The following originally appeared as a letter to the editor in this week’s Newton TAB. Reprinted with permission.
In a recent newsletter, Mayor Fuller informs us that the plan for Riverside has been scaled back in response to “neighbors’ concerns,” which “also means a reduction in community benefits.” She suggests attending the next City Council hearing, if we “want to be involved.” I can almost hear, “Or whatever.”
The lack of enthusiasm in the Mayor’s message is unsettling. A year ago, she signed the Metro Mayors Coalition Housing Task Force Compact with 14 other area leaders (housingtaskforce.mapc.org), affirming the dire regional housing shortage and pledging to do all she could to alleviate it.
At the time, she told the Boston Globe that housing proposals in Newton faced tough neighborhood opposition, but she had faith in the power of wise planning—e.g., siting denser housing around T stations.
By this measure, the Riverside project is a godsend and Mayor Fuller should be its loudest cheerleader—and distressed by the deletion of 151 homes from a proposal for this large, transit-rich site.
Sad as I am about cuts to the plan for Riverside, it makes perfect sense that there should be tradeoffs. Smaller projects naturally yield smaller benefits: fewer affordable homes, less open-space money, less tax revenue. Things have to pencil out.
Still, why are we short-changing ourselves and the larger region whose well-being we depend on? Given the magnitude of both our housing and our climate crisis, we should be maximizing, not diminishing, Riverside’s potential.
Mayor Fuller and a number of sitting Councilors were on the City Council in 2013, when a prior plan for Riverside was approved. That plan, by BH Normandy LLC, had suffered severe cutbacks during Council deliberations, and in the end proved infeasible. It could not attract the necessary financing and remained stalled until 2016, when Mark Development approached Normandy about partnering on a new plan.
Let’s hope the latest Riverside proposal resists further shrinkage and avoids the fate of its predecessor. I do think it would help if Mayor Fuller could get excited about it.
— Kathleen Hobson