You might have missed it* in the latest Mayor’s Update from Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, but Mark Development has started the process to develop some Washington St. parcels, including the site of The Barn shoe stores, under Chapter 40B of the Massachusetts General Laws. Chapter 40B, in essence, allows a developer to build in violation of applicable local zoning if a) the municipality is under an affordable housing threshold, which Newton is and b) the development will include a defined percentage of affordable housing. The city will have very little control over what Mark Development builds, unlike what would happen with a development proposed under the city’s special-permit process.

What’s interesting is that the proposal is for mixed use: 243 units of rental housing and 12,000 s.f. of retail. With previous 40B developments,  both the developers and the city have suggested that 40B developments have to be housing only. This does not appear to be the case, which is good for the proposed site. With retail as part of the mix, the development can both mix into the commercial uses on the street and provide desperately needed housing.

Here’s the full text of the mayor’s update on the proposal.

Mark Development last week submitted a proposal to MassHousing for 243 units of rental housing (25%, or 61 units, of which would be permanently affordable) and 12,000 square-feet of retail space on Washington Street located on a series of parcels including “The Barn” shoe store east of Dunstan Street.
They filed the project under Chapter 40B, the state law enacted in 1969 which allows developments that include a certain percentage of affordable housing units to bypass most local zoning restrictions in communities that do not meet the law’s criteria. Newton has not yet met the threshold to bypass the law. Applying to MassHousing, the quasi-governmental agency created in 1966 that supports the development of affordable housing, is the first step in the 40B process.
This proposed project is on an important stretch of Washington Street near West Newton Square and I care deeply that the development is consistent with the guiding principles set out in the Draft Washington Street Vision Plan. (Read the plan here.)
The Planning Department, soon followed by Newton’s Zoning Board of Appeals, is now beginning the review process. Most likely the ZBA will vote on the proposal in mid-2020.
Some aspects of the project initially look promising: 61 units of much-needed affordable housing; underground parking; a courtyard with public access; buildings at staggered heights; attractive treatment of the Cheesecake Brook culvert.
Nonetheless, there are many questions and issues we will be looking at closely. Are the dimensions of the retail spaces suitable for small businesses? Will retail rents be affordable to attract small, local businesses? Are the heights of the proposed buildings in keeping with the City’s vision? Will the buildings be built with green energy standards and be environmentally sustainable? How is the developer planning to address traffic impacts from this project?
I would have preferred this project come in through the special permit process so the City Council could have more input, but until Newton meets its affordability thresholds developers will continue to have this option to move forward with the 40B process.

* Mayor Fuller, if you’re reading, please put a few bullets at the top of your Mayor’s Updates to indicate the topics covered. Apparently, a few people missed the Washington St. and unfunded obligations sections, because they thought the email was just about the algae at Crystal Lake.


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