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 You can also call a 24/7 noise hotline at: 508-676-3550. And you can email the project team at

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.