As I wrote in a statement for the Newton-Needham Chamber, lost in all the noise is the fact that this proposal would be really good for growing jobs, the economy and entrepreneurship in Newton.
But there’s an added reason why everyone in Newton should hope the UMass Amherst agreement stands. And that’s because of what might happen to Mount Ida’s 74-acre, wooded campus in Oak Hill.
The most likely scenario would be that the property goes into receivership. And if that happens the courts would control what happens next. Yes, the property could end up back on the tax rolls. But it also could end up being a housing development, or 40B, far larger than the eight houses at that had folks so up in arms at Carlson Woods.
For anyone who is thinking “We should just build commercial offices and generate buckets of new commercial tax revenue!,” I recommend spending some time studying development trends. Employers and employees today don’t want their offices located in isolated commercial office parks. They want to be in mixed-use areas with lots of housing, amenities and transit.
Now I’m a big proponent of building more housing. In fact, I think we have a moral imperative to help address our region-wide housing crisis. I also know that many businesses won’t locate here unless we create more places for their workers to live.
But I’d rather see us build more housing at Riverside, on the Northland site, along a revitalized Washington Street where there’s transportation option and solutions available.
The Mount Ida campus would be a fabulous place for UMass Amherst to train our next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, teach workers and other innovators. (And I’m excited about their plans to offer continuing ed classes too.)
Doing so, will make the rest of Newton’s commercial property more attractive to innovative companies and grow our city’s commercial tax base.
And that’s why you should hope the UMass Amherst plan moves forward.