Mayor Setti Warren announced Friday that he has selected the Austin Street Partners development team to design and build a mixed-use apartment and retail complex on the site of the Austin Street municipal parking lot in Newtonville.
“I am thrilled,” Warren said. “I’m excited to take the next step to improve Newtonville, to make it more vital, to improve traffic and parking, and make it all it can be.”
Warren stressed that in choosing Austin Street Partners, he chose developers that he and his evaluation team believe have the best experience and financial backing for the job.
He said his decision was not based on the conceptual drawings Austin Street Partners outlined for the property last fall, which included a four- to five-story apartment building with 80 units, and six first-floor restaurants and stores.
“There is no specific project proposed, there is nothing on the table at this time,” Warren said.
“We really believe that Austin Street Partners offers the greatest capacity to execute a project that enhances Newtonville,” Planning Director Candace Havens said.
She said the work to come up with specific parameters for the scope of the project will begin immediately, and will include the community “throughout the process.”
City officials stressed that Warren and the developers will include the community in determining a “framework for what this can be,” which would include a range of units, building height, and parking.
Warren will not begin “land disposition” negotiations to sell or lease the municipal lot on Austin Street until those parameters have been established, he said.
According to Havens, Austin Street Partners has a history of working well with communities.
Austin Street Partners is a joint venture of Oaktree Development and Dinosaur Capital Partners, with affordable housing consultant Robert Engler of SEB; project manager Newton Community Development Foundation; counsel Alan Schlesinger of Schlesinger & Buchbinder; architect ADD Inc.; and landscape architect Ground Inc.
It was one of six groups that submitted applications to develop the Austin Street lot. It was selected as one of three top choices by a screening committee, and from there was selected the top choice by a vetting committee led by Havens and the city’s Planning Department with the help of an outside consultant.
Warren said the decision was made after an extensive review of the various development teams’ qualifications.
He said he sought the advice of a professional financial analyst, consulted with department heads in the city, made site visits to completed developments done by the teams, and considered public comments in making this decision.
Havens said Austin Street Partners has 20 to 40 years experience in creating this type of development.
In addition, she said, the Austin Street Partners were “particularly sensitive to the parking needs of the area.”
By using modular construction, where the building would essentially be built off-site and then reassembled on-site, Havens said major traffic and parking issues during the construction process will be avoided.
Plans to sell the Austin Street lot to revitalize Newtonville and add housing in a location near a village center and public transportation have been in the works for the better part of a decade, and Warren has made it an important part of his vision for the city’s future.
And while housing advocates and others across the city see this as an opportunity to create a substantial project, a neighborhood survey showed an overwhelming majority of those who responded want a scaled-back project of no more than two or three stories and 40 units.
The project’s specific design will not be determined until the special permit process starts. And that will not begin until the general parameters of the project are decided through a series of community meetings with city officials and Austin Street Partners.
Alderman Richard A. Lipof, a member of the Land-use Committee, said it is important for the community to remember that the city is starting with a clean slate.
“We’ve been working a long time to get here, but now we’re finally at the starting line,” he said. “This should be welcomed as a unique chance to create a development that the city and all its stakeholders can control, that is not always the case,” Lipof said.
Scott Oran, a partner at Dinosaur Capital Partners said he and his team are “pleased and humbled” to be selected, and he too stressed that this is just a first step.
“The mayor told us that he selected a team and not a project,” he said. “So there is no project yet,” said Oran, who lives in Newton. “Speaking for myself and the whole team, we want to develop a project that everyone can be proud of. That means listening to everyone,” he said.
Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@ gmail.com.