Newton Toying With a One Year Demolition Moratorium
Newton, MA. Real Estate , Sotheby’s Newton, MA.
I stated in my last post that I was going to try to address the proposed One Year Moratorium on Tear Downs in Newton. On September 4th, Alderwoman Amy Sangiolo has made a motion on “behalf of concerned citizens requesting a one year moratorium on the demolition of single and two-famly homes.” The purpose of this moratorium is unclear. The problem has been defined as the following:
What’s Being Lost”
- Integrity and Character of Existing Neighborhoods
- Moderately Priced houses–less than $800,000
- Historic Houses
- Mature tree canopy and neighborhood green space
- Socio-economic and generational diversity
What’s Replacing It:
- Houses out of character and scale with neighborhood context
- McMansions Out of Character
- Snout Houses
- Linguine Houses
- Added Density
- Physical and Fiscal Impacts on Infrastructure
I have a lot to say about this and I’m not sure where to begin. First off I believe we have a zoning problem not a building problem. If you want to curb McMansions than limit the size of a house based on the lot size. That’s easy, we have made it a problem because of special permits and variances. I have to laugh at the moderately priced homes under $800,000 comment. Who are we kidding, there are NO moderately priced homes in Newton. There is not one home listed under $450,000 and the Massachusetts average is $322,000. The average price of a home for sale in Newton is currently over 1 million dollars. Snout houses for those who don’t know are houses with the garages added onto the front of a home. I have absolutely no idea what a linguini house is. Snout houses are ugly for sure, but people buy them because they want a garage.
Added density and socio economic/ generational diversity go hand in hand. You cannot have it both ways. The only way to increase the inventory of lower priced homes is to build townhouses and multi-families and apartments. But the neighbors don’t like that so they go down to the special permit hearings or Historic Committee hearings and fight for the status quo. Has there ever been a time in history where people say we love change? Our leaders must have the confidence to stand up to these people and do what is right for everyone. I had a neighbor that added a huge addition and I hated it, but I got over it. The land is too expensive for a developer to build a small house. It just doesn’t work that way. Newton has a significant number of homes in Waban, Newton Centre, West Newton Hill, Chestnut Hill, Auburndale and the Highlands that were built in the late 19th century and the early 20th century that are basically historic McMansion’s. I am sure that many people thought these homes were ugly and out of character 100 years ago. So many of Newton’s “moderately priced hosing stock” consists of smaller Colonials on the north side of town and splits and ranches on the south side. These homes have become functionally obsolete. Today’s buyers want an open concept first floor — period. They don’t want a family room and a living room and a sun-room and a dining room separated by walls. They want an open concept kitchen/ family room and a dining room that can also serve as an office. So the floor plan of yesterday no longer works. In expensive homes those buyers want the same thing on a larger scale. They may have the unused living room set up with a pool table. Younger buyers want to have fun in their homes. They want to play pool or ping-pong and watch movies in their media rooms. And who are we to judge what people want. Builders MUST build what a buyer wants to buy. It costs more money to renovate than rebuild. Which brings me to the possibility of a design review process. Wellesley currently does this and now Wellesley has big houses that all look the same. We are not a socialist country and we cannot legislate taste. I sell real estate, what one person hates another loves. It’s a zoning issue.
One of the things I really liked about Newton was its diversity and sadly that is disappearing. But isn’t it the Alderman who approved the building of The Street? My God the average upper middle class person with two kids can’t really afford to shop in most of the stores. The movie theatre costs twice as much as a normal theatre. The restaurants are not a place where the average homeowner goes for a bite. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we want generation and socio-economic diversity and build an outdoor mall that most of your citizens can’t afford to shop and NONE of the lower-income people can even dream about shopping at. It’s like the affordable housing units in luxury building in Manhattan where the affordable people have a separate entrance.
I think some of the Alderman complaining are responsible for the current state. The process is unfair. You can’t approve some changes and then say, oh we approved too many and the neighborhood is changing so now we have to put the brakes on. The Historic Committee and the Building Department and the Alderman each have a few members with a chip on their shoulders. Their minds are made up before they even hear the findings.
Like it or not the horse is out of the barn. Newton is not affordable and I don’t see how we make it affordable unless we make some zoning changes. We can approve multi families and townhouses on busier streets close to the town centers. Builders need incentive to build here. If we arbitrarily have a moratorium builders will go somewhere else because it will become untenable to do conduct business here. Let’s hope for a thoughtful process that can meet the needs of most of the residents of Newton.