You may have recently received an email or seen an announcement asking you not to sign Right Size Newton’s petition for a referendum regarding the proposed Northland development. These communications differ in style, but they all suffer from the same misinformation and inaccuracies.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Northland Development:
A: A proposed development for a 22 acre site at the corner of Oak and Needham Street bounding Upper Falls and the Highlands.
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.
A: Some, but only the bare minimum required for a development of this size.
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.
A: The plan is centered around a free shuttle bus running every 10 minutes to Newton Highlands.
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.
A: The original plan included shuttles going to the Seaport, Cambridge, and the Needham Commuter Line, but this plan was abandoned when it became clear that the long headways (45 minutes between buses) made it unlikely to be used by anyone.
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.
A: Only if people choose not to use cars.
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.
A: Not really.
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.
A: Not at all!
Right Size Newton believes that this site, which Northland has let go to waste, is a prime spot for development, but that the current proposal does not address the very real concerns about traffic, school overcrowding, and financial impact on the city.
A: Sadly, no.
As the chairman of the Land Use committee (Councilor Greg Schwartz) stated when explaining why he could not vote to approve this project, the land use review process failed this project. There were a lot of discussions, and there were a lot of presentations, but Northland refused to make any changes to the project that were suggested by the public or the councilors concerned about traffic or financial impact.
A: As you can see, the public did not ask for that much – we all wanted the project to work!
During the city’s review process, the developer was asked to make the following changes, but refused to make any of them:
- Expand the traffic studies performed to cover neighborhood intersections that will be affected by “spillover” traffic when Needham street is backed up and conduct a “corridor study” which examines the intersections on Needham street together, not individually.
- Scale the project more appropriately for the area, so that it generates less traffic, since even the developer admits that traffic may not be successfully mediated by their transportation plan.
- If the project could not be scaled down, that it at least be phased, so that impact on traffic and school enrollment can be measured against the projections before the whole project is built.
- Monitor all the traffic entering and leaving the site (not just residential and office traffic) and be required to reduce any traffic that exceeds the developer’s own traffic projections.
- For residential and office-related traffic, that the promised reductions of single-vehicle use were achieved.
- Many of the abutting neighbors asked Northland to make the Oak street entrance/exit a limited-access (emergency vehicles only) entry point due to the concerns about gridlock on Oak street.
A: Right Size Newton is collecting signatures to petition for a referendum.
We need to collect signatures from more than 5% of the registered Newton voters within 20 days of the approval of the project. If we are successful, 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.
A: This is a difficult question to answer.
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.
A: We hope that Northland listens to the neighbors’ concerns and addresses them by modifying the proposed development so that it can be something that works for everyone, not just their bottom line.
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.