The city council will vote whether to approve the Northland project on Monday, December 2. The development at the corner of Needham and Oak Streets is the largest in Newton’s history. Fourteen buildings, from three to eight stories, will span the current Marshalls Plaza. There will be 800 housing units, 180,000 square feet of office space, and 115,000 square feet of retail.

I intend to vote in favor. The project offers walkable design, more senior & affordable housing, more green space, energy and water efficiency, net-positive fiscal impact (including school costs), and almost $10 million to upgrade area infrastructure. The $10 million includes $1.5 million towards the reconstruction of Countryside school. Green Newton, the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce, Newton Mothers Out Front, the League of Women Voters, and the mayor endorsed the project.

Traffic is the biggest concern. Over the last year, it was the subject of a dozen surveys or reviews and intensive negotiations. As one of the most engaged negotiators, I got to Yes for three basic reasons:

  • The traffic control measures are robust. By mixing retail, residential, and commercial on site, the project’s ‘internal capture rate’ lowers the baseline for car trips. That baseline is further reduced by: shuttle service to the Green Line, excellent cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and financial incentives for tenants to take public transportation instead of driving.
  • The developer’s financial incentives are to reduce car trips, too. The special permit limits on-site parking to an unprecedented degree. It then sets uncapped financial penalties for exceeding car-trip goals. In tandem, these two conditions align the developer’s bottom line with the City’s interest in reducing traffic.
  • Greater Boston has the worst traffic in the country. The status quo of planning and development has not worked. This project’s transportation profile represents a meaningful step towards better public-private planning at the local level.

By Jake Auchincloss, Newton City Councilor

Photo courtesy of City of Newton

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