square-footage sale prices comparable to a mortgage on a modest single-family home in Waban.

    • The likely target market for these condos would be downsizing retirees, but it would not be deed-restricted to any age group.

    • This is a special permit project, as opposed to a 40B project.

  • Parking will be moved underground, replacing the existing basement, with one parking spot per unit, plus bike storage and electric vehicle charging stations.

  • The developer and architect have to meet with the Newton Historical Commission to discuss the retrofit vs teardown question and fitting in appropriately with the existing village center.

    • The existing building was constructed in 1959 and is not particularly historic.

    • Renovation is more challenging than a full teardown, especially in terms of meeting more modern energy efficiency and handicapped-accessibility standards.

    • Out of curiosity, Bill asked whether the design aesthetic would be more in line with the “contemporary” design of the current structure or mimicking the historic structures of the rest of Waban Square. They are opting against the latter to keep it more consistent with what it was and also not just copy the surroundings.

  • Environmental components

    • They will be looking at Green Newton’s new Four Principles for new buildings

    • The building’s flat roof would be a “green roof” (landscaping + solar panels) with a roof deck for residents to use.

    • Bill asked whether the project would be using natural gas, which he considers a red line in terms of the current climate emergency. At the moment, their plan calls for natural gas heating and cooking because this is more marketable in the condo market, but the developer noted that it is actually less expensive for developers to install electric heat pumps instead of natural gas (as well as less hassle dealing with the gas company). Bill believes this is a point that the team would be willing to negotiate on during the special permit process.

  • It was suggested that they meet with the Council on Aging to make sure the unit designs would be as accessible and all-ages-friendly as possible.

  • After further meetings with neighbors and talks with the Historical Commission, they intend to present their design to the Waban Area Council in May for a community meeting. Also in May, they would likely submit plans to the City Council for a special permit.

Reminder about Green Line Track Repairs

Mayor Fuller emailed earlier this week to remind residents that the track replacement and signal upgrade project on the D Line is beginning – at Waban Station! – on Monday April 8. Work will be conducted Monday through Friday between 8:30 PM and 5 AM, so prepare for some sleepless nights unfortunately, if you live right by the tracks. Evening service during construction hours will be replaced with shuttle buses. Red Sox home game nights will delay the start of shuttles and construction until 10:30 PM. Newton Highlands is next in the rotation after Waban.

Last September, Bill attended the MBTA community meeting at the Newton Free Library to find out more about this project. They hope to make the D Line safer, more reliable, and faster with these significant upgrades between Riverside and Beaconsfield stations.

The loudest evening track replacement noises will be within the first hour (rail cutting) and at the end of the night (vibrating the ballast into place) before service reopens for the morning. Work has to be done in 8 hour shifts per 100 foot section of track so it has to be done at night rather than during the day. The T and the Mayor acknowledged at that meeting that people living along the track will probably not be able to sleep when nearby sections are being done. Projected noise levels will be 64 db at 400 feet away and 88 db right at the source itself.

The project is hugely important for improving Green Line operations despite the terrible inconvenience during the project itself. But it’s understandable that people, especially living right near the tracks, are concerned about it, particularly given that the overall project (which began in Brookline last fall) will take two years to complete.

More info is available on the project website at mbta.com/GreenLineD. You can also call a 24/7 noise hotline at: 508-676-3550. And you can email the project team at DBranchInfo@MBTA.com



One final item: Earlier this week was Bill's birthday! If you'd like to make a campaign contribution in honor of Bill turning 28, please do so here.

Campaign Week in Review - 3/22/19: What we heard from voters this week; climate action planning; economic development and fiscal impacts

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

This week, Bill was able to knock doors in Ward 5 every day of the week except Sunday, knocking over 300 more since last week’s newsletter. Bill has now covered 40% of the ward. Some of the key issues brought up by voters this week included road repairs and parking in their communities as well as expanding fair, affordable housing in the city and making Newton welcoming to everyone. One voter also expressed concern about AirBnB-type services taking over family housing in some parts of Newton for permanent short-term renting, rather than occupancy. That’s an issue Bill would like to look into more.

Last Friday, Bill attended the St. Patrick’s Day Political Breakfast at Dunn Gaherin’s!

On Thursday afternoon, when Bill was knocking in the Saco-Lowell Shops Housing Historic District neighborhood, almost every voter expressed their concern about the proposed Northland project entrance/exit onto Oak St (directly across from that neighborhood), saying that it would add to traffic backups during rush hour (so they can't get out of their neighborhood) and to cut-through car traffic in the village center. Bill shares this concern, and has therefore been asking the developers and city councilors about it at every opportunity (such as during this week’s Upper Falls Area Council meeting).

Fiscal Impact Analysis

On Tuesday, Bill attended the ZAP-led Committee of the Whole City Council briefing on the fiscal impact projection of the Washington St vision. (Originally, the meeting was intended to also cover the citywide zoning redesign impact and other development, because the consultant has been developing a citywide model. The zoning redesign timeline has recently been extended into 2020, however, so the meeting focus narrowed to use Washington St as a test case for the new fiscal impact model). This has been a hot topic lately because constituents want to know how much tax money the city can expect to collect from – or be required to spend to support – new commercial and residential developments with schools and services. Here is a recap of key takeaways:

  • The lead consultant from TischlerBise, Carson Bise, spoke on the difference between fiscal impact and economic impact, stressing that these are two different things and that much of the economic activity generated by new development is not taxable activity for municipal authorities.

  • Fiscal impact analysis starts with expenditure levels necessary to maintain current service levels if the city grows in one area and then moves on to identify if there is a need to find more sources of revenue.

  • Bise continued that there is a myth from the municipality fiscal balance perspective that residential projects don’t pay for themselves while all commercial projects do. Bise presented examples from other communities around the US where different tax structures and different residential types led to different outcomes on tax revenue and expenditure burdens

  • The consultant has generated a new model specifically for Newton so that city officials can project the fiscal benefits and costs for all sizes and kinds of development proposals, as well as take into account different possible scenarios (such as a project being built slower than planned), capital resources, and various operational costs. City planners will be trained to use this model, which will be available to them with full transparency

  • Bise’s slideshow also featured a heat map of current tax revenues per acre in Newton

  • The Washington St corridor was analyzed during the meeting. One interesting finding is that there is a huge market demand for small commercial pavilions along the Mass Pike side of Washington in lieu of big, blank sound barriers.

  • There was also an assumption made that the MBTA Commuter rail service and stations in this corridor would be preserved and improved, something that many people may be skeptical about. Chair Albright also pointed out that the three recent elementary schools cost a great deal more than the numbers this model assumed.

  • Councilor Downs (Ward 5-at-large) questioned whether the model is a buildout scenario (the maximum possible construction and redevelopment) for Washington St, or, rather, a projection of what is actually likely to be redeveloped and built given the new zoning options.

  • The Schools Department briefly spoke about their own separate process for modelling enrollment projections by looking at potential projects in specific locations, moving beyond their traditional mandate that had only included approved projects.

  • Councilor Krintzman (Ward 4-at-large) asked if the model could account for various scenarios where developers might adjust their building pace in order to take advantage of the revised zoning in the corridor. He was assured that it could.

  • Many councilors also expressed a desire to look at the full list of variables going into the model.

  • Council President Laredo inquired about whether the firm had looked back at past projection models done for other cities in previous years. They answered that, yes, they are in touch with past clients and that revenue projections are generally pretty close, but that costs are harder to project because of budget choices.

  • One other caution by the consultants: The model cannot forecast or predict what public policy choices the city will decide to do (for example, if a municipality chose not to build a new school or chose to build a new one instead of just an expansion) because those aren’t technocratic imperatives that can be modeled.

Climate Action Planning

After knocking doors on Thursday, Bill headed to the Newton Climate Action Plan development workshop held at the Price Center on Christina St. During this meeting, Mayor Fuller urged attendees to figure out which climate action items are at the highest priority with the greatest impact, as well as how to creatively implement them. Other points that came up in the latest presentation: City residents have an unusually high continued use of heating oil (as opposed to natural gas), so MAPC advisors suggested targeting that first (for electrification). One minor announcement is that 850 trees per year are being planted along the streets of Newton per the new budget. Bill remains concerned that the draft Climate Action Plan is not on a timetable ambitious enough to meet the scientific realities of climate change; target dates like 2050 are too late and not in line with the scientific consensus. There’s also no accountability for any elected officials or staff when the targets are that far away. (However, it was encouraging to see City Council finish approving Solar panels in phase 3 this week!)

Upper Falls Area Council

Thursday evening, Bill attended the Upper Falls Area Council monthly meeting. On the agenda was a greenway project, a discussion with Newton’s Economic Development Director (Kathryn Ellis), and a recap on Northland. Here are the most noteworthy points:

  • Kathryn Ellis spoke and introduced her past 2 years of work for the city and some prospects coming into the Upper Falls area. One challenge that she highlighted was the issue of nonprofits growing out of their small starting spaces and not being able to afford the market rates of office space in Newton. Another challenge is helping legacy retailers to create an online ecommerce presence. Ellis also said that the city is still in negotiation with National Lumber regarding greenway access points. She confirmed that there is currently no proposal or discussion about what Northland is considering using their land across Needham St for after their project on the land on the west side is done. She also mentioned that the City Council had previously approved food trucks on Well Ave office park, which helped to reduce lunchtime traffic congestion last summer. This, however, is seasonal (and more brick & mortar food service needs to be built there).

  • Some community updates/reminders from the meeting:

    • The Upper Falls Soup Social is Saturday at the Emerson community building at 5pm. Many restaurants from around Newton are donating their best soups for attendees to eat for free. See you there!

    • Greenway art will be coming back this summer!

Campaign Week in Review - 3/15/19: Over 700 Doors Knocked, Land Use Committee, Allen and Beethoven Safety Updates

This week’s update comes directly from me, but my campaign organizer Irina will be back next week.

Door-Knocking Milestones

With the beautiful weather this week, I got through a lot more doors in Newton Highlands, Upper Falls, and Waban – 308 more in fact, bringing my total to well over 700 so far. As of yesterday, I had talked to more than 200 people face to face since February began. (I’ve also heard back from folks who weren’t home when I stopped by but got my note and literature.)

Overwhelmingly, these conversations have been very positive and interesting discussions about the issues facing Ward 5 residents. I heard a lot this week about sidewalk plowing routes, the proposed retail marijuana site on Elliott St, the need for affordable housing, concerns about specific developments, and much more. I talked to several parents of classmates of mine at Angier Elementary School, and I even talked to one of those classmates in person. (He will be voting for me!)

Two specific conversations I wanted to highlight from this week: First, a senior voter in Newton Highlands wanted to know whether the Mayor’s new ride-share program would transfer her unused vouchers from the existing senior rides program. I emailed the Mayor’s office on Saturday to find out, and they were on it immediately, working to get me and the resident an answer. The specifics are still being worked out, but yes, you will be able to transfer old vouchers. Second, I spoke to a 92-year-old voter in Waban I had met during my 2016 campaign, and she told me she is terrified of what climate change will mean for her 5-year-old grand-child. She’ll be voting for me in this year’s election because of my unrivaled commitment to urgent local climate action that matches the severity and scientific timetable of the crisis. 

I also heard from a lot of Upper Falls residents this week about their frustrations that they are not feeling heard by the City Council on various issues. They also feel that there has been a long history of people in other parts of Newton using their influence and affluence to push things into Upper Falls instead of their own backyards, particularly at the height of the industrial factory period, with all its accompanying pollution. I think this equity point is a fair question to bring up, and it’s no secret that I have always supported bringing housing for everyone to Waban to help address that disparity. If I’m elected, I will certainly be trying my best to represent the entire ward as a whole across all its villages and not just Waban, where I live. I also believe that if my family hadn’t already been living in Waban for generations, we would in no way be able to afford to live here. Probably only a place like Upper Falls would welcome someone like me, if I were a new resident. Upper Falls has long been more of “a community for everyone” than much of the rest of Newton, and we can learn from their experiences when we really listen to residents there.

 

Land Use Committee Northland Presentation

On Tuesday, I attended the Land Use Committee's latest meeting on the Northland proposal, which mostly covered ground I went over in my recap last week at the Highlands Area Council. The focus of the presentation this week was on the changes made in response to the peer reviewer team working for the city. (Northland hired a yet further peer review team to check the first peer review and that team concurred so they made the proposal reductions.) Committee Chairman Schwartz tried to keep the focus of Councilor questions (and public comments) away from transportation (and parking) this week so it can be dealt with again at an upcoming hearing without getting too far off-topic from the revisions. One interesting question about renewable energy on site was similarly deferred to the May presentation on sustainability specifically.

Key points this week

  • One extra revision (teased last week): Building 8 is now designated as All Age Friendly, but remains not restricted to seniors, in line with advice from the Newton Council on Aging. (Several Council on Aging members gave Public Comments affirming that point.) The building and units for Building 8 will have a range of amenities & design elements aimed at seniors and people with a number of disabilities to make it easier to live there and not need to go to assisted living or long term care somewhere else. Councilor Lipof (who has pushed for senior only units) asked if Northland would consider leasing space to a senior or long term care home operation. The answer is no. Northland’s team cited "social support" not "institutions" as the goal and said they are not trying to be "in the healthcare business." A planning board member asked if the extra Accessibility options in Building 8 will be available inside all units in all buildings. The answer suggested it won't be standard but moddable so they could be added as desired.

  • The Community Building & Community Playground have been shifted south along the Greenway to try to integrate it better to the Upper Falls Village Center. Councilor Rice asked how tall the Community Building by the greenway will be. The answer was one (tall-ish) story. The presentation this week was way more specific about park design...and it is a lot more than I had realized from prior presentations. I don't know if Newton has any parks like this yet. Council President Laredo asked them to consider winter condition uses for the proposed parks.

  • Total project net municipal revenue estimate is now revised down to $1.07 million annually, according to the city's peer reviewer. (I think some people are rightly wondering if that is now cutting it kind of close on the margin for the city’s point of view, especially if another recession were to hit.)

  • Chairman Schwartz asked more about the new Laneways, trisecting two of the previously big buildings where the parking garages have now been undergrounded. The designers compared it to European streets/plazas where vehicles can traverse if needed but only secondarily to pedestrian traffic & restaurant uses.

  • Councilor Greenberg asked Northland to go to 140+ affordable and middle income units, more in line with draft changes to the affordable housing inclusionary zoning ordinance. The current plan for 123 is closer to existing ordinance. Northland is still declining to go up, but I assume later negotiation will occur.

Waban Area Council

Thursday night, I was at the monthly meeting of the Waban Area Council. Agenda items included updates on Friends of Quinobequin, the Allen/Beethoven street safety projects, charter reform, zoning reform, Waban Area Council goals for 2019, and an explanation of a Finance Committee item for the City Council regarding Angier School money (which was basically just the city paying itself back an internal loan from the beginning of the re-design process back in 2013, now that the reconstruction project has officially been deemed closed).

The key takeaways Thursday were on street safety on Allen Ave and Beethoven Ave (one year after a community forum on the problem): Total citywide street safety budget is $150k/year only, but these 2 streets are high priority due to the speeding epidemic there. One reason costs are high even for small changes is that all underground utilities were run along the edges of Allen Ave instead of down the middle. Unfortunately, the streets weren't reconfigured during the Zervas reconstruction, when it might have been easier, ostensibly because the absence of Zervas and its subsequent enrollment levels at its new size meant the city had no data at the time to do a "data-driven" street redesign. But here are the planned changes and things still under debate:

  1. Allen Ave will get bumpouts at two cross streets on the west side, to be built this summer or fall. There will be a crosswalk to Richardson Field at one of the bumpouts. (It was asked whether this will this fix northbound speeding on east side. City engineers have said yes because it makes the street narrower overall, which slows traffic)

  2. Beethoven Ave is too narrow for bumpouts, but the city is debating a big raised table at the Richardson crosswalk for safety. Councilor Rice said public needs to write in to advocate for this. The Fire Department has been slightly pushing back on that specific table, citing response times to potential Zervas emergencies.

  3. Crossings at the aqueduct for Beethoven & Allen are still being debated. City has some concerns that sightlines on the hill might be too short, so pedestrians might try to cross thinking it's safe & get hit by a car (but also that is basically true now)

  4. There won't be a stop sign added at Puritan. Legally it's not allowed because it's regulatory not for street safety, but also it doesn't promote safety because drivers either roll through or stop but then accelerate suddenly.

  5. The public (including some Zervas PTO parent neighbors there Thursday night) remains concerned about parking overflowing into nearby streets and endless idling queues to get into the blue zone by the school (which lead to air pollution and blocking driveways)

One other Waban note, but not from the Area Council meeting, is that the Planning Department says the re-developer for 20 Kinmonth Rd (the former nursing home behind Waban Market) is currently proposing to build “24 residential units in the existing building” but no additional details are available yet. Thanks to my fellow housing activists for staying on top of this inquiry.

If you would like to make a donation to my campaign to help me stay ahead of the competition, you can do so here.

Campaign Week in Review - 3/8/19: Zoning and Affordability, Buses and Shuttles, Local Business Challenges

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

This past Sunday, Bill got a bit more door-knocking done despite the continued winter weather and this week he attended a number of community meetings. Some of the many issues voters brought up this week were renewable energy, the need for improvements to public transportation, the problem of outsourcing of certain city services, and (as usual) road repair after all the winter potholes this season.

So-called Better Bus Project

On Monday night, Bill attended a rescheduled MBTA community meeting regarding possible bus route changes that Mayor Fuller has been speaking out against, some of which would affect Ward 5 (more info further below). Held at the Watertown Police Department, the presentation mainly consisted of posters placed around the room repeating information from online, so disappointingly there wasn’t much new info. Bill was able to submit comments on Route 59 changes and speak with various Newton and Watertown residents, including former Watertown City Councilor Aaron Dushku who talked about the new dedicated bus lanes in Watertown. Because of how much space single-occupancy vehicles take up, a lot of the time there are more people riding the bus in the dedicated bus lanes than all the people driving by themselves in their cars in the adjacent lanes. Former Newton Alderman George Mansfield also expressed concern to Bill that the Route 52 bus serves people with disabilities and elderly riders who would otherwise have no easy transit access if their part of the route was eliminated under the current proposal. More on that later in this recap.

Local Businesses

On Tuesday morning, Bill met with Greg Reibman, head of the Newton Needham Regional Chamber, in order to hear about the challenges faced by our local businesses. One such challenge that Greg highlighted was landlord absenteeism and storefront vacancies. Bill asked a number of questions about the role of the government to intervene in some of these problems. We’ll be following up more with local businesses to hear about what is and is not working for them in Newton, as well as their ideas for solutions.

Housing

Tuesday evening, Bill went to the monthly Engine 6/Liveable Newton meeting of affordable housing activists held at Union Church in Waban. The agenda covered zoning reform, Washington Street, Riverside, inclusionary zoning, and Northland. Here is a quick recap of the key points:

  • Zoning reform impacts on housing affordability

    • A key concern among attendees regarding zoning reform was that the current proposal doesn’t zone density along all public transit lines. Another voiced concern was that small homes (which tend to be more affordable than large ones) aren’t buildable by right in many of the areas where there are mostly large homes.

    • Another comment concerned equity in the proposal, posing questions about why some neighborhoods were being preserved as-is while other, already dense neighborhoods, were only adding density.

    • One other point was brought up by Sean Roche, a community activist who often writes at Village 14 and on twitter, who argued that multi-family homes should not be prohibited in any lots, as the current zoning reform draft suggests. Zoning for exclusively single-family homes should be eliminated, he argued, so that every residential lot would allow by-right construction of at least two- and three-family housing. (Single-family homes would still be permissible under this idea, just not the only thing allowed.) Another member noted that the support in Newton for climate action and environmental sustainability is more widely backed than the support for housing affordability, saying that this is likely the best way to argue against exclusively single-family zoning for new construction.

    • The full City Council will be meeting on March 19 to hear a new model for projecting the fiscal impacts of future development. March 12 is the deadline for public comments on the 2nd draft of the Washington Street Vision.

  • One final housing-related item, which Bill promised to follow up on at the Engine 6 meeting – On March 4, the Department of Planning and Development released a Development Review Team Meeting Snapshot. One mentioned submission was in regards to 20 Kinmonth Road, the recently closed nursing home behind Waban Market. The submission for review was described as a special permit to extend the nonconforming use to allow a multi-family dwelling. We contacted the Planning Department staff this week to inquire more about this proposal, but the Department stated that they had no additional information from the developer yet. We’ll keep following it.

Newton Highlands Area Council: Northland, MBTA Buses, Charter Revisions

On Thursday night, Bill attended the Newton Highlands Area Council monthly meeting, which addressed the Highlands impacts of the Northland project, the MBTA Better Bus Project, and Charter revision proposals, among other things. These are the most noteworthy points from the night:

  • Northland’s team was there to address questions, focusing on the Highlands, in a small group setting ahead of their next Land Use Committee hearing next week. The Northland site is in Upper Falls, but Needham Street marks the border with Newton Highlands and the project site is close to the Newton Highlands’ village center, so both neighborhoods would be greatly affected.

    • Thursday’s discussion touched on some recent changes to the plan, such as the reduction in Building 6, which had the largest mass due to a large, above-ground parking garage. The building is now getting smaller as parking goes underground. This undergrounding of parking, along with reduced total parking (and retail and a bit of housing), made possible the split of Buildings 5 & 6 into several buildings trisected by greenspace walkways and courtyards.

    • Street parking around Northland’s central green has been eliminated in order to promote pedestrian safety and accessibility.

    • On the issue of parking requirements broadly, Northland’s team spoke about evolving away from the 1970s approach to parking planning (which was to build parking capacity for the peak days of the year around Christmas) and rather towards building parking based on more typical year-round needs.

    • The transportation hub building has now been moved onto Needham Street, which helps to add walkthrough permeability along the street and probably makes it more convenient for pedestrians and vehicles to get to.

    • In response to a question from Bill, they said that undergrounding the parking wouldn’t affect the culvert for the brook being restored above ground in other places, as they are building around it.

    • Shuttle fares continue to not be disclosed, but it was stated that those prices would be based on levels low enough to encourage ridership at the levels they’re aiming for to manage transportation demand and get enough people to avoid driving.

    • Councilor Rice inquired if the shuttles could run to the Eliot T station in order to avoid every shuttle dropping at Newton Highlands. Northland said that this route doesn’t work, but that they have been considering a routing to the village center in Newton Center.

    • Northland also commented that  the shuttle is primarily being designed for commuting, which is their explanation for the relatively unimpressive frequency of service proposed.

    • Bob Burke expressed concerns about whether the Green Line could handle the increase in ridership from the Northland and Riverside projects. Northland responded by saying that this concern was one of the reasons for why they planned shuttle routes into Boston or Cambridge, instead of just to the nearby Green Line and commuter rail stops.

    • Building on that, Nathaniel Lichtin asked if Northland had conducted a capacity study for ridership on T lines similar to traffic impact studies. It did not sound like they had.

    • Northland also said that they met with the Newton Council on Aging, which they report is opposing the concept of segregated senior-only housing blocks for the site. This is something that some city councilors had been pushing for.

    • Proposed reduction in retail space in the current plan revision would reduce projected Saturday traffic by 50% compared to the earlier version

    • Bill also asked some additional questions about the project, inquiring about tax revenue projections before and after the reductions in retail square footage (somewhat decreased, though still a net gain, but at least less likely to add further commercial vacancies) and also about the controversial Oak St entrance/exit (no further proposed changes since they added some street bends and other speed-reduction measures to discourage heavy usage, but they remain convinced it is necessary to have at least a minor entrance/exit there, despite concerns raised by some Upper Falls residents)

  • The Area Council meeting also addressed the MBTA Better Bus Project, where the Route 59 and 52 changes would affect Newton Highlands. Both of these routes are long with low ridership. The change to 52 would eliminate the alternative route over Nahanton/Winchester and just maintain the middle schools route. The 59 would eliminate the Elliot St Lincoln St alternative route.

    • By eliminating these routes, frequency on the main routes would increase, but negatively impact those who don’t live or work near the main routes.

    • Another concern is in regards to some elimination of Route 60 service around the Chestnut Hill Towers housing project and service westward from there into Newton.

    • The Area Council voted to send an official letter to the T containing comments opposing service cuts, consistent with the mayor’s letter on the Better Bus Project

  • Charter Revision updates from Councilor Rice:

    • Following extensive comments from the public in a hearing this week, the City Council Programs & Services Committee voted to eliminate any charter changes to Area Council. These changes would be pushed to a next round of possible revision.

    • The Committee pushed making a decision on the question of a minimum voter turnout threshold to validate ballot referendum results to next month.

  • The Walnut and Pinecrest townhouse project by Four Corners was voluntarily reviewed by the Fair Housing Commission this week for accessibility, affordability, and other fair housing questions. Nothing was flagged by the Commission, but the developers were reminded that any affordable units must include utilities and other such costs in the pricing of affordability. (One affordable unit is proposed at the moment.)

Campaign Week in Review - 3/1/19: Understanding Zoning Reform

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

On Saturday, Bill knocked on doors in Newton Highlands south of Route 9 and heard from voters about city services and street repair conditions and traffic in Newton! On Thursday, he was also able to sit down with a Ward 5 business owner in Waban Square to learn about the challenges faced by local businesses – including the damaging effects of low pedestrian traffic and housing unaffordability for potential employees.

Other updates/events from this week:

  • A constituent recently emailed Bill about whether Newton is considering implementing gender neutral/ all gender/ non binary restrooms in public facilities in Newton, like nearby towns. The Mayor's LGBTQ+ Community Liaison, Holly Ryan, confirmed that this is in the works!

  • On Sunday, Stop & Shop workers voted through their union, the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1445 union, to authorize a strike if negotiations for fair pay and benefits fail. If a strike happens, it will affect the new Stop & Shop on Needham Street in Ward 5. Please do not cross any picket lines.

  • Bill attended Rev. Howard Haywood’s funeral at Myrtle Baptist Church on Sunday. A well known community activist, one of the Reverend’s final messages was that there is still work to be done in Newton. He hoped that it will become a model of true racial integration.

Zoning and Planning Committee

Bill has been attending community meetings and discussions on Newton’s zoning reform since last fall. It would be the biggest redesign in more than half a century. But for many of the sitting city councilors, their first deep dive into proposed zoning redesign came this past Monday. Bill attended that City Council Zoning and Planning Committee meeting, which was about the Planning Department’s newly released “Buildout” model. This model shows how every lot in Newton would be zoned – and more importantly how much could be built on each residential lot under that new zoning – under the February 2019 draft of the proposed reform. Comments, especially objections, from the public during this phase will shape changes the next draft. (They have already adopted changes to a preliminary draft based on public feedback since October.)

Monday night featured a great presentation by the Planning Department on a very complicated topic, and we have undertaken to try to write out some key points, highlights, and figures from that presentation in a way everyone can hopefully understand. You can check out the PowerPoint from the City as well.

The top goals for the zoning reform (set back in 2011) consist of increasing lot conformity, reducing speculative teardowns, and promoting broader community objectives such as climate change response and demographic diversity. One overall concern with the zoning redesign came from Councilor Crossley (Ward 5-at-Large), who argued that the proposed rezoning actually hews too much toward conforming toward already existing realities on the ground (i.e. preserving single-family zoning, as opposed to re-zoning for more multi unit new construction, since that affects other city goals on affordable housing, the environment, etc.). On the other hand, some councilors feel the proposed reform is too great a change already.

Understanding the buildout model:

  • The Planning Department emphasized that the buildout does not calculate what is likely to be built (that is shaped by market forces, individual preferences, and design trends), but rather it calculates the maximum possible construction citywide “by right” (i.e. without special permits or re-zoning) under the proposed new zoning.

  • For all residential lots, the buildout model shows: the maximum possible massing of buildings on a lot, the maximum possible lot splits (only viable new lots), the maximum possible residential units (with no commercial blend), and speculative teardown vulnerability.

  • Speculative teardown vulnerability is calculated to find a tipping point of whether the rezoned lot would allow re-developers to sell the new home for at least 2.4x what it was bought for (assessed value is used as a baseline), if the new unit can be at least 3,800 sf above ground, AND if it can be sold for $600/sf or more.

  • To further underscore the difference between maximum buildout vs likely construction, the Planning Department also noted that under current zoning, owners could already build by-right 2,000 more housing units in Newton because only half of the buildable square footage in residential zones have been built. Around 47% more capacity could be added without any reform. Simply changing what is allowed in some zones won’t necessarily change what is built because everyone is already not maxing out.

  • There are a few zoning code changes for lots which affect the allowed buildable area, and modifying each of them in one direction or another when drafting the proposed reforms can greatly change the maximum buildable construction. The Planning Department said they act like “levers” on what is allowed. These levers are: minimum lot frontage (the narrowest side to side width a lot can be along a street), minimum setback (shortest distance from the lot line to the building), maximum lot coverage (the most square footage that the structures like a house, deck, pool, etc. can cover of the total lot), and minimum lot size (area) & depth (length from street to the back line). Note here that “lot coverage” replaces a less comprehensive “Floor Area Ratio” (FAR) in the existing code.

  • One tradeoff in the draft is making it a bit more viable to subdivide a lot and build two smaller units as a way of compensating people who were expecting to be able to sell a big lot to a teardown developer. Another tradeoff would require new buildings to be built with deeper setbacks from lot line, but it is expected that this could push more people to add additions onto existing buildings getting closer to the lot lines, since additions are not governed the same way as new construction.

  • How tightly rules should be written for expanding non-conforming buildings compared to how strict the lot coverage requirements would be on new building construction was a matter of debate during the meeting.

  • The Buildout model of the February 2019 zoning reform draft finds that up to 2% more residential lots could emerge in Newton, given proposed changes to lot size requirements.

New zoning districts:

The new zoning code would create all new district categories, replacing any current ones. There are four that are primarily residential:

  • R3, the densest, would be designated onto 5,728 existing lots.

  • R2 is the most expansive, designated onto 11,964 existing lots.

  • R1, the least dense, would be designated onto 3,541 existing lots

  • NG, the least common and also partially commercial, would be designated onto 207 existing lots, all on the outskirts of village centers.

You can check a map and see your home’s proposed zoning designation here. Broadly speaking, Upper Falls will be mostly R3, Newton Highlands (within Ward 5) will be mostly R2, and Waban would be split between R2 and R1 with most of the R2 being east of Chestnut St and most of the R1 being west of Chestnut St. Again, these largely reflect current densities (or at least densities as of the year 2000, to set a benchmark regarding future teardowns.)

Key numbers from the maximum buildout scenarios (i.e. if every possible lot split allowed in the February draft reform happened and all possible lot areas are built on to the fullest extent permissible by right):

  • R3 – Here, the teardown risk falls from 44% to 11%, with the at-risk units dropping from 2,691 to just 681. The max allowable housing units (compared to maximum possible on those same specific lots but under current code) slightly increase from 12,065 to 12,557. The Planning Department noted the difficulty in incentivizing small 2 units in new construction instead of 1 unit to 1 unit teardowns in the market area being proposed for R3.

  • R2 districts would grow total allowable units by 4% (12,784 allowed now to 13,478) and teardown vulnerability would decline from 4,161 units at risk to just 476 units at risk (from 33% down to 4 or 5%).

  • R1 generally has very large single family homes with very large yards. The maximum possible building scenario rises to 4,088 units, and the teardown risk grows to 64% (up from 42%) under maximized lot splits, but in another scenario grows only to 44%. Council President Laredo (Ward 7-at-Large) asked if teardown concerns are the same for R1 as other residential zones, adding that deciding on a policy for lot subdivision and the city’s objectives on that point is a place for legitimate debate within the Council.

  • The Neighborhood General residential-commercial district (if built as 100% residential with no commercial) would increase from 1,150 current max units to 5,691 under the draft. The Planning Department also advised that NG district includes a few big properties that they believe should be zoned to another category, greatly cutting the aforementioned figures. They also emphasized that a 100% residential build would never happen, since it’s a semi-commercial district as well. For NG zones, under the current proposal, the teardown risk rises from 25% to 81% in that unlikely max build scenario. But Council President Laredo cautioned that the intention of creating NG transitional districts approaching village centers is actually for re-development specifically so “teardown vulnerability” as a concept is not as applicable in the way it is for R2.

This meeting focused entirely on the buildout model. At an upcoming ZAP committee meeting, changes being proposed for process – how projects are reviewed, special permits, variances, etc – will be addressed.

We hope that helps everyone understand the proposed zoning reforms a bit better, but please feel free to email back with followup questions.

Campaign Week in Review: 2/22/19 – Successful Fundraiser, Upper Falls Area Council, Debating the Issues

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

Despite the winter weather this week, Bill was able to knock on 78 more doors in Ward 5! He also held a successful fundraiser this past Sunday at the Waban home of affordable housing activist Fran Godine. At this event, Bill spoke about the regional housing crisis and how housing policy affects our goal of making Newton a community for everyone, and then took questions from attendees to facilitate discussion of this and other issues.

(If you weren't able to attend the fundraiser but want to support the campaign, please make a contribution now!)

Contribute

On Thursday, Bill attended the Upper Falls Area Council. The agenda featured a commentary/discussion from Councilor Auchincloss on Northland parking, as well as discussions of the Riverside project and city charter reform of Area Council. Here are the night’s key points:

  • Northland:

    • Councilor Auchincloss (Ward 2 at Large), who sits on the Land Use Committee, was present to respond to a letter signed onto by the UFAC about parking minimum requirements. The letter favored more parking than currently planned. Auchincloss has been making the case that the parking should actually be lower than the limit requested by Northland (1,950 spaces). Northland needs a waiver already, given that the standing city ordinance would require about 3,000 spots for the size of their project. The existing ordinance is something Bill has supported changing due to concern that it greatly over-emphasizes parking relative to our overall interests as a city and relative to nearby communities’ similar requirements. Auchincloss argued that by reducing on-site parking limits in the special permit phase, Northland would be forced to fully maintain an adequate transit operation and design uses for the site in a way that could actually support the lack of parking, rather than just meeting a bare minimum requirement and then encouraging people to drive anyway because there’s no incentive for them to keep up the alternatives. A concern from the community with limiting the on-site parking is that drivers may just begin to park in nearby neighborhood streets around the project.

    • Due to insufficient market demand in the area as flagged by the city’s peer reviewer of the project, Northland has recently announced a reduction in the proposed project, cutting retail space from 185,200 sq ft to 115,000 sq ft (and cutting housing units from 822 to 800, but not reducing the number of affordable units planned!). The retail reductions in particular would reduce the projected traffic. Voters or councilors who strongly favor increased commercial space but not residential stock increases probably won't be happy with the retail space reduction in the plan, but these folks also usually have concerns about traffic, and office/retail land uses actually add more traffic than residential does. And of course, despite the financial advantages of added commercial land use, if there isn’t a market demand for it (at least in a specific area), then we have to take that into account.

    • Another recent change is the planned elimination of the above ground parking garage (now putting a garage underground), as well as a 20% reduction in planned parking.

    • Councilor Rice asked the representative from Northland about senior housing. The developer said that they are committing to constructing “all ages” housing, not senior specific homes. These units are designed with accessibility to, and interest for, all types of residents in mind, including seniors, but Northland is still in talks with councilors over the senior-specific issue.

  • City Charter Reforms from Programs & Services

    • Last week in our update, we talked about the Waban Area Council where a counter-proposal concerning reforms to the City Charter was presented by a city council subcommittee. This week, Councilor Rice was present in person at the Upper Falls meeting to address further questions. As noted last week, the two key changes that aren’t simple administrative corrections are language regarding Area Council creation (moving more control to the City Council’s discretion as opposed to being laid out in the charter document explicitly) and the change to requirements for a valid ballot referendum campaign. Last Friday, Bill spoke to Councilor Krintzman (formerly of the Charter Review Commission) about the latter point to find out more. The threshold to get on the ballot would get a slight but not prohibitive increase (from 50 signatures to 250), and a participation threshold of 20% registered turnout. In other words, a referendum would fail if less than 20% of registered Newton voters cast a yes or no vote on it, even if more of them voted yes. However, there is some concern on this point because a number of citywide general elections in fairly recent years actually had total turnout below 20%, and 2015 just barely reached that threshold. That’s bad for many reasons besides referendum validation. But perhaps turnout would increase with ballot questions to vote on, rather than just candidates? Still, it’s worth having a conversation about the 20% proposal. There was a spirited discussion about it at the Upper Falls Area Council meeting.

    • The first week of March will include a Programs & Services full committee meeting to hear public comment on these and other proposed changes recommended out of the Subcommittee reviewing charter updates.

  • Riverside project

    • Continuing recent appearances at other area councils, the Upper Falls Area Council heard opposition statements concerning the project from Lower Falls. There were no major additional details since the last visioning meeting (discussed in last week’s update).

Other Updates/News This Week:

  • This past weekend, we were saddened to hear news of the passing of our fellow community member and supporter, Rev. Howard Haywood. A well known activist for affordable housing and a recipient of the City's Human Rights Award, he will be remembered dearly by Newton. For those who wish to attend his funeral and wake, the services will be held at Myrtle Baptist Church, 21 Curve St., West Newton. Wake: Sat., Feb. 23rd from 4 pm to 8 pm. Funeral: Sun., Feb. 24th 1 pm.

  • One issue many older voters have brought up with Bill during this campaign is their concern about how to get around if they are not able to drive themselves. This can lead to social isolation and other problems, so it’s something we do need to have an answer for. Interestingly, in her State of the City address on Tuesday evening, Mayor Fuller announced a new transportation assistance program for seniors. She said that the service will be reliable and affordable, and provide easily identifiable vehicles, vetted driver who will walk passengers to the door, an real time ride hailing. We’ll look forward to learning more on that soon!

Campaign Week in Review: 2/15/19 – Visioning, Waban Area Council, and More Door Knocking

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

This past Sunday, Bill attended a visioning meeting concerning the Riverside T station site on the Lower Falls/Auburndale village line. Held at Williams Elementary School, the packed meeting spent time answering questions from the audience mostly to clarify the visioning process (and how related or unrelated it was to the proposal on the table from the developer), which did not leave much time to discuss the public’s broader vision for the site. (People did write down comments about their vision on poster sheets on the walls around the gym.)

Despite the cold and snowy weather, Bill spent time canvassing on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday! This week, he knocked on 112 doors in Ward 5, and heard from voters about their environmental concerns, senior and affordable housing, and Newton schools.

(If you'd like to donate to help us pay for our campaign literature as Bill goes door-to-door, please make a contribution now!)

Contribute

On Wednesday evening, Bill was at another reception in Waban for the Suzuki School of Newton, as it joins the community in Waban Square.

Finally, on Thursday evening, Bill attended the monthly Waban Area Council meeting. The meeting covered new issues from the public and the Riverside visioning process, as well as featured a discussion of the report from the City Charter Reform subcommittee and updates on the zoning redesign. Here is a recap of key points from the meeting!

  • Issues from the public

    • Proposed marijuana shop opening for four corners (by a different developer than the one proposed and withdrawn last year)

    • Possibility of getting Northland mitigation funds for various intersections further away from the project, including closer to Rte 9

    • Attention brought to the fact that WAC has not heard updates on solutions from the city about speed problems on Allen Ave and Beethoven Ave since the public forum last spring

    • Interest in closer coordination between the Friends of Hemlock Gorge and the Friends of Quinobequin

    • Talk of the DCR eventually aspiring to build a riverwalk along Quinobequin and whether or not they are moving forward on part of that soon

  • City Charter presented a counter-proposal from city council subcommittee. This built on last week’s announcement from Councilor Rice that a Programs & Services Subcommittee has completed a one year review of two years of the Charter Commission process. Here are some key things to know:

    • No major changes that would require a re-vote by the city – mostly just re-introducing the minor administrative changes recommended in the ballot question

    • However, one of the proposed changes affects neighborhood area councils. It would move some of the definitions away from the charter and into the city council ordinances

    • There is also a proposed change that would change the threshold for signatures to get local ballot initiatives on the ballot

    • There are no proposed changes to size or composition of city council, in contrast with both the 2017 ballot question and the 2017 lame duck session proposal from city council

    • Councilor Rice (not present at the WAC meeting) has been advocating for wording to protect existing area councils, but also wants to make it easier to form new area councils as well. He will be chairing an upcoming public hearing on the proposed charter revisions at the Programs & Services full committee

    • Bill remains committed to finding improvements to the city charter that have broad support, since Ward 5 voters did narrowly support the 2017 proposal on the ballot, although the city as a whole did not. (This view is not shared by the Area Council.)

  • There was also a brief zoning redesign discussion, but most public discussion is in limbo until the citywide buildout is released in the final week of February showing how each lot’s zoning would change under the current draft overhaul of the code.

One final word: Don't forget our upcoming campaign fundraiser for Bill on Sunday February 17. More information available here.

Campaign Week in Review: 2/8/19 – Door Knocking Begins, Housing Proposals, and More

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

Last Saturday, Bill volunteered at the Newton Highlands Soup Social, serving delicious soup on a cold day from various Ward 5 and 6 restaurants to a big turnout.

This week, given the beautiful weather, Bill officially kicked off the canvassing effort, knocking 167 doors in Ward 5! Many of the voters reached were concerned about improving safety and accessibility of city roads, sidewalks, and bike lanes. Affordable housing was another key concern people brought up.

(If you'd like to donate to help us pay for our campaign literature as Bill goes door-to-door, please make a contribution now!)

Contribute

Bill also participated in the monthly Engine 6/Livable Newton meeting at the Union Church in Waban, where zoning reform and inclusionary zoning requirements were the main focus.

Finally this week, Bill attended the Newton Highlands Area Council meeting, where issues concerning both wards five and six were addressed. Here is a quick recap of the most noteworthy points from the meeting:

  • Main Issues/Items addressed:

    • Walnut St special permit for a residential development

    • Proposed Elliot St retail marijuana retailer

    • Riverside proposal

    • Charter Commission process

  • Walnut St

    • Adjoining lots near Whole Foods are being proposed for a small housing development, but a lot of revisions have been made in response to community feedback

    • One lot is proposed for a 2-family (built by right), while the other lot proposal plans to build 7 units and requires a special permit

    • 9 total units are proposed across the multiple properties, with private underground driveways and garages

    • The proposed units will be for sale after construction

    • One of the proposed units would be affordable

    • This project is not related to the proposed development nearby on Beacon St by a different owner

  • Eliot St. proposed retail marijuana site (currently permitted for medical)

    • There were no new announcements on this issue since the Upper Falls Area Council presentation by the owners. Traffic remains the top lingering concern for residents. The owners believe that the traffic and parking management plan for the marijuana site as well as appointment-only rules and staff levels mean they will actually have slightly less traffic than the salon and take-out restaurant uses previously on the site before it became vacant.

  • Riverside development proposal

    • The Lower Falls Improvement Association presented their objections to the Riverside proposal to the Area Council. They have been making presentations at various meetings around the city.

    • The visioning process for the site kicks off this Sunday afternoon at the Williams school

  • Charter Review Process continues

    • Councilor Rice announced that the Programs & Services Committee has completed a one year review of two years of the Charter Commission process, since the overall Commission proposal was unsuccessful at the ballot box but had plenty of widely accepted elements of minor changes

    • Rice said there is now a counter-proposal as a result of this review, which will be coming up for committee and council votes soon

One final word: Don't forget our upcoming campaign fundraiser for Bill on Sunday February 17. More information available here.

Howard Haywood endorsement

I am incredibly honored to have the endorsement of the Rev. Howard Haywood, one of Newton's most esteemed community leaders.

Rev. Haywood's Endorsement:

"As a Newton native and as Pastor Emeritus of Myrtle Baptist Church, I have worked for many years to make our city a more inclusive, loving, and welcoming place – especially on housing justice for people of all races and incomes. Bill Humphrey is running for city council on the notion that Newton can and should be 'a community for everyone' and he has made housing for all one of his top priorities. This is an issue Bill has already been vocally committed to in recent years. Because of this, I am endorsing him for the open Ward 5 city council seat in 2019."

Here's why I'm running for Newton City Council next year

In June, at the urging of friends and neighbors who supported my previous run for office, I announced I planned to seek the Newton City Council seat John Rice said he would be leaving in 2019. In the months since, I've been continuously participating in community meetings across Ward 5 and getting feedback on what people want from their new ward councilor in the next term and how my ideas might be able to make a difference. I continue to learn new things each week that will help me represent the ward I grew up in. Now my campaign is really kicking off.

Here's why I'm running for City Council:

I'm running because we need big ideas for the 2020s on how to make sure Newton is a community for everyone. We need a healthy natural environment with safe, clean, and convenient transportation options for all our families. We need to address the region’s housing crisis so that people have a place to live in Newton whether they grew up here, grew old here, or just got here. We need to preserve and expand the cherished public services that have made our city great. As a young, lifelong resident of Ward 5, I believe I can bring a unique new perspective to the job of representing Upper Falls, Newton Highlands, and Waban on the city council in the next decade – and continue the prompt and reliable constituent services work for everyone that we've come to expect as Ward 5 residents. Many of you have known me for many years via the Newton Public Schools or met me as I knocked doors for progressive causes and candidates, and I'm looking forward to getting to know those of you who don't know me yet. I hope to earn your support in 2019.

My new campaign website has a detailed platform of where I stand on the big issues facing Ward 5 and Newton.

If you're already on board and you're able to make a donation, you can do so at the button below. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing many of you at the doors in a few short months. Any help is appreciated!

Contribute