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Review of Riverside — Newton’s other big development proposal — continues apace

Mark Development and Normandy Real Estate Partners are seeking approval to build a 10-building, 1.025 million square-foot development with 582 apartments on 13 acres at the Riverside MBTA station in Newton Lower Falls.
Mark Development and Normandy Real Estate Partners are seeking approval to build a 10-building, 1.025 million square-foot development with 582 apartments on 13 acres at the Riverside MBTA station in Newton Lower Falls.Mark Development

Forced from Newton City Hall weeks ago by the coronavirus pandemic, officials have continued deliberations remotely on a proposed mixed-use development that would bring housing, retail, and commercial space to the Riverside MBTA station and create a new neighborhood along Route 128.

Mark Development and Normandy Real Estate Partners are seeking approval to build a 10-building, 1.025-million-square-foot development with 582 apartments on 13 acres, according to the city’s Department of Planning and Development. The project would be built on the station’s existing parking lot and incorporate the nearby site of Hotel Indigo.

Since January, neighbors have been focused on city discussions about project issues such as traffic and design, said Liz Mirabile, chairwoman of the Newton Lower Falls Improvement Association Riverside Committee, a neighborhood group. That review followed a compromise last fall between neighbors and developers that shrank the project’s size.

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“The hope is that traffic will not be terrible from it, and the visuals will be pleasing, and there will be a few amenities from the project that benefit the neighborhood,” Mirabile said. “The fear that lingers is that it will decrease the quality of our lives.”

The project still needs special permit approval from the Newton City Council. According to a statement from Mark Development, petitioners are hoping for an early 2021 project launch, but are monitoring the ongoing pandemic, the uncertainty it has created, and its impact on projects moving forward.

Developers will continue to communicate with neighbors and the community in the future, they said in the statement.

Mark Development principal Robert Korff said the last two months have involved a number of very productive conversations and public meetings regarding the Riverside special permit.

“We appreciate the continued focus of the Land Use Committee and the community on moving this critical project forward in a very different environment,“ Korff said in the statement.

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Under the Riverside proposal, one 10-story building would have nearly 254,000 square feet of office space, including 7,500 square feet dedicated to the MBTA. A new, six-story, 77,000-square-foot hotel building with 150 rooms would also be part of the development.

Housing would constitute almost 655,000 square feet of the proposed development.

The apartments would be divided among the remaining eight buildings, which would each range in height from four to eight stories. And nearly 39,000 square feet of retail space would be split among five of the residential buildings, according to the proposal.

According to the developers, there would be 480 market-rate apartments, plus 44 apartments available for households earning 50 percent of the area median income. Forty-three additional apartments would be available at 80 percent of the area median income, while the remaining 15 apartments would be for households earning 100 percent of the area median income.

The area media income for the region, including Newton, is about $80,000 for one person, and about $113,000 for a family of four according to the city.

The development would also include 1,971 garage parking spaces, and another 42 surface parking spots.

There would also be more than 1.5 acres of public open space and improved bicycle access, including a bicycle lane that would connect Grove Street to Recreation Road and Riverside Park. Other proposals would add bicycle lanes to stretches of Grove Street.

The Newton City Council approved Riverside’s zoning late last year, following the accord between neighbors and developers. The city’s Land Use Committee has been holding hearings on the project’s special permit application, which also needs a two-thirds vote of the City Council to move forward.

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Councilor at Large Rick Lipof, the City Council’s vice president and chairman of its Land Use Committee, said no deadline is set for when that review would be completed. Lipof’s panel has held regularly scheduled meetings regarding Riverside, which moved to remote sessions when the coronavirus forced City Hall to close.

A meeting Tuesday addressed large signs for buildings along Route 128, and a meeting scheduled for June 2 is expected to focus on transportation issues, he said.

Lipof said he hopes that the Land Use Committee could have a board order ready for the full City Council in July, with a council vote on Riverside coming as early as September.

“My priority is to get to the finish line with a project that has evolved and been refined to a place where we can get a [two-thirds] vote of the council, and in essence, the community,” Lipof said, “creating something that benefits not only the community as a whole, but the neighborhood as well.”

For the past few years, Newton officials and residents have discussed two large mixed-use developments: Riverside, as well as Northland Investment Corp.'s mixed-use development on Needham Street in Newton Upper Falls.

The review of Northland’s project was marked by packed hearings at Newton City Hall, where proponents on both sides carried signs, spoke out, and let their feelings be known to city councilors.

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Debate over Northland led to a March referendum in which a majority of city voters effectively allowed the project to move forward.

The biggest difference between the projects, residents and officials have said, was the compromise on zoning reached between Mark Development and the Newton Lower Falls Improvement Association in October.

That arrangement shrank the size of the proposed Riverside project to 1.025 million square feet, and delegated 60 percent of the space to residential use and the remainder to commercial use.

Randy Block, a member of the neighborhood committee, said neighbors sought more housing to help meet the city’s needs and because they believed it would reduce the amount of traffic.

“I’m still not happy with it, I think it’s too large,” Block said. “But the art of compromise is just necessary when it comes to large-scale developments. You take what you can get.”

Lipof, the City Council vice president, said Riverside is an opportunity to create a new neighborhood for Newton. For larger projects, the city creates liaison committees that include neighborhood representatives to provide input as projects are built, he said. And Riverside is expected to take years to complete.

“We would love the neighborhood, as part of a liaison committee, to have input along the way,” Lipof said.

Mirabile said she’s appreciative of the open lines of communication between neighbors and Riverside developers. She noted she had spoken by phone with Korff on Wednesday morning, following a city meeting regarding Riverside the night before.

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She said she wants to see that sort of engagement become a formal part of the city process for large developments, she said, allowing neighborhood advocates to provide informed responses and input into projects.

“The city has been good about giving us an opportunity to speak, Mark Development has been providing information to us, our Ward 4 councilors have been very supportive,” Mirabile said. “But it is an unbelievable amount of work for a neighborhood group that will be most impacted by the development.”

A city mechanism for meaningful, ongoing input into projects, she said, “would give people some comfort.”

Jon Chesto of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.