Traffic Trouble Persists in Plans for Former Omni Foods Site
Brookline neighbors win concession from developer of Route 9 property, but concerns remain.
The redeveloped Omni Foods site won't have access to Heath Street, but that's not the end of traffic concerns around the massive Route 9 project—not by a long shot.
More than 80 citizens packed Newton City Hall last night for a public hearing on the proposed Chestnut Hill Square development. Along with several Newton aldermen and Planning Board members, they said they were worried about the project's effects on traffic and its overall design.
"The Route 9 traffic experience is essentially a zoo during morning drive and afternoon drive," said Charles Shapiro, Ward 6 alderman. "How will that be any different?"
New England Development has proposed the mixed-use project at 200-230 Boylston Street in Chestnut Hill, an 11-acre site near the Brookline border. Plans call for four buildings that would house 102,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 60,000 square feet for medical offices, a 51,000-square-foot supermarket, a 30,000-square-foot health club and 91 residential units.
Neighbors win concession
One of the sticking points in the developer's discussions with Brookline residents—and some of their Newton neighbors—was a driveway at the rear of the property that would have sent cars out onto Florence Street, which becomes Heath Street at the Brookline border. Many feared the project would lead to significantly more traffic on the residential street, and they scored a victory when New England Development attorney John Twohig said there would be no Florence Street access.
"Any development on this site is going to increase traffic in the area," said Janice Kahn of the Chestnut Hill Village Alliance, a neighborhood group of Brookline and Newton residents. "It's just common sense. But the quality of life of the people who live in the area matters."
The Florence Street decision did not sit well with others, however. Without access to Florence Street, some said the development's parking lot would become congested. Others said it would just make traffic worse elsewhere, especially on Route 9.
The developer has proposed several changes to Route 9 and major intersections designed to lessen the traffic burden. Among them: cutting the median in front of the site to allow easier access to the Chestnut Hill Mall, widening the highway to three lanes in each direction at Langley Road and installing traffic lights at Parker Street. They also plan to reconstruct the interchange at Hammond Pond Parkway to allow left turns and eliminate the "crazy U-turns" drivers have to make now, said Doug Karp, executive vice president of New England Development.
Several Newton aldermen spoke out against the site plan, which pushes open space to the back of the lot and puts the buildings around the perimeter, overlooking the parking lot and multi-level parking structure.
Susan Albright, Ward 2 alderman at large, asked if there was still time to consider underground parking instead. She was one of several officials who described the center of the site as a "sea of cars."
"There's so many lost opportunities," she said.
Victoria Danberg, Ward 6 alderman at large, agreed.
"One of the worst uses of urban/suburban land is surface parking," she said. "I don't see a good plan here for usable space."
The site currently houses five abandoned and deteriorating buildings, including the former Omni Foods supermarket and another building clearly visible from Route 9. It was the site of an office-park fire that killed five people in 2000.
The Newton aldermen closed their public hearing at the end of last night's meeting and scheduled an Oct. 19 session to go over their concerns with the developer in more depth.