The failure to act on our almost one billion dollar unfunded pension and health care obligations for retiring municipal workers and elected official is one of the most serious issues facing Newton. If we were to pay this obligation today, each of our more than 31,000 households would owe over $30,000! Having a debt this size will certainly change the way we pay for our basic city services including our schools. It is irresponsible to think we can avoid the problem any longer, or pass it off to the next generations of children and Newtonites.
What would 68 units of housing on Austin street look like? A drive around Waltham offers a number of examples but one complex on the corner of River and Elm streets provides a lesson in scale. Though attractive, this development is only 34 units; walking around it, one can begin to imagine the magnitude of a building double the size. At its highest point, the 68 unit, four story building in Newtonville will line narrow Austin St. In an congested and high traffic area, this development will loom over and impose itself on our village.
It is worth noting that the original proposal for Austin street was for “at least 20 units.” The original proposal accepted by the City was for 87 units. Newtonville residents are not against change but they the development was and is much too large. Residents also oppose effectively selling much needed public land (198 year lease) at an undervalued price. As is, residents are still concerned with how the 68 units will radically change their neighborhood.
Note: The following appeared in the Newton TAB on August 26, 2015 as a Letter to the Editor:
Though Newton’s housing stock and population growth have remained fairly parallel – that is about 5,000 additional units to about 5,000 additional residents over the past few decades – some would have us believe we are in the midst of a dire shortage. The numbers, however, show otherwise. Newton has 12 various zoning districts (3 single residence, 4 multi-residence, 2 multi-use, and 3 business) all with “as of right” housing opportunities (that is, no need for Land Use or Zoning changes). We should take advantage of these “as of right” opportunities to build additional housing as needed.
The value of zoning is reciprocal: those who buy into neighborhoods have a reasonable expectation that their neighborhood will not change dramatically, and property owners can reasonably expect to sell for a fair market value. Special permits muddle expectations and are a way of reshaping Newton without expressed consent. Often neighbors are surprised at and in many cases unhappy with developments built in ways they had not expected. High density housing, allocated by special permit and under the guise of helping our housing problem, is not allowing residents to anticipate changes nor decide on their merits. Leadership must be forthright with their intentions so voters can have a voice in rejecting or approving changes that alter our city so dramatically.
A recent study shows that millennials, who live in cities when they are younger, often prefer a suburban experience once they begin to have children. Newton is desirable because it is a suburb with proximity to Boston. It seems likely that people move here because of what Newton is now, not because of what it will be in the future. Changing our suburban environment to a high density urban one under the guise of helping our housing problem is disingenuous. Let’s have an honest conversation about housing. Please email me – I’d love to hear your ideas.