Unless a developer thinks she can get 18 votes from the newly elected council, looks like we can put a fork in the 300+ units apartment project proposed for 135 Wells Ave., the back corner of the industrial park.* The Supreme Judicial Court, the Commonwealth’s highest court, has ruled that the state anti-snob voting law, known as 40B, does not apply to the deed restriction that prevents the lot from being developed as housing. Game, set, match. Too bad.
Meanwhile, the forever hyped, never realized prospect of Wells Ave. as a significant source of additional commercial tax revenue continues to dim. Wells Ave. as a Route 128-proximate suburban office campus has never been a great idea. It’s too far from 128 (though it’s closer with the new Kendrick St. ramps). And the single entrance/exit, makes it a nightmare for commercial/corporate uses with employees who come and go at the same time. Con. Ges. Tion. It’s likely why Sylvania never acted on its grand plans to build a big light-manufacturing/office complex. But, Newton keeps the candle burning.
Now, we’ve got the revved up Needham Office Park to contend with. If you were running a company, why would you go to Wells Ave., when you be closer to 128 and Needham St./Highland Ave. and not be subject to the Wells Ave. backup? In fact, at least one prominent Wells Ave. tenant, SharkNinja, recently decamped to Needham Office Park. Across Kendrick St. from the Needham Office Park, another big complex is now available, with the departure of PTC to Boston. The N2 innovation zone is a neat bit of co-branding, but it masks that Newton and Needham are competing for office tenants.
Which brings us to the newest, biggest challenge: demand for space in suburban office parks is declining. Joining PTC moving to Boston is GE (from Fairfield Ct.), Bose (from Framingham), and other companies. As was reported by WBUR’s Bostonomix, tech talent — especially Millennials — wants to be around the transportation and food choices found in urban locations (and not on Wells Ave!). Urban is where it’s happening.
So, let’s agree to give up on the notion that we’re going to revive the glory days of suburban office parks in a location that was bypassed even at their height. It’s never going to be a bigger source of commercial tax revenue. Accept it. Feels better, right?
Let’s zone the area for — and encourage — uses that Newton needs and that are not quite as hobbled by the constrained entry/exit, uses that don’t have steep peak traffic volumes, but rather have traffic spread out more evenly during the day.
Recreational facilities. Let’s build a town ice rink and an indoor 50-meter swimming pool to go along with the Boston Sports Club. Let’s add some more soccer fields.
Schools. The location’s not bad for the Solomon Schechter Day School. And, there are some enrichment type schools already there. Encourage Schechter to expand. Build a magnet public middle school for arts or for STEM.
Public Works. Move the Eliot St. works to Wells Ave. and develop that site as housing or as an elementary school.
And, housing. Yes, 300+ units of housing in Newton Centre above and behind the Langley Rd. retail would be much better than on Wells Ave.. But, there’s no reason we can’t have both. The proposed housing is not much more removed from transportation and retail than is the new apartment complex being built just across 128 on Greendale Ave. in Needham.
Obviously, the city has no power to kick out existing tenants for these better uses. But, it can discourage them. A huge motivator for the city blocking the Wells Ave. housing project was the belief that it would preclude a prime commercial tenant in the revitalized Wells Ave. that has always been right around the corner.
Spoiler alert: it’s not coming.
Time to move on.
* Cabot Cabot & Forbes, the developer who proposed the 135 Wells Ave. project put the site up for sale in July, but that did not necessarily preclude their restarting the project with a favorable ruling or selling to someone else who would.