Q: What’s the big picture?

A: 28 Austin Street will augment the aging publicly-accessible Austin Street Municipal Parking Lot and add an energy-efficient, solar-powered three- and four-story mixed-use retail and residential building, along with a new public plaza that will enhance Newtonville’s village life while providing much-needed mixed-income housing.

Q: What will happen with the existing municipal parking?

A: 123 public parking spaces that currently exist at-grade will be rebuilt and improved with state-of-the-art electronic meters and priority parking for seniors. All of these public parking spaces will continue to be located at-grade. The new building will be built primarily above the municipal parking, with only a small first floor area for a lobby, retail shops, and the proposed shared work innovation center. There will be 90 new underground parking spaces reserved for residents, guests, and building employees below the at-grade municipal parking lot.

Q: Who receives the revenue from the parking meters?

A: The City of Newton will continue to receive all of the revenue from the meters, set the prices, and enforce payment just as it does now.

Q: I heard there are going to be parking attendants and mechanical stackers.

A: There will be no parking attendants or mechanical stackers.

Q: How many apartment homes will there be at 28 Austin Street?

A: There will be 68 apartment homes on the second, third and fourth floors, built above the municipal parking lot.

Q: How many 1- and 2-bedroom apartment homes?

A: 

  • 29 - 1 bedroom apartment homes, each about 750 square feet
  • 4 - 1 bedroom with den apartment homes, each about 900 square feet
  • 35 - 2 bedroom apartment homes, each about 1100 square feet

Q: How many apartment homes will be affordable?

A: 23 or 33% of the apartment homes will be “affordable” and reserved for households earning less than 80% of median income. Up to 70% of these affordable units may be reserved for Newton households. These households might include police officers, firefighters, teachers and municipal workers.

Q: What do the affordable apartment homes look like and where are they located?

A: Market rate and affordable apartment homes are identical in layout, size, and finish with no distinction whatsoever.  Affordable apartment homes are distributed evenly by type, floor, and by exposure.

Q: Are these “luxury” apartments?

A: No.  These are smaller, efficiently-sized, and market-priced apartments which are affordable to middle-income households who earn about 140% of median income.  (There is no standard definition of “middle-class” but the economist Robert Reich in 2013 suggested those households earning between 50% and 150% of median income.)

Q: Can I buy a unit?

A: No.  These are not condominiums but rental apartment homes.

Q: Who will live there?

A: 28 Austin Street is designed as housing for all us.  28 Austin Street will reflect the Newton community.  From our experience developing multifamily residences in Boston’s suburban communities, the majority of the residents will typically be young professionals, ‘empty nesters’, and seniors. As Newton’s demographics are projected to continue to shift toward older residents without children, the units are designed to accommodate empty nesters downsizing from larger single-family homes. Forty percent of Newton households have someone over 60.  And one-third of Newton households are just one person.

Q: How many school children are expected to attend the Newton Public Schools?

A: Based on the proposed one- and two-bedroom apartment mix and the Newton School Committee’s projection methodology, an additional 13 children of varied ages are expected to attend Newton Public Schools.

Q: How many new parking spaces are being added?

A: In addition to reconstructing 123 at-grade, municipal parking spaces, there will be a total of 90 new, underground parking spaces for dedicated use only by residents and retail employees.

Q: Is resident parking included in the monthly rent?

A: Yes.  One parking space is included in the monthly rent. Additional parking spaces can be rented at market rates.  Comparable apartment communities in Newton currently charge $150 per month for a second parking space.

Q: What is on the first floor?

A: The first floor has a lobby for the apartment homes, two or three retail shops and a shared work Innovation Center.

Q: Tell me about the retail shops.

A: We hope to have two or three especially interesting local boutique merchants in the retail shops.  We hope to attract merchants like a bookstore, a toy store, a gift store, or a spin studio to complement existing retailers.  No banks or nail salons.

Q: What is the Innovation Center?

A: The Innovation Center is a shared office space designed for entrepreneurs who need an alternative to working from home, the coffee shop, or even their own office.   It is designed to provide a productive and collaborative community with a variety of work and meeting spaces.   In addition, community groups may use free meeting space as needed.

Q: Tell me about the new public plaza.

A: A new public plaza will be created at the intersection of Austin Street and Bram Way.  It will be landscaped and have outdoor seating with decorative pavers, a new fountain and provide a space to gather informally and attend concerts, performances, fairs, or farmers markets[QM1] .

Q: Does the building comply with zoning?

A: Yes.  The building was designed to comply well within the dimensional requirements of the Mixed Use 4 Zoning District.  This site was rezoned and this zoning district was created by a unanimous 23-0 vote of the Board of Aldermen in 2012.

Q: What is the height limit?

A: The height limit in the site’s Mixed Use 4 zone is 60’ and five stories.

Q: How tall is the proposed building?

A: The building is 48’ feet tall, 20% lower than the allowed 60’ zoning height limit - three stories along Bram Way (37’ tall), and four stories along Austin Street (48’).

Q: How tall are other nearby buildings?

A: The Masonic Temple building is 71’ tall and the adjacent Swedenborgian Church is about 50’.  The Star Market across the street is about 32’ tall[QM2] .

Q: Is this project “green” or “sustainable”?

A: 28 Austin Street will be the “greenest” multifamily building ever built in Newton. It will be a healthy, solar-powered, CO2- reducing sustainable building. It will be LEED certifiable and include energy efficient, resource conserving, healthful heating and ventilating systems, materials, appliances, fixtures, lighting. It will feature green terrace areas and roof gardens, and superior window and wall insulation. There will be solar roof panels to reduce reliance on the grid, electric car charging stations to promote electric vehicle ownership, car-sharing (i.e. ZipCar), and excellent bike accommodations. Overall, its Newtonville village location provides excellent walk-ability to local markets, pharmacy, shops, restaurants, and transit.

Q: Is this a “transit-oriented development”?

A: Yes. Given the proximity of not only the MBTA Commuter Rail and bus service, but a supermarket, pharmacy, numerous shops and restaurants within walking distance, building residents will be able to choose alternatives to car travel for their work and shopping trips. The Newtonville MBTA Commuter Rail Station provides a 10 minute ride to Yawkey Station, a 15 minute ride to Boston’s Back Bay Station, and a 20 minute connection to South Station in Boston’s financial district. Newtonville is served by 26 trains/day, with 10 inbound and 16 outbound stops.

Q: Is the building fireproof?

A: Yes.  The building is fully sprinklered and is designed to meet all applicable state and local fire codes.

Q: Is the building accessible?

A: Yes.  All apartment homes will be fully accessible, elevator served from garage to all entry and living levels, and meet the all of the requirements of Massachusetts Accessibility Board and Americans with Disabilities Act.

Q: What is the estimated timeline for construction?

A: Construction will take about 12 to 14 months.  During the first four to six months, the site will be excavated and underground parking, foundations, and the first floor retail podium will be constructed.  Then GreenStaxx modules constructed in an off-site factory will arrive and be erected on site over three to four weeks.  During the remaining six months, exterior and interior construction will be completed.

Q: What is GreenStaxx construction?

A: GreenStaxx is a factory-built, modular residential construction system, where pre-fabricated components or “modules” are built off-site and rapidly assembled on site. This results in a highly-efficient construction process that reduces solid waste, increases quality, minimizes construction traffic to the site, and accelerates the construction process.

Q: What is the time savings from the GreenStaxx construction process?

A: We estimate Greenstaxx construction saves three to four months over traditional construction methods and results in a more efficient and higher quality product with better insulation and soundproofing.

Q: How will 28 Austin Street affect local businesses during construction?

A: During construction, parking will be relocated to convenient nearby locations. Through our public meeting process, we understand that maintaining convenient and ample parking during construction is crucial for continued merchant health and success. To that end, a working group consisting of representatives of local merchants, the Newtonville Area Council, the developement team, and Newton’s Transportation and Economic Development Departments has been formed and has been meeting to identify the most convenient locations for interim parking. An interim construction period parking plan will be finalized and reviewed as part of the special permit process.

Q: How will 28 Austin Street affect local businesses after construction?

A: After construction, 68 new apartment homes will create new demand for existing merchants.  The building’s new two or three small boutique retail shops will be complementary (not competitive) so Newtonville will be able to offer more options to make it a destination and keep all local businesses thriving. Streetscape and plaza amenities will encourage shoppers to linger. The location of the project between the Walnut Street shopping district and the Star Market will connect these now-separated retail areas to the benefit of all.  

Q: How will the project affect traffic in Newtonville?

A: The project’s traffic study showed virtually no impact on traffic in Newtonville. The City of Newton will confirm this finding with its own expert.

Q: Is there enough parking?

A: Both the City’s and the developer’s transportation consultant believe there is adequate parking in Newtonville to support existing merchants as well as the small shops and innovation center proposed.

Q: Is the City selling the public parking lot to a private developer?

A: No. The City will continue to own and operate the municipal parking lot.  The developer will have a 99-year lease to construct a new mixed-use residential and retail building primarily over and under the City’s parking lot.

Q: What have you changed over the last year?

A: Austin Street Partners’ plans for 28 Austin Street have changed dramatically following an extraordinary public comment process during the past 12 months.  The proposal is much improved and even more responsive to concerned Newton citizens’ wishes.  Among the major changes since the 2013 Proposal that reflect expressed public opinions:

  • Reduced residential component by 15% to 68 homes from 80
  • Increased public parking at grade to restore existing publicly accessible 127 striped spaces from 102 previously proposed -- without parking attendants or stackers
  • Reduced commercial space to 5000 sf from 9000 sf
  • Includes added “innovation center” drop-in shared office co-working space
  • Reduced overall building heightby 6’ to 48’ from 54’ – 20% below height limit of 60’ – now three and four stories
  • Removed the clock tower, created a three-story Bram Way wing and reduced the building height by 11 feet at four corners
  • Increased residential parking to 1.25/apartment from 1.0/apartment in the private and secure underground garage
  • Proposed single payment 99-year land lease rather than sale
  • Agreed to fund full $750,000 Infiltration and Inflow payment for offsite utility work

Q: Does Newton need more housing opportunities?

A: The need for more housing opportunities for Newton’s increasingly diverse residents was made clear in a recent demographic study. In May 2014, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center found:

  • Newton will need 2,230 to 3,619 new housing units by 2030 - 150 to 250 new homes each year to satisfy demand within that same period.
  • Though 1,787 housing units were built from 2000-2010, only 536 new housing units were added (as there were over 1000 teardowns)
  • In the five years 2008-2012, no new buildings with five or more dwelling units were built
  • Over 40% of households include someone over 60
  • Newton is increasingly affluent but 1/8 of households live on less than $25k/year

Q: Why Newtonville?

A: Among the thirteen villages of Newton, Newtonville offers a unique blend of shopping amenities, entertainment, and recreational options that are easy to reach by walking. The combination of a grocery store, drugstore, post office, bank, and other retailers will enable residents to meet their basic needs without using a car. Entertainment options include the New Art Center and Newton North High School theatre and music programs. Restaurants are numerous and varied as are a range of physical activities including Yoga Down Under, Get In Shape For Women, Fitness Together and the Boston Ballet School. The City’s Senior Center has a number of programs for a range of interests including an emphasis on innovative cross-generational activities. MBTA Commuter Rail provides access to Back Bay Station in Boston in 15 minutes.  Housing will enable more people to take advantage of this extraordinary -- and very walkable -- village.

Q: Who will benefit from this project?

A: Newton residents will have new housing choices. Newtonville businesses will see economic benefit from new residents. Newton citizens will benefit from an improved streetscape adjacent to the project on Austin Street and Bram Way that encourages walking and shopping with wider sidewalks, better lighting, signage, benches and landscaping. A mix of generations will benefit from an accessible and safe place to meet and socialize. The City of Newton will have a new public plaza for concerts, performances, a farmers market and outdoor activities. Young people will benefit from access to and interaction with a community that cares.

Demographic Trends and Housing in the City of Newton, Massachusetts, Dukakis Center of Urban and Regional Planning, Northeastern University, May 2014