Zoning, Recycling, Roads

9/15/20223 min read

Village Center Zoning
You have a chance to weigh in on village center zoning redesign starting Sept. 1st. As you may recall, Council has been discussing what zoning changes would make our villages more vibrant, sustainable, attractive and would allow enough housing to meet the mandates in the MBTA Communities law (MCL).
If Newton meets the MCL zoning requirements--which are designed to lower carbon emissions from transportation and create needed new housing--the city will then also be able to require all-electric new construction. The latter is important consumer protection for homebuyers who otherwise might have to retrofit boilers, kitchens and appliances to meet evolving climate mandates.

Village center structures will be more attractive if Newton can remove costly parking mandates (requirements to provide parking spaces based on number of housing units or seats in a restaurant, for instance) from zoning. Mandated parking is what makes modern structures massive (or surrounded by heat-absorbing pavement) and unduly expensive. Currently, Council regularly waives parking requirements near village centers and the T in special permits, but the permitting process adds uncertainty and expense. And any zoning that requires special permits to build near the T will not pass MCL muster.

The Zoning committee saw several examples of what could be constructed in our village centers now, and what modest changes would allow--I think the changes result in buildings that better fit Newton’s villages. Another proposal is to include robust design review, which I think makes a lot of sense. Having design professionals make decisions is more predictable than facing an elected body--and that’s perhaps why no other Massachusetts municipalities have elected bodies making those determinations. There were a total of 12 recommendations that the Zoning committee approved--you can read about all of them on the zoning website, where you can also weigh in with your own thoughts. Please do!
To maximize reductions in traffic and emissions -and build stronger communities--I would like to see the city also plan more proactively for 15-minute neighborhoods.


After my last newsletter, several people asked about plastics recycling. The thing is--this changes all the time as the market for various materials changes. Best practice, according to Newton’s Director of Sustainable Materials Management, Waneta Trabert, is to consult the state’s Recycle Smart website. They update daily.
It is still true that black plastic is too hard to “read” for the sorting machines, so those takeout containers aren’t really recycled (I will use them to gift cookies). Plastic bags get caught in the machinery and cost Newton in fines from the recycling depots--but if you take clean, dry plastic bags to most grocery stores, they can recycle them. They are used in composite lumber! Plastic drink (and other) pouches can’t be recycled.
Rule of thumb: if it’s otherwise a bottle, container, jar, tub with a lid or a jug, it can go in the recycling bin. Clear plastic is preferable to colored--in fact clear plastic cups can go in the bin, but not colored ones.
Fabrics: To find out where bins are, visit . Wearable clothing is re-sold, and Newton will get a percentage. The rest can be shredded and used as insulation and in various paddings.
Recycling something else? Check here.

Cool environmental articles (please feel free to share your best reads):

  • Why local government matters for climate change (NYT)

  • Kill your lawn before it kills you (NYT)

  • As many as 1 in 6 trees native to the contiguous U.S. are in danger of going extinct due to climate change. (WaPo)

  • Why foraging is important for you & your palate: (WaPo)

Road & other work

  • Trees are being cut along Northland’s Oak Street frontage in order to make room for undergrounding the overhead wires--remember the project will re-plant these and 700+ more trees. Additionally, Oak Street will see traffic diversions both for city sewer work and for Northland’s water, sewer, and electric wire connections in September.

  • Chestnut between Beacon and Commonwealth should see gas work finished by mid-September and the beginning of sidewalk construction. Once sidewalks and curb ramps are finished, the road will finally be paved.

  • Waverly and Ward will be rough until water pipe repairs are finished.
    Washington Street from West Newton to Newton Corner should get new pavement in September. Also Washington in Lower Falls. Intersections:Crafts at Walnut is now more of a T intersection--much safer for kids walking to school. The new berm will be planted once the drought lets up.

  • Waltham at Derby will see traffic calming work to improve sight lines and safety. Meadowbrook at Fox Hill is getting drainage improvements.