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Plan to develop T station floated

But neighbors fear traffic woes

MBTA officials have asked Newton aldermen and residents for suggestions on how to expand and redevelop the Riverside T station, raising the possibility of stores, offices, or housing on the site.

Those discussions already have caused anxiety among the station's neighbors. The Riverside Station sits on Grove Street, where, according to residents, traffic has reached nearly unbearable levels.

"It would cause so much traffic, it would be horrendous," said resident Polly Bryson, a former alderwoman. Grove Street "can't handle it, it won't handle it, it's impossible."

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo offered few details about the potential development, saying the idea is in its infancy.

"Prospective developers and Newton's Economic Development Commission have asked the MBTA to study the feasibility of developing property at Riverside Station," he wrote in an e-mail. "While no decisions have been made regarding an official request for proposals, MBTA real estate staff is working closely with aldermen to solicit input from the community to help define such a project's goals and objectives."

State Representative Kay Khan said she has discussed the idea with a T official. She has also met with an interested developer, who is renovating a hotel next to the station and has expressed interest in building a combination of retail, offices, and housing at Riverside.

"The talk today is about smart-growth, mixed-use development," Khan said.

The developer, Paul Ferreira of Blue Hawk Investments, did not return phone calls early this week.

The Riverside Station sits less than a half-mile from Interstate 95 and the Massachusetts Turnpike, close to the borders of Weston and Wellesley. The MBTA owns 22 acres, much of it used for train platforms, parking lots, a rail yard, and a maintenance facility.

Jeremy Solomon, a spokesman for Mayor David B. Cohen of Newton, said Cohen supports discussions, although he has not been notified formally by the MBTA.

"The mayor is not categorically opposed" to redevelopment of the site, Solomon said. "I think the mayor is open to reviewing any proposal."

Community groups from both the Newton Lower Falls and Auburndale areas, however, have been opposed to new construction in the area in years past. Ward 4 Alderwoman Amy Mah Sangiolo said she and other residents have concerns about the size of the project. While the cash-strapped MBTA could benefit from a long-term lease with a developer and the city could gain much-needed tax revenue, she said she wants to make sure residents' concerns are heard.

MBTA officials floated the idea, she said, because they "wanted to know if this was a go or if they have a fight on their hands."

Residents have their share of complaints.

The Riverside trolley carries 20,000 or more riders a day, making it one of the most popular trolley lines in the system. That means the station's parking lot frequently overflows and drivers park on residential streets. Bryson said it's a common event during Red Sox games. Khan said one driver recently offered her money to park in her driveway.

Bryson said she would prefer plans that involved creating a new entrance to the station, one that doesn't involve Grove Street. While designated a state scenic byway, the road is often bumper-to-bumper with traffic, she said.

Josh Krintzman, president of the Newton Lower Falls Improvement Association, said any project that drastically alters the character of the neighborhood "isn't' fair" to homeowners.

"I don't have a specific vision of what the site should be," he said. "But we can't allow anything in there that makes the traffic situation worse."

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at