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Newton

Newton Centre residents push for rezoning

Residents of a historic, economically diverse section of Newton Centre want their neighborhood rezoned to prevent developers from turning their single-family homes into much larger, multifamily dwellings. They say such activity is quickly changing the character of the place they call home.

Forty-four homeowners who live along Chase, Ripley, Braeland, and Knowles streets and Herrick Road are asking the Board of Aldermen to rezone their neighborhood from the multiresidence zone that allows two-family homes to be built without a special permit to a single-family zone. Just two homeowners in the area requesting the change declined to sign onto the petition.

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The change would also alter the formula used to determine building size, preventing developers from tearing down smaller single- or two-family homes to build larger ones that cover more of the lot.

“We love everything about where we live,” said Paul Loiselle who lives on Ripley Street. “We want to preserve and protect the character, diversity, and integrity of our neighborhood.”

But the city’s planning department has opposed the zoning change, citing the neighborhood’s location near public transportation, which conforms to Newton’s comprehensive plan, as well as being uneasy about setting a precedent for this kind of change even as Newton is in the midst of a citywide zoning review.

“The Comprehensive Plan identifies neighborhoods such as this as most appropriate for adding additional housing units to meet Newton’s overall objectives,” said the city’s chief planner for long range planning, James Freas, according to documents from a public hearing held in early February.

The decision will now fall to the 24-member Board of Aldermen, which must support the rezoning by two-thirds for it to be changed.

‘The whole sense of a village is being destroyed by these voracious developers coming in.’

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The vote appears very close, according to aldermen, and so with Alderman Leonard Gentile absent from Monday’s meeting, it was postponed until April 7, when it is hoped the full board will be present.

The three aldermen representing the neighborhood, Victoria L. Danberg, Gregory R. Schwartz, and Richard B. Blazar support the rezoning, although state ethics regulations will prevent Danberg from voting for the change because she lives in the neighborhood.

“This is an understandable disagreement that we think we can have a rational discussion about, and come to a reasonable solution for the neighborhood,” Schwartz said after Monday night’s meeting.

He and Blazer said this type of zoning change is not unprecedented in the city.

In 2002, they said, 32 homes in the city’s Thompsonville neighborhood were rezoned to single family, and two Auburndale neighborhoods were also similarly rezoned around the same time.

“I’m very surprised at how controversial this has become; those were done without opposition,” Blazer said.

“The people who live in the neighborhood know what’s best for their neighborhood,” he said.

The neighborhood is made up of a mix of single- and two-family houses in a variety of styles, most of which were built at the turn of the last century.

The neighborhood is also made up of homes with a wide range of values, according to residents, who say prices run from $600,000 to $2.3 million.

The neighbors say they have no issue with multifamily or affordable housing. They have a quarrel with the scale of the projects being built after developers buy sites and tear down the original structures.

According to the petition for rezoning filed by Herrick Road resident Natasha Staller, the current situation “allows developers to replace relatively affordable housing stock” of $600,000 to $800,000 with less affordable luxury condominiums that sell in the $1.5 million range.

For example, a house in Newton Centre was demolished and several trees cut, to be replaced with four luxury condominiums being built after aldermen granted a special permit to allow more than a two-family dwelling.

Several residents who signed the rezoning petition said after Monday’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting that they have had developers knock on their doors or send them letters asking if they’d be willing to sell their properties.

“The whole sense of a village,’’ Staller said, “is being destroyed by these voracious developers coming in.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@globe.com.
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