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It wasn’t the only development-related item on the Zoning & Planning agenda last night, but Ald. Amy Sangiolo’s Docket Item #237-14 requesting aone-year moratorium on the demolition of 1- and 2-family homes was probably what filled Rm 202 last night.  It was prompted by concern over both the  current pace of teardowns, and what’s replacing them. Both Sangiolo and Ald. Vicki Danberg noted the loss of naturally affordable housing stock. (Note to insomniacs: Thursday’s  Newton Historical Commission agenda of 25 items includes 15 full house demos and five items scheduled to start at 11pm or later!) It was also inspired by a recent moratorium in Belmont –expiring on June 30 — on duplexes replacing single-families, while the town figured out what to do. (A new bylaw was recently passed.)

Ald. Sangiolo notes that driving down many streets in Newton like Dartmouth St, or Auburn Street (above) “it looks like a war zone.” She’d like to “take a breather” like Belmont did. Regarding whether anything could be done over the summer, given the need for a public hearing, Sangiolo said she’d forgotten about summer because of how “Land Use seems to be kickin’ up a storm holding public hearings.” Nevertheless, it appears a public hearing will not be held until the fall. But the Z&P Committee members discussed concerns about both teardowns and a moratorium.

Ald. Hess-Mahan warned about unintended consequences, noting what happened when they got rid of the 50% demo rule, and changed FAR, when they had to do emergency legislation to accommodate people who had projects already designed and ready to build. He also didn’t want to penalize someone in his neighborhood closing on a house to do a teardown where the new construction would be consistent with the neighborhood. Ald. Danberg noted that MR1 areas are particular targets of developers because of the size of what can be built, and that adequate notice to neighbors about demolitions is another problem area. After a recent Tab article on teardowns she was shocked by the volume of phone calls and emails she received from people (and one developer outraged in a different way). She also gave examples of “partial” demolitions in which the original house is enveloped or overwhelmed by the “addition.” (#237-14 is only aimed at full demolitions.) Ald. Kalis said he can see supporting a moratorium and would like to see the administration work on a framework over the summer, and to be able to take concrete steps at the end of the summer.  Ald. Yates  is very happy the item has been docketed, thinks the transition will be tricky, and talked about the impending demolition of the historic Wetherell house, and how the developer might now work his way down the street, and you could find historic districts like Upper Falls, which was drawn narrowly 40 years ago, “inside walls of massively built housing which would not, as Alderman Danberg says, be affordable to any of the people who live there now.”

There’s a lot more, and I hope to have full audio online tonight, but for a sampling you can go to the Newton Villages Alliance Twitter feed.

The next step it appears, will be Amy Sangiolo working with Planning over the summer, and an August Zoning & Planning meeting, date to be determined, with just this item on the agenda.

Also on the agenda: #238-14, requesting the development of a Housing Production Plan. I’ll leave that for another post.

Addendum: here’s the full audio – with tracks!


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