The former Hillcrest Gardens

It’s been three years since Hillcrest Gardens at 888 Great Plain Ave. closed its doors. The plant nursery owned by Joe Quinnan was a colorful scene of floral bounty in Needham center for nearly 40 years. That scene could transform into a rental apartment and retail building if the plans of Needham developer Jay Derenzo move forward. 

This property and the zoning change being proposed offer an example of the impact the MBTA Communities Law could have. 

“We believe that 888 Great Plain Ave. is the perfect location for mixed-use, multifamily housing,” said Derenzo, whose company, J. Derenzo Properties, LLC., purchased the property from Quinnan. “There are so many neighborhood amenities in close walking distance to the property.” 

His plan, which he has shared at several neighborhood meetings, calls for 26 mixed-income apartments of one, two and three bedrooms, including four affordable units and one accessible unit. The building would be three stories in the front with a fourth story set back on the front, back and sides, and three retail spaces at street level. Parking for 45 cars and an EV charging station would be located under the building. The units would rent at the market rate.

The location is currently designated single-family zoning, so Derenzo is seeking a change to zoning bylaws for his proposal. The process will require a series of steps, including a public hearing before the Planning Board, and approvals by the Planning Board, the Design Review Board and ultimately Town Meeting. If approved it would likely not be until spring 2024.

It’s also possible the site could be rezoned along with many others via the MBTA process, which could extend the possible rezoning decision to the fall of 2024.

“We know there are many empty nesters in Needham who would love to sell their large homes and stay in Needham in an apartment close to town,” said Derenzo. “This housing community will also provide affordable housing and an accessible unit that are greatly needed in Needham.” 

Under the MBTA law, similar initiatives might be possible in other parts of town where such mixed-use developments are currently prohibited but would become allowed by right.

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