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Newton voters approve 800 new apartments in mixed-use development

WBUR reports Newton yesterday approved a ballot question allowing a developer to turn a 23-acre parcel in Newton Upper Falls into a mixed-use development with 800 apartments - 120 designated below market rate - and office and retail space.

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And I didn't pay too much attention to it but why is this even an issue? It seems like most of Needham St. has been putting up developments like this for the past 20 years without issue.

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Voting closed 34

That intersection, adjacent to the Charles River, is already a nightmare. I can't imagine what it will be like once the neighborhood's density dramatically increases.

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Whilst clutching your pearls with the other?

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Voting closed 33

And they have built and built and the traffic doesn't seem worse. Plus that industrial park in Needham has probably decupled in size. (added exit off 95 might have helped)

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Voting closed 30

because it's newton, and because "120 designated below market rate"

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Voting closed 24

The developer spent $320,000 on the campaign to reject the question. So obviously they could have made more concessions to the city and still turned a nice profit.

The opponents were dumb. It was going to be built anyway under the 40B law even if this question was approved.

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Voting closed 24

Maybe, maybe not. I expect that funding came out of a contingency fund that was set aside for this purpose. Its great for the Bank and the Developer if you don't have to tap the fund but it is there for a purpose. If we had a more straightforward process in Newton that didn't allow this type of NIMBY process if say the council voted in favor by a super-majority, it could have reduced cost by removing the "unknown" and we might have gotten another few affordable units or a bit longer bus service etc. The council could not give that assurance so using the contingency money for something else was never on the table.

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Voting closed 26

This project was approved by the Newton city council, but a group of residents who'd like to revert to 1950s Newton organized a binding ballot question campaign to repeal the council's decision. It's the same process (but at city rather than state level) that repealed gas-tax indexing several years ago. In both cases, governance by referendum is unpredictable and not a good precedent.

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Voting closed 39

Utterly illogical

Whether you agree with the Newtonian NIMBY's or not -- it was a local dispute -- of -- for -- and by Newtonians.

The Gas Tax referendum was a State-wide effort conducted every few decades to show the Legislature that occasional the people of Massachusetts are worth consulting. Often even after we win [e.g. the Referendum to lower the "temporary Tax Rate" -- they ignore us and continue going about their "Business as Usual"

Unfortunately -- in the home "Taxation without Representation is Tyranny," and the Boston Tea Party [to be re-enacted this December in honor of the 247 years which have passed] -- we have a Legislature much more akin to King George and his Parliament than any representative body. They run their fiefdoms on Beacon Hill and act as if the Citizens of the Commonwealth were Subjects of the Crown.

If it wasn't for the occasion Federal Indictment of some Legislative Leader -- there would hardly be any checks on their behavior.

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The report documents that the amount that road users pay through gas taxes now accounts for less than half of what’s spent to maintain and expand the road system. The resulting shortfall is made up from other sources of tax revenue at the state and local levels, generated by drivers and non-drivers alike. This subsidizing of car ownership costs the typical household about $1,100 per year—over and above the costs of gas taxes, tolls, and other user fees.

While congressional bailouts of the Highway Trust Fund have made this subsidy more apparent, it has actually never been the case that road users paid their own way. Not only that, but the amount of their subsidy has steadily increased in recent years. The share of the costs paid from road-user fees has dropped from about 70 percent in the 1960s to less than half today, according to the study.

https://frontiergroup.org/media/fg/true-costs-driving

For context: some gas tax rates among peer states:
NY: 46¢/gallon
CT: 42¢/gal.
RI: 35¢/gal.
MA (today): 26.5¢/gal.
MA (House bill proposal): 31.5¢/gal.

Gas tax isn't high enough to cover the true cost of driving, its subsidized by the rest of us that don't own cars and we have a $6.5 billion budget shortfall over the next 10 years. Thats just to maintain our existing roads, tunnels and bridges. Motorists need to pay more please.

The state highway system needs $6.5 billion more than its budgeted revenue over the next 10 years to maintain roads, bridges, and tunnels, according to the report. The MBTA is set for the next five years, but after that it will face a $1.9 billion shortfall, brought on largely by diminishing federal funding and less state borrowing capacity, the report says.

https://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/report-transportation-fu...

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Voting closed 35

Streets and highways are necessary for the delivery of goods and services, and public services like police/fire/EMS response, school buses, public transit buses/vans, mail delivery, waste collection, etc. also depend on the road/street network without paying the true cost of their use of the roads.

FWIW motorists in private cars are probably overpaying for their contribution to wear and tear on the roads when one considers that a big rig does several hundred times as much damage as an average car to a road; damage inflicted is roughly proportional to the fourth power of weight per axle.

Public transit riders aren't expected to pay the full cost of providing their rides. Why should we expect that of motorists? Parents don't pay anywhere near the full cost of educating their children. Why is that subsidized by the rest of us that don't have kids?

Motorists contribute revenue to the state and municipalities through registration fees, excise taxes, sales taxes (on cars/parts/service), parking fees and fines, etc. Without cars these revenue sources don't exist.

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Voting closed 25

To the tune of $4.6 billion in lost productivity, no ones benefiting from that.

Also the car economy itself costs $64 billion, you have to factor those externalities in too if you're gonna make the economic arguments.

Nearly half of the $64 billion — or $35.7 billion — include costs associated with local and state government spending on snow removal, road maintenance and “emergency activities,” as well as “indirect social and economic costs and annualized land usage costs.”

The remaining $28.4 billion cost motorists who own and operate their vehicles or truck drivers, primarily in the form of “financing, depreciation, fuel, regular maintenance and repair.”

Indirect social and economic costs include more intangible costs, such as lost productivity due to time spent in traffic, which accounts for nearly $4.6 billion per year, and pollution-related health effects, which accounts for $1.1 billion per year.

Yo let me know the economic benefits of the cul de sac thats getting plowed somewhere in Maynard. Weird how the economic impact of municipal sidewalk snow removal is never discussed.

https://www.masslive.com/traffic/2019/12/massachusetts-car-economy-costs...

Raise the gas tax, its just 5 cents and still lower than neighboring states.
What are your thoughts on congestion pricing?
Which roads are we closing to fit into the $6.5 billion budget shortfall?
How are we going to maintain our crumbling infrastructure?
What businesses would want to come here if we keep letting our transit networks crumble?

We also use $115 billion in valuable property for car storage that isn't priced to reflect that value. Some of which is given away for FREE! Never give something with value away for free amirite?

The public transit should be free, so what you decide to do with your private vehicle is really unimportant outside of its impact on society. There is a cost benefit to that too if you're interested in further data. Although I recall that its been explained to you before but always hope for trying again!

Also you need to cite many of the claims you've made about, little dishonest to say those things without some receipts.

Without cars, yes those revenue sources don't exist and therefore we don't have to spend money on 37,000 miles of public roads and the 120 square miles of car storage we've built. Obviously would still need some roads and this isn't a logical proposal but to claim we need to to have cars because we are locked into their revenue streams is disingenuous because we've already identified that those revenue streams aren't enough and are resulting in a $6.5 billion shortfall.

How we tackling that?

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Voting closed 29

That "study" is full of crap. It assigns a cost of nearly $4 billion to private parking lots without assessing the value of convenience to the public provided by those lots. Virtually no one would go shop at a suburban mall or big box store if they couldn't park their car. And even with the cost of parking lots, prices are typically far lower at a big box store than a corner store. It assigns almost $9 billion in annual land cost to the public roads at unreasonable financing costs and without considering most of the land was acquired decades or centuries ago at minimal or even zero cost. Further, the very existence of the road network creates value for the public and enormous tax revenues. Wealthy suburbs like Dover, Weston, or Sudbury would be mostly farms or forest without access to jobs, goods, and services afforded by a network of roads and highways. It also provides access to more affordable places for housing. Can't afford $1 million to buy a home in Boston? You can pay a quarter or that or less if you can deal with a commute that's going to require a car for at least part of it.

The study assigns nearly $5 billion in costs of congestion but ignores the fact that even with congestion, private automobiles are still the most time-efficient way for their users to reach jobs, schools, shopping, etc. Anecdotally: A good friend who lives way out near the end of the Fitchburg Line, but within a mile or so of a train stop, still would drive an hour plus each way to her job in the South End and paid $300/month for a parking space. Why? Because the drive+train+subway+walk would take nearly an hour longer and she was tied to a limited schedule with the train. She preferred dealing with the congestion and it was still faster.

Over $10 billion of the "public" cost is attributed to deaths and injuries. There are roughly 350-400 deaths and about 3000 serious injuries on the roads annually in Massachusetts. That figure basically assumes a cost of well north of $10 million per death and $1 million per serious injury.

And that $28.4 billion in private costs is pretty much willingly borne by the users of private vehicles. If you don't want to own a car, you don't have to.

The fact is that much of the road network and its related costs would still be necessary even absent private cars. We'd still need roads for police/fire/EMS response, school buses, delivery vehicles, public transit vehicles, paratransit, taxis/liveries, construction vehicles, utility maintenance, and service providers like plumbers or electricians. We'd still have to clear snow in the winter and it'd likely be more expensive (mostly due to labor) to have cities and towns remove snow from sidewalks/pedestrian paths rather than streets.

There are economic benefits to clearing a cul-de-sac in Maynard because people living there need to get to jobs, schools, shopping, doctor's appointments, etc. The mail still has to be delivered and fire/EMS still need access. And if you can't live on a cul-de-sac in Maynard or Hanson or Uxbridge or Ipswich, you'll need to live somewhere, and the direct cost of living on some hypothetical transportation network without cars will be a lot higher for a lot less space.

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Voting closed 23

Please speak to the data and analysis, I know its easy to just got after the source itself but its a fairly childish way to debate.

So you must have something to counter this, no?

Otherwise I can't really take anything you said seriously because well, you aren't something like the Kennedy School or some other entity we can trust and verify, cross reference and all that.

What about the $6.5 billion budget shortfall we have for maintaining, roads, bridges and tunnels? Which roads are we shutting down to bridge that budget gap? What kind of economic impact will that have ignoring this?

Oh but its another study using numbers and data, wave your magic wand and let us know whats wrong with it!

https://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/report-transportation-fu...

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Voting closed 29

That "study" is full of crap.

Citation please

It assigns a cost of nearly $4 billion to private parking lots without assessing the value of convenience to the public provided by those lots. Virtually no one would go shop at a suburban mall or big box store if they couldn't park their car.

Citation please

And even with the cost of parking lots, prices are typically far lower at a big box store than a corner store. It assigns almost $9 billion in annual land cost to the public roads at unreasonable financing costs and without considering most of the land was acquired decades or centuries ago at minimal or even zero cost.

Citation please

Further, the very existence of the road network creates value for the public and enormous tax revenues. Wealthy suburbs like Dover, Weston, or Sudbury would be mostly farms or forest without access to jobs, goods, and services afforded by a network of roads and highways.

Citation please

It also provides access to more affordable places for housing. Can't afford $1 million to buy a home in Boston? You can pay a quarter or that or less if you can deal with a commute that's going to require a car for at least part of it.

Thats actual true but also really unsustainable, what are we going to live on the Moon but deal with it because hey the commute sucks but we could afford it.

The study assigns nearly $5 billion in costs of congestion but ignores the fact that even with congestion, private automobiles are still the most time-efficient way for their users to reach jobs, schools, shopping, etc.

*when accounting for proximity to public transit, where people are going, etc. You don't get to lump it all together to make your point.

Anecdotally:

Ok stopped reading after that

Over $10 billion of the "public" cost is attributed to deaths and injuries. There are roughly 350-400 deaths and about 3000 serious injuries on the roads annually in Massachusetts. That figure basically assumes a cost of well north of $10 million per death and $1 million per serious injury.

So what should it be?

And that $28.4 billion in private costs is pretty much willingly borne by the users of private vehicles. If you don't want to own a car, you don't have to.

Sure but remember, we pay for the other half that you don't pay for and comparing it to schools is a poor analogy. If you're going to make the economic argument for subsidizing motorists further, well hey why not just make it free? Public transit too.

The fact is that much of the road network and its related costs would still be necessary even absent private cars. We'd still need roads for police/fire/EMS response, school buses, delivery vehicles, public transit vehicles, paratransit, taxis/liveries, construction vehicles, utility maintenance, and service providers like plumbers or electricians. We'd still have to clear snow in the winter and it'd likely be more expensive (mostly due to labor) to have cities and towns remove snow from sidewalks/pedestrian paths rather than streets.

Very true, you'll have to find a study that shows the numbers of that economic impact to prove there is a net benefit, again for a few of the things you glossed over earlier.

There are economic benefits to clearing a cul-de-sac in Maynard because people living there need to get to jobs, schools, shopping, doctor's appointments, etc. The mail still has to be delivered and fire/EMS still need access. And if you can't live on a cul-de-sac in Maynard or Hanson or Uxbridge or Ipswich, you'll need to live somewhere, and the direct cost of living on some hypothetical transportation network without cars will be a lot higher for a lot less space.

True but the argument could be made (and plenty of examples of it) that a network of dense, inter connected urban areas with housing and commercial space would be of great economic benefit. Sprawl stretches our networks of roads and resources very thin and is possibly the reason we have a budget gap for roads, of course I'm just spit ballin here, would hate to make a claim without backing it up.

Also still never gave a response about the $115 billion in public property we use for car storage, whats the market rate for that? Is it priced to meet supply and demand?

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Voting closed 27

For some people on the "no" side, the point wasn't so much to stop this specific development as to express frustration with the way the city has been handling development in general. There's been no leadership, vision, or coherent plan for development in Newton, and the result has been a steady stream of unnecessarily contentious proposals scattered all over the city. Residents suspect that the needs of developers are prioritized over the needs of the neighborhood. Whether or not that's true, it's how many in Newton feel.

An articulated vision for development in Newton and a city council that engages with citizens could go a long way towards lowering tensions, even if it probably wouldn't make some people more supportive of development.

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Voting closed 26

I too had heard rumblings and when I looked at the map to see where this was going, it was obvious that this made a lot of sense and was in keeping with the new direction that the Needham Street area is moving. It's a pity that it is not better served by the T, but otherwise this development seems to be a winner.

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It's not even that poorly served. About a mile to Eliot, a mile and a half to Newton Highlands. Very easy biking distance, pretty easy walking distance.

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Voting closed 23

I think I read that they would run a free shuttle to the T, which is good. A mile or more is doable, but IMHO not "transit friendly".

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Free shuttles to the T, open to everyone. The city had also negotiated for buildings built to a high environmental standard, undergrounding of utilities, guaranteed retail spaces for local businesses at reduced rents, and money towards various improvements.

If the "no" side had won, the developer could have built something larger and with more units or gone all commercial which would have been a traffic nightmare.

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Voting closed 29

Because Newton is a nice place to live, and if there's nothing to complain about, Newtonians will create something. I've lived here for over 10 years now, and I'm still baffled by the NIMBYism here, and the stupid things that people get riled up about. (Leaf blowers!!!! Aaaaaaaah!!!!!)

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Voting closed 33

To be fair leaf blowers are annoying and rakes exist.

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I wish the government developed mechanisms to encourage the growth of real neighborhoods of this density, rather than giant fake shopping malls pretending to be a neighborhood but run by one company (hello, Assembly Square). But there's more profit to be made with the latter, so it's never going to happen.

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Voting closed 33