Land Use Recap – 10-29-2019

The Land Use Committee discussed the Board Order conditions related to Traffic yesterday at 8pm.  Unfortunately, because the meeting was moved to a smaller conference room (so that the councilors could all sit around a table to discuss), there was no video feed (there was an audio recording and we will share the link as soon as we have it).

Recap of the traffic discussion:

Chairman Schwartz opened the discussion by referencing our letter to the council and our draft changes to the board order.  Councilor Laredo then supported measuring ALL traffic that is generated by the site, not just residential and office-related traffic as is being proposed by Northland and the Planning Department.  Councilors Auchincloss, Markiewicz and Kalis (not a member of the committee) also spoke in strong support of measuring all traffic, since that is the ONLY way to measure the TRUE IMPACT of this project on the neighborhood.  They also noted that counting all the traffic by having counters at all entrances and exits to the property is the simplest means of determining how many vehicles enter and leave the site, without resorting to “intercept surveys” that Northland proposes to use to identify whether people entering buildings drove to the site or arrived there by some other means.

Councilors Lipof, Crossley and Albright (not a member of the committee) spoke against measuring total traffic, offering the following reasons (our responses are interspersed):

  • The retail traffic projections are not accurate enough to be relied upon
    • Response: if the projections provided by Northland as part of the special permit process are inaccurate, then Northland should now provide accurate traffic projections for all aspects of its project, including retail
  • Retail traffic cannot be reduced through the use of TDM
    • Response: Northland is not being asked to reduce the amount of retail traffic; they should be held accountable for the projections they provided as part of the approval process, including retail, along with residential and commercial.  Our proposed board order language would use UNADJUSTED retail trips as part of the measurement.  Also, as councilor Auchincloss pointed out, it is not a foregone conclusion that retail traffic cannot be mitigated.  There are approaches that can be taken to try to reduce retail-related traffic without negatively impacting retail (the city is trying one right now with variable-rate metered parking rates, for example).
  • There is only a small amount of additional retail, 40,000 square feet over what’s there now
    • Response: this means it should be easier, nor harder, to project retail-related traffic, because Northlnd has had 40 years of experience with retail at this site.
  • Counting ALL traffic might be worse for the neighborhood, because if the retail number is set too high, it may allow more traffic than if Northland is held to its residential/office numbers only
    • Response: This is why we propose counting BOTH separately.  We would count every vehicle that enters or leaves the property for a TOTAL count.  Separately, we would count every residential and office vehicle (since Northland has confirmed that residents and office users will use a separate limited-access garage, this can be done via transponders).  If Northland exceeds EITHER the maximum number of total vehicles allowed OR the maximum number of residential/office vehicles allowed, it would need to reduce traffic.
  • This has not been done for any proposed development before
    • Response: the city has never had a proposed development of this size or complexity before.  Northland is seeking a lot from the city; in exchange, it should be held accountable for its traffic projections.
  • One cannot control the traffic on Needham street through limiting one parcel
    • Response: Northland is not being asked to control the traffic on Needham street; Northland should be held accountable for the traffic generated by its site.

The next meeting of the Land Use Committee will be November 7th.  More details as they come!


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