Land Use Meeting 11/7

The Land Use Committee will meet tonight in room 211 to continue its discussion of the Board Order conditions.  With other items on the agenda, we are told that the Northland-related portion will likely start at 7:45pm.  Unfortunately, there will not be a video feed of the proceedings, even though we had specifically requested it be provided so that people can follow at home.

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!

 

May 14th Land Use Committee Meeting

The next hearing of the City Council Land Use Committee regarding Northland’s proposed development on Needham Street is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at 7 PM

This meeting will focus on design (including scale and height), sustainability, and stormwater management.

As with previous meetings, Northland will make a presentation, followed by the planning department and peer reviewer weighing in, followed by a short presentation from us and then comments from the public and the councilors themselves.

As with the last meeting, we NEED to again have a massive turnout by those of us who believe Northland’s proposal is too big and needs to be scaled back and significantly modified.  So, please make sure to ATTEND and bring friends and neighbors, of possible.

Traffic Follow-up and 4/30 Meeting Recap

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.