Councilor Gentile is putting up a proposal to hit the pause button on development. On Tuesday at Zoning & Planning Committee and the Planning Development Board, there will be a public hearing on few proposals designed to slow development, but the one that gets the most play in the Boston Globe article is a moratorium on changes along the Washington Street corridor.
Gentile said he proposed the moratorium in response to a no-bid $500,000 contract issued earlier this year so the city could move ahead with the Washington Street rezoning project.
“It just seems like we are just rushing forward with this,” Gentile said in an interview.
The Newton Villages Alliance is already using this as a rallying cry to get out supporters. From their email “…to Support Legislation to Scrap, Amend, Shrink, or Put a Moratorium on the MU4 Zoning Category or on Zoning Change Requests to MU4. MU4 is the Misbegotten Zoning Category That Set Off One Man’s Attempt to Buy Up Washington Street and Other Parts of Our Community” (sic)
As a person whose day job revolves around economic development in the region, the idea of slowing down development, even more, is frightening. Newton is already the “City of No” and that reputation is both well known and hard-won. During a talk at MIT last week, Councilor Jake Auchincloss pointed out that developers just factor in the slow pace of development as a cost of doing business here. The constant threat of litigation from abutters and things like these moratoriums make developing in other communities far more attractive.
I hear people complain that we need more commercial development, that our commercial tax base is low. This is exactly the way to make it worse.
What’s most telling is the last quote, the one I mentioned above. Here is the full line:
“I just think there is a conscious effort to drive Newton into the direction of a Cambridge or a Brookline,” Gentile said. “That is not the community I grew up in.”
And that’s just it. This isn’t the Newton of Councilor Gentile’s youth. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, no city should stand still, we need to grow and evolve. If you want to have some fun, check out the site MapJunction, which lets you overlay historical maps on the current landscape. The only constant we have is change.
But let me also offer this: In 1960 Newton had more than 92,000 residents. As of 2010 the city had a bit more than 85,000. So maybe we do need to get back to the community he “grew up in.” We can start by building more housing, and stop saying “no.”