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Newton Aldermen, Residents Ask State to Take Part in Riverside Development Discussion

Developer BH Normandy is proposing a mixed-use development on the site consisting of a 10-story office building and a five-story residential building.

While the concerns around traffic and pedestrian/cyclist safety continued to resonate at Tuesday night's Riverside Station project public hearing, residents and city officials had another request: the presence of the MBTA.

"We have not seen the State here and they are the co-petitioner," said Ward 4 Alderman-at-Large Amy Sangiolo, who spoke as a resident and abutter to the Riverside site. "I ask that the board have them here during the conceptual design phase."

"We really need the MBTA here at the table for the next round of public comment," Sangiolo added.

According to city documents, the MBTA is joining developer BH Normandy in a request to re-zone the site and petition for a special permit to build a mixed-use, transit-oriented development at 327 Grove St. Those two items were considered during a public hearing with the Land Use Committee Tuesday night at City Hall.

The proposal, which has been in the works for several years, includes a five-story, 331,000-square-foot residential building with 290 housing units as well as a 10-story, 225,000-square-foot office building, 20,000 square feet of retail space and 8,000 square feet of community space. 

In addition to the retail, office, residential and community space, the 22-acre project will also involve a brand new "intermodal structure" -- or a parking garage -- that will replace the current parking lot. 

To read more detailed plans on the project, check out the Planning Department summary in the .pdf above. Or, read an earlier article on the project. 

According BH Normandy Attorney Steve Buchbinder, the garage will be the first part of the project to go up. The multi-story structure is exempt from land use regulations as it is part of a state authority, Buchbinder said.

However, as Aldermen Ruthanne Fuller pointed out, the city has yet to see an official design for the parking structure. 

"It seems to me we don't know what the MBTA is doing with their 'intermodal' building and garage," Fuller said. "How do we go ahead with this without having any understanding of that?"

Lafayette Road resident John McElduff added that he would like to see MassDOT participate in the project and public hearing as well. In order for the site to be successful, McElduff says MassDOT needs to agree to add in direct access to the Riverside site from I-95 and fix the current traffic and congestion issues on the I-95 collector-distributor (C-D), which will be an access road for the new development.

McElduff has spoken at a number of the Riverside Station project public hearings. Tuesday night, he reiterated his concerns for the severe traffic problems the development will cause, not only for the highway and Grove Street, but for the surrounding neighborhood roads.

"You may wonder why there aren't more villagers in the room tonight," McElduff said, "They've simply given up, and they feel there's no way to stop [the project]."

Over the last few years, the city and developer have held several community meetings and public hearings about the project, with the majority of the comments focusing on how the development would affect traffic on Grove Street and nearby neighborhood roads. 

As he as done before, Riverside Station Neighborhood Coalition (RSNC) Co-Chair Bill Renke also expressed his concern for the traffic effects as well as the need for MassDOT to build direct access to the site and fix the C-D road.

"MassDOT or federal highway have not stepped up to offer remedies and our neighborhood will suffer," Renke said.

Aside from the questions on traffic, RSNC Co-Chair Lynn Sweet gave a brief presentation on behalf of the Woodland Grove Condominium residents, listing a number of other concerns including the environmental impact, utilities, building setback and the overall size of the project.

"The fact is, the project is still too big," Sweet said. 

Revenue

In addition to another overview of the proposal and plan, developers also presented Tuesday night more information on the fiscal impact the Riverside mixed-use site would have on the city. 

According to the developers, about $3.5 million would be generated in building permit fees and 935 jobs would be created. After factoring in property tax paid to the city as well as expenses the city will have to handle, Newton will make around $778,000 net revenue per year. 

Future hearing

Tuesday night's public hearing was not as crowded as some other meetings have been for the Riverside project, with only seven or eight residents standing up to speak. 

However, Ward 3 Alderman-at-Large Ted Hess-Mahan, the chair of the Land Use Committee, said the hearing will be continued to another date, which has not been set yet. Residents will have a chance to speak at that hearing as well. 

In addition, Hess-Mahan said the Land Use Committee plans to hold several working sessions on this proposal, with each session covering a different topic (traffic, safety, design etc.), before taking a final vote on the re-zoning and the special permits. Once the Land Use Committee votes, the items will move on to the full Board of Aldermen for a final vote.

Earlier this year, the Board of Aldermen approved the creation of a "Mixed-Use 3 Transit-Oriented District", which would allow the developers to apply to re-zone the parcel to a Mixed-Use 3 Transit-Oriented District and ultimately, request special permits for construction on the site.

Susan Huffman October 18, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Presumably there will be people living in this new development that will have children. Has any thought been given to overcrowding that we already have in our area elementary schools?

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