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Newtonville survey wants scaled back Austin Street project

Posted by Tom Coakley  February 26, 2014 12:19 PM

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An overwhelming majority of village residents say they are receptive to the Austin Street lot being developed, but want the project scaled back significantly from what is being considered, according to a survey conducted by the Newtonville Area Council.

The survey of 738 residents, employees of village establishments, and commercial property owners also showed that parking is the top concern about the city’s plans to convert the public parking lot into a mixed-income housing and commercial development.

Six proposals are currently being considered, and Mayor Setti Warren is expected to choose a developer within days. The proposals include developments with 25 to 98 rental and condominium housing units in buildings that are from three to five stories high and include space for stores and restaurants at street level. The proposals also include open space for public use.

Many of the proposals are in sharp contrast to what the survey indicates residents of Newtonville want.

“I think the survey results demonstrate that most Newtonville residents favor doing a project, but the devil is in the details,” said Alderman Emily Norton, (cq) who represents Newtonville.

A petition being circulated on Change.org that has been signed by 111 people from throughout Newton, is also pushing for development of the site, but does not include the size restrictions neighbors indicated as a concern in the survey.

“We believe that adding residents, shops and public space to Newtonville’s village center will make it more vibrant, enjoyable and useful,” the petition reads.

Candace Havens, (cq) director of planning and development in the city said once a developer is picked, a long approval process with public input would allow for changes to be made in the final plans.

But it is unclear whether the neighbors’ interests in downsizing the project indicated in the survey can be synced with the city’s vision for revitalizing the village center.

The questionnaire was written by Newtonville Area Council members Tim Stone (cq) and Tom Kraus (cq) who also tabulated results of the online survey which polled village residents age 14 and older.

Three quarters of those who responded said they are receptive to development at the Austin Street lot "assuming it meets your criteria," according to the results. In addition, three quarters say they want a building of three stories or less, and 61 percent said they want 40 or fewer units of housing.

Loss of parking was cited at their top concern by nearly 70 percent, with 40 percent saying they want any development to provide at least 150 spaces, and 39 saying they want 100 or 120 spaces.

In addition to parking, residents listed additional traffic, “risk of an unattractive building, and increased population in the public schools as concerns.

Revitalizing and sprucing up Newtonville was the number one benefit of the proposed development for 65 percent of the survey respondents, followed by creating an appealing outdoor space, and new retail shops and restaurants.

In addition, the building’s design and physical appearance were ranked “very important” to 81 percent of respondents, a majority of whom agreed that the architecture should “compliment local historical buildings without necessarily replicating their style.”

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