A majority of Newton voters said "yes" Tuesday on a contentious ballot question, allowing their city to move forward with a controversial mixed-use housing development in the village of Upper Falls — a project some residents say is too big for the city.
The final vote was 18,450 in support to 13,398 opposed, according to the city's website.
"This is a happy night, and I'm proud of our city," said Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who supported the project. "We’re moving forward with a great project for the residents of Newton Upper Falls and for all of Newton."
Deb Crossley, councilor at-large for Ward 5, where the project is located, agrees with Fuller that the project "is really good for Newton, good for everyone in Newton." As the chair of the city's zoning and planning committee, Crossley supported the zoning changes to allow the Northland development.
"This is the direction Newton needs to go, to begin to address climate change, to begin to create affordable housing and housing opportunity period, and to begin to seriously manage and reduce the number of vehicle trips in and out of our community," she said.
According to the Boston Globe, the developer, Northland Investment Corp., spent more than 10 times as much as project opponents, contributing some $320,000 to the "yes" campaign. That's compared to the roughly $28,000 raised by opponent groups.
Late last year, after 18 months of planning discussions, city councilors approved a zoning change that would allow the project to go forward, by a vote of 17 to 7. But some residents still had concerns about the size of the "Northland" project and the traffic impacts on an already congested Needham Street, and took the unusual move to collect enough signatures for a city-wide ballot question to overturn the council's decision.
At issue, an almost 23-acre plot of land in Upper Falls, on the corner of Oak and Needham streets. Developers plan to turn it into some 800 apartments — 120 deeded below market rate and 20 earmarked for "workforce housing" — as well as 180,00 square feet of offices and 115,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. The final project would also include some 10 acres of open space, according to city officials.
"This is a great exemplar of a public process that worked," said Crossley. "At the end of the day, there's still a long process from here. We want the local community to engage in the process as the construction project moves forward, and we have a lot of work to do together."
Mayor Fuller vowed to bring the city together following the at times contentious campaign. "I will work hard to make sure we treat our neighbors with respect and ascribe good intentions and good motives regardless of which way they voted today,” she said.