The long-vacant building that once served as the Newton Centre Library Branch will soon be repurposed to include retail, community space, and five to 10 housing units, Mayor Setti Warren announced Thursday.
The mayor is calling for proposals to develop the city-owned property at 1294 Centre St. as part of the city’s Economic Growth for All initiative, which was announced earlier this month at Boston College.
Warren is also asking for proposals from a service-provider to offer support services for families living in the units to help them achieve economic independence.
“This project comes from multiple priorities from the income inequality initiative,” Warren said in an interview. “We want to increase economic mobility, build housing, develop our transportation strategy, and ensure our villages thrive economically and commercially.”
The proper use of the property, which has been vacant since January 2013, has been long debated. A 2012 report by the Newton Centre Joint Advisory Planning Group suggested that it should minimize financial burden to the city, provide a place for public interaction in the tradition of the old library, enliven the area, and increase community access and pedestrian connectivity.
It was once targeted as the home for startup accelerator MassChallenge, but the plan was scrapped after opposition from several city councilors. MassChallenge instead opened an innovation center in the former Newton Corner library.
The City Council rezoned the old Newton Centre library branch for commercial use this past summer, but many councilors who represent the area feel that announcing that the space must include housing to help low-income residents is too limiting.
“There are many constituencies that have needs,” said Ward 6 Councilor-at-Large Victoria L. Danberg. “We have a lack of senior housing, and we have a need for housing for the disabled. We certainly have a need for housing for the economically disadvantaged, but this is just one of the possibilities that ought to be looked at.”
The Centre Street building was chosen because of its proximity to public transportation and parking, as well as a variety of child care options, said Director of Planning and Development Barney Heath.
“It’s a space that’s good for mixed use,” he said. “It’s a walkable community and more commercial spaces will add to the area’s economic vitality.”
The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which is why Chief Administrative Officer Dori Zaleznik said the city will take care to preserve its historic features. It will also include indoor and outdoor gathering places for the community.
Proposals for development are due Dec. 15, and a committee that includes at least one Ward Six councilor will evaluate the proposals, according to the mayor’s office.
Allison Pohle can be reached at email@example.com.