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Newtonville development is challenged in court

A rendering of the Washington Place development proposed in Newtonville.MARK DEVELOPMENT

Three separate appeals were filed this week challenging a decision by Newton’s City Council to allow a housing and retail project in Newtonville to move forward.

Each appeal — two in the state Land Court and one in Middlesex Superior Court — argues that the Washington Place project would adversely affect the neighborhood and that the council’s approval process was flawed.

The development would include 160 units of market-rate and affordable housing, along with retail space, at the corner of Washington and Walnut streets, according to project filings.

The complex would replace eight buildings that have housed several businesses, including Karoun Restaurant, Boston Ballet School, and Newtonville Camera.


Developer Robert Korff proposed his project last year, but following criticism from some residents, he withdrew the plan in February.

In the spring, Korff filed a revised plan that reduced the number of abutters to the proposed zoning change, which had the effect of lowering the required council vote from 18 to 16 members.

In June, the City Council voted 16-7 to approve the zoning change for the project. In a subsequent vote with the same outcome, the council also approved the development’s special permit.

In court papers, each appeal argued that the City Council should not have approved the project’s zoning with the lower vote total.

In a statement from Korff spokeswoman Diana C. Pisciotta, the developer called the appeals “not surprising” but disappointing.

In their June vote, city councilors gave Korff permission to negotiate with neighbors to pursue a smaller, 140-unit version of the project.

“Though the original offer to reduce the size of the project to 140 units was premised on avoiding the costs and delays associated with a lawsuit, there remains a small window to move towards a compromise,” the developer’s statement said.

The Land Court cases — one filed by a group of nine residents, including some abutters, and the other filed by Maura J. Harrington of Lowell Avenue — appeal the council’s votes for a special permit and the zoning change for the development.


The residents group appeal names Newton Mayor Setti Warren, City Council members, and two business entities controlled by Korff as defendants.

“The special permit decision was without adequate justification for each of the special permit criteria and therefore [is] unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and should be annulled,” the residents’ complaint said.

In a e-mail, Warren spokeswoman Stephanie Foner declined to comment.

“It’s city protocol to not comment on active litigation,” Foner said.

City councilors and the developer are named in the appeals by Harrington in Land Court and by Patrick J. Slattery in Superior Court.

In court papers, Harrington said the council exceeded its authority and limited the presentation of objections to the “many complicated issues” raised by the development.

She also argued that the council failed to consider traffic safety and other concerns in its decision.

In Superior Court, Slattery appealed the special permit, and argued the development will adversely impact a residential property he owns at 227 Walnut St., which abuts the development. Slattery lives at another property on Bridge Street.

Meanwhile, another nearby housing and retail development in Newtonville will begin construction next year, after a settlement was reached last month with a group of residents who sued to block the project.


The agreement ends more than a year of court battles that had delayed the Austin Street project, which Newton’s Board of Aldermen approved in December 2015.

The development, consisting of affordable and market-rate housing along with retail space, will be located off Walnut Street almost directly across the Massachusetts Turnpike from proposed Washington Place. Developer Scott Oran said he expects to start construction in spring 2018 and complete it the following year.

John Hilliard can be reached at