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Coming to Northland’s “Fall Festival?”

If you are planning to attend Northland’s “fall festival” PR event at their development site at the corner of Needham and Oak streets today (Saturday the 20th)?  Of course, we’d rather you come help these guys out instead: https://village14.com/2018/10/14/roll-the-balls-in-upper-falls… but if you’re at the Northland event, then come see us at the same corner (though likely off Northland’s property).  We are aiming to be there at 1:30 or so and will stay for as long as there are people who want to talk about their concerns with this massive project.

We’ll try to make ourselves easy to spot, but we’ll also update you on our whereabouts via twitter: @rightsizenewton. Come say hi!

Traffic Resulting From Northland’s Proposal

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) often reviews development proposals that have regional (not just local) impacts.  Due to MAPC’s charter, the review is aimed at the overall impacts of the project on the whole region (and not the local impacts that affect all of us).

Nevertheless, MAPC’s review of the proposed Northland development on Needham street (available here) found that the project “is expected to add 4,521 daily vehicle trips to the site for a total of 12,548 vehicle trips.”

Additionally, in a 2013 study of traffic on Needham street (available here), the MAPC found that:

  • Traffic on Needham Street has a regional character. License plates are registered in more than 100 Massachusetts communities.
  • Seventy percent of the traffic on Needham Street is pass-by/pass-through and it is
    captive in character. This traffic does not save time by switching routes and will use Needham Street regardless of transportation infrastructure improvements.
  • The likely source of future traffic surges on Needham Street is secular growth based on a gradual increase in population and economic activities and/or introducing new developments or redeveloping existing properties.

The MAPC concluded that “impact on future Needham Street traffic patterns because of transportation projects would be minor—unless new developments that increase trips to the Needham Street area are realized (i.e., constructed and occupied).”

Thus, according to the MAPC, Northland’s proposed development will add over 4,500 daily trips to Needham street, even with the proposed shuttle buses included in the proposal (more on this later).

In order for this project to be approved, the city council has to find that (among other things):

  • The proposed development as developed and operated will not adversely affect the neighborhood (§7.3.3.C.2);
  • There will be no nuisance or serious hazard to vehicles or pedestrians created by (§7.3.3.C.3);
  • Access to the site over streets is appropriate for the types and numbers of vehicles involved (§7.3.3.C.4);

If you agree that adding 4,500 daily trips to a road already overburdened by traffic (and which the MAPC does not think can be fixed, due to its regional nature) does not fit the above criteria, please take the time to let your city councilors know.

You can find their contact information by clicking on their names at this site: http://www.newtonma.gov/gov/aldermen/boalisting/default.asp.

 

When is “affordable” really “affordable*?”

Much has been said about the lack of truly affordable housing in Newton.  It is undeniable that many who work in Newton to provide the services that we rely on daily are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live here.  This is a problem we all want to solve.

So, it is not surprising that one of the leading arguments for outsized developments has been that the affordable housing it will bring outweighs the traffic it will create and our  already overcrowded schools.

Newton’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance requires any new development that requires a special permit (such as Northland’s proposed development on Needham street) to make 15% of their units affordable (hence the 123 affordable units in Northland’s proposal of 822 total units).

What does “affordable” mean?  There are two components: the first is eligibility and the second is cost.

To be eligible to rent these affordable units, the renter’s income must be below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), as reported by HUD.  For the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area that Newton is considered part of, the AMI is $108k / year (and rising).  The precise calculation of maximum income is somewhat complex, but this generally means that someone making up to $86,000 a year would be able to apply to rent one of these affordable units.

For those that qualify and are lucky enough to be picked to rent a unit, the rent itself, while also involving a complicated formula, would generally be capped at 30% of the income limit, so $2,160 a month.

In a vacuum, any net-new affordable units are a good thing.  But developments do not exist in a vacuum.  The price we pay for these affordable units will be the traffic, school overcrowding and environmental impact of the entire development, all nearly 2,000,000 square feet of it.

So, is this “affordable” housing, or is it really “affordable*” housing?

Getting the word out.

One thing we have noticed over the last few days is that most of the people in our own neighborhoods are not aware of Northland’s plans for the site at the corner of Needham and Oak streets.  The second thing we have noticed is that everyone we have talked to agrees that the proposed development is too big.

This is precisely why we started this effort — to help inform the community about the project and to see whether others felt the way we do.

Before we can take any next steps (such as meeting with city councilors, formally petitioning the city council, etc.) we need your help!

If you haven’t already, please join us so that we have an accurate count of our numbers and so that we can more effectively communicate with you (and receive feedback from you).

If you have the time and would be willing to help spread the word about the concerns we have with the proposed development, we have flyers (some of you might be reading this because of a flyer we put in your mailbox recently) and cards with some information that we would be happy to deliver to you so that you can hand them out to your neighbors and friends.  We would also appreciate you sharing this website through your social media to help get the word out.

If you are willing to help, please contact us either through the website itself or by emailing us at rightsizenewton@gmail.com.

Why 822 apartments?

Route 128, which has been called America’s Technology Highway, is home to many high-tech companies big and small.  Our neighbors to the south and north have continued to attract tech companies and grow their commercial tax bases by building commercial office space as well as developing ancillary commercial properties (such as bars, restaurants, and hotels) along this artery.  Here are some examples:

In addition to increasing tax revenue, commercial office space brings with it far fewer problems than massive residential developments.  So why is it that, on one of the few remaining pieces of land in Newton zoned for commercial development, Northland proposes such a residential-heavy development instead? Just down the street from an Avalon development that is 294 apartments (where rent for a 2-bedroom starts at $2,945/month).

Perhaps it is because Northland has billed its rental-apartment-heavy proposed development as the creation of a vibrant “new Village,” but the reality is that Northland is building within two existing villages: Upper Falls and Newton Highlands.  Overwhelming these two villages with a “mini-city” of 8-story buildings and foregoing a large chunk of commercial real estate taxes at the same time seems counter-intuitive.

Perhaps it is because Northland’s investors prefer to invest in residential properties (Northland owns and manages 91 properties, 76 of which are residential, and of the remaining 15 commercial properties 7 are the parcels it owns on Needham street).

The truth is, we don’t know.  But we think this is a good question to ask.

About Northland

Northland has gone to great lengths to bill itself as a Newton-based community-oriented developer.  But is this the whole truth?

Northland’s own website bills itself as “a national company with portfolio concentrations throughout the East Coast and along the southern tier of the United States” and it owns 75+ residential developments in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, and Massachusetts.  It also owns 15 commercial properties, but includes the 7 separate parcels it owns along Needham street as individual properties on this list.

Northland’s focus is clear from its website: “Our focus is on developing innovative solutions that create value by enhancing and maximizing the potential of every property in our portfolio.’

The truth is, Northland is a real estate investment corporation, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, we must remember that Northland’s responsibility is to its investors and to its shareholders, not to its neighbors.  Northland wants to maximize value, but because it requires both zoning changes and special permits in order to build what it has proposed, this wish must be balanced with those of its neighbors.

What is next from Northland?

Northland’s current proposal covers only the 22+ acres it owns west of Needham street.  What about the 14.6 acres it owns across the street?

This past July, Northland acquired two more parcels east of Needham street, so they now own the area shaded in yellow in the image below (click on image to enlarge):

 

northland_future_dev_site

With the 22+ acres Norhtland is currently seeking to rezone and develop via a special permit, this brings the total potential development area to 37+ acres!  The two shaded areas below show the scope of the potential development:

northland_all_parcels