Familiar themes of traffic, quality of life and project size filled the public comment period Tuesday night during a design presentation for a proposed mixed-use site at the Riverside Station on Grove Street.
Roughly 25 residents stood up at the Land Use Committee meeting to speak out against aspects of the project proposed by BH Normandy.
"I think this development is simply too large, and that remains the number one problem from which all these other issues flow," said Asheville Road resident Jack Green.
Tuesday's meeting included an updated design concept for the proposed mixed-use site as well as results of a traffic study. It follows years of discussion and a number of similar community meetings and design proposals from developer BH Normandy.
Recently, the Board of Aldermen approved a zoning measure that would allow the for a "mixed-use, transit-oriented" project on the site.
ADD, Inc. Architect Tamara Roy and Ground Landscape Architect Shauna Gillies-Smith, who are working with BH Normandy, presented updated design plans for the Riverside Station, a project Roy said "is a transformation of the nine acres" of parking lot that currently makes up the MBTA site.
The 588,000-square-foot project includes a 10-story office building and a residential building with 290 units. There is also 20,000 square feet of retail space proposed as well as 8,000 square feet of community space. Check out this story for more details on the numbers or click the .pdf to the right with the project description.
There are more than 1,000 garage parking spaces between the residential and business building in addition to an MBTA garage that will eventually go on the site. However, the garage is not included in the BH Normandy plan, as it is being built by the MBTA.
Proposed traffic measures and concerns
In addition to the three proposed buildings and open space, the developers are also planning to create new traffic measures that they believe will help alleviate congestion on Grove Street and filter traffic efficiently off I-95 and into the development.
In addition to connection to the I-95 collector-distributor road (C-D road), the project will include:
- Adding a roundabout for I-95 traffic just outside the Hotel Indigo
- A traffic light with a separate turn lane on Grove Street will be added in front of the development
- The Grove Street bridge will be redesigned to allow for pedestrian, bike and vehicle traffic
Although there were some concerns regarding the size of the proposal and its potential impact on the schools, residents Tuesday night focused on how the development would affect traffic. Some of the concerns included:
- Residents believe that the traffic measures will not do enough to reduce the number of cars on Grove Street, an area that is already congested. Many residents underlined the difficulty they have pulling in and out of their Grove Street driveways now, let alone when the development is built.
- Riverside Station Neighborhood Coalition Co-Chair Bill Renke questioned whether the traffic study and measures considered the ongoing expansion at Lasell College, and the possibility of increased student traffic.
- "I'm extremely concerned about the far-reaching traffic impact the development will have on Auburndale," said Washburn Avenue resident Lynn Slobodin, who questioned whether the developers looked into the traffic impacts on intersections farther away from the development in Auburndale or on Route 16.
- Several residents, including former Aldermen John Stewart and Paul Snyder, stressed the need to push the proposed roundabout farther south and away from the major roads and residential areas.
- Whether the new roundabout is bicycle-friendly was also a concern. "Navigating the roundabout and dealing with two lanes of traffic, including one that is free-flow, terrifies me. I can't see how anyone would consider that to be safe," said Norumbega Court resident and cyclist Bruce McVittie.
- Clearwater Road resident Norm Sieman brought up the impact of the added traffic on the I-95 collector-distributor road and problems with not only access, but also egress. The I-95 interchanges are already "broken", Sieman said, and congestion is only going to get worse.
- "I would like to see if we can get [the state delegation] to make the MBTA come to the table and find a way to make that road work and help alleviate a substantial amount of traffic on Grove Street," said Ward 4 Alderman Jay Harney, who added that the MBTA, who is leasing the property to the developers, has not offered assistance on the traffic planning or I-95 road improvements or additions needed for the Riverside project.
- Harney also questioned why there is still no proposal to have direct access to the site from I-95, a measure that could alleviate traffic back-up on smaller roads and Grove Street.
A traffic study done by VHB Inc., a firm working with BH Normandy, predicts the development will create total of 496 new car trips during weekday mornings (356 entering, 140 exiting) and a total of 575 new trips in weekday evenings (190 entering, 377 exiting).
The city is also awaiting results from a peer review traffic study, which will research the potential traffic impact independently of the developer.
Ward 3 Alderman-at-Large Ted Hess Mahan, who chaired the meeting, noted that the developers will work with the Planning Department to put together their responses to questions and concerns and present it in a report to be published online.
The next meeting, Hess Mahan said, will likely be a public hearing in September for a special permit application related to the project. At that time architects said they believe they will have 3D renderings available of the site.
Residents who did not have a chance to speak Tuesday night can submit written comments to the Planning Department at Newton City Hall, 1000 Commonwealth Ave., Newton, MA 0259. Alternatively, comments can be emailed to email@example.com. Comments are due by July 10.
Looking for more? Newton Patch will provide additional updates and information from this meeting in future stories.