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Newton residents sue city to block Austin Street development

A group of Newton residents has filed a lawsuit against the city seeking to block the development of a municipal parking lot in Newtonville, saying officials used "deficient and defective" procedures throughout the process.

The suit seeks an injunction stopping the city from leasing the Austin Street parking lot to the Austin Street Partners LLC, the group chosen by Mayor Setti Warren to build a mixed-use housing and retail development at the site.

The suit, filed Tuesday by Sarah Quigley and 11 others in Middlesex Superior Court, says residents are "acting as private attorneys general" to stop the city from "unlawfully using its power" to enter into a binding lease with the developers that is detrimental to the public interest.


City Solicitor Donnalyn B. Lynch Kahn said the city was served with the suit late Thursday afternoon, and plans a vigorously defense.

"The procedures were at all times proper, and gave all parties the opportunity to fully participate in the Austin Street matter," she said in telephone interview Thursday night. "Some of the allegations are meritless, outrageous, and will be dealt with appropriately."

But Quigley said in a press release that if the city is going to sell or lease municipal assets, residents expect the city to "follow all applicable state laws and the city's own ordinances."

"Many Newtonville residents and business owners are opposed to this project and the city's plans to use Newtonville as a test case to reshape our village centers into urban enclaves," she said. "The City is leaving millions of dollars on the table while being satisfied with a pittance of annual revenue of $40,000 from this development."

Quigley said in an email to the Globe that she and group who filed the suit will have no further comments, choosing to "let the facts stated in the verified complaint speak for themselves."


The suit, filed Tuesday by Newton attorney Guive Mirfendereski, asks for a jury trial.

Austin Street Partners is a joint venture of Oaktree Development and Dinosaur Capital Partners, and was chosen in May 2014 from six groups that submitted applications to develop the Austin Street parking lot.

It was selected as one of three top choices by a screening committee, and from there was deemed the top choice by a vetting committee led by then planning director Candace Havens, who has since retired, the city's planning department, and an outside consultant

Plans are for a mixed-use development with 5,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space and 68 units of rental housing, 25 percent of which would be set aside as affordable. There would be 127 street-level public parking spaces, and 90 underground spaces for tenants and building employees.

The plans are currently before the Board of Aldermen's Land Use Committee, and a vote before the full board is scheduled for mid-November.

Developers need a two-thirds vote, or 16 aldermen, to get the special permit necessary to green-light the project.

While opposition to the project, particularly in Newtonville and from the Newton Village Alliance, has been organized and vocal since plans first surfaced more than two years ago, there is also support the project, and for the idea of transit-oriented development in locations near shops and restaurants.

The League of Women Voters Newton has endorsed the Austin Street project, as has Engine 6, a group advocating for housing diversity and affordability, which has organized a Friends of Austin Street Facebook page, and Twitter account.


The suit does not specifically argue the merits of the development, however, instead attacking how the city handled and publicized the process that eventually put the land into the hands of Austin Street Partners.

It also calls into question the connections partners involved in the development team have to city officials.

For example, the suit states that development team member Scott Oran served on the Mixed-Use Task Force appointed by the mayor, and that members of the development team contributed to the mayor's election campaign and served on his transition team.

According to the suit, "the Court should annul the results of the evaluation process and the Mayoral selection of ASP (Austin Street Partners) as having been born of an interlocking web of players and undue influences, resulting in the selection of a proposal/developer with far less fiscal and financial advantage to the City and its taxpayers."

In addition, the suit argues that the city failed to sufficiently advertise the request for proposals to develop the property.

"As a result, the City limited competition and conducted an opaque process that resulted in the selection of a developer with most connections with Newton but with far less fiscal and financial advantage to the City and its taxpayers," the suit states.

In addition, the suit states that the Austin Street Partners proposal "is short on meeting several requirements" of the original request for proposals issued by the city, stating that another proposal would have netted the city as much as $3 million more in revenue.


It also challenges how the request for proposals was publicized, how public hearing notices were publicized, and the make-up of the evaluation committee, which included just one member of the Board of Aldermen, rather than "representatives."

Along with Quigley, Newton residents listed as plaintiffs in the suit are: Pamela Geib, Frederick Arnstein, George Haivanis, Laurence Koplan, Homa Safaii, Barbara Fabricant, Margaret Howard, Linda Wolk, William Wolk, Marc Kadis, and Ann Duvall.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at