The Newton homeowner with the highest annual property tax bill pays $205,070 for their 17,802 square foot home built in 2004 in Newton Corner on 2 acres, which is over 16 times the average Newton property tax bill of $12,392. Should we tell future energy-hogging plutocrats that they can’t build mansions and McMansions here in the future?
Our new proposed zoning re-design plan would do just that by prohibiting building these “over-sized” homes, no matter what the lot size. Under current zoning, there is no maximum house size provided your lot is big enough and you meet setbacks and other zoning requirements. The new proposed zoning plan would instead set a maximum house size in each zone. In the current SR1 zone, the maximum house size would be around 5550 square feet of living space, and in the current SR2 and SR3 zones, the maximum house size would be around 3500 square feet of living space, depending on garage size. (The new proposed zones are a little different, but the new zones roughly equate to the old classifications). The rationale is that limiting house sizes would reduce the incentive for tear-downs, reduce inequality, reduce energy consumption and create more density and walkability.
There are, however, financial implications to this proposal that are not yet really being asked. I got a list of “over-sized” homes from the assessor’s office. There are 1653 single-family homes in Newton that are larger than the new proposed maximum house sizes. On average, these homes are 25% larger than the new proposed maximum sizes. If our forefathers had the wisdom to limit house sizes to this more modest square footage when Newton was being built, the property taxes we bring in now would be around $10,000,000 less EVERY YEAR.
Obviously, these houses aren’t going to be torn down or reduced in size, but what happens to the public fisc if we put a maximum size on new homes? For the last few years, we’ve been building about 28 single-family homes a year that are larger than the new maximum sizes. If we tell those homeowners their homes will have to be 25% smaller (and tax bill 25% lower), property taxes collected will be around $168,000 less the first year, $1,685,000 less in 10 years, and $6,743,000 less in 40 years, in today’s dollars. More likely, the tax loss would be even more because many of those homeowners, instead of building smaller homes, would just build in Brookline or Weston or most any other town in Massachusetts that would gladly accept the tax revenue. And, the 1653 existing “over-sized” homes will now be out of compliance, making it more difficult for them to improve or expand their homes in the future. There are a lot of unknown variables here, but this gives a rough cut of the potential tax revenue impact.
Is it worth giving up the tax revenue in order to “modernize our zoning code,” restrict tear-downs and reduce energy consumption?
Anyone who wants to do their own analysis can check out the underlying data from the assessor’s office and the assumptions I used here: