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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.

4/9 Land Use Meeting Recap

The meeting started late as chairman Schwartz had trouble finding parking — to resounding applause from the 300+ standing-room only in attendance.  That set the scene and the tone.  The planning department then presented the results of their review of Northland’s latest traffic and transportation plan, noting that they still had concerns about the viability of the shuttle program.
Northland then described some changes to their proposed shuttle program, but perhaps the most interesting part of their presentation was when Ms. Tibbits-Nutt, speaking on behalf of the 128 Business Council (the shuttle bus consultant) noted that they have been asked to say what would happen if the service failed… and then proceeded to respond to the question by saying that they did not believe it would fail.  Belief, of course, is a wonderful thing, but the question remains unanswered because there is no answer; there is no “Plan B.”
RightSize Newton had been graciously given 10 minutes to present after Northland and you can find the presentation and copies of letters we sent to the City Council ahead of the meeting here.
There were many excellent comments that followed, overwhelmingly from people who thought the current proposal would generate too much traffic and that the shuttles would not work to mitigate it.
While some councilors wanted to have a brief discussion last night, they ultimately decided that many questions had been raised that Northland should answer and that they would send additional questions to Northland, as well.  Northland’s responses to these questions will be discussed at the next meeting (the date is not yet set, but should be sometime in May).

MEETING TONIGHT!

For those of you who missed our emails.  There is a meeting tonight for the City Council’s Land Use Committee to review and discuss the traffic, parking, and transportation plan for Northland’s proposed development.
The meeting starts at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.  Northland will present first, we will have a short presentation we will make after that, and there will be time for discussion by the council and also for public comment (usually 2-3 minutes each).

We hope to see you there!

THANK YOU!

rightsize meeting_3_30

A huge thanks to the 65+ people that traded in a gorgeous Saturday morning to come sit in uncomfortably small chairs and talk about Northland’s proposed development!

Please continue to inform your neighbors about the Land Use Committee Meeting on the 9th (to discuss parking and traffic)!  A version of the flyers we passed out can be found here (and can be seen below) — we also have hard copies as well, if you need them. northland flyer (meeting on 9th) -latest

COMMUNITY MEETING, Saturday March 30th

We will hold an INFORMATIONAL MEETING about the proposed Northland development on Saturday March 30th, at 10am at the Emerson Community Center on Pettee St. in Upper Falls

Please JOIN US for a quick (10 minute) presentation of the proposal and our concerns, followed by a question/answer period and discussion.

As we have said many times, we are not against ALL development of this site!  Northland’s ownership has, over the last 15 years, resulted in a mostly unused concrete blighted area.  We WELCOME development of the site, we just believe that HOW it is developed should be carefully considered, so that the result BENEFITS everyone, and not just Northland’s bottom line.

If you have questions and/or concerns about Northland’s proposal, please join us on the 30th!northland flyer updated

Land Use Committee Meeting 3/12

Northland is slated to present a slightly modified version of its proposal for its 22-acre parcel at the corner of Needham Street and Oak Street at the Land Use Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 12th at 7pm.

Meetings are held in the city council chambers (second floor of city hall).  Please come and voice your concerns so that we can get this project sized down to what makes sense for this location.

By way of reminder: the Land Use Committee is a group of city councilors who review and either approve or deny applications for special permits (which a project the size that Northland is proposing requires) before the entire city council votes on the proposal.  Our best chance of getting Northland to meaningfully change this massively outsized project that will overwhelm our roads and overburden our schools is now!

While Northland claims it has listened to feedback from the council and the community, the slightly modified proposal it is planning to present does nothing to alleviate any of the concerns raised.

Northland’s estimate of the number of students that the project will generate is too low, and reducing the number of apartments from 822 to 800 is not meaningful enough to address this concern.

Northland’s proposal has inadequate parking for the number of residential and commercial (including retail) units requested, and the updated proposal actually reduces the number of parking spaces that Northland is proposing to build.

Northland’s proposed bus shuttle routes are insufficient to mitigate the added traffic that a project of this scale will bring to the area, are too infrequent to be useful, and are, overall, evocative of the old nexus bus service (that, as we all remember, was an abandoned failure).

If Northland is serious about listening to our concerns, they need to significantly change the size of this proposed development — as proposed it is simply too big and should not be approved.

Traffic Meeting Recap

The meeting room was full last night and many, many residents were able to share their views on traffic and parking associated with the proposed Northland development on Needham Street.

The city councilors, and everyone in the room, including Northland and their consultants and lawyers agreed that the traffic on Needham Street is already bad.  Everyone also agreed that the development would make it worse.

The disagreement is largely over just how much worse.  While Northland’s consultant cherry-picked specific intersections and glossed over the most negative impacts, the peer reviewer hired by the city (BETA) did a good job of showing that traffic at 20 of the 27 analyzed intersections would get worse.  How much worse? From 10 seconds to over 2 minutes worse! Many of the intersections would also degrade into a level of service that is considered inadequate or failing.

BETA also made it clear that these delays and degradation of service would happen even with Northland’s ambitious “robust” shuttle plan, which would aim to get 30% of area residents to use the shuttle system (currently, less than 13% use public transportation).  In their analysis, BETA assumed that this goal would be met, but also made it clear that they did not think the goal of more than doubling public transportation usage was achievable. Northland’s own transportation consultant (128 business council) was unable to predict the success of the shuttle (due to insufficient data) and instead has asked us to “take a leap of faith” that it will work.

Councilor Auchincloss (contact here: jauchincloss@newtonma.gov) took some time to demand that Northland lower the number of parking spaces that they would build as part of the project (without suggesting a reduction in the overall size of the project!).  Northland is already requesting a waiver to build fewer than the 3,400 parking spots required by Newton’s zoning (they are asking to build only 1,900 spots).  This is despite the fact that Northland’s request is already below the average that would be required in surrounding communities (even if we count Boston, which as a much more urban space than Newton, requires much less parking).  This is also despite the fact that, as we point out on our traffic and parking page, there will simply not be enough parking for the residents, employees, and shoppers that Northland anticipates using the development when it is built.  Reducing the number of parking spaces without reducing the size of the project will either cause the project to fail (retail and office space will be left vacant due to lack of shoppers and lack of companies willing to commit to a car-free workforce and residential use that leans heavily on Uber and Lyft, which would further increase traffic) or it will cause the surrounding neighborhoods to be overwhelmed with parking related to this development.

The bottom line is that traffic on Needham Street is already bad, spilling out onto neighboring streets and causing narrow residential streets to be used as throughways; this will only get worse (much worse) if Northland’s massive proposed project is allowed to proceed. Parking, not currently an issue along the Needham Street corridor will become a scarce resource that residents and workers fight for, as is the case in much denser locales such as NYC.

TRAFFIC AND PARKING MEETING TOMORROW!

Just a reminder the next Land Use Committee meeting to discuss the traffic and parking impacts of Northland’s proposed development is scheduled for TOMORROW (TUESDAY), JANUARY 15th AT 7PM at city hall (second floor council chambers).

If you are concerned about additional traffic on Needham Street and surrounding areas and are able to attend, please join us at the meeting!

Newton Tab

We had a chance to discuss rightsizenewton.org and overall outsized development in Newton with Julie Cohen of the Newton Tab; the online version of her article on rightsizenewton.org can be found here: http://newton.wickedlocal.com/news/20190110/newton-neighbors-create-website-to-address-needham-street-project

PLEASE REMEMBER TO JOIN US ON TUESDAY, JANUARY 15th AT 7PM ON THE SECOND FLOOR OF CITY HALL FOR THE LAND USE COMMITTEE’S NEXT MEETING; THIS MEETING WILL COVER TRAFFIC, PARKING, AND TRANSPORTATION.