Jack Dawley, president and CEO Northland Residential/ Credit: Northland Residential

The casually dressed visitor from Concord took a seat in the rear of Powers Hall at Special Town Meeting Monday and quietly observed as the fate of his proposed multi-million dollar project hung in the balance.

When he departed more than three hours later, Jack Dawley, president and CEO of Northland Residential, knew he would likely be back in Needham with some frequency after Town Meeting overwhelmingly extended the lifeline the project required.

The Observer followed up with Dawley to discuss the combined open space preservation/housing development project his firm is proposing for the Foster property off Charles River Street.

At Town Meeting, were there times you felt the need to correct the record?

Yeah, there were.

But one of the speakers did a nice job of saying it wasn’t a vote to create new zoning. It wasn’t a vote to rezone that portion of Needham or that particular property. It wasn’t a vote to allow 70 units or 60 units or 80 units at any percent of affordability.

It was a vote to determine whether the town felt the objective of acquiring a substantial portion of the property was in the best interests of the town and should be pursued.

If the vote had been no, would you have walked away?

Most likely, yes.

Now that it’s a yes, what are your next steps?

We’ve been in a pause mode since last spring, both on our end and with the Foster family. The next steps, which have already commenced, involve engagement — or re-engagement — with the trustees to structure a financial transaction and a timeline to bring a zoning article to Town Meeting in either the spring of 2024 or fall of 2024 if that much time is needed.

What would follow, maybe with a bit of an overlap, is a re-engagement with the Select Board and the drawing in of the Planning Board on the drafting and the finalization of a development agreement.

The land has yet to be sold. Is there a point where that has to be finalized for other things to proceed?

Typically, these are contingent agreements. An agreement is reached in which the price is contingent on how the zoning turns out. It’s a forward-looking agreement.

What will be in the development agreement?

It provides a skeleton by which a zoning bylaw would be written. We have an agreement on file, but the Planning Board hasn’t been part of that. They need to be brought into that conversation, in my opinion.

The neighborhood was involved in that conversation when it was before the Select Board, but they need to be brought back into the conversation.  The final form has to take into consideration as many of the stakeholder interests as it can.

What will the zoning you are seeking look like?

I have not spoken to the Planning Board so I’m ahead of my skis here, but if I were to be asked about taking a first step for drafting a zoning bylaw, there’s a model, which I created with an attorney in Milton and its Planning Board, that has worked very well.

Observer: Milton’s zoning by-laws contain a Great Estate Planned Unit Development, which refers to “a planned unit development . . . in which residential and open space uses are integrated.” That zoning was applied to Northland’s Wolcott Woods development, pictured below:

Credit: Northland Residential

And you’ll be talking to the neighbors and others in town?

It’s going to be a long process. It’s going to be a long journey — as it should be. That will involve a very deliberate and open assessment of the broad opportunity and the associated impacts, which includes the development.

The impacts are broad. They always are broad. The impacts are to immediate neighbors, to the town overall, to the environment, traffic and others.

I’m confident that concerns about traffic, or about the water quality of the Charles River or the concerns of the neighbors can be heard in a productive way. They can be considered and can be addressed —  maybe not to everybody’s satisfaction, but in a fair and reasonable way they can be addressed.

In Milton, there were lots of meetings, there were coffee shop meetings, there were Council on Aging meetings. You name it, there were meetings.

You have to listen. You have to build trust.

And you’ll be talking to the Fosters.

I reached out to them at 6:17 Tuesday morning.

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