Waban Area Council
MEETING AGENDA - November 2023
Isabelle Albeck, Dinah Bodkin, Bill Bracken, Rena Getz, Sallee Lipshutz, Drake McCabe, Megan Meirav, Chris Pitts, Sumukh Tendulkar
Ex-Officio City Councilor: Bill Humphrey
When: Thursday, November 16, 2023, 7:30 pm
Where: Virtual Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 868 4752 0630
I. Opening (5’)
A. Confirmation of quorum
B. Issues from the Community
II. Zoning Updates (30’)
A. Village Center Rezoning Proposal – Discussion of City Council deliberations
B. City of Newton’s compliance with the MBTA Communities Act
III. Administrative Items (30’)
A. Update of NAC Elections for WAC term: 2024 - 2026
B. Review & approval of Meeting Minutes
C. Treasurer’s Report
IV. New Business (5’)
Please note: Agenda order and discussion length is at the President’s discretion.
Next meeting will be in a hybrid format at the WLC - Thursday, December 14, 2023, 7:30pm
Draft meeting minutes:
Waban Area Council November Meeting Minutes
November 16, 2023 7:30pm
Prepared by Drake McCabe
Waban Area Councilors:
Peter (last name unknown)
Presentation on Village Center Zoning by Councilor John Oliver:
John Oliver presented slides on the village center zoning.
The “background” slide shows the timeline of recent zoning efforts starting with the Village Center Overlay Districts (VCOD) districts in 2020, continuing with the MBTA Communities Law in 2021, and more recently, the combination of the VCOD+MBTA in 2023 which, in the case of the MBTA communities act, must be passed by 12/31/23.
The next slide focused on the implications for Newton. Newton must zone for the capacity of 8,330 units of multi-family development. This would require a minimum density of 15 units / acre. The area should be centered on transit stations such as the green line and commuter rail. 50% of the area must be contiguous. For affordable housing, the zoning relies on Newton existing inclusionary zoning.
Next, a slide with a full city map was shown. The map (Version 3.0 9/12/2023) shows the 3 new zones in the VCOD - VC3, VC2, and MRT and the parcels that are proposed to be rezoned around the city. It again showed the deadline for the MBTA communities act compliance as 12/31/23.
Sallee asked what would happen if the city did not comply by the deadline. Councilor Oliver replied that the state would likely be more concerned that the spirit of the law is followed. Isabelle added that it seemed important that the guidelines were followed “in good faith”. Councilor Oliver posed the question - after compliance is achieved, can the city still make changes as long as the changes remain compliant. Councilor Oliver did not feel that question had been answered yet.
MaryLee Belleville asked about potential amendments pending with the MBTA Communities law at the state level. Councilor Oliver was not aware of any amendments but said he thought it was highly likely that changes would be proposed at the state level.
MaryLee Belleville asked if Newton has done anything to try to lobby or influence the state to reconsider the position that approved buildings in the pipeline do not count towards MBTA compliance.
Councilor Oliver noted that those units were not built by-right, but added that the city has followed the spirit of Communities act here. Councilor Oliver the city of Newton has not pushed back much here. However, he noted that the changes to mixed use that Brookline pushed for have been very helpful for Newton.
Mark Friedman thought that the zoning was “a lot of noise” because of the high property values in Newton and because economics would be more important than zoning in determining what would get built. Mark Friedman felt that the city should focus more on making it more affordable for teachers and other city workers to live here.
Councilor Oliver agreed that the city should explore ways to build and incentivize more affordable housing. MaryLee Belleville brought up Ann Arbor, Michigan as an example of a city who has created a lot of affordable housing by working with non-profit developers.
Rena Getz added that the inclusionary zoning ordinance was originally supposed to fulfill the need for workplace housing. Rena suggested that we could reach safe harbor status and then use some of our affordable housing with city workers in mind. Councilor Oliver noted that the city’s housing trust could be used to work with developers to put price restrictions on building.
The next slide focused on VC3 zoning. It noted the building heights, footprints, and parking requirements.
The zoom meeting ended unexpectedly and the participants had to rejoin the meeting to continue.
Mark Friedman noted that the city of Newton has a lot of wealth and could fund the housing trust to solve the affordability problem differently. Mark Friedman felt that it could provide housing for city employees and teachers that way.
Chris Pitts stressed the need for new people to get involved in the community issues to solve these problems.
Councilor Oliver brought up the potential sale of land on Dudley road and that the city should use its influence and money to control how that property is developed.
The next couple slides showed the VC2 and MRT zones, with their respective building heights, maximum units, minimum units, and parking requirements.
Steven Gusenoff brought up the MBTAs need for funding and questioned if smaller stops like Waban would still be supported in the future.
Councilor Oliver next showed a map of the required contagious area between Newton Highlands and Newton Center. Councilor Oliver proceeded to show a slide with some visualizations of VC2 and VC3 buildings on Lincoln St in Newton Highlands.
The next slide showed information about the affordable housing bonus in the proposed zoning. The following slide showed the total number of by-right units in a table that broke down the number of units in each village center. Councilor Oliver noted that the data was slightly outdated since some changes have been made to the maps.
MaryLee Belleville asked about the difference between adjusted MBTA units and adjusted non MBTA units on the table. Councilor Oliver explained that the latter referenced the number of units in the proposed zoning that we could not count.
Mark Friedman commented on the size of the numbers and how they compared to existing development. MaryLee Belleville felt like the unit counts by the city were undercounting units which would actually be allowed by the zoning. Councilor Oliver explained that part of that was because the tool provided by the state assumes a size of 1,000 sq ft per unit.
The next slide argued that the proposal is not supporting Newton’s stated intent, nor the goals of the MBTA Communities Act. Councilor Oliver noted that most of the housing density was focused on the commuter rail (West Newton) or areas where there was no rapid transit (Thompsonville) and not those near the green line (Waban). Councilor Oliver noted that the reason why the required number of units (8,000+) for MBTA Communities Act compliance is because of the green line.
The following slide showed units by zone, broken down by each Village. The chart shows how much of each Village Center is MRT, VC2, or VC3. The chart shows that a large percentage of Newton Center, West Newton, and Newtonville are VC3. Councilor Oliver noted that he is concerned that we are not actually doing a good job of meeting the spirit of the MBTA Communities Act. Councilor Oliver felt that we were ignoring the guidance of the DHCD officials.
Mark Friedman noted that while he agreed, he felt that we are forgetting all the variables we have to play with - saying it was more of a transportation problem rather than a density problem.
The slide after focused on existing local businesses and the impact on those businesses from the new zoning. The final slide showed upcoming next steps for the zoning process.
Next, a table was shown listing the 2,484 multifamily units not yet completed. The table notes that less than 20% of the units are located in a VCOD. It notes that two 40B projects are to be improved which will bring additional units.
A map was then shown that places all the large developments upcoming around Newton that do not count towards MBTA compliance because they are not in the new zoning. MaryLee Belleville noted that it was ironic that Riverside is owned by the MBTA but development there would not count towards the Community Act compliance.
Another image was shown with tables showing Newton’s Inclusionary Zoning.
MaryLee Belleville asked if the permit for Riverside would expire. Councilor Oliver said it would and that the city could change the zoning.
Mark Friedman asked if Riverside could handle the addition of 2,500 units, since that could be used to house city employees and create affordable housing. Rena Getz noted that the law does not allow the city to place restrictions on the use of the property. Councilor Oliver urged the city to have a conversation about changes to the law.
Rena Getz shared a slide deck to inform everyone about what happened at the City Council meeting last night (11/15/23). Rena Getz showed a slide with the zoning map of Waban and talked about the impact of the straw votes made during the meeting.
Councilor Oliver explained that after a straw vote, 18 people supported the MBTA districts (red arrows on the map). 13 people supported the inclusion of Auburndale. 5 people supported all VCOD districts.
Rena Getz also explained a vote was passed which was a Councilor Wright/Kalis amendment to reduce 5 lots from VC3 to VC2. The lots were in Newton Highlands around Walnut and Lincoln street. The other was an amendment by Councilor Baker that passed which would require one parking space per two units for adaptive reuse in the MRT district. That amendment passed 15 to 9.
Mark Friedman was concerned about his office in a building in Newton Highlands. Councilor Oliver explained that a lot of business owners have felt like people have not been advocating for them.
Mary Lee Belleville asked if the deadline is still the end of the year. Councilor Oliver explained that whatever we are going to do to ensure compliance, we must be compliant before December 31st.
Mark Friedman asked, assuming that we would comply, what degrees of freedom do we have that would control the compliance? Councilor Oliver argued that the strategy should have started with what problem are we trying to solve. Councilor Oliver thought that Brookline did a good job at implementing that type of strategy. Councilor Oliver noted that Brookline effectively made their compliance along Harvard Ave. Within that, Brookline required large chunks of retail on the first floor. Because of that they can only count a percentage of the units above retail on those lots. Councilor Oliver then talked about the economics of building and the high costs of building.
Rena Getz thanked Councilor Oliver for presenting and Mark Friedman for his comments and perspective as someone who has worked in the development industry.
Issues from the community:
Former Waban Area Councilor, Maureen Riley has asked to put issues related to Quinobequin on the next agenda.
Waban Area Council Post Election:
Rena Getz shared that she has requested legal guidance from the city about a line in the Council's bylaws around qualified succession.
Post election, the three people that were on the WAC ballot have been elected and will start a new term in January. The other councilors who ran as write-ins did not get the minimum number of votes to be elected. Rena Getz thought that WAC should get guidance on how to handle the succession since we will not have enough members.
Mark Friedman expressed interest in joining the WAC. Chris Pitts talked more about the WAC and what it does.
MaryLee Belleville shared experiences about working the election. MaryLee felt there was a need to educate people about the area councils and what they do. Rena Getz agreed that it is a good opportunity for outreach. Steven Gusenoff felt like the zoning changes made people more interested in learning about the area councils. Barbara Darnell expressed that the important thing about area councils is that there is an opportunity for discussion which is not possible in the city council. MaryLee Belleville encouraged people to attend area council meetings.
Renta Getz said that she will let everyone know once we hear more from the law department and if we would need to hold a special meeting or do something else.
Rena Getz commended Drake McCabe for posting the meeting minutes to the site and urged the council to read them so they could be approved at the next meeting.
WAC Treasurer Isabelle Albeck stated that we still have $667 in funds, but the council will have to pay the workers who worked at the WAC table in the election. Isabelle explained that we need a record of the payment so that the city can pay. Isabelle stated that the recipients could then
Sallee Lipshutz asked if there were any updates to an older request the city made to the WAC which would require the WAC to maintain revolving accounts instead of managing its own banking.
Isabelle Albeck explained that the WAC no longer holds any money for the Friends of Quinobequin organization.
Agenda For Next Year:
Sallee Lipshutz asked about the agenda for next year and asked if Chris Pitts would step up as President since Rena Getz would not be present.
Sallee Lipshutz shared that she would like to see the editors of the two online newspapers to attend a WAC meeting.
Mark Friedman suggested that the WAC invite the Chamber of Commerce.
Steven Gusenoff expressed an interest in serving on the Waban Area Council.
Rena Getz reiterated that we will have to wait for guidance from the law department to proceed.
wac_zoning slides 111623
VCOD Update 111623.pdf