Skip to content

A big step in the right direction for Newton

Need to Knows Graphic

A big step in the right direction for Newton

I’ve just returned from a trip to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina with state, municipal, education, and business leaders to learn about Research Triangle Park and how that region approaches economic development. It was an enlightening and eye-opening experience.

I mention this only because I wasn’t planning on producing a newsletter this week. But there’s some big news to share, so here goes...

A big step in the right direction for Newton 

The Newton City Council committee that's been shaping a plan designed to gradually add less expensive, smaller homes close to public transportation and, in turn, bring more vitality to its village centers completed its work Monday.

The three-years-in-the-making upzoning (approved by the Zoning & Planning committee with five in favor, one opposed, one abstention, and one absent) now goes before the full Newton City Council for approval.

Deliberations could begin as soon as Nov. 6. However, it will likely require several meetings before there’s a final vote, hopefully, later in the month.

The changes and the benefits are significant. The proposal updates 1950s zoning rules that have made it onerous for developers to do pretty much anything by right except build McMansions.

These are rules that were written in an era when no one worried about suburban sprawl, when no one worried about congestion, or climate, or where our kids and seniors would one day live.

In its place would be new rules and design standards that encourage the preservation of existing homes over tear-downs and eliminate some of the onerous regulations that have made it hard to open a business here.

Importantly, the proposal allows Newton to meet the requirements of the state’s MBTA Communities Law but goes further by allowing for more village centers to benefit from the added vibrancy.

FAQ’s on Newton’s Village Zoning here.

One noteworthy change to Newton's plan


Prior to approval on Monday, the Zoning and Planning Committee agreed to one noteworthy change that was supported by the chamber.

Committee members agreed to remove several blocks that are currently home to an array of beloved mom-and-pop businesses in the village of Nonantum (east of Adams Street and along Watertown Street) from the overlay district.

In exchange, there was a consensus (including neighborhood support), to explore the rezoning of a largely dormant manufacturing zone (see photo) which abuts many of those Watertown Street businesses for possible housing or mixed-use.

Upzoning of some or many of these underused and poorly maintained manufacturing lots could be a win for both the merchants that would benefit from the added customers and everyone looking for solutions to the housing shortage since the area is quite large.

What's next for the village center zoning proposal

Monday’s Zoning and Planning Committee vote was a milestone but the political battle is just beginning. 

Opponents to the changes have been waging a misinformation campaign for months, peppering the city with lawn signs and flyers that depict buildings that far exceed the maximum number of floors allowed under the upzoning.

Some have vowed to challenge the proposal, if approved, through a voter referendum, just as was done (unsuccessfully, that time) with the Northland project in 2020.

And what about Needham, Watertown, and Wellesley? 

Newton is one of 12 communities that must complete its MBTA Communities plan by the end of this year. Needham, Watertown and Welleley's rezoning must comply by the end of 2024. Greg Ryan at the BBJ has this update on how each of the first 12 are proceeding.

And if you haven't read it yet, the Globe Spotlight Team's report on Milton and the new state law a must read.

New operator to accelerate West Newton project


While the Newton City Council ponders upzoning that could gradually add housing over years, if not decades, an already approved but stalled development in West Newton is getting new life.

Mark Development will be transitioning ownership of The Dunstan Residences -- a mixed-use 40B project with 292 residential units (including 73 affordable) with 8,000 sf of ground floor retail -- to Garden Homes, a nationally recognized housing developer and community builder.

Dunstan Residences, formerly known as Dunstan East, was approved in 2021 but, like many developments across the region, stalled due to economic headwinds.

“Given the challenges of getting new projects built today, we are pleased to have found a partner who can begin construction on an important project that adds new housing, improves the public realm, creates a more pedestrian-friendly environment, and better connects this stretch of Washington Street to West Newton Square," Robert Korff, principal at Mark Development, said in a statement.  

In the same statement, Korf stressed his company is working to move forward with plans for its other approved Newton projects at Crafts Street, West Newton Square, and Riverside Station.

That includes a collaboration -- and this would be big news, folks -- with the state to consider an “initial development at Riverside that is housing-centric” the statement said.  

Commercial property taxes set to climb in Watertown 

There's good news for Watertown residents. Not such great news for businesses.

Last week, Gov. Maura Healey approved the city’s home rule petition that will allow Watertown to return to a 175% real estate tax shift

This will result in an estimated drop between 9 and 10 percent in property taxes for residents with the difference shifting onto the backs of non-residential properties.

In an interview with the Watertown News, City Manager George Proakis was asked about the resulting burden on businesses.

“Obviously, I want our commercial property owners to be successful, but I think when most folks come here and do commercial development in Watertown they are aware we are a full tax shift community and that 175 percent tax shift is where they should expect things to be, and it had slipped down a little bit,” Proakis said.

Todays' grab bag 

  • Cameron Morsberger has joined the Needham Channel's new online outlet Needham Local as community news reporter and digital media editorMorsberger was a reporter at The Lowell Sun and worked as a Newton correspondent at Boston Globe Media as part of a partnership between Boston University and the Globe.

  • Wayne Patenaude, CEO and president of Cambridge Savings Bank, is retiring (BBJ)

  • Good Shepherd welcomes comedian, actor, and writer, Rob Delaney as the 2023 keynote speaker at its Annual Institute Dinner at the Boston Marriott Newton on Nov. 2 to Tickets

  • Needham businesses, nonprofits, and residents interested in free Narcan and free training should contact the Needham Public Health Department (781) 455-7940 or email

  • And don't forget the chamber's annual Fall Business Breakfast, the region's largest annual gathering of business and civic leaders is one week from tomorrow, Nov. 3 at the Newton Marriott. This event is on track to sell out.

Wellesley committee not particularly charitable towards Sister's request 

Wellesley’s Advisory Committee isn’t sold on a plan designed to allow the Sisters of Charity to live out their lives at their property in Wellesley Hills.

The Sisters (average age 83) are looking for an opportunity to control their destiny and finances by selling their 125 Oakland St property to a buyer/operator who would, in turn, agree to run their nursing facilities, assisted living, and dependent senior housing for the rest of the Sisters' years.

Earlier this month, the Planning Board unanimously approved the Sister’s planned rezoning change.

But last week Advisory recommended unfavorable action on the action which goes before Town Meeting starting Nov. 6.

That's what you need to know for today, except you should know that it's not too late to join us at the Authors & Innovators: Business Ideas Festival in Watertown tonight.

Be back here next week.
Greg Reibman (he, him)
President & CEO
Powered By GrowthZone