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Newton Centre may get a new hotel, restaurant, and housing

The former Newton Centre branch library at 1294 Centre St.
The former Newton Centre branch library at 1294 Centre St. (John Hilliard for the Boston Globe)

Newton officials are preparing to unveil plans by a developer to erect a hotel, restaurant, and affordable housing in the area of the former Newton Centre branch library, Mayor Setti Warren said Monday.

The proposed project, a short distance from the MBTA Green Line, addresses several needs identified by city officials, including bringing more diverse housing and business activity into Newton’s village centers.

Stuart Rothman, president of First Cambridge Realty Corporation, has proposed building a three-story structure with six affordable apartments on city-owned land behind the vacant former library at 1294 Centre St.

Rothman would also build a four-story, 57-room hotel on an adjacent piece of land he owns at 39 Herrick Rd.

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The library building itself would house a 2,500-square-foot restaurant or cafe with 85 to 90 seats run by chef Rachel Klein, along with a community space for public use. An underground parking garage would include 24 spaces, plus nine above-ground parking spots.

“We believe it will increase the vitality of Newton Centre, increase the commercial tax base, and meet a need in Newton for affordable housing for children and families,” Warren said in an interview.

The affordable housing would be paired with the social services provider EMPath to help residents transition to self-sufficiency, Warren said.

A formal presentation of the proposal will be take place at the site on Friday, May 12, at 8:15 a.m.

Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber, applauded the proposal as a way to both generate additional tax revenue for the city and address its need for more affordable housing.

“Bringing some affordable housing and transitional housing to help people get on their feet makes a lot of sense for Newton,” Reibman said.

And having a hotel and restaurant as part of the development will bring more vitality to the neighborhood. “This is a great opportunity to bring night life into Newton Centre,” Reibman said.

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The city could use more hotel rooms to accommodate the needs of business travelers, and the grounds would be improved to make the location a destination for residents and visitors to the neighborhood, according to Dori Zaleznik, the city’s chief administrative officer.

In 2015, Warren abandoned a plan to bring a branch of the startup accelerator MassChallenge to the Newton Centre building after several then-aldermen expressed concerns. MassChallenge instead opened an innovation center in the former Newton Corner branch library.

The Newton Centre property was rezoned for commercial use last summer. In the fall, Warren announced that he would seek affordable housing for the Newton Centre site, plus a mix of retail and community space.

The proposed $13.2 million project was pitched by First Cambridge Realty Corporation in response to a city request for proposals for the property.

Greg Schwartz, Ward 6 Councilor at large, said he supported Warren’s efforts to bring more affordable housing to the city, but is concerned that there was insufficient community input into the proposed development.

Schwartz said a city report recommended commercial, rather than residential, use for the old library, noting that the lot is small and surrounded by major roads. Schwartz said he hoped the city would seek out greater input from residents before moving ahead.

“I am hopeful we can make something work,” said Schwartz.

The developer incorporated the city’s priorities for the property — including affordable housing, preserving the historic library building, and retaining a public use for it — along with amenities such as a restaurant and underground parking, said Barney Heath, director of the city’s planning department.

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Warren said those priorities were based in part on local input.

“We have incorporated a lot of thinking of our residents, business community, and needs of our city” in the proposal, Warren said.

The former Newton Centre library building was erected in 1927, and served as the local library branch until the Health Department moved to the building in 1994. The city vacated the property in 2013.


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