Linden Street residences/ Credit: Needham Observer

When Town Meeting reconvenes tonight, it will pick up where it left off on Monday and resume discussing the first of a series of articles vital to the success of the Needham Housing Authority’s ambitious plans to redevelop the 11-acre site currently home to the Linden-Chambers housing complex.

The NHA plans to replace the current 152 studio apartments with 247 new units in a multistory building. The site is now zoned Single Residence B and General Residence, neither of which allows for the multifamily units being planned.

Town Meeting will vote on the zoning rules for a proposed Affordable Housing District to create a zoning scheme that would accommodate the NHA’s plans.

Later in the meeting there will be votes on three other articles related to the project.  The NHA says all need to pass in order for its project to be viable for both regulatory and financing reasons.

The final hour-and-a-half of Monday’s session featured a far-ranging discussion that touched on aspects of all four NHA-related warrant articles.  It began with a procession of town boards — Planning Board, Finance Committee and Select Board — speaking in favor of the project and advocating for all four warrant articles to be passed.

The article, sponsored by the Planning Board, which prepared it for consideration, received votes of support from the Select Board, FinCom and the Board of Health. 

A subsequent related article is a Community Preservation Committee recommendation to provide $5.5 million in funding for eventual construction.

Notably, the only speakers who weighed in Monday night with concerns about the project are all current residents of the Linden-Chambers complex. 

When presenting the zoning article, Planning Board Chair Adam Block characterized the NHA as Needham’s principal provider of deeply discounted, subsidized public housing.

“This recommended zoning has been planned and vetted to advance redevelopment that is necessary to provide housing for our neighbors who are most in need,” he said.

Anticipating concerns about the impact of the sizable project in a residential neighborhood and across the street from the High Rock School, Block said the Planning Board has ample regulatory authority to mitigate that impact.

“Under the town’s very robust site plan review process for projects of this scale, plans are vetted by multiple town departments, such as Building, Engineering, Design Review, Public Health, Fire and Police,” he said.

Block said the board will look at structural design, landscaping, site circulation, traffic, public safety and stormwater management, among other issues.

Speaking for the Finance Committee, Jim Healy said, “The town has a duty and a moral obligation to make sure this housing is appropriate and fitting the needs of all of our citizens.

“This article is an absolute key piece of the puzzle, as it provides the zoning the Needham Housing Authority needs, as of right, in order to be able to construct the proposed housing project.”

And the Select Board’s Cathy Dowd, who also chairs the town-financed Community Housing Oversight Committee, pointed to the deteriorated condition of the current units.

“The Linden Street units are all over 50 years old, and they are simply worn out,” said Dowd, noting they are undersized, have no elevators, are poorly ventilated and lack insulation and air conditioning. “The residents deserve better,” she said.

While one resident, Helen Giragosian, described the project as “a dream come true,” three residents pushed back. One defended the aesthetics of the current complex and others said nearby wetlands make the site a bad choice for large-scale, multistory construction.

“It’s not about preservation. There’s no preservation here. It’s a teardown,” said Ross Donald, a Chambers Street resident who has made two unsuccessful runs for the NHA Board of Commissioners, including in last month’s election when he campaigned against the plan.

Donald said he’d prefer to maintain the cluster housing that currently exists, not the four-story building that is planned. 

His fellow NHA tenants, Marlene Costa and James Burke, argued the site would be too disruptive to the residential neighborhood in terms of stormwater damage, traffic and other impacts.

Should Town Meeting pass the new zoning, it would move to approving the map for the new district, the CPC funding article and a third article that would amend deed restrictions that specify the property be used for housing for older adults.

The NHA and its supporters assert all four articles are needed for the plan to be competitive with other plans seeking scarce and complex funding sources that will be tapped for the $80 million-$90 million required to complete Phase One. The $5.5 million in CPC funds is expected to be the town’s final financial contribution, with the balance coming from an array of funding sources, including low-income tax credits.

Town officials have said the CPC funds would not be released until the project is fully funded.

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