By Gail Spector
Northland Investment Corporation has officially unveiled its plan to transform a significant portion of Needham Street in the N2 Innovation District into 28 acres of residential, retail and office space.
The special permit application was filed with the city in August. If approved by the Newton City Council, it would create 1.2 million square feet of retail, residential and office space.
The project -- stretching from the corner of Oak and Needham Streets to Tower Road and over to the Newton Upper Falls Greenway near Chestnut Street -- would house 822 residential units. Fifteen percent of those residences – about 123 units -- would be designated as affordable. The remaining 85 percent would be rented at market prices.
Also included are an expanded public green and a comprehensive transit plan which includes shuttle buses and new bike and walking paths potentially extending over the Charles River and into Needham Crossing.
“We’re creating a new mixed-use center along the Needham Street corridor that will create what that corridor will be for the next 50 years,” said Peter Standish, Jr., Northland’s senior vice president of development and commercial.
Northland’s Newton development will “create the anchor, the catalyst, for the area in a synergistic and integrated fashion. This doesn’t exist today, certainly, not in that area,” Standish said.
Standish believes the project will appeal to a variety of residents including young professionals who work at businesses in the N2 Innovation District; empty nesters looking to downsize but stay in the community, and younger people who might have grown up in Newton and want to stay in the city.
While most of the existing structures would be demolished, the Saco-Pettee building, the historic brick mill complex that most recently was home to the Clark USA shoe company, would be renovated to hold 180,000 square feet of office space.
Six buildings would house retail space on the first floor with residential units on the upper levels and underground parking. Residential building height would range from three to seven floors, with taller buildings sitting in the middle of the development and shorter buildings lining the rim of the property.
Residences, all rentals, would divide into about 80 studios, 380 one-bedroom, 323 two-bedroom, and 38 three-bedroom apartments.
The development would center around a village green offering just under an acre of open space, large enough to hold about 1,000 people standing or 380 yoga mats. Three small buildings holding townhouses would front the Greenway with a 3,000 square foot multi-purpose community building and playground further to the north, near Tower Road.
“We’re creating an experience for the people who work there, reside there and visit there. These integrated uses coexist to create a more unique experience,” Standish said.
The pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly design would provide two connections to the Upper Falls Greenway, the rail trail that runs parallel to Needham Street. Automobiles could enter through any of four access points: Oak Street across from Saco Street, Needham Street at Charlemont Street, Tower Road, and a new Main Street that would run east-west through the property. Charlemont Street would be extended across Needham Street to form a four-way intersection.
The project would also extend the Greenway to Needham Street. Future plans include continuing the greenway down Charlemont to Christina Street and potentially across the Charles River into the Needham Crossing section of the N2 Innovation District.
Streets on the property would be private with the infrastructure maintained by Northland.
Each apartment would have a parking space for a car and a space for a bicycle. About 300 additional bicycle spaces would be available throughout the property.
Northland’s Newton development’s full complement of amenities would include inside gathering spaces, health club-like exercise spaces, test kitchens and clubroom spaces.
A mobility hub along Needham Street would provide a café, working space and an area for commuters to wait for transportation. Northland plans to provide a shuttle service to the Newton Highlands MBTA stop, the Needham Heights commuter rail, Kendall Square in Cambridge and either North or South Station.
“We’re approaching this very holistically,” Standish said. “We have a comprehensive transit plan that includes a shuttle system that will serve various points as well as provide direct access to transit lines.”
Standish expects the LEED-certified property to be anchored by several restaurants. “We’re trying to create a location where you have this ongoing vibrancy and center of activity,” he said. “That’s what going to appeal to restaurants and retailers.”
The landscape design includes the reuse of some structural elements from the demolished buildings. Pedestrians will be able to learn about the history of the site in a Heritage Trail that includes interpretive panels about the area.
Plans also include cleaning up the invasive vegetation that surrounds the banks of the South Meadow Brook and restoring the stream bank and edges to make it visible to visitors.
If all goes according to plan, Standish expects the first residential building to go online in about four years. The planned sequenced delivery of buildings will mean that the residences won’t be fully populated for another five years after that.
The Newton City Council’s Land Use Committee will hold its first public hearing on the project on Sept. 25 at City Hall.