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Aldermen Debate Permit, Size of Proposed Newton Centre Home

With new floor-area ratio stipulations voted in last year, the board debated whether to grant a special permit for the construction of a new home on Norwood Avenue.

Construction of a new Norwood Avenue home is on hold as the Newton Board of Aldermen decided last night to postpone its decision on a special permit for the proposed residence, citing concerns over the house's size and scale.

The special permit, which the board will reconsider on July 9, would allow the proposed residence at 35 Norwood Ave. to exceed the designated floor-area ratio (FAR) for the property. 

The FAR regulations, which control the ratio between a home’s floor space to its lot size, . The restrictions aim to prevent construction of oversized homes (often called "McMansions").

Ward 3 Alderman-at-Large and Land Use Chairman Ted Hess-Mahan started the debate last night, underlining that he did not support the special permit and that he believed the proposed home did not fit with the rest of the neighborhood.

"I can't vote for [the special permit] because I do not find, in my opinion, that it is consistent with and not in derogation of the size, scale and design of neighboring properties," Hess-Mahan said.

According to Hess-Mahan, the home's original design was 50 percent larger than half the houses in the neighborhood and one of "very few" houses in the area with a third floor. 

Hess-Mahan also noted that the Planning Department did not recommend approving the special permit. 

"We have FAR for a reason," Hess-Mahan said. "We should apply it."

FAR is calculated by dividing a home’s allowable floor space by the area of its lot. For example, a 1,800-square-foot home on a 4,000-square-foot lot would have a FAR of 0.45. In the new rules, structures like garages, certain enclosed porches and some accessory buildings (depending on size) would be included in the floor space of the home.

The FAR for the proposed Norwood Avenue home was initially at 0.45 but was amended to 0.42 (0.39 is the FAR allowed for the lot). The Land Use Committee approved the 0.42 FAR with a 4-1 vote on June 5. Alderman Hess-Mahan was the only dissenting vote. 

For more info on FAR and its history, .

Both Hess-Mahan and Ward 5 Alderman-at-Large Deborah Crossley noted that this is the first time a new construction project has come before the board asking to exceed the new FAR regulations. 

Crossley, though, disagreed with Hess-Mahan and argued that the architects of the home have taken care to consider the size and style of the surrounding houses. 

"What FAR is about is controlling the mass or the appearance of mass on a site," Crossley said. "We should really all take a look at this and see how sensitive this solution has addressed that concept from a variety of angles."

Crossley argued that there are a number of large homes in the area (near Crystal Lake) and that the entire board should take a close look at the designs before making a final decision. 

To review the revised plans for the home at 35 Norwood Ave., click the .pdf in the media section above.

Both Ward 2 Alderman-at-Large Susan Albright and Ward 6 Alderman-at-Large Greg Schwartz also backed the proposed residence, arguing that the architects have gone through great lengths to try to make the home work for the neighborhood.

Some aldermen, including Ward 6 Alderman Richard Blazar and Ward 6 Alderman-at-Large Vicki Danberg, said they "struggled" with the plan and in the end, could not agree to the special permit.

Both Blazar and Danberg noted that the home's design, which involves tearing down an existing house and starting from scratch, is just 300 square feet away from the necessary FAR requirements.

"I think that in this neighborhood, reducing a house by 300 square feet should not be a burden," Danberg said.

Following a lengthy debate over whether to approve the special permit, Ward 4 Alderman-at-Large Amy Sangiolo moved to postpone the board's decision until its next meeting on Mon., July 9. Eighteen members of the board voted in favor of postponing the decision, with Aldermen Lisle Baker, Anthony Salvucci and Hess-Mahan opposed. Aldermen Greer Tan Swiston, Carleton Merrill and Mitchell Fischman were not present at the meeting.

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