City of Newton On-Call: Zoning Redesign, MBTA Communities Analysis, & Design Review
Utile has been working with the City of Newton as an on-call consultant since 2019, focusing on three scopes: assisting with zoning redesign, evaluating the proposed MBTA Communities legislation, and helping to review large proposed projects.
The zoning redesign work began with testing an existing draft form-based code. Utile analyzed the proposed zoning in residential districts, creating illustrations to clearly present the impacts to the Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP) for feedback and refine the code to suit the needs of stakeholders. One outcome of the study was a revised residential garage ordinance, adopted in 2020 to improve urban outcomes. Utile helped the city craft this amendment and created corresponding graphics. Political pressure resulted in a shift away from the existing form-based code and towards revising the zoning through targeted amendments.
Beginning in April of 2021, Utile has been working with the City towards revisions to zoning in village centers. Rather than starting with the details of the code, the work began with a comprehensive engagement and analysis process. Utile supported the City-led engagement and ran spatial and data analysis on each of the eleven village centers. The phase culminated in the creation of a shared vision for the future of village centers and concrete ideas for how this could translate into zoning revisions. Currently Utile is working on the second phase of the village center rezoning work, testing existing zoning in three dimensions on selected sites. The test-fits are supplemented by economic analysis, conducted by the sub-consultant Landwise. Ultimately, a back and forth between regulations and corresponding urban form will lead to recommended zoning adjustments in village centers.
In addition to the rezoning work, Utile is assisting with analyzing the MBTA Communities legislation that would require multifamily by-right. Utile is building a custom computer code to analyze the unit capacity of Newton’s zoning code. Upcoming work will include studies of how Newton could comply with the legislation, with high-level maps to illustrate how density could be deployed.
Since 2019, Utile has served as an on-call urban design reviewer for the City of Newton, helping City staff to conduct review of large proposed projects within the city, including the development proposals for the Riverside site in Auburndale/Lower Falls and Northland development proposal along Highland Ave. in Newton Highlands/Upper Falls. As part of these review processes, Utile has provided feedback to the petitioners and City Council about overall massing and urban design strategy, public space and open spaces, building forms and orientation, streetscape and walkability, site and building sustainability, and compliance with housing and other city ordinances.