The April 9th meeting of the City Council’s Land Use Committee had so many residents voice their dissatisfaction with the scale and size of the proposed Northland development on Needham street and the impact such an out-sized development would have on traffic and parking that the councilors did not have a chance to discuss the issues among themselves and ask their own questions, as they typically would. The committee then decided to put aside a short period of time at their next scheduled meeting (on April 30th) for this discussion.
Shortly after the meeting on the 9th, Northland’s Chairman and CEO (Lawrence Gottesdiener) delivered a letter to Jennifer Caira (the Chief Planner of the City of Newton) claiming that Northland’s “professionals were intimidated by the crowd” and stating that Northland “will not participate in another traffic hearing” and that they will only address questions from the councilors (such as questions raised about the validity of the projections provided and the lack of any evidence showing that the projected reductions in the use of cars is achievable) “in writing or take ex-parte meetings [which exclude the public].” The full letter can be seen here: 04-12-19 Petitioner Letter to Planning. Northland then doubled-down on this rhetoric in their initial responses to the councilors’ written questions when addressing the April 30th scheduled meeting: “Northland will need to confirm that any public comment will be in writing not in session;” the full responses can be seen here: Northland’s Consolidated Responses.
This is simply unacceptable. A developer cannot be allowed to tell the city how to run the review process and a developer certainly cannot be allowed to use an at-times heated public session to exclude the public from further input on this important issue. We can all (and that includes Northland and their consultants) do better when we interact with each other and make sure to do so in a civil manner, but the public has a right to voice their concerns with the project and must be allowed to do so!
The meeting on the 30th started with Councilor Schwartz expanding on the response the committee provided to Mr. Gottesdiener’s letter by stating that while the discussion at this meeting would be limited to the councilors that there would certainly be future public meetings scheduled related to traffic and that comments from the public would be encouraged at those meetings. Northland, can, of course, choose not to attend such meetings, if they so desire.
The councilors’ discussion was focused on whether (1) there was sufficient data presented by Northland, (2) assessing the mitigation strategies proposed thus-far, and (3) a discussion of what levers, tools, and conditions could be used to achieve the results that the mitigation strategies aim to achieve.
Most of the comments were on the sufficiency of the data provided, and it is fair to say that the councilors who spoke were clear that additional information is needed. Many of the answers provided by Northland in writing (just one day ahead of the meeting) appeared to raise additional questions by the councilors. The discussion was very productive and touched on many of the topics that we have been concerned about — the sufficiency of parking, whether the shuttle buses can be effective, the true traffic impact, and what mitigation can possibly achieve after the project is built if the shuttle bus plan does not work.
We look forward to Northland addressing the many issues that were raised by the councilors and to their continued engagement in the public process that we hopefully will lead to a properly-sized project that we can all be happy with and that will serve as a model for other developments in the area. That is the way this process is supposed to work.