Riverside Approved (Again)
The Newton City Council unanimously approved a revised development plan for the Riverside MBTA Station site on September 9, 2021 after months of public hearings and discussions on important changes to the project, such as building heights and design, traffic, noise, lighting, and lab safety.
The Council had approved a multiuse development at Riverside in October 2020 that includes housing, offices, and retail, transportation, and green spaces. But in January 2021, Mark Development (MD) pivoted their project and asked to replace the hotel planned for the site with a lab/life science building, as well as other changes. With the approval of the revised development plan, construction by MD is expected to begin in 2022–23.
MD plans to build 10 buildings totaling 1.025 million square feet. The project includes:
• 550 apartments, 20% (110) of which will be permanently designated affordable;
• Two lab/life science office buildings standing 109 feet and 157 feet tall, respectively;
• 22,000 square feet of ground floor retail that will likely include a 5,000-6,000 square foot specialty grocer; and
• 2,170 garage and street parking spaces.
The project provides for:
• $3,020,000 in funds for neighborhood improvements, including off-site traffic
mitigation, noise mitigation (such as a sound barrier), and possibly plantings along
DeForest Road near Grove Street;
• $3 million for walking and biking trails behind the project. You can learn more about these at https://riversidegreenwayma.wildapricot.org;
• $1.5 million for improvements to Williams School; and
• $1.4 million for improvements to the City’s sewer system.
To handle the additional traffic generated by the project, MD plans to build a new highway ramp for 128 North and a roundabout at Grove Street and Asheville Road for 128 South. The developer also plans to create a 10-foot, two-way bike path from the development to the Hamilton Community Center.
Schedule: MD expects to demolish the Hotel Indigo in Spring 2022 and to begin construction of the parking garage, highway ramp, and roundabout in early 2023. A parking plan for Newton Lower Falls is to be put in place before construction begins to help prevent overflow parking on local streets.
Liaison Committee: The city has established a neighborhood Liaison Committee to address residents’ concerns before and during construction. It will include Barbara Gruenthal and Liz Mirabile (from Lower Falls) and Italo Visco and Phil Wallas (from Auburndale), along with two of the Ward 4 City Councilors and representatives from Mark Development. The committee will hold public meetings to discuss issues that arise and to update the community on plans and progress.
Many, many thanks to everyone who attended virtual and in-person meetings and public hearings, wrote emails and letters, and donated time and money in support of the LFIA Riverside Committee over the past three-and-a-half years!
Big thanks also go to our Ward 4 Councilors—Lenny Gentile, Josh Krintzman, and Chris Markiewicz—who advocated tirelessly on behalf of Lower Falls and Auburndale, as well as other City Councilors who recognized the concerns of local residents during the long review process.
Lab Safety Memo
Here is a memorandum that explains the federal, state, and local safety regulations and review processes for lab/life science uses in Newton.
January 31, 2021
Public Statement from Lower Falls Improvement Association Riverside Committee in response to Mark Development's proposed amendment
The LFIA Riverside Committee spent countless hours studying Mark Development’s Riverside development plans, learning about affordable housing, city finances, traffic, and sustainability issues; informing and soliciting feedback from neighbors; meeting with the developer; and presenting to the City’s Zoning and Planning and Land Use committees. In the end, we believe that a compromise was reached that the various constituent groups around the City—even if they weren’t thrilled with the results—could live with and the City Council unanimously approved.
We understand that the pandemic has created a challenging business climate. Nonetheless we are disheartened to have significant changes proposed only three months after the special permit was approved. Given that the project may not be fully built for 10 or more years, it seems shortsighted to make such changes now. The economic situation, housing and office/lab space needs, and other development issues will continue to evolve in the coming months. We feel that at a minimum, the approved zoning related to the overall size, maximum heights, the 60/40 residential/commercial mix, and the highway ramp to 128N must remain untouched.
Specifically, we are concerned about the increased height of Building 2 (124’ instead of 70’) that is only a few hundred feet from Lower Falls homes; the reduced retail (particularly the grocery store loss); the loss of the hotel (in addition to having a place for family and friends to stay, it would have offered opportunities for socializing); the reduced public open space; and the loss of several affordable housing units. We remain concerned about traffic and are eager to see the results of traffic studies. We welcome the slightly lower height of the original office tower and the one narrower building on Grove Street.
We still have many questions about the impact of these proposed changes, including how the developer will be able to create the “vibrant,” walkable, and self-contained neighborhood that was promised, especially in light of the loss of amenities. We will continue to advocate on behalf of neighbors and work with the City, our City Councilors, and Mark Development to reach another acceptable compromise.
- The Boston Globe article by John Hilliard from Feb 10th provides additional perspectives on the new proposal.
January 21, 2021
Mark Development Seeks Amendments to Special Permit for Riverside Project
Mark Development (MD) recently proposed a set of changes to the Riverside project that was approved on October 19, 2020, claiming they are needed because of market forces related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The MD team described the proposed changes during a meeting with neighbors and our City Councilors on January 21, 2021.
View MD's presentation at the Jan 21st meeting. The following is a summary of the major changes proposed.
- Hotel replaced with significantly taller lab/life sciences building on NLF side of the project. Hotel was 70’ tall; proposed lab building would be 124’ tall.
- Original office tower height reduced from 169’ to 143’ tall. Would be a lab building instead of general office.
- Signage stays the same for original tower (200 SF signs facing 128N and 128S, possible logo sign facing NLF). Should be less visible from NLF because the building would be 26’ shorter. Same size and type of signs proposed for second lab building. This signage would be more visible from NLF because the proposed lab building is 54’ taller than the approved hotel.
- Public open space decreased from 1.56 acres to 1.21 acres. Plaza near the two lab buildings will be narrower (146’ vs. 171’). The plaza at the corner of the parking garage would be eliminated. The amphitheater on Grove St would be a little wider and shallower.
- Retail space reduced from 39,015 SF to 22,400 SF. MD was not able to contract with a grocery store like Trader Joe’s, as originally planned. They are proposing instead a large convenience store/small food market of 5,000 SF. Shops and eateries would be concentrated around the MBTA entrance.
- Residential units reduced from 582 to 550; 5-6 affordable units would be lost.
- Parking spaces increased by 255 (2,267 vs 2,032). Garage height increased by one story.
- Traffic study to be filed with the City in the next month. MD’s initial numbers show 1% traffic increase overall and approximately 37% decrease at morning and evening “peak hours.” MD is still committed to the zoning requirement to build a new ramp to 128N.
- Same mitigation money still provided for neighborhood ($1.5 million) and recreation trails ($3 million).
- City net tax revenue increased by $600,000 to $800,000 annually due primarily to lab space replacing the hotel and a portion of the housing and retail.
- Grove Street design: One residential building will be longer by 21’ and another residential/retail building will be shorter by 39’. These changes may make Grove Street look slightly less blocky and dense.
- Timeline: no change anticipated. Construction has been slated to begin in Spring 2022 and last many years.
- Next steps: MD would need City Council approval for these proposed changes. They plan to file for a zoning amendment and an amendment to the Special Permit in March; this would likely mean public hearings would begin in April.
The LFIA Riverside Committee continues to advocate on behalf of the Lower Falls and Auburndale neighborhoods to reduce negative impacts of the project. Please contact us if you have specific feedback.
Comparison of Proposed Changes
click to download
October 19, 2020 Riverside Project Approved
The Newton City Council unanimously approved a special permit for the Riverside project on October 19, 2020, allowing Mark Development to move forward with plans to build the mixed-use project. Construction will probably not begin for at least a year and could take up to 12 years to complete. The vote followed a unanimous vote by the Newton City Council’s Land Use Committee on October 6.
The LFIA Riverside Committee (also known as RightSize Riverside) has advocated for the past two-and-a-half years for a smaller project that fits the scale of the neighborhoods nearest the site. Our work helped:
- Shrink the overall size from 1.5 million square feet to 1.025 million square feet, which we believe will lessen traffic and the burden on public services such as schools, roads, sewer, police, and fire.
- Decrease the hotel height from 18 stories to 6 stories, the office building height from 14 stories to 11 stories, and building heights on Grove Street to lessen their visual and environmental impacts.
- Increase the percentage of housing to 60% — including 103 affordable housing units.
- Other changes to mitigate the impact of the development on Newton Lower Falls and Auburndale include: providing safe pathways for cyclists and pedestrians; enhancing access to nature; and improving the experience of residents, office workers, visitors, and commuters who will use Riverside.
In a press statement, the LFIA Riverside Committee said:
“All developments – especially large-scale ones like Riverside – need to strike a balance among many competing goals. The LFIA Riverside Committee worked extraordinarily hard over the past two-and-a-half years to represent our neighborhood. While we succeeded in reducing the overall size of the project and working out many details, the 10 building, 1.025 million square foot development approved tonight essentially creates a new Newton village. Nonetheless, this is what compromise looks like.”
“We thank our Ward 4 councilors, Lenny Gentile, Josh Krintzman, and Chris Markiewicz for their guidance, support and advocacy. We also appreciate the willingness of Mark Development to meet and negotiate with us in good faith. Most importantly, we thank our Lower Falls and Auburndale neighbors. Without their engagement and commitment to the process, we would not have been as successful. We will continue to advocate for the community during the long Riverside construction process ahead.”
Read the Boston Globe article about the City Council vote, titled: "Newton City Council approves mixed-use development at Riverside Station on the Green Line" (Globe, 10.20.20)
March 24, 2020 Mark Presents Final Plans for the Riverside Development to the Land Use Committee
Mark Development filed a revised special permit application for its proposed mixed-use project at Riverside in December 2019. It did so after the Newton City Council approved compromise zoning changes that limit the development's size to 1.025 million square feet. RightSize Riverside played an instrumental role in advocating for a smaller overall footprint. You can see the special permit documents here.
Mark Development presented revised design plans at the March 24, 2020 meeting of the City Council Land Use Committee. The plans show some of the design changes made since December 2019. The proposed development is now 63.9% residential and 36.1% commercial. Click here to view a presentation showing the breakdown of apartment units and sizes, sustainable construction plans, and signage schemes. Click here to see the proposed layout of the 10 project buildings and of green/open space areas. And here are the signage guidelines presented by Mark Development.
Here are the brief presentations made by Mark Development at the June 2, 2020 public hearing on transportation:
Response to peer review questions
Traffic mitigation, bike lanes, and other issues
The Land Use Committee that will review the special permit is holding public hearings on important components of Mark Development's application.
Click on the links below to view RightSize Riverside's presentations at these following Land Use hearings:
Here is the press release the committee distributed in response to Mark Development's filing for a special permit on 3.29.19