13 Villages & One Goal... Auburndale: Crescent Street
Auburndale, already one of the more densely populated villages of Newton, is in the midst of an onslaught of development.
· The Station at Riverside, planned for 290 housing units, retail and office space
· 70 Crescent Street, the former headquarters of the Parks and Recreation Department, City-owned land and zoned for public use, is in the process of being declared surplus with plans for a moderate density housing development
· A multitude of teardowns-turned-mega-multi-unit developments on Auburn Street, between Commonwealth and Washington. Three lots currently being built, two more properties recently purchased with intent to tear down and add units.
· Myrtle Village - a seven-unit affordable rental development on Curve Street (adjacent to the Crescent Street) lot was approved and granted CPA funds of $900k+
· Turtle Lane - the former playhouse purchased by a developer with plans for a condo complex.
Background and Current Status of 70 Crescent Street
The 61,000 sq ft. lot, owned by the City and zoned for Public Use, was declared "surplus" by the Commissioner of Newton Parks & Recreation, in February 2012. A Joint Advisory Planning Group (JAPG) was appointed and their recommendation was for 8-20 housing units. Of the four neighborhood members of the JAPG, three of them were entirely against housing and felt their opinions were not even considered. Members of this JAPG group included architects, realtors, developers, and others predisposed to an outcome of housing construction.
The majority of the neighborhood was never informed of any of these plans or process. The neighbors discovered that the legally required "abutters" mailing went to the Crescent Street on the OTHER side of the Mass Pike as well as to Rowe Street, which is also on the OTHER side of the Pike.
More than 1 1/2 years later, in September 2013, the neighborhood learned what was happening, through word of mouth at a block party and leaflets distributed by Alderman Jay Harney. The neighbors immediately began attending meetings, created a petition to keep the land as open space, and gave a presentation to the Real Property Reuse Committee on January 28, 2014. The Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the entire lot be kept as open space. That Commission also voted unanimously to sponsor a CPA application to request funds to expand the abutting playground and create a community garden. The Newton Conservators and Newton Community Farm expressed their support for the plan presented by the neighborhood.
A charrette was held at the Myrtle Baptist Church, where approximately 40-50 neighbors attended and made it quite clear that the neighborhood is too dense and traffic-ridden to absorb more housing. This neighborhood has been the brunt of many hardships handed down by the State and City, including decimating the community for the Mass Pike, living without a sound/pollution barrier from the Pike for nearly 50 years, and school redistricting, to name a few. Within one month of the neighborhood stating strong opposition to a housing development , however, the City's planners recommended to keep 20k sq ft. as open space and build up to eight units and an access road on the remaining 41k sq ft. The Real Property Reuse Committee met on February 25, 2014 and decided to have an assessment and survey of the property done in order to determine the value of the land to a developer.
During this same timeframe, four other lots within 100 yards of this property have been sold to developers:
· Two have demolished modest homes in the process of building massive, million dollar townhouses
· One was granted a special permit by the city to build a four-unit development on a lot zoned for two
· Another (two houses down from 70 Crescent) may have plans for a tear down and multi-unit build
In addition, a property that currently holds three units on Curve Street, adjacent to the Crescent Sreet. property, has been granted more than $900k in CPA funds for seven affordable rental units.
The Crescent Street community, and many residents across the city of Newton, are furious about the situation regarding 70 Crescent Street for many reasons:
· The fact that they were not informed during the early stages of decision-making on the surplussing and proposals for the future use of the lot.
· The neighborhood is undergoing a ridiculous amount of development already - not even including 70 Crescent Street
· There are goals in the City of Newton Recreation and Open Space Plan that could be met by the property at 70 Crescent Street
· Traffic on Auburn Street leading to the Pike, and Commonwealth Avenue leading to 128, is already at a dead stop during rush hour. This area was already identified as a "problem area" by the city's Director of Transportation and will be hit with massive traffic from the Riverside and potential Rowe Street developments.
· Neighbors were told that the city could not afford to maintain additional open space (even though the property is already owned by the city and there is no acquisition cost), yet a proposal to buy the Waban Reservoir has been approved for CPA funds and will go before the Board of Aldermen soon.
· It is short-sighted to sell off publicly owned land. When the time comes for the City to acquire land for unforeseen purposes, it will be unattainable.
The residents in the Crescent Street area, and many more across the city of Newton believe the land at 70 Crescent Street should remain zoned for Public Use and retained for open space, not sold so that a developer can make a profit on a housing development and negatively impact quality of life in Auburndale, as well as hit the city budget with school and infrastructure costs.