Campaign Week-in-Review: 5/17/19 - 7 Endorsements, Northland Sustainability Hearing, Upper Falls Updates

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

Bill continued his second pass through Ward 5 knocking doors this week. Voters who were previously undecided keep moving into our camp, and voters who were previously in support on the first pass reiterated their intention to vote for Bill in September and November. Bill also spoke to many voters who were not home the first time and continued to gather feedback on the most important city issues on voters’ minds in 2019.

Also this week, City Councilors-at-Large Susan Albright (Ward 2) and Andrea Kelley (Ward 3) announced their endorsements of Bill Humphrey for the Ward 5 councilor seat. It’s an honor to have their support in 2019 as we make the case for affordable housing, local environmental action, and stronger transportation. This builds on last week’s support from Mass Alliance.

They’re also joining the five Ward 5 community activists quoted below in support of Bill’s candidacy:

"Bill Humphrey is the candidate in this race who has knocked doors on every street in Ward 5, and he is always present at all the community meetings, listening to our concerns."– Jo-Louise Allen, Newton Upper Falls

"By speaking up, Bill has been fighting for other people's rights for as long as I've known him. Bill's strong character and devotion to Newton have been apparent to me and other Ward 5 parents since our children started in Newton Public Schools almost 25 years ago." – Julie Sall, Newton Highlands

"Bill is the only candidate in this race who has consistently championed affordable housing instead of fighting against it." – Fran Godine, Waban

"Bill understands the environmental stakes in city government from gas leaks to energy conservation and clean water." – Marcia Cooper, Waban

"Bill is a hard worker who shares our values and has proven that he can be counted on to keep Ward 5 constituents informed and get their city questions addressed promptly." – Nancy Zollers, Waban

Land Use Committee Hearing

On Tuesday night, Bill attended the Land Use Committee hearing on the proposed Northland development. The night’s hearing was specifically focused on the development’s architectural/site design and the environmental sustainability of the project. Here is the information to note from the hearing:

  • The petitioner argued that the project would, on net, be an environmental gain due to the redevelopment of the industrial grayfield, stormwater and waterway fixes, open green space expansion, tree plantings, and density of housing.

  • Out of the over 22 acres on site, 10.4 would be open or semi-open space, such as parks, plazas, and pedestrian walkways.

  • There are big improvements planned for stormwater and runoff management, in addition to plans to restore the brook (partially aboveground). The paving on-site would be porous and permeable, rather than the impervious paving site-wide that’s there now.

  • The rooftops for buildings are planned to have a combination of outdoor deck amenities, green roofing, and capacity for solar panels. A number of people expressed concern that “capacity” for solar was not the same as an intent to install panels from the start. (The historic mill building’s roof would also be an exception, being white roofed to reduce heat island effect.)

  • The mill building would have heat pumps, but it was noticeable that the petitioner did not mention any other details on heating for other buildings, which is typically a major source of fossil fuel usage in any project. It is also perhaps concerning that the largest, central buildings will feature significant glass and steel exteriors that could be fairly energy inefficient, depending on how they are constructed. (See below on passive-house construction standards.)

  • In terms of the overall design of the site, the city’s peer reviewer on this aspect is a consultant from Newton Highlands and presented a response.

    • The reviewer recommended that the petitioner investigate other sustainable & energy efficiency certifications/ratings, incorporating solar and renewable energy for the buildings, and the feasibility of installing a District Energy system.

    • He also recommended that the developers submit a list of all of the sustainability measures they plan to incorporate (or are considering incorporating) into the project and identify the approximate impact of each.

    • The city believes that there is enough water and sewer capacity for the project in the area, but wants a plan for demand reduction as much as possible. The peer reviewer voiced some concern about the petitioner’s runoff recycling plan during drought conditions. (In light of the 2016 summer drought and global warming, it is key to be planning ahead for this more and more.)

  • Newton’s Urban Design Commission presented about their four meetings with the Northland team

  • Also presenting was Green Newton, who gave their official presentation during the public comment period. They cited a need to cut emissions to levels 45% of the levels in 2010 by 2030. The chair stated that if this project is done right, it would help climate mitigation. If done wrong (including construction materials and methods), it would worsen climate emissions.

  • Newton’s citizen Energy Commission also gave an official public comment highlighting the Newton Climate Action Plan on phasing out fossil fuels in Newton by 2050 and proposing that all new buildings use zero fossil fuels.

  • Both Green Newton and the Energy Commission said that passive house construction standards from Europe are necessary for this project (which doesn’t yet include the standard). The petitioner design team did make a visit to a passive house certified residential building in South Boston, but they aren’t committing yet. You can read more about that concept in our recent newsletter focused on the topic.

  • After opening the discussion up to general public comments, one ongoing point of dispute from the audience was whether or not this large of a project counted as part of the nominal 13 Newton villages (i.e. Upper Falls) – or something separate. Many newer residents might be unaware of this, but the number of villages has gone up and down over the years of Newton’s history, due in large part to changes in real estate developments. For example, there used to be a “Woodland” neighborhood, but that is not considered one of the 13 current villages and has faded into the neighboring village areas, apart from the Green Line stop named for it. Others have come and gone as well. So it is certainly conceivable that the Northland development and Needham St (which technically forms the border of Upper Falls and Newton Highlands, nominally) might in future be considered a different village.

  • Members of the Council on Aging also made a good point about requiring various outdoor and ground level interior disability and elder friendly provisions into the development plan, specifically citing restroom access and better benches. The Council on Aging speakers also noted that isolation, housing, and transportation are the top senior concerns, according to their listening tour of Newton seniors.

  • Many of the night’s comments emphasized the urgency of this Climate Emergency and the role of housing density and transportation as tools to control this emergency.

  • Concerns over potentially high embodied carbon in the materials in the currently proposed architecture were also highlighted. (This refers to the amount of emissions required to manufacture or produce the materials such as concrete, as well as to transport them to the site.) One audience member spoke on the need to ensure that emissions to build the site over the next 5-7 years do not outweigh decades of energy savings from other aspects of the project.

  • Chairman Schwartz stated that it was imperative under the newton Climate Action Plan that any new major buildings under the development be off fossil fuels and as efficient as possible.

Upper Falls Area Council

Bill was at the Upper Falls Area Council meeting on Thursday night. Here are some key points from the night:

  • The longest scheduled item on the night’s agenda was a presentation on the project at the end of Chestnut St next to the Greenway.

    • In late 2017, the block of buildings at the end of Chestnut St were acquired by Mauruuru Properties. The buildings are being renovated to bring them up to code, and they are seeking a change towards 100% office space. The site historically had a mill and factory for a national alarm system manufacturing company. The design is also being unified across the various buildings.

    • Currently, the underground parking garage is closed for extensive safety renovations.

    • The owners say that they are attempting to revitalize this block in the village center, but not change it substantially. The Upper Falls Historical Commission is pleased with the owners’ cooperation on repairing and improving the old buildings.

    • Construction will continue into 2020, possible affecting the location of the Upper Falls Village Day in September of this year.

  • The Council also discussed the Greenway Plaque proposal from last month’s meeting.

  • Next on the agenda was the Art Selection Process for this year’s Art on the Greenway. The City Parks Department already approved it, so the presentation was by the curator of the project.

    • Last year, there was a public objection to an abstract piece selected that related the historical mills of the area to the slave labor cotton production of the South and the legacy of contributions by African-American descendants of slaves to American society and culture.

    • This year, many of the pieces will be based up in tree branches as a way of discouraging vandalism, which was an issue last year.

    • One of the proposed pieces this year includes an abstract reference to Parkland with broken toy guns. The representative at the meeting from the city said that the piece had to be taken out or modified to exclude the toy gun fragments.

  • Also discussed at the meeting was that the four area councils are organizing forums in early October for the city council and school committee races. No date or location has yet been set.

  • The meeting also discussed a memorial plaque in the village center for Brian Yates (a separate initiative from the Friends of Hemlock Gorge Memorial bench), and there was a recap or Tuesday’s Northland hearing.

  • One announcement made was that the Elliot Street marijuana host agreement and City Council approval have been obtained, so that project is moving forward.

  • The Area Council changed the Upper Falls Village Day, which had been originally been set for a Saturday in September; it has now been changed to Sunday, Sep 15, 11-2pm due to pushback to change it to a Sunday date.

  • There was also some discussion of ongoing pedestrian safety issues along Elliot Street and Greenway access and endpoints.

This Weekend

  • DPW Fair: The Newton Department of Public Works Fair is this Saturday (5/18) from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Newton City Hall War Memorial. As road repair was the top issue brought up by voters in Ward 5 during Bill's first round of door-knocking, this may be a great opportunity for residents to ask questions directly of the department employees and better understand how the department operates.

  • Waban Village Day: This Sunday (5/19) is Waban Village Day! It starts at 11 and goes to the mid-afternoon. Our campaign will have a booth set up so that voters can come out to meet Bill and ask him questions. We hope to see you there!

Campaign Reminders

  • Donations: If you would like to make a donation to help support our campaign to make Newton a community for everyone, you can click here. Or, If you prefer to make a donation by mail, please make out a check to The Humphrey Committee and send it to: The Humphrey Committee, PO Box 78, Waban MA 02468. Any donation amount is always appreciated!

  • Events: If you would like to host a meet & greet event for Bill to meet your neighbors, please let me (Irina) know and we'll set one up.