Many Newton residents consider the Boston Sports Club of Newton, located at 135 Wells Avenue, an essential part of everyday life. Like many others, I go there several times a week for exercise and recreation. Some of us play tennis or swim; use the machines and free weights; attend exercise and yoga classes. Some people are undergoing rehab for various injuries. All ages are represented, from nine year-olds taking tennis lessons to octogenarians taking an exercise class in the pool. Staff members, from tennis pros to personal trainers, are friendly and skilled. I must also mention the excellent whirlpool to soothe the muscles and relax the mind.
The club’s continued existence remains in peril, however, because it has been targeted in recent years for redevelopment. The trouble started when the residential megadeveloper Cabot, Cabot & Forbes purchased the property in June 2014 for a reported $16.4 million, as reported in the website BLDP. C,C & F dreamed big: it submitted plans to demolish the club and construct a 334-unit mixed-income development on the site.
Many of us shuddered at the thought, and not only because the plan jeopardized our home away from home. Wells Avenue already faces daunting traffic challenges during morning and afternoon rush hour. It is a loop route with but one entrance/exit. Its access road, Nahanton Street, slows to a crawl twice a day, with long lines of cars stretching from the Winchester Street and Wells Avenue lights. Building another access road to Wells Avenue would be nearly impossible, with wetlands and the Charles River hedging it. Finally, placing residential property on the site required C, C & F to petition local and state authorities to waive various zoning rules and deed restrictions.
The challenges notwithstanding, C, C & F pressed ahead, elaborating monumental plans and presenting them before various Newton City Council committees. It also offered to pay for road improvements on Nahanton Street and to offer limited shuttle bus service to the Newton Highlands T stop. The developer portrayed future residents of the 334 units as Millennials uninterested in owning cars! By that calculus, their automobiles would equal in number the seventy or so cars occupying the BSC Newton lot at prime time- a zero sum game.
This claim rang hollow. Neither city councilors nor residents believed that those living in a remote location like 135 Wells Avenue could make do with shuttle buses and Uber. The nearest supermarkets and shopping areas are miles away; many young professionals commute to workplaces all over eastern Massachusetts, and the D-line portal could hardly meet the need.
Even so, the City Council seemed willing to approve the development if only C, C & F scaled it back to, say, 250 units. So certain were the councilors that the developer would agree that they were shocked when its legion of briefcase-toting lawyers rejected the plan and walked out of the City Council meeting. Apparently, the project required at least 334 units, in the developer’s calculations, to provide a sufficient profit margin.
Legal battles ensued for several years until C,C & F threw in the towel and sold the property in late 2017 to G&Z Real Estate Investment LLC for $15 million. Throughout this time BSC Newton has remained in business, and its lease runs through 2023. It could be evicted, however, at any time with six-months’ notice. In this atmosphere of uncertainty, club management seems hesitant to make needed renovations to get the club up to speed.
Undaunted, hundreds of us still visit BSC Newton almost every day to pump iron, play tennis, log minutes on the ellipticals, and swim laps. We also run into friends there, and in my case, former students and tennis team members. Newton should treasure this community resource and help to secure its continued existence.