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The Boston Globe

West

Newtonville residents, mayor meet to consider housing plan

Some express concern over size of development

A group of about 20 residents from the Court Street section of Newton met with Mayor Setti Warren at City Hall on Wednesday night to air concerns about a proposed 36-unit condominium project they say would change the character of their tight-knit neighborhood.

Warren said the meeting, which was closed to the news media and developer Geoff Engler, was an opportunity for residents to have an unfiltered and uninhibited session in which to air their concerns.

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The proposed condominium complex would be built on a site that now has two multi-family homes, and would provide nine units earmarked as affordable housing, selling for approximately $162,000, and 27 market-rate units ranging in price from the mid $400,000s to the high $700,000s, according to Engler.

The development would include parking for roughly 76 cars divided among an underground lot, covered spaces in back of the three-story building, and a surface lot, he said.

“This project meets almost every criteria the city has set for a multifamily development,” Engler said. “It’s near public transportation, and near a village center.”

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But for neighborhood resident Ken Brown, who lives at 76 Court St., just across the street from the proposed complex, 36 units would create too much traffic for the narrow, one-way street in the city’s Newtonville section to handle.

Brown also said the additional families would drain resources from a school system already struggling with increasing enrollment.

“He wants to put in 36 units and that’s not right for our neighborhood or our city,” Brown said of the developer.

Engler said his company has done a traffic study that shows no more than 20 to 25 cars would be added to neighborhood traffic during morning and afternoon peak times.

He said his figures are based on a couple of factors.

“Keep in mind that there are 40 cars parking in the parking lot there now,” he said, referring to a lot he said is used by BayState Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram on Washington Street that will be eliminated with construction of the condominiums.

In addition, the company is marketing the units to empty nesters, who may be retired, and to people who would likely commute to jobs in Boston using nearby public transportation, according to Engler.

“Our numbers are very conservative,” he said.

Engler also defended the size of the proposal.

“When you’re building affordable housing in a place like Newton, land is so expensive that it has to have a certain density to make the project financially feasible,” he said. “We couldn’t get financing if the project were smaller.”

Many of the residents said after the meeting that they are frustrated the mayor and the city’s Department of Planning and Development have already sent letters to the state Department of Housing and Community Development in support of the proposal’s application for site eligibility as part of the local housing initiatives program.

The Newton Housing Partnership also voted in support of the preliminary plans.

“The mayor is just throwing up his hands and saying he has no say,” said Bob Kavanagh, who also lives on Court Street.

Warren said that as mayor, his role “in this is to set broad goals and policy about where the city should go in the sustainable future.” Once the state determines whether the site is eligible, it will be up to the city’s zoning board, he said, not his office, to determine the specifics of the project’s final scope.

In the past he has said that finding creative ways to provide affordable housing in areas of the city where people of all ages could live without being totally dependent on cars is a part of his vision of a sustainable city.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@globe.com.

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