What is the Northland development?
A proposed development for a 22 acre site at the corner of Oak and Needham Street bounding Upper Falls and the Highlands.
The proposed development consists of 1.5million total square feet of development, including 180,000 square feet of office space, 115,000
square feet of retail space, and 800 apartments.
Is it true that RightSize Newton refused to meet with Northland?
No! RightSize has always been (and continues to be) ready and eager to meet with Northland at any time in any place as long as Northland is prepared to make meaningful changes to the project to address the neighborhood’s concerns. As recently as this past December, after RightSize had collected more than enough signatures for the referendum, a third party familiar to both RightSize Newton’s leadership and Northland’s lawyers attempted to arrange a direct meeting to discuss changes to the project that would have made the referendum unnecessary. Direct follow-up conversations with Northland’s lawyers made it clear that Northland was still unwilling to discuss any changes that have been requested by the neighborhood (just as they had been throughout the Land Use process) and that the lawyers had only accepted the idea of a meeting as a courtesy to the third party who had made the overture. The meeting would not be productive and would not result in any improvements to the project and therefore was never scheduled.
Is it true that it creates a lot of affordable units?
Some, but only the bare minimum required for a development of this size.
While the plan includes 120 affordable units and an additional 20 units of “workforce” housing, this is the bare minimum required under Newton’s inclusionary zoning law. The project could certainly contain more affordable units! In fact, a 40B project at the maximum 640 units allowed would result in 160 affordable units.
Will the project generate a lot of traffic?
The current average speed along Needham Street at rush hour is 4mph; this project will make it worse.
But isn’t there a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan that will fix the additional traffic problem?
While Northland promised that its shuttles would reduce the percentage of residents and office workers who drive to 60%, it refused to be held accountable for not meeting this projection; instead it agreed only to a smaller reduction of traffic and the “penalty” for not meeting that reduction is only that Northland spends more money on its own TDM plan. Additionally, no reduction of retail traffic is anticipated and Northland refused to be held accountable if retail traffic exceeds its own projected numbers.
What is the TDM anyways?
The plan is centered around a free shuttle bus running every 10 minutes to Newton Highlands.

It is important to remember that Needham Street is one lane in each direction, with a center “turning” lane. The shuttle buses will sit in and add to the traffic problem on Needham Street; there is no room to create a dedicated bus lane.

Is it true that Northland’s TDM plan is unprecedented and has never been tried before?
The original plan included shuttles going to the Seaport, Cambridge, and the Needham Commuter Line, but this plan was abandoned when it became clear that the long headways (45 minutes between buses) made it unlikely to be used by anyone.

Northland hasn’t been able to show any site that is similar to this one (more than 1 mile away from the nearest T stop) where the transportation problems were solved by a shuttle bus.

Is there enough parking?
Only if people choose not to use cars.

The proposal includes 1,550 parking spaces, 250 of which are valet spaces. The 140 affordable units will be provided with 1 parking spot per unit, but all other residents will have to pay for their parking spaces or will have to find parking elsewhere. Residential users and commercial users will have access to a limited-access garage, but retail parking will be unlimited access and free. Unless people consciously choose to live more than 1 mile away from public transit, and to not own cars, there will not be enough parking on this site.

Can’t the developer build a much larger project “by right?”

A “by right” development is what you can build without needing a special permit. With the current zoning, any development over 20,000 square feet would require a special permit.

What about a 40B development? Couldn’t the developer build 1,920 units?
Not really.

40B is a highly regulated program with a cap on profits and size. No 40B development in the state has been as large as 600 units. The Newton Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) that reviews 40B plans for the city is very concerned about traffic and safety. In our opinion, they would be very careful not to make this development too large. For more information about this complicated program see: needhamstreet.rightsizenewton.org/40B.

So, what’s happening now
Right Size Newton has collected over 5,500 signatures to enable a petition for a referendum.

Upon validation of the signatures, the City Council will have a chance to rescind its approval, and if it refuses to do so, the question of approving this project will be put to the voters of Newton.

Why is there so much misinformation about the petition and the proposed development?
This is a difficult question to answer.

One reason may be that there are many individual aspects of the project that appeal to specific groups. For example, the creation of 140 units of much-needed affordable housing is certainly a good thing (although, as noted above, many more units could and should have been affordable). Similarly, the fact that the developer has agreed to build 3 buildings using “passive house” standards is great for our environment (though we wonder why they are not building more “greener” buildings, given the long-term cost savings of such construction). Finally, some people may be afraid of the alternatives – they fear that Northland could not build anything or build something that is worse, but the truth is that they really cannot.

What do you hope to achieve?
We hope that Northland listens to the neighbors’ concerns and addresses them by modifying the proposed development so that it can be something that works for everyone, not just their bottom line.

We are confident that given how little it would take to modify the current plan, Northland would choose to do so rather than resort to costly and uncertain 40B development. We are also confident that the land is too valuable for Northland to leave undeveloped.