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Newtonville residents favor smaller project

An overwhelming majority of neighborhood residents say they are receptive to a Newton municipal parking lot on Austin Street being developed, but they want the project scaled back significantly from initial proposals, according to a survey conducted by the Newtonville Area Council.

The survey, which drew responses from 738 Newtonville residents, employees of local businesses, and commercial property owners, also found that the loss of parking is the top concern related to the city’s plans to have the lot converted into a mixed-income housing and commercial development.

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Mayor Setti Warren is expected to choose a developer from among six proposals in the next several weeks.

Warren said the process is in the early stages, and the proposals are still being evaluated in a number of areas, including each developer’s financial viability, and expertise in completing these types of projects.

The parameters of the development will be determined in the next stage, according to the mayor.

“Once a developer is chosen there will be a whole multitude of opportunities for residents, neighbors, and business owners in the area to give their input in order to help shape what kind of project is best for Newtonville,” Warren said.

The proposals include developments with 25 to 98 apartment and condominium units in buildings from three to five stories high, and with space for stores and restaurants at street level. All of the proposals also would provide open space for public use.

Many of the proposals are in sharp contrast to what the survey indicates that village residents want.

“I think the survey results demonstrate that most Newtonville residents favor doing a project, but the devil is in the details,” said Alderwoman Emily Norton, who represents Newtonville.

A petition being circulated on Change.org calls for the site’s development, but does not include the size restrictions supported by residents in the survey. It had been signed by 111 people from throughout Newton as of Wednesday.

“We believe that adding residents, shops and public space to Newtonville’s village center will make it more vibrant, enjoyable and useful,” the petition states.

Candace Havens, Newton’s director of planning and development, said once a developer is picked, the approval process would allow for public input on changes to the final plans.

But it is unclear whether the neighbors’ interest in downsizing the project can be made compatible with the city’s vision for revitalizing the village center.

The questionnaire was written by Newtonville Area Council members Tim Stone and Tom Kraus, who also tabulated the results of the online survey.

Three-quarters of those who responded to the poll, which was limited to ages 14 and older, said they would be receptive to development of the Austin Street lot “assuming it meets your criteria,” according to postings on the survey’s results. In addition, three-quarters said they want a building of three or fewer stories, and 61 percent said they want 40 or fewer housing units.

Loss of parking spaces was cited as the top concern by nearly 70 percent of the poll’s participants, with 40 percent saying they want any development to provide at least 150 spaces, and 39 percent saying they want 100 or 120 spaces. The existing lot has 159 spaces.

The list of other concerns included additional traffic, “risk of an unattractive building,” and increased population in the public schools.

The project’s potential for revitalizing the section of Newtonville was cited as its top benefit by 65 percent of the survey’s respondents; other positive results included creating an appealing outdoor space, and providing new retail shops and restaurants.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.
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