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.

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