Real Estate Taxes & our Commercial Tax Base

Top of the day to all.

2016 should be remembered for quite some time.  A most unusual election, with the winner of the popular vote not being elected President.  The Stock Market seems to be giving a positive response to the election.

Historically it has been quite a run, 1932 to 2016.  A lot has been accomplished.  Yes, there have been interruptions but the question is, how much can be undone over the next few years.  It looks like interesting and difficult times ahead.

As the pendulum swings, remember the words of Edward M. Kennedy, “… the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

However, for today, let us focus on Newton; money for developers vs. morality of the citizenship vs. practicality of government management.

When my wife and I moved to Newton in 1962 one of the topics of political discussion was, “What was Newton going to do about the lack of a commercial tax base?”

The last of the farms had been subdivided into housing lots.  “WOE is us” was the cry.  “We have to do something about this problem” people said.  And what did we do?  Nothing.  Manufacturing land was converted to Housing.  Land zoned for manufacturing use was bought up and used for housing.   Our planners were working to provide housing and plans for commercial space took second place.

It seemed that we had forgotten that some years ago thoughtful people worked out a plan to divide Newton into zoning Districts.  One must assume that when they created Business Use Districts they had in mind that the land in Business Use Districts would be used to help improve our commercial tax base.  They never expected a developer would ask to convert that land, set aside for commercial use into a large residential complex.

We are now faced with a new attack on our commercial tax base, insufficient as it may be.  We have zones that are designed to be used for commercial purposes and people with money want to buy them up and replace that commercial space with residential units.

Our City is at a crossroad.  Will we try to balance our Business tax income with our residential tax income or will we give in to speculators that will leave us with a growing residential population and an insufficient, imbalanced tax base?

Who is our gate keeper?

Will our gatekeeper say “No to plans to use up our commercial tax base for housing?”  Will our gatekeeper say that our villages need stores and office space, not blocks of apartments.

We need a plan to improve our commercial tax base?  We do not have space to build a “Down Town”.  We are forced to rely on our villages to provide the retail and office space needed for our commercial tax base.

If we don’t improve our commercial tax base we will continue to increase residential taxes that will put housing out of the reach of most City workers, teachers, service employees and local business entrepreneurs.  We will turn our city into an enclave for the wealthy.

Developer predictions that more housing will provide more tax revenue than tax burden have proved to be incorrect.

Developer predictions that smaller units will result in a positive tax income flow don’t work out to be correct once a project is built.

Developer predictions that smaller units will result in fewer children in a project don’t work out to be correct once a project is built.

We need to put effort into improving and encouraging the development of a commercial tax base so we can continue to sustain our schools, continue to provide economically diverse neighborhoods and preserve the concept of a city of villages.

Peter F. Harrington

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Bob JampolJulia Malakiedhruska Recent comment authors
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Good one Peter. I think this is the most important issue facing Newton today. We need leadership that has the courage to just say no to developers, otherwise will we have a Newton version of the national election debacle.

Donald Hruska
Donald Hruska

Agreed. The city is currently pretty hostile to developers who propose any commercial improvements – long, drawn out permitting processes, endless hearings, etc. Instead, the city should be actively seeking out the kind of development projects it wants to see.

Julia Malakie

Where are the gatekeepers, indeed? Not in the majority in the City Council, unfortunately. And looking for this administration to stand up to developers is like expecting Trump’s EPA administrator-designate to stand up to polluters.
It baffles me how many people think we can sustain indefinite housing unit growth on finite land. Or that somehow the next batch of housing units will pay for themselves. It reminds me of that old financial joke, ‘we’ll lose a little on every unit but make it up on volume.’

Bob Jampol

This article really makes me think! Your argument makes sense of the absurd CF&G mega-project at 105 Wells Avenue: 330 housing units in a commercially zoned site far from public transportation and amenities, lacking safe egress in an emergency, and so forth.
As for our tax base, I will express an unpopular opinion: Newton’s residents are taxed too lightly on their properties. In current value, my present real estate tax bill is lower than the one I paid in 1982, yet my house is almost ten times as valuable, and would still be much more valuable if also compared in current value.
Still, it would be great to see commercial properties generating more income for the city… if those enterprises didn’t overburden the crowded roads with even more traffic. At morning and evening rush hour, Newton’s streets can be pretty crazy. Lots of variables come into play when considering development.