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City Council vote delayed on proposed West Newton 50-unit housing, restaurant development

Mark Development is seeking to convert a century-old bank building in West Newton into restaurant space, and erect a five-story addition to house 50 new apartments.courtesy Mark Development

A City Council decision on a proposed project to incorporate a historic West Newton bank building into a new mixed-use project was delayed Monday night, less than a week after a council subcommittee had approved the development’s 50 rental units and restaurant space on Washington Street.

Leonard Gentile, a Ward 4 councilor-at-large, made a procedural motion that effectively ended deliberations on the proposal until the City Council’s next meeting Jan. 3.

Gentile did not give a reason for the move during the meeting, and did not respond to requests for comment Monday night and Tuesday.

Susan Albright, the council president, said Tuesday she was surprised that Gentile had made the motion to delay the discussion. She did not know Gentile’s reason for doing so.

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Robert Korff, the chief executive of Mark Development, is proposing to construct the housing inside a five-story, 70,000-square-foot addition behind the circa 1915 bank building at 1314 Washington St. on what is now a parking lot. The bank itself would be converted into a 3,800-square-foot commercial space for a restaurant, plus a residential lobby.

The project would include 50 parking spaces in an underground garage, and about a dozen surface spots for the restaurant that would be covered from the elements.

The project was approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee Dec. 13, and came before the full council during its meeting Monday night. Councilors need to approve a special permit and a zoning change for the project to move forward.

Albright, who supports the West Newton proposal, is a Ward 2 councilor-at-large whose district includes nearby Newtonville. She said that neighborhood has benefited from the Trio and Austin Street developments in recent years, which combine housing, residential, and retail use.

“I’ve seen what the two projects that we’ve got over here in Newtonville have done for our village, and it’s fabulous,” Albright said. “I think [the bank project] can only enhance West Newton.”

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Critics of the West Newton proposal — including Tarik Lucas, a Ward 2 councilor-at-large — have raised concerns that there is not enough on-site parking to serve a restaurant on the property.

Lucas, who also serves on the Land Use Committee, was the sole member who opposed the development in a 6-1 vote during its Dec. 13 meeting.

On Tuesday, Lucas said he remains concerned that there is not enough parking at the site to serve a restaurant. He said it’s most likely that patrons and workers would drive to the site, rather than take public transportation. The proposed addition’s five-story height is also too tall for the area, he said.

“I do believe it is too big for the site. A smaller project would still be viable and would benefit the West Newton Square neighborhood,” Lucas said.

Developers, in a statement Monday, said they are making “a good faith effort” to arrange an off-site parking option for the restaurant.

That work has included reaching out to the Davis Companies, which owns the parking garage at 24 Chestnut St., a short distance from the bank, about the opportunity to use about 20 of the garage’s parking spots.

In a Dec. 8 letter to city councilors, Stephen Davis, the company’s co-president, said his company is willing to discuss an arrangement with Mark Development. But he cautioned that it can’t commit to a long-term agreement “as we need the flexibility to sell or redevelop our property at some future date.”

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As part of the proposal, the bank development would include eight apartments reserved for households earning between 50 and 80 percent of the area median income, according to project filings. Another unit would be available for a household earning up to 110 percent of that income level.

The area median income for a family of four in Newton was $140,200 in fiscal 2022, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

During the Land Use Committee meeting earlier this month, Philip Plottel, chairperson of the Newton Economic Development Commission, told city councilors that the commission supported the project’s commercial component, regardless if it houses a restaurant or retail use.

“We felt it’s important to provide the petitioner the flexibility to choose” the type of use in the commercial space, Plottel said.

Sue Parsons, a Washington Street resident, told councilors during the Land Use Committee meeting that she supported the project because it would bring more housing to the city, particularly in one of its village centers.

“I’m delighted to see additional housing right in West Newton Square,” Parsons said.


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