The long-debated Chestnut Hill Square project has passed yet another hurdle.
Following last week's recommendation from the Land Use Committee, the full Board of Aldermen voted unanimously in favor tonight for the necessary re-zoning and special permits for the 11.32-acre site located at the former Omni Foods site off Route 9.
Twenty members of the 24-person board were present.
"No project is ideal, but I think this is the best we're going to get," said Alderman Cheryl Lappin.
The approval will rezone the area to a Business 4 space and will grant special permits for mixed-use developments.
Lappin gave her support for the New England Development project, citing the potential $15 million in improvements the project would bring to Rte. 9 including water infrastructure needs.
The affordable housing component, Lappin said, is another positive to the project.
Earlier in the evening, the Planning Department gave a presentation on the project, noting that the affordable housing would follow inclusionary zoning rules--meaning that 15 percent of the 91 to 100 housing units would be considered affordable.
Along with the residential portion, New England Development has proposed 102,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 60,000 square feet for medical offices, a 51,000-square-foot supermarket, a 30,000-square-foot health club and a parking structure at 200-230 Boylston Street, the former Omni Foods site.
"We believe the project is consistent with the Newton comprehensive plan," said Senior Planner Alexandra Ananth during the presentation. "Chestnut Hill has several underutilized parcels that are too valuable and too desirable to reamin they way they are."
The project, Ananth said, would be broken up into two phases, with a large portion of the site's structures going in during phase one; the residential portion and around 300 parking spaces would be saved for the second phase.
Alderman Mitchell Fischman also rose in support of the project, noting the impact the development's traffic improvements will have on the safety of several dangerous intersections, including those near Parker Street.
Both Aldermen Sydra Schnipper and Ruthanne Fuller agreed that while it is not a perfect project, it still would get their support.
Some debate and questions filled the room on an amendment that would extend sidewalks from 10 feet to 15 feet, as proposed by Alderman Deborah Crossley.
Alderman Lisle Baker questioned the sidewalk extension, as he wondered where the extra five feet were coming from and could not initially support the amendment.
"I can't vote on a substitution that is not clear," Baker said.
To avoid the vote being tabled to the board's Dec. 20 meeting, Baker met with the petitioners, who were present at the meeting, to square away his questions.
Prior to the sidewalk discussion, the board voted in favor of another amendment that would allow for future discussion on pedestrian amenities and additional open space as the project moves forward.
The current specifications for Business 4 district zoning do no require any open space, Alderman Susan Albright pointed out. However, New England Development has said they will add 20 percent open space to the project.
Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, who also chaired the Land Use Committee, clarified for his colleagues that added open space or pedestrian walkways would not necessarily mean a loss of parking--as spaces and areas within the project could easily be shifted around.
As a response to some concern for potential Rte. 9 traffic back-up, Hess-Mahan also said that some of the traffic problems could be alleviated with the reconsideration of some parking on Rte. 9 currently allowed by the town of Brookline, which borders the project.
Along with several of his colleagues, Hess-Mahan thanked the hard work of several city departments, aldermen and the developers that has spanned over the course of countless late-night debates, meetings and planning sessions.