Northland’s MASSIVE Proposed Development on Needham Street

Petition for a Referendum:

The City Council approved Northland’s proposed development on December 2nd despite a number of city councilors voicing concern that the proposal did not meet one of the key criterias for approval: that it does not adversely affect the surrounding neighborhood.

While a number of the councilors on the Land Use Committee worked very hard through the review and approval process to attempt to get the developer to address the concerns raised by Right Size Newton and the rest of the public, their efforts were rebuffed by the developer time and time again.

Northland refused to scale down the project to address traffic and school/financial concerns.  Northland refused to even leave the size of the project as-is, but phase development, so that it could be determined whether the traffic and school enrollment projections were accurate prior to the whole site being built out.  Northland even refused to eliminate (or limit) an exit onto Oak street, which many of the abutters worry will cause endless gridlock as traffic tried to avoid backups on Needham street.  Finally, Northland refused to even be held accountable for meeting the single-vehicle use reductions they promised in their presentations!

The result is a proposed development that has many positive individual aspects, but that when viewed as a whole leaves a lot of unanswered questions, a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of risk – all of which is placed squarely on the shoulders of the community surrounding the site.

Many in the community are understandably frustrated and angry with this outcome.  In the words of Greg Schwartz, the chairman of the Land Use Committee: the land use process for this project has failed.  Thankfully, Article 10 of Newton’s charter allows regular citizens of Newton to push back against a deep-pocketed developer that muscled through a proposed development without addressing any of their concerns.

We are now in the process of collecting signatures to ask the City Council to rescind its approval or to put it on the ballot of a future local election.

This was not a decision made lightly and this was not something any of us wanted to do.  Contrary to what you might read on some blogs, we have no desire to “kill” this project — this petition is the result of Northland’s refusal to address the neighbors’ concerns.

Likewise, contrary to what you may have heard, Northland cannot build a massive office complex “by right.”  Any development over 20,000 square feet would require a special permit, which would restart the process.

There have also been a lot of rumors that if our petition drive is successful that Northland would abandon this proposal and turn to 40B — Massachusetts’ affordable housing statue.  The truth is that a 40B development is much more costly for the developer, would be mostly residential (with limited retail allowed to support this residential use), and unless Northland (which was unwilling to address the neighbors’ concerns by phasing their proposed development) chose to phase its development by individually developing the three parcels that comprise the site, would be limited to 640 units, 160 of which would be affordable (which is a higher NUMBER of affordable units than currently proposed!).  Since the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) would also review the project for traffic and safety concerns, whatever its size.

There is also little reason to believe that most of the “benefits” of the project would disappear if Northland chose to develop the site as a 40B.  The development would be more affordable; Northland would have no incentive to abandon making its buildings environmentally friendly as such building are much less expensive to heat/cool and Northland has no plans to sell them (so the long-term cost savings go to Northland); many of the “amenities” would also likewise be retained as Northland would need to make the development attractive to tenants; this includes the underground parking and the open space (much of which is sidewalks, courtyards, and protected land around the brook, as it is).

So, we ask you to sign our petition, which you can find here: Petition – Northland.  Petitions must be submitted in paper form, so please print the form (double-sided if possible, if not, please staple the two pages together).  Please also ask friends/neighbors who are worried about the traffic, school overcrowding, and financial impact of this project to sign it, as well.  You can always contact us at rightsizenewton@gmail.com with any questions or to arrange drop-off or pick-up of the signed petitions.

Finally, please consider signing the petition even if you live far from the site.  This development will affect us all — both because of the negative financial impact to our city and the precedent that approving a development with so many unanswered questions and unadressed concerns has for the rest of the city.

Recent materials:

You can see some of the latest materials we submitted to the City Council here:

Letter regarding Fiscal Impact Analysis: https://needhamstreet.rightsizenewton.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Letter-to-City-Council-from-RSN-11-15-19.pdf and the TischlerBise memo to Barney Heath referenced therein: https://needhamstreet.rightsizenewton.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/TischlerBise-memo-to-Barney-Heath_7.24.2018-1.docx

Letter regarding insufficiency of Board Order Conditions related to traffic: RSN – Land Use Committee Letter – Board Order Comments (#426-18) – 10-25-2019

Draft changes to the Board Order Conditions related to traffic: Board Order (#426-18) – Traffic Conditions (Right Size Newton) – 10-25-2019

Draft changes marked to original: Board Order (#426-18) – Traffic Conditions (Right Size Newton) – 10-25-2019 (marked to original)

Comments in response to Northland’s lawyer’s letter regarding Board Order Conditions: RSN – Comments on Schlesinger Memo dated 10-23-2019

Overview of the proposed development:

Northland Investment Corporation (https://www.northland.com/) has proposed a 22+ acre development on land it owns at the corner of Needham and Oak streets in Newton Upper Falls (shaded in red in the image above).

Northland’s massive proposal, which REQUIRES both a ZONING CHANGE and a SPECIAL PERMIT is currently being reviewed by the Newton City Council Land Use Committee.

The information submitted in connection with the zoning change and special permit applications can be found here: http://www.newtonma.gov/gov/planning/current/devrev/hip/needham_st_permits.asp

The proposal calls for:

  • Almost 2,000,000 square feet of development
  • 800 rental units (80 studios, 360 1-bedrooms, 320 2-bedrooms, and 40 3-bedrooms)
  • 180,000 square feet of office space (in the existing Mill building)
  • 115,000 square feet of “retail” space
  • Only 1,550 parking spaces (total)
  • 17 buildings, 7 of them currently at 7+ stories and 96 feet high

And this is just PHASE 1.  Northland has also purchased 14+ acres across Needham Street (the area shaded in yellow in the image above).  Those 14+ acres are certain to become PHASE 2 once Phase 1 is approved.

The Concerns:

While we WELCOME appropriate development of this site (it has become a concrete wasteland during Northand’s 15+ years of ownership), this proposal is simply TOO BIG.  The HEIGHT and DENSITY of the buildings is completely OUT OF SCALE with the surrounding neighborhoods of Newton Highlands and Upper Falls.

  • Northland’s incorrect enrollment projections VASTLY UNDERESTIMATE the financial impact on our schools
  • Northland’s INSUFFICIENT number of parking spaces will cause narrow neighboring streets to become overwhelmed with cars from the project, causing emergency vehicles to struggle to navigate them
  • Northland’s INACCURATE traffic projections DRAMATICALLY UNDERESTIMATE the impact of the proposed development on Needham Street and NEIGHBORING STREETS (especially Winchester St, Oak Street, Saco St, Williams St, Christina Rd, Rachel Rd, Roland St, and Charlemont St)
  • Northland’s proposed shuttle service is WILL NOT solve the TRAFFIC ISSUE
  • Northland’s proposal calls for the BARE MINIMUM “affordable” units allowed by law

About Us

WE ARE NOT ANTI-DEVELOPMENT.  WE WELCOME APPROPRIATE DEVELOPMENT OF THIS SITE!

This website started as an effort by 8 area neighbors with no “activism” experience shocked by the lack of public awareness of this MASSIVE proposed development.  We wanted to help inform our neighbors and our friends. We have grown to 250+ neighbors and counting.

Our goal IS NOT to prevent Northland from developing this site; it is to make sure that the way in which the site is developed BENEFITS EVERYONE, not just Northland’s investors’ profits.

To stay informed or to get involved, please click the Join Us link to the left to be added to our mailing list.

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To voice your concerns directly to the city council, please email the council at citycouncil@newtonma.gov.