Metro, Newton

Northland Project Passed, Residents Seek Referendum

Newton City Council passed the Northland Development Project on Monday, setting up the project to break ground over a year after its proposal. During Monday night’s vote, 17 city councilors voted in favor of passing the project, while seven stood against the development of the project.

Proposed in September 2018, the Northland Development Project includes 14 buildings with 800 total housing units, 180,000 square feet of office space, and 115,000 square feet of commercial retail space. Of the 800 housing units, 140 will be affordable housing units for Newton residents earning 50 percent to 80 percent of the area’s median income, according to The Boston Globe

The project will be located on Needham and Oak Streets at 156 Oak Street, 275-281 Needham Street, and 55 Tower Road. This land is currently not being used, said City Council President Marc Laredo.  

The City of Newton is currently lacking in affordable housing units, Laredo said. Under Newton’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, developers building six or more housing units must set aside a certain number of units for residents earning up to 80 percent of the area’s median income. According to the city, the median household income in Newton is $104,887. 

Monday night’s vote also included two separate votes aside from passing the project as a whole, which included a special permit and zoning changes for the project. Each vote had the same result as the project vote, with 17 councilors in favor and seven against. The special project permit outlines in detail what the Northland Development Project will entail, including what the buildings are going to look like and the amenities on site. The zoning change enables developers to build buildings up to eight stories, which is essential to the project’s success. 

Despite its passing, the Northland Development Project faced a number of obstacles on its road to breaking ground. Needham Street, the site of the project, is already heavily congested by traffic, and concern was expressed by a group of Newton residents regarding a heavier flow of resident and business traffic following the development of the Northland Project. The site of the project is also not directly accessible by public transportation. 

In an effort to mitigate traffic, a transportation demand management plan was devised by a petitioner of the proposal. The plan includes a free shuttle that will run every 10 minutes to the Newton Highlands MBTA station. According the Laredo, the Northland development will also try to reduce the number of residents who need to use a personal vehicle frequently by providing on-site retail and commercial spaces. The development will also have a limited number of parking spaces available. 

“We also limited the number of parking spaces on-site to hopefully encourage people who are going to move there to be, I guess like the term would be ‘car-light’,” Laredo said. “Maybe instead of having two cars per family, have one car.”

While the project has passed, a group of residents have organized a group called RightSize Newton, to try to garner signatures for a voter referendum to overturn the zoning changes that passed on Monday night. On to its website, the organization says that the buildings will be out of scale with the surrounding neighborhoods. The group also says that the City Council’s traffic plan will not help to reduce the flow of traffic and that the project calls for only the bare minimum of affordable housing units. 

The group maintains that it is not opposed to the project, but wants to make sure the project will be beneficial for all Newton residents. The referendum requires over 3,000 signatures within 20 days following Monday’s vote, according to the Globe

If the referendum does not pass, Laredo expects the multi-year effort to begin shortly. 

“This is a multi-year effort,” Laredo said. “This is going to be, you know, I would think, a five- to seven-year project.”  

December 5, 2019