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What happens now to MBTA Upzoning in Newton

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What happens now to MBTA Upzoning in Newton

We begin this morning expressing gratitude to our veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice to our nation.

Veterans Day events honoring those who’ve served are scheduled tomorrow in NewtonNeedhamWatertown and Wellesley.

What happens now to MBTA upzoning in Newton 

Dirty tricksmisleading lawn signs and data manipulation aside, Newton voters made it very clear Tuesday that they didn't like (or perhaps understand?) the city's proposed approach to the MBTA Communities Upzoning Law.

The Newton Beacon called it "a bloodbath." It was.

  • Five of the six city council winner candidates felt the Village Center Overlay District plan went too far.

  • Three incumbents -- including the chair of the Zoning & Planning Committee -- lost their seats, something that rarely happens in Newton.

  • Anti-VCOD at-large councilors who ran unopposed received more votes (in all but one ward, more than 1,000 votes) than their same-ward at-large colleagues who supported it, notes Fig City News.

Of course, VCOD wasn't literally on the ballot. And it will be the current city council -- not the newly elected one -- that votes on it, with formal debate scheduled to start Wednesday.

(Prior to Tuesday anyway, the current council seemed to be leaning 15-9 in favor of VCOD. The newly elected council is at best split 12-12. But by law, Newton must have its MBTA Communities Upzoning in place Dec. 31, while the new council is sworn in Jan. 1.)

We'll all be watching now to see what, if any, changes are proposed in the days to come.

Then we'll be watching to see if opponents carry out their vow to call for a referendum to toss out the plan, which would put Newton in danger of losing millions in state aid and in violation of state law.

Also worth watching: What happens Nov. 29 when the newly elected/reelected – and deeply divided -- council caucuses to elect its president. The new prez will select the committee chairs who will drive much of the agenda (not just zoning issues) for the next two years, while perhaps jockeying to run for mayor.

Big losers in Newton's election 

There were other big losers in this year election cycle, namely, all the other issues facing the city that were eclipsed by the upzoning debate.

In a city that's passionate about its schools; is the midst of a teachers contract dispute and disagreements over budgets; and embroiled in troubling diversity debates, there was not one contested school committee contest. Not one.

And in the city council contests, it was all about slates.

Yes, candidates brought up schools, city pension funds, transportation, road and sidewalk conditions, electrification, trees and other matters. Yes, candidates filled their postcards with all the right, generic, bullet points. Reporters and debate moderators asked about other issues too.

I'm convinced none of it mattered.

All you had to do was look at the clusters of lawn signs across the city (often accompanied by a “Save Our Villages” or “Newton for Everyone” sign) to know that this was a one issue election.

And that was a lost opportunity.

One final Newton elections thought 

Good people can disagree over whether Newton’s proposed plan to comply with the MBTA Communities Upzoning Law is the right approach, or not.

Some good people believe the Village Center Overlay District plan is too broad because it encompasses more of the city's villages than state law requires.

Other good people believe (as I do) that leaving some villages out of the upzoning may actually harm those villages because they will remain stagnant under decades old zoning, while the villages allowed to change become more vibrant and prosperous.

Good people can also disagree as to whether the results of Tuesday’s municipal election was good for Newton, or not.
But (and maybe I’m being Pollyannish) I hope the good folks the are on both sides agree that efforts to confuse voters (likely by a few agitators) in the campaign's final days was sleazy

Let’s agree to agree, or disagree, on issues.
But let’s agree that we should not emulate the worst of our national political discourse. 

Friday grab bag 

  • Chestnut Hill Square has partnered with Newton’s New Art Center to display “The Block,” an art exhibit of works combining windshield glass, plexiglass and steel by sculptor Liz Helfer. When Helfer isn’t creating sculptures, she’s the Public Arts & Culture Planner for the City of Watertown.

  • There will be a hearing on Beacon Hill on Nov. 15 on proposed legislation that would to require automated external defibrillators at all sporting events in Massachusetts. The “Preston Settles Every Minute Counts’ Act,” is named in honor of the Newton teen who collapsed during basketball game in 2022 and died after a 22-day fight for life.
  • Medium Rarea full-service restaurant famous for its French-influenced steak and frites is coming to Arsenal Yards in Watertown next spring. (Watertown News)

  • The Carroll Center for the Blind is hosting an open house Tues. Nov. 14 from 9 a.m., to 6 p.m. Enjoy a tour, observe instruction, and learn about the nonprofit's impact on the community, including remarks from the president between 4 to 6 p.m. RSVP.

  • The Village Bank's annual Holiday Gift Drive in partnership with the City of Newton begins Monday through Dec. 13. Bring new and unwrapped gifts or gift cards from local merchants to any Newton branches of The Village Bank. Gifts should be for children ages newborn to 10 and may include age-appropriate toys, games, electronics and sporting goods.

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

Wellesley expands inclusionary housing area

Wellesley Special Town Meeting took steps this week aimed at creating more affordable housing and laying the groundwork for adoption in March of their MBTA Communities Upzoning Law plan.

Members extended the criteria for when inclusionary zoning would be triggered and where it would apply, reports Bob Brown at the Swellesley Report. 

The move was a proactive effort to ready the town for end-of-2024 compliance with MBTA Communities so as to make sure upzoned areas are covered by the inclusionary requirements, Brown adds.

Town Meeting also agreed to diversify the mix of affordable housing required under inclusionary zoning but turned down an article that sought to exempt attached accessory dwelling units from large house reviews.

Wellesley Executive Director Meghan Jop will share a draft plan outlining the town’s proposed approach to MBTA Communities, Nov. 30, 7 p.m. at the Wellesley Free Library. 

Do you know anyone who would benefit from chamber membership? 

Thanks to referrals from our members, The Charles River Regional Chamber has consistently been among the state's fastest growing chambers. 

And now as the year draws to a close, we're asking if you have any clients, business partners or friends who could benefit from our advocacy, events and networking opportunities?

Just fill out this form with the names of those you think could benefit from chamber membership. And when they join, we'll thank you with a $25 gift card to the restaurant member of your choice for each new member you've sent us.

You snooze, we lose 

Finally today, might the slow-grinding wheels of government lead to a lost, once in a lifetime, opportunity to permanently preserve 34 gorgeous acres of open space along the Charles River?

This week the Town of Needham learned that a public-private partnership to purchase the Castle Farm/Foster Estate in partnership with Northland Residential is off the table.

Instead, the seller appears to have a new deal with a different, as yet unnamed, buyer.

It’s not clear what the new buyer may have planned. But it's possible that instead of all that open space next to a 70-unit cluster of townhouses (with some affordable units), the whole 62-acre property will become single family homes as allowed by right.

“The purchase of the Foster property presented a unique opportunity for the town to preserve more open space for our residents and to protect this land now and for generations to come through town ownership,” Select Board Chair Marianne Cooley said in a statement. “We remain hopeful that we can engage with the new buyer to acquire a portion of the property for the town.”

As usual, Peter O'Neil at the Needham Observer provides the latest update and the background.

That's what you need to know today, unless you need to know why your income taxes may go down next year.

Shop and dine local this weekend please!

Greg Reibman (he, him)
President & CEO
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