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!)
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:
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.
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!