A very big development project at the Northland site in Upper Falls is on the table and hinges on the City Council issuing a Special Permit in the coming months.  The nearby neighbors are understandably concerned about the size and scale of the project and it’s impact on the neighborhood.  Adding 800+ units of housing to Upper Falls’ existing 1200 units of housing is by any measure a massive change.  Add to that the school concerns, traffic concerns and its a big deal.

Unlike the Austin St, this entire project is being built on private property.  On a parcel this massive, a private property owner has the right to build whatever they want so long as it complies with local zoning code and regulations (i.e. “by right”).  In this case though, Northland is applying for a Special Permit, i.e. exceptions to the standard regulations.  Because of Northland’s request for a Special Permit, the city has a fair amount of bargaining power that it wouldn’t have if the project were being built “by right”.

Concerned residents have been organized by RightSize Newton and have been showing up at meetings in force, rallying behind particular candidates, writing letters, emails, etc.  Over the last year, the group’s focus has not been to work on incrementally improving the current proposal but to mobilize people who are concerned about the scale of the project, and work towards getting the council to turn down the Special Permit.

My question is what is the alternative that they see and how do they anticipate that we’ll get there.

As best as I can see there are five possible alternatives.

1. The current proposal, with some horse trading on aspects of the proposal, gets passed by the City Council and built.  As best as I can tell, RIghtSize Newton has had no interest in getting involved with that negotiation.

2. The Special Permit fails and Northland decides to build what they can “by right” without needing a Special Permit.  That would allow up to 1.5 million square feet of commercial development.  The traffic implications of that would be staggering.

3. The Special Permit fails and Northland decides to build a 40B development.  Under those rules the city would have barely any leverage and they could build far more than the currently planned 800+ units, with the attendant traffic and school issues magnified.

4. Northland goes back to the drawing board, starts again and comes back with a new Special Permit proposal.  After spending years and millions on this plan, I think the likelihood of that happening is vanishingly small … and probably no more likely to garner support form those who oppose the current project

5. The Special Permit fails and Northland leaves it as it is – a giant  sea of broken pavement and crumbling buildings (though everybody does love that beautiful Sacco-Pettee mill building).  This last alternative is the least likely of all and by no means a good outcome.

So here are my question:

  • Do you support a Special Permit being granted for the current proposal?
  • Would you support a Special Permit for the current proposal so long as specific changes were made.  If so, what changes.
  • If you’re against granting a Special Permit:
    • What is your desired alternative outcome? 
    • Are there other alternatives that should be added to my list? 
    • How do you think we’ll get to your desired alternative should the Special Permit be denied?