Development will increase traffic

I was disappointed by the Newton Tab article titled, “Some concerned over short timeframe of Riverside visioning process,” published online on Dec. 28. In addition to publishing verbatim developer Robert Korff’s Riverside PR spin points and even his company’s email address, the Tab failed to question some extremely dubious claims, including “The Riverside development could be the economic engine for the city of Newton, but it’s going to require the density that we’re proposing.”

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: In 2013, Korff’s business partner B.H. Normandy was granted lease rights to build a 580,000-square-foot development at Riverside that includes hundreds of new housing units. This deal came after six years of negotiations and lobbying with neighbors, local politicians, the MBTA and city planning officials. Now Korff’s company, Mark Development LLC, and B.H. Normandy, want to rip up the 2013 agreement and ram through approval for a new development that’s 1.5 million square feet in size, contains two 200+ foot-tall towers with mostly “market rate”/luxury housing, and is only reachable by Grove Street, a narrow road connecting Auburndale and Newton Lower Falls.

Developer Korff is now orchestrating a campaign in the pages of local media, in “fireside chats” with neighbors, and PR street teams going door-to-door in Auburndale and Lower Falls that aims to grant himself and his business partners hundreds of millions of dollars in additional property rights. It’s an aggressive land grab that would come at the expense of Newton residents, who would be forced to shoulder massive costs relating to schools, traffic, infrastructure and parking.

There’s nothing in developer Korff’s PR points that address these concerns, nor is there any mention of affordable housing, housing for seniors or housing for middle class families. According to the flyer distributed to local residents, the 1.5 million-square-foot development would be a “new neighborhood” — in other words, a luxury enclave distinct from the existing village structures of Newton.

The impact would be especially hard on residents of Lower Falls and Auburndale, who thought the Riverside deal was settled five years ago. They have since learned the years-long negotiation was merely a preamble to yet more aggressive demands from developers.

No one cares about preserving an MBTA parking lot, but there’s already a signed deal that developers, residents, and politicians agreed to. Developer Korff’s attempt to renege on it should be shot down not only on principle, but also to avoid setting a dangerous precedent for new developments along Washington Street, Newton Upper Falls, and elsewhere throughout Newton.

Ian Lamont

Auburndale

 

A realistic view of development in Newton?

After reading Councilor Auchincloss’s latest email, I was dismayed at the viewpoint displayed, which seems to be prevalent among current city leadership.

Under this viewpoint they seem to believe that we can have massive development projects in Newton without significant increases in automobile traffic.

How? By encouraging (mandating?) alternatives to parking and driving.

In the case of the proposed Northland development on Needham Street, which he uses as an example, he rejects their proposed number of parking spots and says they must “radically shift away from parking and driving.” The proposed development would build 800+ housing units and 400K+ square feet of office and retail.

Assuming even an over-optimistic 1.5 occupants per housing unit and sparsely populated office and retail space this would likely bring an extra 2,000+ residents, workers and customers onto Needham Street. So how are they to travel?

Even if they mostly chose to use taxis and Uber instead of personal vehicles we would still have the same amount of traffic, only substituting purchased rides for self-driving. Walking and bicycling? Hardly likely for most in today’s world, especially in the colder months.

Most people live at some distance from their work and unless both the residence and workplace are near public transportation driving is the only option. What Councilor Auchincloss has done is highlight the paradox within current city planning. The idea that we can have massive development without increasing congestion is in my opinion nothing more than a fantasy being sold to residents to support such development.

Either we accept that increased congestion is the natural result of shifting Newton from its suburban nature to a more dense urban culture or we risk being blind-sided by the unpleasant reality after many such projects are built. The greater question is whether such scale of development is for the greater benefit of Newton as a whole rather than just for some. Increasing congestion will ruin the quality of life for those who sought a suburban rather than urban existence.

Adding more people without providing suitable parking will further stress existing parking, which is in many cases barely adequate for existing businesses. For a glimpse of the possible future consequences I offer as an example the medical building at 65 Walnut St. in Wellesley, where people arriving often must wait until someone pulls out of a parking space before they can park. Sometimes there are no spaces available and people must risk tickets and towing by parking nearby. Is this what we want for Newton?

Scott B. Lacey

Manhattan Terrace

 

Residents' views irrelevant

Amen to Colleen Minaker’s letter on development north of the Pike. It has been very difficult for me to understand why at every city or community meeting I hear a resounding NO to dense development, and yet the city council, mayor and various studies keep saying YES. Now I get it. This development will happen and my neighborhood will change forever, whether I and my neighbors want it or not. I’m sorry that our wishes do not count. At all.

Ann Henry

 

Fostering a greener Newton

The Newton Tree Conservancy (NTC) is very grateful to Professor Primack for highlighting our organization’s efforts (TAB Dec. 12, 2018) in his series on Newton gardens. While trees planted on the berm (the space between sidewalk and curb) are not usually regarded as “garden,” they certainly provide comparable beauty and environmental benefit.

The individual neighborhood tree recipients also deserve gratitude, because they help plant the trees themselves, water them weekly from April to November, and maintain mulch on the soil surrounding the tree base. Furthermore, they become Conservancy members for $25, thus contributing to the cost of the tree purchases and planting. Each tree with its watering bag costs the Conservancy more than $125. The organization survives on the annual contributions of its approximately 200 members. Kudos to those members whose enthusiastic “arborism” has provided even higher donations.

The parallel effort recently undertaken by the Fuller Administration to plant more trees will also help replace our aging arboreal population. These initiatives may never return Newton to its former numbers, which were once 40,000, but we certainly are headed in the right direction.

Jack Wittenberg

Allerton Road

 

Consider other options for Riverside

The Newton TAB’s Jan. 2 article about the planned visioning process for the proposed Riverside development underscored why this process is so critical. The plan proposed by Mark Development and described in the article is massive and includes what would be the tallest buildings in Newton. It would be an urban village larger than the population of Lower Falls and would affect among other things:

•Traffic congestion on Grove Street;

•Commuters who park at Riverside and take the MBTA Green Line;

•The nearby elementary school, including capacity and safety issues at drop-off and pick-up times;

•Emergency vehicles needing to access the site when Red Sox traffic backs up onto I-95; and

•The character of both the Lower Falls and Auburndale neighborhoods.

The Riverside site poses an opportunity to provide affordable housing units, encourage public transit, add green spaces, and vitalize what is now a huge parking lot. As a community representative on the Selection Committee, I believe we should treat Riverside as a blank canvas and consider the many ways it might be developed — not just consider one plan prepared by one developer. Given the potential that Riverside offers, I am disappointed that the city continues to expect the visioning process to take only 10 weeks. I expect the visioning firm we hire to provide an honest assessment of how long a careful visioning process should take. Arbitrary timeframes are a bad idea when so much is at stake.

Randall Block

Chair, LFIA Riverside Committee

 

Newton Land Use Committee hearing Jan. 15 on Northlands Needham Street “Transportation” plan.

On 22.6 acres Northland requests a zoning change and 16 waivers of zoning. The proposal is 822 rental apartments and 365,200-square-foot commercial space out of 2 million square-feet of total development in 13 buildings (80 percent residential.) Northland’s plan is too dense. The ratio of residential vs. commercial will cause excessive traffic congestion impacting Newton Upper Falls, Newton Highlands and Charlemont neighborhoods.

Newton residents living or driving regularly near Needham Street at Oak Street can comment at the hearing Jan. 15, Newton City Hall. Northland waivers if granted will negatively impact parking and traffic cutting through Oak Street, Chestnut and Christina streets.

1. Waiver of the three-story (36-foot height) maximum allowing eight-story buildings (96-foot height); 2. waiver of the floor area ratio (FAR) making density increase; 3. waiver of 1,600 parking spaces building only 1,953 parking spaces; 4. waiver to allow parking spaces smaller in width, length/depth; 5. waiver to allow more than 50-seat restaurants (proposed restaurant seating 1,595); 6. waiver to allow for profit school, drive-in business, amusement place and nine other uses; 7. waiver to widen the Northland entrances/exits to more than 25 feet.

This site is not adjacent to public transportation. It is a 26-minute, 1.2-mile walk to Eliot MBTA station. Uber/Lyft plus private shuttle buses Northland proposes will add to traffic congestion and air pollution due to idling. MBTA 59 bus takes Needham Street 10 times inbound, 11 times outbound out of 22 trips per day each way during the week. No Needham Street buses weekends.

Betsy Hewitt

Winter Street, Newton Upper Falls