Some Newton City Councilors are signaling that they’d be willing to sacrifice millions of dollars in state aid for roads, bike lanes, sidewalks, traffic mitigation, affordable housing and other improvements, rather than abide by a new state law.
What law could be so odious that some Newton electeds would be ready to give up millions in state grants in perpetuity?
A housing law, of course. The third rail of Newton politics.
At issue is that new zoning reform law — the MBTA Communities Law – that’s designed to chip away at two urgent problems: Our housing crisis and our climate crisis.
As I wrote yesterday, the new law doesn’t mandate new housing. It changes zoning codes to allow property owners to build small multi-unit homes if they choose — a process that could take years, or decades, if ever.
We’re not talking about massive apartment towers. The law is designed to encourage more townhouses, triple-deckers and carriage houses near T-stops — instead of McMansions.
Failure to rezone would make a community ineligible for certain state grants, according to draft regulations.
Still, at recent meetings City Councilor Marc Laredo and some of his colleagues have been suggesting it might be preferable to sacrifice the “very small amount of funding at stake” than to follow the law.
Except, it’s not a “small amount.” It’s millions of our taxpayer dollars.
It’s not a one time penalty either: It’s in perpetuity.
Here’s examples of recent state-funded projects Newton would conceivably have forfeited if this law was in place at the time:
- $7 million in Massworks funding for Route 9 improvements (2012-2014)
- $1.6 million in Massworks funding for Oak Street/Needham Street Intersection (2019)
- $400,000 in Masswork funding for design of Pettee Square (2021)
- $220,000 in Housing Choice funding to undertake affordable housing feasibility study for West Newton Armory
- $75,000 in Housing Choice
Some — but not every city councilor — agree with Laredo.
“What we don’t want to do is embarrass ourselves by essentially saying we’re wealthy enough to walk away from this and not comply,” said Councilor Vicky Danberg. “It’s kind of like parking in a handicap parking place because you can afford the fine.”
“For ten years, we’ve been talking about affordability and about climate and about making some dramatic changes,” added Councilor David Kalis. “And this just might be the kick in the tuchus that we need.”
This law applies to 175 communities — stretching from the Cape Cod Canal to the New Hampshire border to Worcester. It’s audacious that any of Newton’s leaders are suggesting their municipality should be exempt.
Please City Council, give this law a fair evaluation before rejecting it out of hand.
Greg Reibman is the President of the Charles River Regional Chamber.
Please urge city councilors to give this law a fair evaluation before rejecting it out of hand by sending a note to [email protected].
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