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Newton City Council approves 50-unit housing, restaurant development

Mark Development Tuesday secured Newton City Council approval to convert a century-old bank building in West Newton into restaurant space, and erect a five-story addition to house 50 apartments.courtesy Mark Development

Newton city councilors Tuesday night approved a mixed-use project that is expected to bring 50 new apartments and restaurant space to a historic West Newton bank building on Washington Street.

The development will add a five-story, 70,000-square-foot addition on what is now a parking lot behind the existing bank, which was built around 1915. The bank will be converted into a 3,800-square-foot restaurant space, as well as a residential lobby.

The project, proposed by Robert Korff, the chief executive of Mark Development, also includes 50 parking spaces in an underground garage, along with about a dozen surface spots.

The addition behind the bank would include eight apartments reserved for households earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area median income.

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The area median income for a family of four was $140,200 in fiscal 2022, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Another unit would be available for a household earning up to 110 percent of that income level.

The City Council voted 21-2 in favor of a change in zoning for the property. Leonard Gentile, a Ward 4 councilor-at-large and Ward 3 Councilor Julia Malakie opposed the measure.

A separate vote for the project’s special permit was approved by a 20-3 vote. Tarik Lucas, a Ward 2 councilor-at-large, opposed the permit, along with Gentile and Malakie.

During a council meeting last month, Gentile made a procedural motion that delayed deliberations on the proposal until Tuesday’s session.

Gentile told his colleagues Tuesday that he objected to the proposed size of the development, which was greater than an expansion approved by the City Council in 2018.

Korff purchased the bank property at 1314 Washington St. in January 2018 for about $4.1 million, according to city assessor records. Later that year, city councilors approved an earlier iteration of a mixed-use development that had a three-story addition to the bank.

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“The size of this project, where it has gone since the last special permit ... is too much,” Gentile said Tuesday. “And I think that it is totally out of scale for the neighborhood.”

Malakie and Lucas both said they were concerned there won’t be enough parking at the site when the project is completed. Several local residents last year also told officials West Newton doesn’t have enough parking to support a restaurant at the site.

“I think we have to ask, does it make things worse?” Malakie asked her colleagues Tuesday. “And in this case, I think it will.”

In a statement to the Globe, the developers said they are making “a good faith effort” to arrange off-site parking for the restaurant.

Several city councilors spoke at length about their support for the project, including Victoria Danberg, a Ward 6 councilor-at-large. She said the addition and the new rental units are compatible with the neighborhood.

“This is a project that will enhance West Newton Square and is a model for what we can do with our older buildings in the rest of Newton,” Danberg said.

Andrea Kelley, a Ward 3 councilor-at-large, said she had some concern about the restaurant’s parking, but believed the project would be a benefit to the neighborhood.

In Newton, where “housing developments went in, retail and restaurant vitality increased,” Kelley said. “And that’s what I want us to see here.”

John Oliver, a Ward 1 councilor-at-large who said Tuesday he was “reluctantly supporting” the project, also raised concerns about the addition’s size and West Newton’s issues with limited parking. But it shouldn’t fall to developers to solve those problems on their own, he said.

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“I do think that the city needs to pair projects like this with solutions to parking,” Oliver told colleagues. “It’s a city responsibility, and we’re not taking care of it.”


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