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The Boston Globe

West

Controversial affordable housing project off the table in Newton

Developers have given up on a controversial proposal to build affordable housing for chronically homeless people in Newton.

“Our purchase and sale expired,” said Jennifer Van Campen, executive director of MetroWest Collaborative Development, a private nonprofit that had proposed to turn a historic former firehouse on Beacon Street in Waban into apartments for nine chronically homeless people and a residential staff member.

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The proposal drew protests from many residents of the wealthy neighborhood, who said they were worried about their children’s safety and dropping property values.

Mayor Setti Warren announced over the summer that he would block $1.4 million in federal grant money that would have been used to purchase the Engine 6 building from the nonprofit Hospice of the Good Shepherd. The deadline for signing the purchase and sale agreement was extended once, but expired Thursday.

“We certainly left it with the owner that should anything change, and should the mayor change his mind and want to support the project, that we would be happy to resubmit the offer,” said Van Campen.

Warren said his decision not to allow funding for the project was based on the residents not having access in Newton to the health, employment, and training services that they would need, and would have to travel to Boston.

“It was clear that the petitioners and the developer did not design a project that would be successful for residents,” Warren said on Friday.

The brouhaha over Engine 6 enraged people across the city, some of whom banded together to support the project. It also became a campaign issue in the mayoral race, with candidate Ted Hess-Mahan hammering the mayor over his decision on the federal grant.

“I’m disappointed that the mayor didn’t reconsider funding Engine 6,” he said. Hess-Mahan, who is a member of the city’s Fair Housing Committee, pointed to concerns that the decision to block the project could open the city up to claims that it violated the Fair Housing Act.

“That statement, that because this project was not funded, it’s discriminatory, is outrageous,” said the city solicitor, Donnalyn Kahn. “If this was a court of law it would not be a winning argument.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.
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