On the eve of yet another public hearing designed to halt the Austin Street project even before a developer is selected, Newton’s League of Women Voters sent this letter to the Board of Aldermen…
Dear President Lennon and members of the Board of Aldermen:
The League of Women Voters of Newton strongly urges you to reject the petition # 47-14(2) to rezone the Austin Street parking lot. We feel that the current Mixed Use 4 district is the most appropriate for the site, and for the City.
The Austin Street parking lot, an under-utilized City-owned property, was identified during Newton’s Comprehensive Plan process as a site that could add vitality to Newtonville’s center through a mix of commercial and residential uses, as well as contribute to the City’s financial base through tax revenue.
The League of Women Voters has strong and longstanding positions supporting the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan, creating affordable housing in mixed income developments and in-fill developments in Newton, making city-owned sites available for such housing, and creating open and recreational space, which this project includes. Our positions also support mixed-use development near transit, which minimizes adverse environmental impacts.
The League is a multi-issue organization that considers a wide range of topics. Forward-thinking solutions such as sustainable, transit oriented, mixed-use developments that include retail, commercial, residential, parking and access to public transportation are ways to meet often conflicting and complex needs. There are always trade-offs that must be weighed in balance to determine what is in the long-range best interest of the City.
Community input is an important component for a successful outcome. Public meetings have been held over the years, soliciting comments and questions from citizens and businesses on this project. This process is far from over; once the Mayor selects a developer from the short-listed, qualified finalists, the program and design will be subject to further detailed review.
Via the Special Permit process, controlled by your Board, additional engineering, traffic and financial feasibility studies will be commissioned to inform the design and ’right size‘ the project. That phase will involve open public hearings and in-depth review and analysis in full public view. The next design phase must include well-functioning vehicle circulation, sufficient parking, context-sensitive building massing and design, engaging and well-landscaped outdoor spaces. All this should be explored further with professionals, City staff, and the public.
Once the Mayor selects a developer, we can work together to help shape this project into something that will benefit Newtonville and the entire City. The League of Women Voters urges you not to undermine the process by rezoning this parcel.