Updated — I got the latest unit sizes for the proposal and have updated below.

Concerns about guest parking at a proposed development appear to have eliminated an opportunity to provide two permanently affordable homes and have made the homes that will be built larger and, therefore, almost certainly more expensive. Who would have guessed?

At a July 27 meeting of the Newton City Council’s Land Use committee, developers presented a petition for a three-story condominium apartment building at 50 Jackson St., which is currently two lots: 383 and 387 Boylston St. There are two buildings on the site that will be removed; one is retail, the other houses two restaurants. 

The developer initially proposed 12 three-bedroom units and 22 parking spaces. The units ranged from 1,186 to 2,077 s.f., with an average size of 1,460 s.f. Under Newton’s Inclusionary Zoning ordinance, a condominium development of 7 to 12 total units must provide 15% of the units as permanently affordable to households with 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). Doing the math, 15% of 12 is 1.8, which rounds to 2. Accordingly, two of the 12 units would have been affordable.

As well as providing two affordable homes, this is a great example of the gentle density that the city needs. Just three stories. Moderately sized and, one expects, moderately priced units, or at least more moderately priced than other options in Newton. All of the unit are three-bedroom homes, which a neighbor noted are scarce at reasonable prices, making this development attractive to young families. At just about a mile from the Newton Centre T, it’s not a terrible walk or bike. It’s about a 10-minute walk to Wegman’s. And, close to Bowen school. So, a pretty good opportunity for some car-lite living.

Some neighbors expressed concerns about the amount of parking. They worried that 22 spaces was not enough parking for residents or for their guests and that the development would result in more on-street parking along Jackson St. and Langley St. Councilor Marc Laredo amplified their concern:

Third, the Parking situation. Where are guests going to park? What is the plan for that? I don’t think it’s commercially reasonable to tell a developer, “No, you can only have one parking space when you sell a three-unit condo?” I think the market speaks for itself, quite frankly, and we have to respect developers desires in that regard.

Councilor Laredo’s comments begin at 4:05:15 of the meeting video.

It’s hard to know what to do with this. Not to state the obvious, but Councilor Laredo is a councilor on the Land Use committee — and was even its chair at one point. The entire point of zoning and Land Use’s role in reviewing special permits according to the zoning code is to prevent the market from speaking for itself. And, if he really wanted to let the market speak for itself, he’d defer to what the developer thought was adequate parking. But, Councilor Laredo wants to know what the plan is for guest parking. 

In his summary of the item, committee chair Councilor Rick Lipof echoed Councilor Laredo and expressed a number of concerns, including “the lack of guest parking.”

Councilors Alicia Bowman and Tarik Lucas, on the other hand, both dismissed parking as a concern. Here’s Councilor Lucas:

It’s twelve housing units with 22 parking spots. […] And, I think… just my personal opinion … there’s a lot of parking there. If it’s so close to the T and the 60 bus, in theory you would need fewer parking stalls.

The item is back before Land Use at tomorrow night’s 7 PM meeting (agenda, zoom link, and planning memos one and two). And, apparently in response to the feedback about parking, the developer has increased the ratio of parking spaces to units from under to over two by eliminating three homes from the proposal, including both of the affordable units, while also eliminating two parking spots (and adding a bike room). 

How can the developer eliminate both of the two affordable units? Isn’t 15% of 9 1.35? It is, but the Inclusionary Zoning ordinance allows a developer of a 7- to 9-unit development to provide a cash payment in lieu of actually building affordable homes. Instead of building two affordable three-bedroom condomiums, the developer will pay $520,415.28.

The building size is essentially unchanged in the new proposal. With three units removed, the unit size has grown considerably. The range of eight of the  units in the updated proposal is 1,341 to 2,496 s.f.*  The range of the units in the updated proposal is 1,296 to 2,496 s.f. The smallest unit will be bigger than half of the earlier proposed units.  The average size of the eight nine units will be 2004 1900 s.f., or over 500 400 s.f. — a third 30% — larger than the average in the original proposal. It is still a good development, but these are no longer all moderately sized units.

So, that’s the tradeoff. No affordable units. Larger, likely more expensive market-rate units. But, two spots for guest parking.

Councilor Laredo is fond of saying that the special permit process results in better developments than are first proposed. Not in this case.

* For some reason, the Planning memo only includes the sizes of 8 units. I will update when I get a corrected list.