Developing 50 Rowe St.–local question, wider impact

Taken narrowly, not only could a housing decision have a local impact, but it could set a precedent with wide implications. Here’s an Auburndale example:

The facts
A developer has requested a special permit for 50-52 Rowe St., a 19,000+ square foot lot zoned SR3 (single family) but with an existing 2-family structure–what is called a “non-conforming” use. The developer wants to add to the existing building and also build a new structure, another 2-family, for a total of four units.

As I understand it, the developer has met with the historical commission and has submitted a proposed design that preserves the character of the existing 1860 building while adding a new structure with similar architectural character. The developer has applied for the necessary City permits and an initial public hearing has been held, with the next session scheduled for September 27, 2016.

Neighborhood reaction
Neighbors of the property have responded with varying opinions. I have not done an exhaustive survey, but here are some anecdotal (paraphrased) results:

  1. The City should not allow an additional 2-family. Single-family zoning ought to mean something. It would be OK to rebuild the barn/garage building that was torn down recently, but not for residences.
  2. The City needs more housing; the lot is large enough for another building, so why not?
  3. If the City allows 4 units on a lot zoned single-family, that would set a precedent. There are at least a half dozen nearby lots* zoned single family and larger than 50-52 Rowe St. With a precedent from Rowe St. how would the City deny developers wanting to put multiple units on those lots?
  4. Wouldn’t it be better to have another 2-family at 50-52 Rowe and elsewhere, to increase housing stock rather than 5 story apartment buildings that change the character of the community?
  5. Where can the need for affordable housing be worked into this type of situation?
  6. What can a developer do by-right on a property that is already non-conforming?
  7. For years, landscaping and construction vehicles used to park on that lot. Has an environmental evaluation been made to determine whether the site requires remediation?

What’s next
The developer is reaching out to the neighborhood to have a meeting on the site.

Here’s a link to the Planning Department memo for the City Council’s Land Use Committee.

The Land Use Committee page on Current Special Permits has the architectural plans and more, scroll down at www.newtonma.gov/gov/aldermen/special_permits/special_permits_2016.asp

There are many many competing interests in this situation. I don’t know what the best outcome is, but I do want the City to think broadly and deeply about the precedent this case will set for other potential cases.

*single-family lots > 19,000 square feet zoned SR3 at 387, 413, 435, 440, 443 and 454 Wolcott St.

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1 Comment on "Developing 50 Rowe St.–local question, wider impact"

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Julia Malakie

I’m of the opinion that single-family zoning ought to mean something, and also that it’s better no to have every plot built to the maximum density mathematically possible. We’ve lost too much green space already, and more units will only add to traffic in this already dense area.

Further, granting a Special Permit in this situation basically amounts to ‘spot zoning’ which I thought was supposed to be a bad thing. It would also mean windfall profits for the developer at the expense of the taxpayer, since additional residential units won’t pay for themselves in taxes vs cost of services.

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