No to Town Meeting Warrant Articles 18/19 Linden Chambers "Affordable Housing District" in Needham. And Here's Why.


Photo: TK

NEEDHAM, MA  -  The 72-unit Linden Street cluster housing and the 80-unit Chambers Street two story bricks were designed, permitted and built following Town Meeting authorizations from 1957,  1960, and 1967.  

The eleven acres were sold, for a nominal fee, from the Town to the Housing Authority, and the land included unbuildable wetlands and a former piggery.  Today, seven acres is used by Linden/Chambers - less than four acres, of which, is now called, in the latest reincarnation, the Linden Street Redevelopment.)  These parcels were first zoned as Single Residence B and General Residence, and they are zoned that way now.   In the 1950s and 60s, the Building Department reviewed the plans and granted, to the NHA, a building Permit with Variances to allow and mandate the construction of multi-family housing, plus maintenance and community buildings.  There was no Special Zoning.  There were permitted Variances.

The process, used at that time, can be used today, which is 1) first produce a design in sufficient detail, to 2) submit construction documents to the building department.  3)  Allow, next, the Zoning Department to review the plans, and 4) hold hearings, as necessary, on the actual project and the specific Variances requested.  5)  The plans are approved for Zoning, or not, for the proposed project.  6) Finally, a Building Inspector reviews the plans and issues a Permit to Build.

The process above is typical, normal, transparent and should prevail.   The only reason for approving expanded Zoning, out of order, is to preclude the objections of neighbors.  The concern is that if Zoning allows four stories, how can a neighbor object to any proposed building, on that basis.

Another question arises:  if the new Zoning, developed for this spot (even though it's not called "spot zoning,") were so good, so useful, and so necessary, then why is it not suitable for the entire Town?   Recently, the City of Cambridge developed a mid-rise apartment house of 110 single BR units for elderly, and they did it, under Zoning rules, available to developers throughout the City, and yet controllable through design overview. 

Finally, the most important reason for rejecting the creation of such a unique parcel for New Zoning is that Needham, as a Town, in the past, has witnessed "red lining" and other real estate, social, and banking machinations that only served to segregate and isolate groups of people and segments of society, based on their economic status and often on their minority characteristics.  

The original title of the parcel, under discussion, was "Low-Income Housing District."  Really?  The stigma and denigration attached to such a designation is not something Needham wants to revivify and perpetuate.  

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