Newton Committees Discuss Washington St., Riverside Renovations

Residents of Newton will see a lot of renovation around the city in the coming months, including the renovation of a T station, the restoration of the Allen House, and the reconstruction of Washington St.

A joint assembly with the Finance Committee followed by an independent meeting were held on Monday night, just a few weeks before Newton’s Zoning and Planning Committee will release its second draft of the plan.

The first of the two meetings covered three topics: The approval of expenditures for the Riverside Vision Plan (No. 29-19), the approval of additional funding for the rehabilitation of the Allen House conducted by the Newton Cultural Alliance (No. 28-19), and an update on the Washington Street Vision Plan (No. 220-18).

The committees approved the action to create a vision plan for a renovation of the Riverside MBTA stop. The motion passed with full support from all council members, despite the unconventional method proposed to get the process going. As soon as it’s hired a developer and a consultant, the city will begin creating the vision plan. Barney Heath, director of the Department of Planning and Development, said they would approach the funding in a different way than usual, first meeting with five developers to find the one most apt for the project before determining the budget.

“Hello Washington Street!” is the year-long project that the City of Newton has been working on to plan the future of the road that stretches through Newton, Newtonville, and Newton Corner.

Much of the plan that has been presented to the public is the beginning phases. After about half an hour of discussion, members determined that the committees would reconvene at the next Zoning and Planning meeting—which will unveil draft two of the vision plan—to further discuss the project and the funding involved in the 30-year plan.

A dissatisfied murmur from the Newton residents who attended the first meeting revealed the some of the community’s general displeasure with a few potential measures being discussed. In particular, citizens are unhappy about the council’s earlier decision to approve the construction of 12-story buildings late last year.

While the Planning and Zoning Committee has yet to approve any of the sketches presented by the Department of Planning and Development, there are a number of problems that seem to be plaguing the council members, too, as the deadline for the complete vision plan—May 2019—approaches.

At the last Zoning and Planning Committee meeting on Dec. 10, the department went through sketches for West Newton. In the second meeting on Monday night, Lily Canan Reynolds, community engagement manager for the Planning and Development Department, unveiled sketches of potential design options for the areas of Newtonville and Crafts Street.

Four components were outlined: new buildings, both residential and commercial; indoor parking lots, either above or below ground; green areas, both in courtyards within buildings and on the street; and a redesigned bridge over the Turnpike.

Councilor Susan Albright, director of the Zoning and Planning Committee, expressed her dissatisfaction with the building designs in the sketches because of the uniformity and general lack of unique storefronts. Others found it off-putting that the committee presenting the vision frequently mentions the amount of data it has gathered but doesn’t actually present the numbers—which are what the council and the citizens want to see.

Further apprehensions included maintaining ample parking in an area which contains a large driving population and ensuring that the promised green areas are visible from the street view—not contained in courtyards.

The committee commended the proposed design for the Washington St. bridge over the Massachusetts Turnpike. As it is now, chain-linked fences protect pedestrians from the ledge—the city hopes to construct a crossway with more visual appeal for drivers and pedestrians alike. The department proposed modeling it off a bridge of similar purpose in Columbus, Ohio, which received much positive feedback in its appearance but caused concern regarding the substantial amount of funding that might require.

While the other two plans are just getting started, the Allen House rehabilitation is right in the middle of its reconstruction. Peter Sargent, director of the Cultural Preservation Committee, requested additional funding from the Finance Committee in order to complete reconstruction by the deadline. They’ll remove the elevator, install heating and air conditioning, and finish furnishing the new theatre for community use.  

All council members recognize that the Allen House will gain functionality from the theatre and rentable spaces—it will be an asset to Newton and its citizens. With only one vote from both committees against the expenditure, the Cultural Preservation Committee will see its desired funds.

Featured Image Courtesy of masspowerchoice.com

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Mary Wilkie is the opinions editor for The Heights. She's not necessarily opinionated, but thinks Jack Goldman's opinions are always wrong, so she's opinionated about that, apparently.