Facing stiff opposition and long odds, the developer of a controversial project in Newton is switching gears, opting instead to pursue an affordable housing plan under a state law that would allow him to bypass city reviews.
The abrupt change comes after developer Robert Korff of Mark Development LLC spent two years trying to build 160-unit apartment and retail complex known as Washington Place in the Newtonville section of the city.
Instead, Korff said he will now try to build a slightly bigger, taller complex under the state’s so-called 40B law, which allows developers to circumvent local zoning restrictions on large projects if a community’s affordable housing stock falls under 10 percent. He estimates that the project will have 200 units in all — 20 to 25 percent could be classified as affordable — and be six stories tall, with retail on the ground floor.
Developers in several Boston-area suburbs have elected to build affordable housing projects under the state law because it can offer a way around often difficult municipal reviews.
In Newton, Fredrick Arnstein, president of Neighbors for a Better Newtonville, said the 40B law “was probably well-intended, and has probably done some good, but it’s a bane for many communities, and quite irrational.”
The change comes as Newton Mayor Setti D. Warren has been pressing to get 800 affordable units built in the expensive suburb by 2021. Korff had proposed replacing eight century-old buildings at Washington and Walnut streets with four- and five-story structures, with 40 priced as affordable, and 40,000 square feet of commercial space.
Neighbors had argued the project was too much for the area. Korff needed a special zoning permit and the support of 18 out of 24 members of the Newton City Council to proceed.
In an interview, Korff, a Newton resident, said he was “sad” his original project could not get approved, but said he “will now be able to proceed with a fairer process through the state and build a project I can still take pride in.”
Warren declined to comment on Korff’s withdrawal, but said Newton needs more affordable housing, and that he would support a 40B project at that location. Currently, 7.5 percent of Newton’s housing stock is deemed affordable by the state.
“I’m open to increased height and density,” he said. “But I’d like to see the proposal.”