Although it may have appeared the battle was won last month with the Board of Aldermen approval, the Chestnut Hill Square project now faces a number of new obstacles.
Among them is an emerging dispute over parking along Route 9 on either side of the Brookline-Newton border. Some Newton officials would like to see parking prohibited along the highway in order to ease congestion, while Brookline officials say the spaces are essential for pedestrian safety and the health of Brookline businesses.
Parking is technically prohibited on state highways under state law, but enforcement is left up to local police departments and Brookline has declined to stop drivers from parking along much of Route 9.
According to the state Department of Transportation, either Brookline or Newton could request a series of “no parking” signs on their section of Route 9. The border between the two municipalities cuts diagonally across Route 9 near Tully Street, leaving Star Market and the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center in Newton while the shops on the eastbound side of the street are in Brookline.
Any change to parking policies on the highway—including the addition of no-parking signs—would ultimately be decided by state officials, though likely with input from municipal leaders.
“We would be happy to work with the city of Newton and the town of Brookline in an attempt to resolve any parking issues that officials from those municipalities would like to address,” said Adam Hurtubise, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Traffic on Route 9 has been a constant issue throughout the Chestnut Hill Square approval process, with officials on both sides of the border concerned about the increased number of cars that would come as a result of the project.
Newton Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan has argued that the section of Route 9 just over the Brookline border creates a “bottleneck” on the major thoroughfare during high-volume commuter times and believes many of those cars could be moved to off-street lots. Alternatively, he has suggested regulating parking during certain times of the day, as Newton does in its busier sections of town.
“There’s often not only parking but sometimes double parking,” Hess-Mahan said. “It will be a matter of figuring out and allocating parking spaces.”
But Brookline officials seem to have little interest in the idea. In a Nov. 30 letter to Newton officials, Brookline Planning Director Jeff Levine said the town sees parking spaces on Route 9 as important for pedestrians visiting Route 9 businesses on the Brookline side of the border. Adding a third lane of highway and removing those spaces could potentially take away customers and harm businesses, he said.
“The business community along Route 9 in Brookline depends on making the corridor as pedestrian friendly as possible in order to attract a variety of consumers,” Levine said in the letter. (Check out our .pdf section above to read the letter.)
In an interview, Levine said getting rid of parking spaces could also harm the “pedestrian experience” in the struggling business district.
“I’m not sure if (getting rid of the parking) is warranted based on the studies the developer did or the city of Newton did to date,” Levine said. He noted that an environmental impact study by the state also found no need for a change in Route 9 parking
Last month, the full Board of Aldermen approved New England Development’s Chestnut Hill Square project, which would include 91 to 100 residential units along with 102,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 60,000 square feet for medical offices, a 30,000 square foot health club, a 51,000 square foot supermarket and a parking structure.
At the meeting, Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, who also chairs the board’s Land Use Committee, noted that lack of enforcement of the parking—particularly double parking—on Route 9 in Brookline is one of the issues behind traffic back-ups in the area.
Hess-Mahan said Candace Havens, Newton’s director of the Department of Planning and Development, is working with Brookline's Planning Department to try to find a solution to the parking and traffic problems in the area. One idea, he said, would be to enforce parking during rush hour times, as Newton does in parts of Newton Centre.
“I think in terms of going forward, I’m optimistic (Havens and Levine) will be able to work on that together,” Hess-Mahan said.
Although they have yet to meet in person, Havens said she has had discussions with Levine and the city is interested in resolving the parking and traffic issues on the road. Anything beyond initial conversations, though, would be “premature,” Havens said.
“We are absolutely willing to work with Brookline to come up with the best solution to benefit both communities,” she said.
Malls Move to Block New Project
Parking disputes are not the only hurdle for the Chestnut Hill Square project, as an appeal to the Board of Aldermen’s decision was filed late last week by the two nearby malls, The Mall at Chestnut Hill and the Atrium Mall.
According to the appeal, the board made its decision “against the facts, against the law, against the evidence and/or the weight of the evidence entered.” (Check out our .pdf section above to see the appeal.)
The appeal points to issues related to sewer disposal, location of utility lines as well as safety of vehicles and pedestrians as aspects of the potential project the board’s decision did not “satisfy.”
And although Hess-Mahan said the appeal “was not completely out of the blue,” it was certainly something the board hadn’t expected from the retail shops, as no one representing the malls appeared at any of the project’s public hearings.
“We were a little surprised that they came in at the tail end of the process,” Hess-Mahan said. “Some of the concerns that they raised could have been dealt with in the special permit process.”
The appeal, Hess-Mahan said, will delay the project’s progress, as it could take anywhere from “months to years to resolve.”
Hess-Mahan, though, said he is optimistic the board’s decision will hold up to the appeal process.