This summer was a busy one relative to the CPA acquisition at 76 Webster Park, adjacent to the Dolan Pond Conservation Area, with a number of hearings and meetings on the agenda to keep the project moving forward.
The aldermanic board order for the project specified that at least 2/3 of the property be open space and that up to 1/3 be devoted to community housing. The original 1925 Forte house was to be used by the Newton Housing Authority and an additional two units would be built by Habitat for Humanity. The original plan and board order envisioned the additional units attached to the original house.
This past spring, the Conservators, working in conjunction with Habitat, NHA, the Planning Department, Conservation Commission, and others, developed a new plan that makes much better use of the space. Rather than attached units, it divides the property into three lots: an open space parcel, a front lot where the original house is located, and a rear lot for the new Habitat units. Through conservation restrictions on the outer portions of these lots, the 2/3 open space objective is achieved while still meeting required lot sizes for zoning purposes. This plan was presented at a neighborhood meeting in the spring to favorable reviews. The revised plan has since been approved by the Conservation Commission and CPC and is currently before the Board of Aldermen.
The project was then brought before the Historic Commission, which approved the demolition of the existing garage and hen house which was required for placement of a driveway to the rear lot. They also approved plans for renovation of the original house and the design of the new units, a single building which nicely echoes the look of the original house. The Habitat duplex was designed by volunteer architect Norberto Leon and, with slight modifications, may become the prototype for other Habitat projects.
The driveway plan was also approved by the Newton Fire Department. Mark Welch, Director of Urban Forestry for Newton , visited the site and determined the number of trees can be removed and how many replacement trees would be required according to the Tree Preservation Ordinance. The landscape plan was modified to suit these requirements.
The new plan will require a special permit from the Board of Aldermen , which was filed in June , and a public hearing was scheduled in July before the Land Use Committee of the Board of Aldermen. The Newton Conservators entered into Purchase and Sale Agreements with both the NHA and Habitat for Humanity for their respective lots prior to the special permit hearing. Thanks to Bill Shaevel, of the law firm of Shaevel and Krems, for his continuing pro bono work on this project. This would need to occur before the Land Use Committee could make a final ruling on the special permit.
If the special permit is approved, then the property can be subdivided and considered by Land Court . Habitat was hoping to break ground this fall but it appears with all the approvals required that it may be sometime over the winter. This will be a significant Habitat for Humanity project in that it is a pioneering effort in the western suburbs of Boston . Volunteers will be solicited when we get closer to a build date.
The Forte property was successfully acquired from the estate of Irene Forte through the CPA (Community Preservation Act) process. Last May, a CPA proposal was put forward jointly by the Newton Conservators, the Newton Conservation Commission, and the Newton Housing Authority. The proposal was approved by the Community Preservation Committee and subsequently by the aldermanic CPA and Finance Committees. Last July, the full Board of Aldermen approved the project. Last December, title on the property passed to the Newton Conservators with agreement that the property would be subdivided into an open space and a housing portion.
The board order from the aldermen specified that at least two thirds of the property would remain open space. The remaining third of the property would be for community housing. The original Forte house would be totally renovated with NHA funds and an additional building with two units would be constructed by Habitat for Humanity as owner occupied housing.
Norberto Leon, an architect, has been working pro bono on the project. Since the closing in December, he has been crafting a site plan to accommodate the needs of housing and open space interests. At this point, the plan has gone through five iterations with many meetings involving the Planning Department, the Conservation Commission, the Housing Authority, and the Newton Conservators.
Although the initial plans called for the new units to be connected to the original Forte house, the consensus, for many reasons, was that a separate building containing two units and a separate lot made the most sense. An attached building would require the loss of two large oaks behind the Forte house and appeared to be more problematic in meeting existing zoning requirements. The current plan calls for the creation of two, approximately 10,000 sq. ft. lots, one for NHA and one for Habitat. However, this combined square footage exceeds the one third requirement. To meet this requirement, each lot will have a conservation restriction on a portion of the lot, which effectively adds a portion of each lot to the open space lot to be under the auspices of the Conservation Commission. This brings the required open space area up to over the two thirds requirement.
A very important neighborhood meeting to review the proposed site plan for the property at 76 Webster Park took place on Wednesday evening, May 5 at 79 Webster Park. Thanks are due to Linda and David Shapiro for hosting the meeting. The meeting was chaired by Harvey Epstein of the Newton Housing Authority. Norberto Leon, pro bono architect for Habitat for Humanity brought plans for the new Habitat building. John Judge, Director of Habitat of Humanity for Greater Boston also attended.
Flyers about the meeting were posted at Dolan Pond and were distributed to each house on Webster Park. In addition, the Globe West of the previous Sunday published notice of the meeting. Attendees from the immediate neighborhood included Linda and David Shapiro, Gregory Zaytman, Danny Tong, Larry Bressler, and Judy Schaefer. Others attending from the Newton Conservators were Carol Corbett and Duane Hillis.
Harvey provided some background on the project and showed the new site plan, which had gone through five iterations as a result of presentations to the Conservation Commission and meetings at the Planning Department and with the Newton Conservators. Copies of a letter from Martha Horn (for the Conservation Commission) were distributed which approved the current site plan as the plan of record based on approval of the plan by the Conservation Commission at an earlier meeting. The new site plan was distributed in paper form as were a copy of the plan for the Habitat units, both exterior and interior.
One goal for the siting and design of the Habitat building was to make it blend in well with the existing house. The siding on the new building will be a relatively new building material known as Hardee board. An article was provided describing this new material which has been quite accepted in historical circles. It comes in a variety of colors and is very durable. The color is likely to be matched somewhat with the existing Forte house. The interior design is very efficient and the rooms themselves are not large. The idea for Habitat houses is to build a quality house.
The Habitat building containing two units is stylistically quite similar to the existing Forte house which is in a so called “Arts and Crafts” style. The rooflines are very similar. The Habitat contains a small front porch with pillars very similar to the existing house. The windows have been specified as wooden in a “6 over 1” pane configuration, just like in the original house. Storage will be available in the attic via a pull down access. There will be a restriction on the new building such that decks or additions may not be added. However there is the possibility that each of the two units may have a small storage structure. A landscaping plan done by John Judge (Habitat director John Judge’s father) was also unveiled. It includes replacement trees for those taken down and shrubbery around the house. Mr. Judge is a respected landscape architect and has done a lot of work in the Newton area.
The house has been sited to minimize the amount of trees that need to be taken down. The existing garage and shed will be taken down and the driveway (12 feet wide) will pass through that location. Parking for the main house is actually behind that house and the driveway for the Habitat unit makes a turn to angle away from the Dolan Pond boundary. There is a requirement that there be parking for 2 cars for each unit. These spaces were designed as side by side rather than end to end to minimize the temptation to park on the street. The Fire Department has given their approval to the driveway scheme. The scheme virtually makes parked cars invisible from the street. There will be a relatively low fence (3 feet) to make the boundary clear. It was suggested by abutter Danny Tong that a fence be added to the boundary in the rear of the conservation area to make it clear to those on the conservation land where the public access ends.
The residents are required to put in 300 hours in the construction process and an additional 100 hours in training. They will have a huge personal investment. The residents are chosen based on certain eligibility requirements (max income as a certain percentage of mean income for Boston area).
There will be a hearing for a special permit needed. In addition, due to proximity to wetlands, a formal approval of the final plan will be required from the Conservation Commission. The project may also go before the Historic Commission. The subdivision must be approved in Land Court and the Conservation Restriction will have to go to the state and before the aldermen as well. So there is still a bit of regulatory action required to make this project a reality. Habitat would like to break ground in October of this year.
It is hoped that this project will be a model Habitat project for the suburbs. Most the Habitat projects around Boston have been in the city. During the DNC, there may be a work day at one of the Boston projects with Jimmy Carter and others.
Dolan Pond Conservation Area overview