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In advance of tonight’s meeting (Feb. 27, 6:45 p.m. at the Franklin School) Mayor Fuller provided this update on the Washington Street visioning process.

We embarked in May 2018 on a planning process for Washington Street. The goal is to provide the City Council with new zoning in the Spring of 2019 that represents our dreams and vision for this important corridor.

We are very aware that while we are planning, Washington Street is changing. The City Council has already approved both Washington Place at Washington Street and Walnut, as well as a three-story headquarters for Mark Development with a restaurant at the Santander Bank location in West Newton.

Where are we right now? The planning team that has been working with our residents, businesses, and the City Council has presented their second draft of the Vision Plan and Zoning Code.

This is not the final draft, just another step in the process. Let us know what you think at drop-in office hours from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5, and Wednesday, March 13, in Room 205 at City Hall. There is also a meeting tonight to give updates specific to West Newton at 6:45 p.m. at the Franklin School (125 Derby St.) Or, click HERE and leave your comments.

What’s in the second draft?

The second draft reflects what the planning team heard loud and clear. Some of the ideas include maintaining the character and scale of the village centers; that cookie-cutter, box shaped, high-rise developments are not wanted; that priority should be given to locally owned, small businesses; that safeguards are needed to ensure residential neighborhoods near Washington Street are not transformed by tall buildings and burdened with added traffic; that the commuter rail stations in West Newton and Newtonville need to improve dramatically to make them more accessible with more frequent service; that the street itself improve aesthetically for bicyclists and pedestrians; and that the corridor be greener, with more trees and parks.

The second draft is quite long but here is a synopsis.

Village Centers

Maintaining the character and scale of village centers with their small shops and restaurants is an essential goal of the plan.

To accomplish this, several new zoning districts have been created that are customized to their locations. The new Village Center zoning district allows only 3 story buildings in the heart of West Newton Square and in Newtonville along Walnut Street and some sections of Washington Street by right. If a new building were to meet special criteria (such as historic facade preservation, incentivizing local businesses over national businesses, or meeting special design requirements), an additional fourth floor could be granted by the City Council through a special permit. 

Thus, the proposed zoning preserves the existing feel in the “center” of the village centers by not allowing buildings higher than 4 stories under any circumstances.

This is a marked contrast to the City’s current zoning. Take the West Newton Cinema building as a theoretical example. With the proposed Washington Street zoning, a developer could build a new three-story building on the site, or go to four stories if the small stores or historic façade were preserved. Under existing zoning, a developer could seek a special permit and zone change (as was the case at Washington Place and Austin Street) and build as many as eight stories. 

Residential Neighborhoods

To ensure buildings step down in height and massing when located adjacent to residential areas, Draft 2 limits the height of buildings in these locations to three stories. This new zoning will help ensure that new development fits in with the mix of single-unit and two-unit homes with few commercial uses found in the residential areas.

Because residents want Newtonville and West Newton to remain as distinct villages rather than having one long connected village, the planners in Draft 2 introduce zoning that encourages it to stay that way.

Buildings in areas that are next to residential neighborhoods can be no more than one story higher than the abutting residential zone for 40 feet from the property line.

In those areas where four stories are allowed, with a fifth allowed by special permit, building heights must be staggered to encourage variety which community members preferred along Washington Street.

In a few limited areas up to five stories would be allowed by right, with a sixth story only allowed by special permit, again with a variety of building heights.

Underground parking is required in most developments or surface parking is located behind the building. Traffic calming measures to discourage cut-through traffic in residential neighborhoods are included as well.

Planners also included provisions to create and maintain parks and green spaces. As a project gets larger, more space for parks is required, and, in all cases, the parks would always have to be open to the public all times of the day.

Commuter Rail Stations

The planners in Draft 2 also addressed the critical need for better accessibility and improvements at the commuter rail stations in West Newton and Newtonville. The issue is how to fund these expensive improvements since the City can’t depend solely on the MBTA to do so. Secretary of Transportation and CEO of MassDOT Stephanie Pollack (a Newtonville resident) has been clear with me about the financial pressures at the T.

A potential funding option is presented in Draft 2.

The plan creates two designated zones, one near the commuter rail station in West Newton and the other at the corner of Crafts and Washington Street near the Newtonville station. Much of the land at the West Newton site is currently owned by the MBTA, so any development there would require a partnership.

There are two special conditions in these Commuter Station zoning districts. First, buildings could be up to 10 stories at key locations that are adjacent to the Turnpike, but could only be approved if the developer works with the MBTA and the City to provide funding to help pay for the improvements needed at the stations. Second, at Crafts Street, the additional height would be allowed only if the building was for commercial, office or laboratory uses.

These two areas are the only places along Washington Street that would allow a building higher than 6 stories, and only under these specific conditions.

Notably, the Washington Street Vision Plan only provides zoning for Washington Street from West Newton Square to Crafts Street. It doesn’t encompass Riverside Station, which is currently undergoing a separate visioning process. Newton Corner will also need its own planning process.

Key Principles

Taken all together, the key principles in the Washington Street Vision Plan and Zoning Code include:

  1. Human-Scale Villages
  • Preserve the scale and character o the villages along Washington Street
  • Keep village centers unique along Washington Street
  • Protect historic and iconic buildings
  • Create Tree canopies and add layers of vegetation
  • Balance development with existing adjacent neighborhoods
  • Make room for wider sidewalks
  • Require civic space amenities as part of new development
  • Rehabilitate historic commercial buildings
  • Break up mega-blocks to support human-scale, walkable blocks
  1. Villages as Cultural Hubs
  • Vibrant villages after 8 pm
  • Build to attract all ages
  • Adapt old civic buildings to provide incubator space for creative economy workers
  • Think creatively on the edges: build temporary and pop-up artist spaces along the Turnpike edges of Washington Street
  • Create narrow shopfronts
  • Require a portion of the City’s municipal budgets for art
  • Create an arts and culture master plan
  • Preserve beloved local retail, cultural institutions, and buildings
  1. Public Spaces, Social Places
  • Activate existing and new public spaces
  • Make attractive spaces for sidewalk cafes and restaurants
  • Aim high and build a pocket park or tot lot in close proximity to every doorstep
  • Celebrate and gather al fresco – in the parks, in the streets
  • Build nature-inspired, woodland playgrounds and adventure parks
  • Connect to the Charles River
  1. Housing for All
  • Trade off density for building form, quality architecture, and materials
  • Support diversity: affordable housing and affordable living
  • Build missing middle housing for seniors and families
  • Build live/work artist space and housing
  • Incentivize construction of deed-restricted affordable housing for seniors
  • Build apartments near transit stations
  1. Walk and Bike Washington Street
  • Build protected bicycle lanes to separate bicyclists from moving vehicles
  • Design streets to prioritize people
  • Slow down traffic speeds and improve flow
  • Design accessible and inviting sidewalks with school children and seniors in mind
  • Make safe crossing locations every 400 feet maximum
  • Build pedestrian comforts in winter
  • Test ideas before investing
  1. Reconcile the Pike
  • Deck over the turnpike
  • Install plants as a barrier on buildings and bridges to mitigate noise, improve air quality, and beautify the City
  • Repair the street network at Newton Corner
  • Put solar panels on sound barriers facing the Turnpike
  • Build dedicated pedestrian and bicycle bridges over the Turnpike
  1. Regional Transit
  • Support a fully accessible transit system with double platforms
  • Extend a “Yellow Line” subway service to connect the Green Line to Riverside Stations
  • Extend bus service to connect under-served areas to important destinations and rail transit
  1. Smart Driving, Smart Parking
  • Create a parking plan and implement curbside parking management
  • Implement dynamic pricing for parking
  • Adjust parking requirements for new development to reduce new local traffic
  • Build vertical municipal parking in strategic locations
  • Prioritize local travel over commuter travel, but plan for and manage both
  • Design to accommodate a driverless future
  1. Fiscal Strength
  • Use innovative financing tools to capture new taxable revenue to fund parks and public spaces (e.g., tax increment financing, district improvement financing, infrastructure investment incentive program, public-private partnerships)

Want to see the actions that go with each of these principles? CLICK HERE







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