Newton Zoning Change for MBTA Communities Act


Well-known member
Jul 9, 2023
A zoning change has been approved by the Newton City Council which is aimed at increasing housing production in village centers. The new ordinance was passed to comply with mandatory housing changes under the state's MBTA Communities Act. The ordinance, which will allow multifamily housing by right in the village centers and increase height restrictions for buildings in those areas, will result in the construction of 8,745 new housing units in Newton. This is 415 more units than the 8,330 technically required under the MBTA Communities Act.

The approved plan which uses a scaled-back version focuses on six of the city's 13 village centers. It has been argued by some councilors that the amendments which limit the ordinance's scope still fall short of addressing the housing crisis adequately.

Village Center Overlay District is a plan that will be submitted to the state for approval. Though approval will be required for compliance with the MBTA Communities Act, the ordinance will go into effect regardless.

The exclusion of certain village centers and the percentage of affordable units are some of the concerns that are included. The decision is seen as a positive step by advocates, whilst critics, including dissenting councillors, have expressed disappointment and have suggested a need to expand and revisit the plan in the future.

You can read more on this story here.
Newton, Massachusetts, United States
Newton taking proactive steps beyond state requirements could indicate a strong commitment to addressing the housing crisis, however, focusing on only six village centers might not be enough to meet the city's overall housing needs. This could increase existing disparities between centers.
It's worth pointing out that the MBTA Communities Act, which was passed in 2021, requires all municipalities served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (including Newton) to have at least one zoning district near public transit. As described on the state's website, these zoning districts have to allow multifamily housing by right in addition to three other criteria:
  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
  • Located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable
  • No age restrictions and suitable for families with children
It's great how Newton City Council embraced the MBTA Communities Act's mandate and even exceeded the state's requirements with establishment of the Village Center Overlay District. Hopefully the state's other 176 municipalities that have to comply with the Act do so in the same spirit. If so, I expect we'll see a huge increase in the amount of housing near public transit...and very real benefits to countless working families who are in need of this housing.
The zoning change approved by the Newton City Council to increase housing production in village centers is a much-needed step in addressing the housing crisis. By allowing multifamily housing and higher building heights, it shows a willingness to adapt and accommodate the growing population. However, the exclusion of certain centers and concerns over affordable housing units raise valid questions about the effectiveness of the plan. While it is a positive step, it is crucial to continuously revisit and improve upon the ordinance to ensure it adequately meets the needs of the community.