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.