The Orr Block ???

The Orr block.  Is it bad theater or local politics?

Theater: The Orr Block, sub title Washington Place

The music, a revival of an old children’s song;  “Did you ever see a developer go this way and that way, and this way and that way; did you ever see a developer go this way and that.”

The book, an adaptation from Dr. Benjamin Spock’s 1946 book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Carethe chapter on how to deal with a child who has a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way?

The script, from the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, “Who blinked first?”

The choreography, the City Council stepping all over themselves trying to “Save a project” that Newtonville Neighbors would like rejected and resubmitted in a modified version, a type of repeal and replace.  Take out the bad, high buildings, and keep the good, low income housing and commercial space.

When a developer can build the same number of square feet under the current zoning yet wants a new zoning district to build 5 stories instead of 3 or 4 stories next to single and two family residences, you have to wonder, “What’s going on?”

Oh yes, we have to write in the scene where the developer overpays for the land and can use that fact to ask for relief from the City Council, but not on his 40B application.

What are the problems with the Orr Block?

The developer wants to change the zone to MU4, and requests over 20 waivers of the new zone requirements.

The square footage requested by Korff can be built under the existing BU1 & BU2 zoning.

Newton has a limited number of business districts, and cannot afford to set a precedent for losing commercial tax revenue by rezoning the site to an MU4 zone for housing.  Korff’s plan is to change the commercial use above the 1st floor to residential use.

The abutters continue to be willing to negotiate with the developer. The parties were very close to a compromise before Korff chose to end negotiations.

A fifth story is not required to achieve the aesthetic goal of including a tower at the corner of Washington and Walnut Street.  According to Article 1.5.4 of the Newton Zoning Ordinance, Towers, spires, domes and ornamental features are not calculated toward the height of a building, provided “No space above the maximum height shall be habitable.”

Korff includes Bailey Place in his land area calculations.  This is an appealable error.

The Council refuses to accept arguments relating to overpayment for the site yet it accepts arguments that Korff cannot afford to reduce the height, mass, and density of the proposal.

Korff could increase the amount of commercial space on the site by dedicating space on the second floor to a co-working use for shared office space, similar to We Work (–MA).  This type of office space would not require as much specialized construction or related costs as a traditional office building.  The leasing of co-working space on the site could also be a way to provide an opportunity for tenants, neighbors and those who have been leasing office space at the Orr Block to continue to work in the new development.

There is an inventive way around the limit on the number of units specified in the ordinance.

The developer and the city have minimized the significance of the scale and density of the proposed development on the Newtonville Local Historic.

The neighborhood is strongly opposed to a monolithic 5 story building in their back yard.

Peter F. Harrington


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Newtonites are starting to understand that our city is terribly deficient in resources:
our infrastructure is a mess, our commercial income is way down to 16% and the budget is strained, our public transportation is poor, traffic is becoming worse by the day, and our schools are full up and many need repairs. These components need to be healthy for a successful city. The idea of adding more people to Newton with any large scale housing builds until these things are in order only benefits developers and those they sprinkle with their enticements.
It is exactly like inviting people to stay at your house when the toilets and refrigerator are broken. How do you think your guests will feel when you fail to deliver on your sterling reputation? The often quoted but rarely read Comprehensive Plan says it in Bullet number 1: “Repair existing infrastructure before building anew: “Fix it First;”. For certain the Orr Block, Austin Street, and the Needham proposals all will be good for somebody, but it won’t be Newtonites.