Northland Newton Project Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Northland Newton Project?

  • A 22.7-acre site at Needham and Oak Streets comprised of 3 separate parcels including the Saco-Pettee mill building, former Ivex industrial building and Marshalls Plaza retail center.
  • A master-planned community that offers 800 apartments, 140 of which are permanently affordable; ten acres of open space including seven parks, 750 new trees, a splash park, community playground and village green; underground parking and utilities; and a mix of office, retail and commercial space.
  • The transformation of an aging industrial site, retail strip center and parking lots into a new green community. Click here to view video of the current site.
  • A pedestrian and bicycle-friendly neighborhood where people can work, live and play.

Why is the Northland Project good for Newton?

  • It provides much needed housing affordable for teachers, first responders, young professionals and empty-nesters.
  • It is a model of sustainable design, including cutting-edge energy-efficient construction and technologies.
  • It offers ten acres of open space including 6.8 acres of new public park land.
  • It includes a well-vetted traffic mitigation plan with an electric shuttle system running every ten minutes, 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to the Newton Highlands T-station.
  • The project supports one-car living and offers free and reduced-price T-passes for residents to incentivize car-free living.
  • Northland will contribute $1.5 million toward renovating Countryside School.
  • The Project results in more than $1 million per year in tax revenues, after accounting for school and public safety costs.
  • 10,000 square feet of retail space will be set aside for local independent retailers at a discounted rent.
  • Northland, at its own expense, will be removing 7,944 linear feet of unsightly and unhealthy overhead utility lines on surrounding streets by placing the utilities underground on the Project property.

How does the Project address Newton’s critical housing needs?

  • With significant regional economic growth, the demand for housing has increased at a far greater rate than the housing supply.
  • 800 new units allows for significant numbers of employees to live near their work.
  • The 140 permanently affordable units will allow teachers, first responders, retirees, young professionals and public sector employees to live in Newton.
  • The project will include a designated all-age-friendly building featuring state of the art universal design elements, senior-friendly amenities and programs, and in-unit features to allow seniors to age in community.
  • The Northland Newton Project offers a diversity of housing options in Newton to attract millennials, retain empty-nesters, and provide 140 affordable apartment homes.  
  • 800 Apartments:
    • 10% studios (80)
    • 45% 1-Bedroom units (360)
    • 40% 2-Bedroom units (320)
    • 5% 3-Bedroom units (40)
  • 660 market-rate apartments
  • 140 affordable apartments
    • 120 units will be reserved for households earning an average of 65% of the AMI (Ranging between 50% and 80% of the AMI)
    • 20 units will be reserved for households earning no more than 110% of the AMI
  • The unit mix is the same for both market rate and affordable apartments
  • Market rate apartments and affordable apartments will be indistinguishable and offer the same high quality finishes and standards. 
  • Building 8 (80 units) is designated as an all age-friendly building with universal design elements and senior-friendly amenities, programs and in-unit features. 
  • 70% of the affordable units will be designated as local preference units as permitted by Mass DHCD.

What will happen if the Northland referendum fails?

  • The three parcels could be developed separately, losing the elegance of the integrated master plan; desirable open space and such amenities as underground parking and utilities, and the free shared transit service.
  • The developer can use Chapter 40B (the Commonwealth’s affordable housing statute) to build up to 646 units on each of three parcels, and the most likely outcome would be three non-integrated 40B projects totaling 1500 units or more.
  • Given the extraordinary cost of the public parks, underground parking, cutting edge environmental design, underground utilities of the current project, a 40B alternative would be more profitable to the developer.
  • Or, current zoning could allow for 1.4 million square feet of commercial space which creates more traffic than residential development.
  • In either case, the City would not receive the extensive package of community benefits: 7 parks, underground parking and utilities, free electric shuttle, $1.5 million contribution to Countryside School improvements, community playground and splash park, South Meadow Brook restoration and daylighting, and an all-age-friendly building, or funding for projects like the Greenway extension.

What about the traffic on Needham Street?

  • Northland has committed to an aggressive transit demand management plan controlled by the City that sets a hard limit on peak hour traffic generation from residents and office employees, reflecting a 37% (AM peak) and 58% (PM peak) reduction from normal traffic generation.
  • Free electric shuttles will run every 10 minutes, 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to the Newton Highlands T station and will be free to all residents, employees and visitors.
  • Project residents and office and retail employees will receive MBTA subsidies from Northland.
  • With one parking space per apartment which is charged separately from rent, the Project will attract residents who want to live car-free or car-lite.
  • The Project will offer a multi-modal mobility hub located on Needham Street that will provide a waiting lounge and real-time transit information for bike, bus, shuttle, and ride-sharing customers
  • Northland will contribute $5 million toward local area traffic and transit improvements to fix roads, intersections, and sidewalks, and potentially extend Greenway connections.
  • The state is making a $30 million investment in enhancements to Needham Street that will improve traffic flow by aligning intersections, eliminating curb-cuts and incorporating the latest traffic signal technology, which will be completed prior to the completion of the Project.

What is the impact of the Project on the Newton schools?

  • Newton Public Schools (NPS) enrollment projections (which currently include Northland, Austin Street and Washington Place among others) show that the student population will decline by 277 students over the next five years, and the number of students will continue to go down after that.
  • NPS estimates that 165 school-aged children living at Northland would attend the Newton schools (approximately half elementary and half secondary). With enrollment trending downward, the Countryside School would be able to accommodate these new students.
  • Countryside School, which would serve students from the Northland project, is currently operating below capacity; only 18 of the 20 classrooms are expected to be used next year.

Is there enough open space in the Project?

  • The Project will have seven public parks and plazas that will offer passive and active play areas, public art displays, preserved historic artifacts, a splash park, a community playground, a village green, and Newton’s own “high line” designed by internationally renowned SOM Architects
  • Almost half of the site—10 acres—is open space; 6.8 of those acres are new public park land for all Newton residents to enjoy.
  • Tree lined pathways and sidewalks through the site will provide shaded, safe and accessible pedestrian walkways from Upper Falls to Needham Street.
  • Bike and pedestrian paths will connect Newton Upper Falls to Newton Highlands and Oak Hill.
  • The South Meadow Brook will be restored at the north end of the site and enhanced with viewing platforms community gardens and nature trail. A covered portion of the brook will be opened at the corner of the Saco-Pettee to re-create a historic waterfall that will be a centerpiece of the 1.1-acre mill park.

Will the project be environmentally sustainable?

  • Buildings will meet the highest standards of energy efficiency; Northland has committed to achieving Passive House certification for 3 residential buildings totaling 280 units and aspires to achieve certification for up to 758 units, which would make the Project the largest Passive House community in the United States. Passive House will enable residents to reduce energy usage by up to 70%.
  • Car-sharing, electric vehicle charging, and preferred parking for car-poolers will be offered
  • bicycling and walking will be facilitated. Storage will be available for 1,100 bicycles
  • The entire project will be LEED Neighborhood Development certified.
  • Parking will be limited to one space per residential unit, attracting people who will travel car-free or car-lite.
  • The Northland project has been deemed the most environmentally progressive multi- family development in the Commonwealth.

What is the economic impact of the Project on Newton?

  • The City will receive more than $1 million annually in new taxes, after accounting for school and public safety costs.
  • There will be a $1.5 million contribution to the Countryside renovation.
  • During construction, there will be an addition of 1,203 jobs and $155 million added to the local economy.
  • The completed project will result in 885 new jobs and $141 million added to the local economy.

What was the public process for vetting the Northland project?

  • Northland initiated many community meetings over 18 months to share plans with the community and solicit feedback. This triggered a city-sponsored process to formally involve key stakeholders, including Northland, in discussions about a vision for the future of the Needham Street corridor. About two dozen residents and a number of other interested parties were appointed to participate in the discussions, resulting in a “Vision Plan” for Needham Street that was adopted into the Newton Comprehensive Plan.  The environmental, transportation and land use goals of the Vision Plan aligned squarely with those of the Project.
  • During the “Land Use” process that followed (including 15 public hearings), the City Council challenged Northland to reduce the scale of the project, create more permeability, provide a more senior-friendly housing option and further reduce traffic impacts. Green Newton pressed for a commitment for even greater cutting edge environmental sustainability, including Passive House Design. Northland responded with many extraordinary improvements the Project and benefits to the City, resulting in the project as approved by a super-majority of the City Council on Dec 2, 2019, including the enthusiastic support of all three Ward 5 councilors.
  • The improvements made over the course of the Land Use Process included:
    • Reducing the scale from 2 million to 1.1 million square feet
    • Reducing the amount of on-site parking and placing it underground
    • Establishing a cap on traffic generation for the life of the project and committing to $1.5 million annual transit investment, including MBTA incentives and shuttle
    • $5 million to fund local area traffic and transportation improvements
    • Commitment to achieve Passive House certification for 35% of the residential units and an aspiration to reach 758 units, along with solar installations
    • $1.5 million contribution to the Countryside School
    • $1 million for the design and construction of a community splash park
    • A designated all-age-friendly building with universal design elements and senior-oriented amenities
    • Increasing open space and site permeability from 25% to 40%
    • Elimination of 7,944 linear feet of overhead utility wires
  • Valuable amenities were agreed to, including smaller building footprints, extensive open space, free electric shuttle service, $1.5 million for Countryside School renovation and cutting-edge energy-efficient building construction, heating and cooling systems and storm water management measures.

Is the Developer a Newton company?

  • Northland has been headquartered in Newton for 50 years.
  • 10% of the company’s 700 employees are based in Newton.
  • Northland has been a property owner on Needham Street for 41 years and was the original developer of Marshalls Plaza.
  • Northland intends to relocate its headquarters to the Project upon completion
  • Northland has never sold one of its developments.

Did Northland engage with neighbors and the community?

  • Northland hosted many community meetings and attended civic events to reach out to neighbors and stakeholders and solicit feedback. Northland also made several presentations to Upper Falls and Highlands neighborhood area councils to discuss the project.
  • Northland representatives have participated in over 300 meetings and held more than 2200 one-on-one conversations with stakeholders regarding the process
  • Northland engaged with anyone who wished to meet about the project
  • Northland offered to meet with RightSize Newton, even as recently as December 2019; however, RightSize Newton chose not to engage directly with Northland.

Right Size 2020 sponsored an event that featured attorney Dennis Murphy speaking about Chapter 40B.  Murphy made several key assertions, all of which were incorrect. According to attorney and 40B expert Benjamin Tymann, here are the real facts:

One-Year Hiatus

Dennis Murphy statement: 

If the current Northland Newton proposal does not go forward, Northland would have to wait one year before it could apply for a Ch. 40B comprehensive permit.

The reality:

Wrong.  The Related Application regulatory safe harbor does not pertain to projects that were previously proposed with more than 10% affordable housing units, as is the case with the Northland Newton project, so there would be no “hiatus,” and no legal barrier would exist to prevent Northland from immediately commencing the Ch. 40B application process.  

“Merger” of three adjoining parcels

Dennis Murphy statement: 

The three adjoining parcels comprising the Northland project would, as a matter of law, “merge” into a single lot which would need to be devoted entirely to the 40B project and would foreclose other future development on any of the individual parcels.

The reality:

Wrong.  Both Murphy’s conclusion and analysis are flatly incorrect. The doctrine of merger has no bearing whatsoever on Ch. 40B projects and no Massachusetts case, statute, or regulation has ever drawn a relationship between the two.  The three parcels in question, owned by separate entities, would remain as distinct parcels and could be developed separately.  

Mixed uses under Ch. 40B

Dennis Murphy statement: 

Chapter 40B does not allow non-residential uses to be mixed with housing, unless the non-residential use is extremely minor, such as a laundromat to service the residents of the 40B housing.

The reality:

Wrong.   This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the law of Ch. 40B. DHCD regulations expressly allow secondary non-residential uses as part of a 40B project “so long as the non-residential elements of the Project are planned and designed to: (a) complement the primary residential uses; and (b) help foster vibrant, workable, livable, and attractive neighborhoods consistent with applicable local land use plans.” 

Click here to see the detailed legal memo addressing Murphy’s comments.