Newton: New rules would hurt development

Newton leaders say proposed rules for new residential subdivisions will hurt the city's efforts to recruit developers.
"If we continue to restrict our subdivision regulations, we will continue to eliminate development in this town," said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax. "In the last four years, I don't think anyone can say I have not been an advocate for developers. We have, at times, gone above and beyond to assist folks who come in and want to make housing. I do not see anything constructive about anything in these recommendations that will assist us in bringing housing to our area."
Last month Newton city planners introduced proposals that would establish new rules for creating subdivisions. Many of those ideas relate to amenities that developers would be required to begin including as they create new residential communities. Among suggested changes to the city's Subdivision and Zoning Ordinance text are proposals that would require more open space in developments, wider sidewalks on both sides of streets, larger cul-de-sacs and more roads to improve connectivity.
The proposals come in the wake of Newton Planning Commission's work on the Eastside and Southeast area plans and include “recurring elements” of those plans, said Newton Planner Alex Fulbright. In April, the city's planning commission unanimously voted to apply some of those elements citywide by revising the city's manual of specifications and amending the zoning and subdivision ordinance.
"The planning commission felt it best to implement these (recurring themes) citywide," Fulbright said.
While the city's planning commission endorsed the subdivision changes, along with changes to the city's minimum appearance standards, Newton City Council members balked at the proposals during a public hearing Tuesday.
"I feel like we are getting into an awful lot of restrictions about what people can do with their property," said Council member Robert Abernethy Jr. "It scares me."
Council members discussed their objections to proposed changes during Tuesday's hearing, before tabling the matter until city staff can make changes to address leaders' concerns.
"I think it has some positive points, but I also think it has some negatives," said Council member Bill Lutz.
Objections largely related to sidewalk requirements as well as new expectations for formal and informal open space created when a land parcel is subdivided. There were also concerns about requiring additional roads in developments and dictating the number of driveways a parcel might be allowed.
"We can't make a Cadillac community all over Newton," said Council member Tom Rowe. "Everybody is not financially able to live in a top-notch place and builders have to tack (cost for extra ammenties) on."
Mullinax echoed that sentiment, adding that if a developer is required to build more roads and sidewalks it will impact the cost on future homeowners.
"Increasing the cost of a new home is not a way to entice people to stay in the town or have them move into town, which is what this ordinance does," he said.
The measure was tabled indefinitely.
"Submit it again in a future meeting, and we can come in ... and have another talk session about it," Mullinax said. "We may not be done this year ... but there is nothing time sensitive about it. The earth will not end if we do not do this."