Needham Street and Northland Development
- As a citizen activist, I took part in the Lozano-White Study that began the process of controlling over development on Needham Street. I successfully lobbied more than 15 years ago for the installation of the first lights at the Oak Street intersection.
- As a member of the Economic Development Commission, I helped to develop the Mixed Use 1 and 2 Districts for the area to encourage office use, research and development, and protect “orphan retail” uses of vital use to the City, but unavailable anywhere else.
- As an Alderman, I broadened the uses to be encouraged to include manufacturing, and am exploring ways to encourage property owners to use their properties without adversely affecting the traffic flow or surrounding neighborhoods.
- I worked with the Planning and Law Departments to develop the Board order exploring the reasons for the denial of Stop and Stop petitions. I read it into the record on the floor of the Board. I strongly supported the city’s defense of the denial that was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Judicial Court.
- As a member of Mayor Cohen’s Needham Street Task Force, I worked to develop improvements to the road that would provide safe access to and from the corridor and businesses.
I am working on ways to encourage businesses that would have minimal traffic impact on Needham Street.
After the Mayor’s Needham Street Task Force developed a plan that would upgrade the road in a way that would consolidate curb cuts and make other improvements without severely disrupting the existing businesses. The City Planning Director and Public Works Commissioner and their traffic consultant spent years meeting with property owners to make adjustments to the plan that would accommodate the needs of the individual property owners. The Plan was submitted to the Massachusetts Highway Department where it languished for years. Part of the reason may have been that some elements of the plan would require improvements to private property, a procedure contrary to usual state practices. The city proposed to oversee the job itself with the State paying the cost.
Ultimately, Newton’s legislators were successful in getting the project included in the Transportation Bond Act. Although this legislation “authorized: funds for the project, the actual “appropriation” of funds must be approved by its inclusion in the State Bond Cap, the annual request by the administration for capital funds to be actually spent. Thus far, Secretary of Transportation and Construction Alois has not been convinced by the Mayor and other advocates to actually fund the project.
The owners of the Marshall’s Shopping Center and the Linens and things site across the street spent months, if not years, monitoring the development of the Planning Multi-Use Business Development (PMBD) for possible use in Chestnut Hill along Route 9.
Their representatives worked with the Planning Department to develop a modification of the PMBD for possible use on the Marshall’s site. Unfortunately they had not reached out to the Upper Falls community so when they presented their plan for a redevelopment of the Marshall’s site, it was met with hostility and skepticism. Neighborhood advocates wanted a design that would blend into the abutting neighborhood, not overwhelm it.
In addition to this unfathomable failure of outreach, the economic climate had declined severely during the period of consultation. K.B. Toys, which had a store in the Marshall’s strip, went out of business totally. So did Linens and Things which had a massive store across the street. The residential market declined precipitously as well.
It is likely that the Northland owners realized that they would not have enough tenants or buyers of whatever space they developed to make a profit.
At the public hearing on the amendment of the Mixed Use 1 District which covers most of Needham Street fronting properties, the Planning Director asked the Zoning and Planning Committee to vote No Action Necessary on the Amendment. After an acrimonious public hearing focusing on the owners failures to consult the neighborhood, the Committee did in fact vote No Action Necessary. Perhaps the downturn in the economy will give time for a participatory planning process to design a combination of uses for the site that would enhance Pettee Square and the rest of Upper Falls while preserving historic factory buildings on the site.
A past element that might be recaptured is the pond formed by damming Meadowbrook and providing beauty and safety for a fireworks factory formerly on the site. Perhaps some commemoration can be made of the fact that Boston’s Back Bay was filled in with soil extracted by steam shovel from Needham in the Muzi Ford/Channel Five area and hauled through Upper Falls on the existing railroad right of way and on into Boston on what became the Green Line from Newton Highlands in. This historic engineering feat should be remembered at the Back Bay along the railroad and in the Needham area.
For details, see “Boston’s Back Bay” by William Newman and Wilfred Hilton.
- It should be noted that the Board of Aldermen acted promptly to hear and act upon a petition by the owners of the Jordan’s Clothing store at the corner of Tower Road and Needham Street. The Board approved a petition that would have included traffic and pedestrian improvements. Unfortunately, the owner of the adjacent parcel sued to block the project.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009