Thanks to everyone who came to our forum this evening! Below are the questions we received from the audience, grouped into topic areas, followed by answers from Councilor Deb Crossley.
- Shuttles/other transportation
- The housing units
- The site
- There has been significant focus on traffic on Needham St. Do you have data on traffic counts on Needham St., and how this project will add to the counts?Please see this Planning Memo. Note that since this presentation, the cap on the petitioner’s expenditures needed to achieve compliance was removed. The Council Order (Order) now requires whatever it takes to comply with maximum trip counts. AND, the Order now requires counting trips for all who visit the site – for retail and events … at the four driveways into the project, and set limits on those trips as well – separately.
- Can you speak about plans for renovating/revising Needham St., and how they intersect with this project?According to the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce’s February 11, 2020 newsletter, the redesign “…aims to improve walkability for pedestrians and reduce conflict points for cars and improve biking safety. The historic bridge over the Charles River will have two lanes heading into Newton and one lane into Needham. Cantilevered sidewalks will make the bridge safer for cyclists and pedestrians. The redesigned street will have two driving lanes, a central lane for left turns, sidewalks for pedestrians, raised bike lanes for cyclists and clear places where buses can stop. The number of curb cuts that currently contribute to slow traffic and challenges for pedestrians and cyclists will be reduced.” Also, Northland will reduce curb cuts along Needham Street – and has been working closely with DOT to this end.Important to note that the first 2 years of work on Needham Street involves replacing utilities – City projects will include a new water main the entire length of the street which will be placed this year, rebuilding (and straightening) the culvert carrying South Meadow Brook across Needham Street. I hope the old gas line will be replaced by NGrid. Also important to note is that Northland has committed to putting 1.5 miles of wires underground, eliminating utility poles along all of its boundaries. This requires providing easements to the carriers because there’s no room under the street for additional conduit. All is keyed up to coordinate with DOT work.
- How will Needham St. be affected during the construction?The reconstruction of Needham Street itself will require a great deal of management to allow through traffic. This work begins in 2020, with the replacement of utilities, as noted above. The construction of the Northland project will be less disruptive, as all staging of construction vehicles and materials must take place within the site. A construction management plan is required to be approved by Inspectional Services prior to getting a building permit, and it must satisfactorily address/mitigate noise, dust, erosion controls etc. according to the Council Order and city ordinances.
- How did you come up with the desired number of car trips?Traffic engineers use conservative standards (more trips than likely) to estimate trip generation relative to each use. For example, residential use creates fewer car trips than commercial or retail. (see Q1 above). When complimentary uses are combined on a site, that lowers the number of trips. We then exercise our right to require a peer reviewer check all assumptions and calculations. Any differences must be resolved in the public forum.
- If the project is done at one time what is the plan for traffic? I understand that the plan is to have buses when it is done, but this project could go on for 5 years and traffic will move to residential areas.I assume this means, How will trips due to construction activities be managed? If so, see Q3 part 2 above. As well, note that the number of trips emanating from the site due to moving of construction materials are many fewer than once the project is fully occupied – and construction activity begins at 7am – before rush hour and normally ends at 3-4 pm – before rush hour. Special permission must be granted to activate construction operations outside of hours allowed by ordinance.
- The presentation referenced 37% traffic reduction of something. Please explain. Is the present traffic supposedly going to be reduced by 37%? If so, how? If not, how much additional traffic will be added (to the present status) by Northland?Sorry if this was confusing – the reductions refer to reducing trip generation expected from this project. First, we did reduce the size of the project – especially the retail component (which generates the most trips). Then, once there was agreement on the expected trips among the traffic engineers, peer reviewer and planning department, the commitment was made to reduce those counts below normal expectations – by design. Most importantly, by limiting the number of cars to one per unit AND providing the free frequent shuttle. In total it is a commitment to reducing trips by over 40% – 36% in the morning peak hours and 58% in the evening peak hours. The Order requires regular monitoring of trips by providing all residents and office workers with transponders in their vehicles and reporting to the planning department every six months. Counting begins when the first 400 units are available for occupancy. If counts are exceeded by a nominal amount additional resources must be provided – with no limit on how much – to, for example, expand or modify the shuttle service to reduce the trips further.
- How much more frequently could the shuttle run if needed? Every 10 minutes is pretty frequent. Won’t it further clog Needham St?As frequently as needed to meet the maximum number of trips allowed. The key to success is managing vehicle trips overall. No other development has been tasked with doing this – either within Newton or coming from the western suburbs. Compared to the thousands of trips on Needham Street, the addition of total trips from this development will be quite small.
- Why NOT [have a] shuttle to Needham commuter rail?That is a possibility, if once running it becomes clear this would achieve the trip count desired.
- Will the shuttle always travel on Needham St?This is the initial proposal. Again, as we monitor success, other routes may be considered, such as Oak to Elliot streets to the Elliot T.
- What do you think the prospects are for the building of the Needham green line extension?Although I agree this is a very good idea – and Needham would work with us – the decision is in the hands of the state. (The state is offering MassWORKS funding to extend the Greenway all the way through to Winchester Street for pedestrians and bikes, as well as to improve the intersection of Oak and Chestnut.)
- Will there be bikes and scooters available on each end of the greenway?There will be ample bicycle parking provided within the development. We may not store bicycles on the greenway itself, however, the city intends to continue its bike share program.
- Is it possible for residents to have more than 1 car on premise?No – not possible. The Council Order limits this development to one car living, one car maximum per unit, for people who want that.
- Will parking for retail and event visitors be in the underground garage? Is there any parking or stopping on street level – for loading, for dropping off disabled passengers?Yes. 1. There will be a valet service provided for retail shoppers and folks visiting the site – a 200 space “valet pad” in the underground garage. 2. Loading docks are planned throughout the complex for each building.
- How much transient retail and visitor parking will there be? And where?See answer above.
- Will there be any EV charging stations in the parking areas? If so, how many?Yes – 10% of total spaces will be set up with EV chargers and another 10% will be set up.
- Is there on-street parking?Very little – Please see this presentation.
- Where is parking for retail visitors?See the answer to the first question in this section, above.
- What are the plans for covered bicycle parking?1100 spaces in the underground garages.
The housing units
- Please clarify criteria for affordable units.According to Newton’s Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) ordinance, if a development has greater than 21 units, the project must provide in perpetuity: 15% of the units for families whose income is 50-80% of Area Median Income (averaging 65%), which equals 120 units for Northland. In addition, 2.5% of the units must be for those with an income up to 110% AMI, often referred to as workforce housing, which equals 20 units for this project. More information on the city’s IZ ordinance is available on the city website.FY 2019 Income Limits Summary – Newton, MA
Household size Income level 1 2 3 4 50% AMI $41,500 $47,400 $53,350 $59,250 65% AMI $51,552 $58,916 $66,281 $73,645 80% AMI $62,450 $71.400 $80,300 $89,200 110% AMI $87,241 $99,704 $112,167 $124,630
- What is the percentage of affordable housing (AH) in this project?See above.
- What is the percentage of affordable housing demanded by the city in housing developments? Could more AH – a higher percentage – have been achieved in this project?The number or percentage of affordable units must be considered relative to the cost of other desirable public benefits, over which Newton has some control. In this case there are many – please see below. If this were to be a project built to 40B standards, the percent is increased to 20 – 25, but other amenities are not required, such as free public transit, underground parking, open space, and others.
- Are the affordable housing units built the same as other units?Yes – they must be built to the same standards of quality and relative size. Newton’s IZ ordinance requires that IZ units must be dispersed throughout the project and be sited in no less desirable locations than the market-rate units. The bedroom mix must be equal to the bedroom mix of the market-rate units in the project. The materials used and the quality of construction for inclusionary units, including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, must be equal to that of the market-rate units in project, as reviewed by the Planning and Development Department; provided that amenities such as designer or high-end appliances and fixtures need not be provided for Inclusionary Units. At a minimum, the IZ units must have an equivalent level of accessibility as that of the market-rate units.
- What are dollar amounts of (affordable) rents?Rents for the affordable units, inclusive of parking and utilities, may not exceed 30% of the qualifying person’s income.
- What will average rents be (non-affordable)?It will be about three years before the first 400 units will not go on the market, then the remainder in another two years, so actual market rents are likely to change a lot by then. The market at the time will determine market rents.
- Unit mix and types?
Percent Apartment Type Number 10% Studios 80 45% 1- Bedroom units 360 40% 2- Bedroom units 320 5% 3- Bedroom units 40
- Rental vs. condos?All units will be rental.
- Will Newton residents have precedence in tenant selection?The lottery for the affordable units may prioritize Newton residents for up to 70% of the units.
- Are the buildings connected underground, for bad weather circulation within the site?The parking garage is continuous under multiple buildings.
- Can you discuss more of energy efficiency of the buildings?The entire development will achieve a LEED-ND (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for neighborhood development) certification at the gold level. That also refers to conserving energy in that WHERE you site higher density development is a large factor in how much energy we use to shelter and transport people. The mill building will be restored so that the existing shell will achieve a LEED silver – or better – core and shell (tenant fit up is outside Council scope). Importantly, there are 8 multifamily residential blocks.The Council Order requires two tiers of accomplishment. While normally the Council approves projects at only a schematic level, in this case, we asked for more up front analyses. This resulted in a commitment to achieving “Passive House” certification for three blocks – the highest standard for building energy efficiency. standard of energy efficient construction.In addition, the Council Order requires complete analyses of the other five blocks, sharing the results and implementing the Passive House standard if reasonably feasible for the remaining blocks. The Council used a similar approach with a smaller development on Langley Road a couple of years ago, which resulted in findings proving feasibility on nearly all measures analyzed.
- How many units are in the green-roofed building across the street?The Village Falls Condominiums (122) is a complex of four, five and six story buildings across Oak street from the Saco Pettee Mill building.
- What is that “daylight” term Deb mentioned?Daylighting refers to bringing to daylight and naturalizing the existing waterway, in this case, South Meadow Brook, which has long been concealed within a large underground culvert. The project includes restoring the land around an existing portion of the Brook – now fenced off … extending it – and then revealing it again as a waterfall before it goes under Oak Street. Today you can see the culvert inlet at the bottom of the mill building, corner of Oak and Needham streets.
- Describe the heights of the various buildings.Building heights are arranged to be both sensitive to adjacent structures (3 story townhouses along the Greenway facing the four story historic office buildings across Chestnut Street, for example) and to gradually increase in height as the land slopes downward (over 20’) from Chestnut to Needham Street. All buildings have multiple story heights, making use of the rooftops for outdoor space for residents at the lower levels – and for solar panels at the higher levels. The residential building along Oak is 3 and 4 stories (as is the historic mill building along lower Oak Street (across from the existing Village Falls Condos, which are 4,5 and 6 stories; higher as you descend the hill to Needham St). The central buildings and building #8 at Needham St. (where the strip mall is today) are up to 7 floors, 95.5’ in total height (six residential floors above a 19-20’ high first floor) which is why they are referred to as 8 stories. However, they have stepped back sections as low as 2 and 3 stories. You can get a street view of all buildings to get a sense of scale and especially, massing, in this video of a 3D model of the project.
- Please talk about grading at the site – there’s a big drop behind history corner building (piano store, Paulette’s).Overall there is a 20-foot drop in elevation from the Greenway bordering the site and Needham street parallel to the Greenway – at the bottom of the hill.
- The suggestion has been made that IF the special permit is voted down, Newton can push Northland to produce a project on a different, or smaller, scale. Please address this as a potential outcome of a no vote.I do not think this can happen, nor is likely. In my opinion, the alternatives would be bigger, create more traffic and require fewer or no amenities, less or no traffic mitigation. Here’s why: First, the vote is NOT about the special permit – remember – it is to vote down the underlying zoning that facilitates this special permit – or one anything like it. Current zoning allows for predominantly commercial space, and much more of it. So therefore, this or a similar project simply could be accomplished. Consider these points:
- No developer has bottomless resources. This developer has been investing in this area for over a dozen years.
- A previous plan for 1.9 million square feet of commercial-only was rejected by the Upper Falls community about a dozen years ago, mostly because it would have turned its back on Upper Falls.
- After introducing the plan concept now before us – about 3.5 years ago – the developer was ready to file for a special permit about 2.5 years ago, but agreed to wait to file its petition so the community could articulate its vision for the Needham Street corridor first.
- At that time the developer significantly modified the project to reduce the scope and size and align with that vision. The developer has an easier path to build which would be more lucrative for them.
- Chapter 40B of the MA General laws provides that if a developer provides 20-25% units affordable, respectively, to low or moderate income folks, then they may ignore local zoning ordinances that would otherwise limit the building envelope – that is, height, square footage, setbacks, etc. The Council would lose all control in this case. This means that except for a contribution to our sewer rehabilitation program (mandated by another state provision) and meeting the storm water management ordinances, no other public amenities would be required. No open space, no subsidized transit or shuttle, no underground parking, no contributions toward traffic improvements, schools, parks (the $10 million), no undergrounding of utility wires…. But most of all, no master plan integrating the many goals and objectives that will serve our community. The state has articulated a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions. If Chapter 40B is used – it will pass. Northland could file a petition for each of the three parcels – up to about 640 units each, with supportive retail.
- What types of projects could be built if the land remains MU1? Only big box retail etc? Is there another category besides MU1 and BU4?
The table below, from the city’s planning department, summarizes a comparison between MU1 and BU4. As for another category, for a site this large, perhaps a special zone could be created. But historically, this takes a great deal of time. I ask – why would we do this? And why would the developer wait for us? – versus pursuing the easier option? (see above).
Mixed-Use 1 (MU1) Business Use 4 (BU 4)
- This zoning district is geared towards big box retail, office and manufacturing uses.
- Does not permit retail less than 5,000 sf, most community-oriented uses or personal services.
- Limits height to 4 stories
- Oriented towards industrial uses and businesses with large footprints
- Very little housing is permitted: one unit per 10,000sf
- To-date no housing as been built under the MU1 zone.
- The BU 4 district allows most community- oriented uses or personal uses.
- This district allows one housing unit/1200 sf
- This district allows up to 8 stories.
- Explain what will happen if it becomes 40B.
See the first answer, above, but also this information from the memo to the council in December 2019:
- Site is made up of 3 separate parcels
- Each parcel could contain a separate project; could be subdivided into additional parcels by-right as long as each parcel meets City’s frontage and lot area requirements.
- The developer could pursue multiple individual projects on separate parcels, at the same time.
- It would be expected that the maximum number of units for a project on a single parcel is 646.
- A project can contain non-residential elements as long as the primary use, at least 50%, is residential.
- The city completes a safe harbor calculation each time a comprehensive permit is filed. These calculations can only count units that have already received permitting (special & comprehensive permits) approval.
- Any proposed units and acreage would not count towards the calculation of determining if Newton has met a safe harbor at the time of a Northland application.
- If one or more Northland 40B projects are filed before approval of one or more of those pipeline (Riverside, Dunstan East, Riverdale) projects, it is unlikely the ZBA would be able to invoke a safe harbor.
- The City does anticipate that the ZBA’s approval of one or more initial large scale 40B projects at Northland (in conjunction with approval of all the above-referenced pipeline projects) would likely allow the City to reach the 10% safe harbor.The Zoning Board of Appeals is the municipal decision-making body for comprehensive permits (40B).
- How hard did you try to negotiate for fewer residential units – more on the scale of 600 units rather than 800?As earlier mentioned, the number of units was reduced prior to filing, from 940 to 822, then from 822 to 800 during the special permit process. This, along with other concessions, was to achieve the “right size” to improve the quality of the streetscape, add more open space and parkland, and to enable trip management at a scale where two things could happen: first – minimizing trips due to the mix of uses on the site, 2. Then – see above description of trip management. Fewer units could not support the robust free shuttle program subsidy that comes with this project.
- What makes you think that if we voted this down, the developer will automatically go to the 40B option? Wouldn’t they want to compromise the scale of it?
No – I don’t think so. See the answer to the first question in this section, above.
- How does the city ensure the developer adheres to the council order?The city’s Inspectional Service Department is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Council Order (contract with the developer). The building inspectors will not grant a certificate of occupancy (CO) if the developer has not met the requirements in the contract. And – as noted – there are financial penalties for failing to meet the trip reductions required.
- Impact w/ Riverside development?Between the two projects, if both go forward, Newton will begin to make a dent in diversifying its housing stock and building toward a sustainable future that can accommodate a next generation – and one after that.
- Are there similar projects anywhere else?Not in Newton – but communities across the country are mixing uses, adding density accessible to public transit, providing shuttles to create that accessibility – and even creating whole neighborhoods without cars.
- What is the school population impact?Estimated at 165 students, a bit less than half elementary, the rest divided among middle and high school. It turns out that enrollment projections are down and declining, as fewer children are entering K, and larger classes are graduating. Fewer young families are moving into Newton – due in large part to the high price tag for housing, as well as that the stock of single-family homes is not moving as much since there are insufficient elevation accessible units for older folks to move into. We must improve the balance of housing opportunity to help ensure a successful next generation.