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Office, housing project unveiled

By Deirdre Fernandes
Globe Staff / July 1, 2012
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A 10-story office and garage, a tiered apartment building with 15 percent of the units priced as affordable, a rain garden, and a splash pad for children could be replacing the parking lot at the MBTA’s Riverside Station.

Newton residents got their first look at developer BH Normandy’s conceptual plan for the 9-acre site last week during an initial discussion by the Board of Aldermen’s Land Use Committee. The developer’s request for a special permit to build the project is expected to return before the committee for a vote this fall, and go to the full board by the end of the year.

The mixed-use project has been in the works for the past few years, and has been promoted as Newton’s next village. But nearby residents have questioned the project’s size, and the increase in traffic it would bring to the area’s already congested roads.

During their presentation Tuesday night, Normandy representatives focused on the plan’s environmentally conscious design and the developer’s attempts to ease Grove Street traffic with roundabouts and a second entrance to the property. Nearly 18 percent of the parcel would be left as open space that the public could use, including landscaped and outdoor seating areas, and a plaza between its retail shops and the MBTA station.

“It’s really a transformation,” said Tamara Roy, an architect with ADD Inc. working with Normandy.

Nasir Khan, a nearby resident attending the session, agreed.

“What is being developed is an improvement,” Khan said. Still, he urged the developer to provide more details about public access to the recreation and open areas and the Charles River.

Other residents stressed that they are still worried about adding traffic.

Jennifer Settle said she moved to the neighborhood so her daughter could walk to Williams Elementary School. But between the growth in dormitories at nearby Lasell College and congestion on Grove Street, she said, it is becoming increasingly difficult.

“I already feel like our neighborhood is being busted apart,” Settle said.

Normandy officials said they would be willing to pay for a crossing guard to help children get to school safely.

Gregory Fried urged aldermen to also consider whether Williams Elementary will be able to support the additional students who would be moving into the apartments. Normandy proposes to build 290 units; 40 percent of them would be two- or three-bedroom apartments.

“I understand that the city needs jobs and its needs revenues,” Fried said. “But you need to think about what some of the costs are going to be.”

Resident John Stewart said the aldermen should also consider how the development would change the character of Newton Lower Falls.

The village is “considered a cute little neighborhood” on the other side of Route 128, Stewart said. “Will this project have some sort of negative impact?”

In an interview later in the week, Stephen Buchbinder, a representative for Normandy, said the developer still needs to make tweaks to the project. Both Normandy and residents are awaiting a traffic study that has been commissioned by the city.

Traffic continues to be a major concern for residents, Buchbinder said, but he thinks Normandy’s proposal will improve the situation.

“There have been compromises on both sides,” Buchbinder said.

Riverside started as a nearly 800,000-square-foot project. Its latest version is 588,000 square feet, with much of the reduction occurring in office space, which reduced the traffic impact. In approving the zoning for the parcel earlier this year, aldermen agreed to allow more apartments than first proposed.

Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, chairman of the board’s Land Use Committee, said in an interview that the developers and city planners still need to do more work before his committee can hold a public hearing on the project. In the next two weeks, the city will accept additional questions and comments from the public about the project and try to address them, Hess-Mahan said.

The city-commissioned traffic study should be complete in the coming weeks too, he said.

“We’re not there yet,” Hess-Mahan said. “I think a lot of the big concerns have been addressed, not necessarily to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at

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