Newton Patch
November 14, 2019
By Jenna Fisher

NEWTON, MA — Greater Boston’s largest chamber of commerce, representing hundreds of area businesses, has thrown its weight into the conversation surrounding Northland Investment Corporation’s project, proposed for the old mill factory near the corner of Needham and Oak Streets. It’s the largest multi-use development that Newton has seen in a very long time.

Northland Investment Corporation’s project would redevelop the mill as part of a 22.6-acre mixed-use project. It’s most recent iteration will include 800 units of apartments, including 140 deemed affordable – something especially essential to chamber members who have said they’ve had trouble attracting and retaining workers for lack of housing.

In a letter to city council Thursday, Chamber President Greg Reibman said the chamber was throwing its weight behind the project and urged the city to support a special permit set to go before the board Monday.

“This proposal won’t just transform 22 acres into a vibrant, thoughtful, sustainable, amenity-rich community,” said Reibman. “It will activate and energize Needham Street and beyond; bringing new business, new jobs, new tax revenue and vitality to our city.”

The developer and the city have been working on the three main concerns residents have surrounding the project: transportation, traffic and schools since Northland first started the process in 2018.

Northland has trimmed and adjusted the project – everything from the number of housing units to how much retail and restaurant space. The mayor requested the developer pay a $1.5 million mitigation fee to go toward renovations at the Countryside Elementary School, where any children would be sent, should they live there. It’s the first time mitigation funds have been directed toward a school near a development, according to the mayor.

The developer has added a spray park bordering the nearby Greenway. And plans to run a regular shuttle to the Newton Highlands MBTA stop.

The Land Use Committee is still working to refine the transportation plan with an aim toward reducing the number of cars in and out of the site.

The chamber isn’t the only one behind the project, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has also thrown her support behind it.
“Our City Councilors, Planning Department and residents have worked for months with the developer to make this project better for Newton,” said Fuller in a statement. “With these changes, I am comfortable supporting this project as it moves forward to the City Council for a vote.”

Read the full letter:
Dear City Councilors:
The Newton-Needham Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors has voted unanimously to support Northland Investment Corporation’s proposed mixed-use development on Needham and Oak streets and urge you to support the special permit and zoning on Monday Nov. 18.

Our directors are impressed by the thoughtfulness of this project’s site design as well as its commitment to sustainability. But they are most enthusiastic about the economic benefits and vibrancy they believe this development will bring to the Needham Street corridor, the city and the region. Highlights include:

• The historic Saco-Pettee Mill building will provide 180,000 square feet of Class A brick and beam office space that can become home for the small and mid-sized employers that are driving Massachusetts’ innovation economy but have struggled to find aspirational, amenity-rich space in Newton. Saco-Pettee represents a 10 percent increase in overall Class A office inventory in the N2 Innovation District (including Wells Ave and Needham Crossing); an increase we believe to be the right size for this market.

• Housing for our workers: Housing supply is critical to our ability to attract companies to locate and grow here. Northland provides 800 units of desperately-needed apartments, including 140 affordable units. Not every worker wants to live in a house with a yard and garage. Northland will provide the housing diversity and flexibility that can bring new workers and employers here, while also serving seniors and others looking to downsize.

• Multi-modal transportation: Concerns about congestion are well-founded and the Council is right to seek a responsible Transportation Demand Management program. We have confidence in results of peer review of the program as proposed. We’re excited about the robust, modern, free shuttle system that will be available to all workers, residents and shoppers in the region. We view this proposed public-private system as a building block to creating more regional shuttles and reducing congestion across the region. We also applaud the commitment of $5 million to explore new transportation initiatives; such as connecting the Greenway to the Green Line or converting the old MBTA rail bridge into a bike path to Needham. And we remind the Council that this project will be fully integrated into Mass DOT’s Needham Street reconstruction project, making the entire corridor more walkable and safer for all modes of travel.

• Placemaking: Northland’s Newton project creates public gathering spaces that are too scarce now and that are integral to the success of a vibrant live, work, play community. Ten acres of open space, including a central common where hundreds of people can gather, a splash park, dog park, the historic mill park featuring a restored South Meadow Brook water feature and other public spaces are the amenities that will make this project a success, not just for tenants, but for our entire community.

• Subsidized retail: When Northland stepped up to rescue the New England Mobile Book Fair from moving to another community, we were reminded once again of the challenges facing our cherished, local merchants. This project sets aside 10,000 square feet at a discounted rate for our independent merchants and is sure to enhance the development’s overall shopping experience.

• Northland’s vision is Newton’s vision: There is no daylight between this project and the goals of the Needham Street Vision Plan, Newton’s Economic Development Strategy and the Chamber’s N2 Innovation District project.This proposal won’t just transform 22 acres into a vibrant, thoughtful, sustainable, amenity-rich community. It will activate and energize Needham Street and beyond; bringing new business, new jobs, new tax revenue and vitality to our city.

The Chamber’s Board urges the Land Use Committee and City Council to approve Northland’s special permit application and zoning on Monday Nov. 18.