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.
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.
The current average speed along Needham Street at rush hour is 4mph; this project will make it worse.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.