Northland development approved by Newton voters

by Julian Phillips, Freelance Editor
photo by Hedi Skali

Newton residents voted to approve the Northland development on March 3, with 58% of voters supporting it.

The development is a 800-unit building to be built on Needham Street. Over 17% of the units will be affordable housing. Demolition on site will begin later this year, while construction is set to start in 2021. An end date for construction has not yet been determined.

Following negotiations with the city, Northland, the company behind the development, agreed to execute several design changes before the vote occured. The development’s site was shrunk to 1.1 million square feet, and 40% of the site will be green space. Northland is also planning to create a daily shuttle to the Newton Highlands MBTA stop.

Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber, a nonprofit that supports local businesses, said that the development will bring economic benefits to Needham Street, as well as open up more options for low-income residents, while Randy Block, president of Right Size Newton, a group that opposes the Northland development, said that it will increase traffic on the Needham Street area and overcrowd local schools.

Negotiations between Northland and the city lasted three years.

Block said that the election was swayed by how much money Northland invested to convince voters. Financial reports suggest that the company outspent its opponents by a factor of 10.

“The amount of money that Northland spent to win this referendum is grotesque,” he said. “This is a classic example of one side having the megaphone and the other side not.”

City Councilor Deborah Crossley, however,  said that most voters received incorrect information about the Northland development, increasing opposition to it.

“It’s easier to vote no if somebody raises a question and disparages an idea,” she said.

City Councilor Emily Norton said that one issue that remains to be resolved is where children who live in the new housing units will go to school.

“It’s very simple to project how many students will be in Northland,” she said. “I think it’s going to be more like 250. That’s potentially a new elementary school.”

Norton also said that the development will result in generally higher municipal taxes.

Reibman said he still believes that the benefits of increasing housing outweigh the potential drawbacks.

“There’s an extreme housing shortage in eastern Massachusetts, and this is going to bring not just 800 units of housing, but affordable housing,” he said.

Jay Walter, who advocated for the Northland development, said that Newton’s demographics highlight the importance of cost of living affordability.

“I see the demographics in Newton as a real problem,” he said. “Currently we’re losing elementary-school-aged kids in our public schools because families with young kids can’t afford to live here.”

Walter said that to ultimately achieve an inclusive and progressive Newton, voters’ mentalities must change.

“People are afraid of change, and they think of Newton as a single-family-home community,” he said. “We have to get beyond that.”