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The Lower Falls Improvement Association has proposed zoning changes for the Riverside MBTA parking lot that are supposed to encourage the creation of rentalousing in Newton. They won’t do that. The plan is a ruse to prevent any sort of development on the site.

The Lower Falls Zoning proposal is a variant on a 2013 plan that was never built. That plan failed to provide a level of development that would pay for highway improvements and the construction of a garage to replace the 935 spaces on the surface lot.

The Lower Falls zoning changes would allow an increase in housing over the 2013 proposal, but they severely limit the amount of office space allowed on the site. Offices are expected to generate revenue of $50 per space foot, compared with $4.25 for rental housing. The extra money would pay for the highway improvements and the garage.

Proponents of the Lower Falls changes present them as an alternative to a proposal by Mark Development. The developer wants to build a substantial amount of office space, a new facility to replace the Indigo Hotel, 57 condominiums and 618 rental apartments, 93 of them reserved for people with low and moderate incomes.

Single family homes in Newton are affordable only for affluent households. Rental apartments can be an alternative for people with modest incomes, but the number of rental units in the city has declined by 900 since 2010.

The City Council is now considering the Mark Development plan and the Lower Falls zoning changes. Mark Development has devised a plan that is financially sound and addresses the urgent need for greater housing choices in the city. The alternative is only an ugly, desolate parking lot.

Auburndale resident Thomas Gagen originally published this letter about proposed zoning changes at Riverside Station in the TAB. He is a longtime member of the Boston Globe’s Editorial Board.







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