West

Newtonville development would offer mix of affordable rents

The four- and five-story mixed-use development would replace the buildings at the corner of Washington and Walnut streets in Newtonville.
The four- and five-story mixed-use development would replace the buildings at the corner of Washington and Walnut streets in Newtonville.

NEWTON — Developer Robert Korff plans to offer a mix of affordable apartments when he redevelops a block of buildings in Newtonville, setting aside some for people on the lower end of the economic scale and some for those in the middle.

But as public hearings began on his proposal Tuesday night, most of the 80 or so residents in attendance opposed the project, saying it is simply too big, too dense, and not right for the neighborhood.

“The elephant in the room here is that he is trying to cram 300 people into essentially one city block, and further tax the schools and the taxpayers,” Newtonville resident George Flesh said.

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The four- and five-story mixed-use development would replace the buildings at the corner of Washington and Walnut streets. The block includes the Karoun Restaurant, Newtonville Camera, and the Boston Ballet School, among other small businesses and second-floor apartments, as well as multi-family homes on Washington Terrace.

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The 171-unit development, tentatively named Washington Place, would include 26 units affordable to people earning from 50 to 65 percent of the average median income level, which is between $49,050 and $73,050 for a household of four.

In addition, Korff has proposed a “second tier of affordable housing” for people earning from 80 to 120 percent of the area median income, or from $73,050 to approximately $110,000 for a household of four.

The development team did not provide rent estimates for the studio and one- and two-bedroom units.

The final number of affordable units will be determined during the approval process, which began with the first public hearing before the City Council’s Land Use Committee on Tuesday night.

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The hearings are expected to continue into the fall, when council members will decide whether to rezone the property and issue a special permit for the proposed development.

After the meeting, City Council President Scott Lennon said he could not remember another developer offering this mix of affordable units, which would allow teachers, firefighters, and others including seniors who don’t usually qualify for traditional low-income units, but struggle to afford to buy, rent, or continue to maintain a home in Newton.

While Lennon and a group of councilors refrained from voicing any opinion on the proposal, they did say after the meeting that they were interested in the concept of offering units to people now being squeezed out.

But many at the hearing objected to building such a large development in Newtonville, where a 68-unit mixed-use development has already been approved at the nearby Austin Street municipal parking lot and another 36 units on Court Street.

Helen Nayar, speaking on behalf of a group of residents calling themselves For A Better Newtonville, questioned why the City Council would even consider rezoning the property to accommodate a development she said would overwhelm the neighborhood.

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“There’s no reason to allow this project to harm people who have put their trust in you to protect our way of life,” she said.

Without a zoning change, Korff would be able to build just two stories, with commercial use on the first floor and housing above.

Kathleen Hobson, speaking on behalf of Livable Newton, the coalition of organizations that came together in support of Austin Street, said the group has not yet taken a position on Washington Place.

“We’re here tonight to listen and observe. I can say that sustainable, transit-oriented, mixed-use village-center development is something we’re inclined to support,” she said.

“Newton needs to be able to grow and evolve, even as we try to conserve our natural and communal resources. Thoughtful planning and development is how this should happen. Austin Street was a great example. We hope it was just a start.”

Korff’s plans, first unveiled in February, include a community room that would be used by Newtonville groups for meetings, programs, and other events, according to a project overview provided by the development team.

There are also plans for nearly 40,000-square feet of ground floor commercial space, and parking for 346 cars, 110 on ground level, and 236 underground.

More information about the project can be found on the city’s website here.

The block includes the Karoun Restaurant, Newtonville Camera, and the Boston Ballet School, among other small businesses and second-floor apartments, as well as multi-family homes on Washington Terrace.

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