March 2, 2023
• The Needham Select Board met with Northland Residential to discuss the Purchase and Sale Agreement and the Development Agreement for the Castle Farm Property. Needham plans to buy some of the land to be used as public open space.
reported by Yuxiao Yuan
At its meeting on Tuesday, February 28th, the Select Board convened with Northland Residential, a Concord-based developer, to discuss the development agreement and the purchase and sale agreement concerning the acquisition of the Castle Farmland. Last year, Town Meeting authorized the town to borrow two and a half million dollars for the purchase of approximately 34 acres of open space, which is part of the Castle Farm property adjacent to the town-owned Ridge Hill Reservation. Many town officials and town meeting members perceive the acquisition as a great opportunity, as it will offer public access to a sizable meadow land leading up to the Charles River. However, the town must collaborate with Northland Residential, the other buyer, to fulfill the deal.
According to the agreements, Northland will acquire the entire Castle Farm property for $21 million, and then sell a portion of the land to the town for two and a half million dollars to ensure the preservation of the land. Northland has agreed in the contract not to develop the two parcels along Charles River Street prior to their sale to the town. The town also holds the option to purchase these parcels from Northland at the market price of $5 million, if Northland fails to complete the full acquisition. In this scenario, if the town decides not to pursue the acquisition, Northland would be allowed to build five single family homes on these parcels.
In accordance with the current zoning regulation, on the remaining 28 acres of the property, Northland intends to build a clustered townhouse condominium neighborhood consisting of 70 units. The agreements would establish a 200 foot forested buffer area from the neighborhood to Charles River Street and a 100 foot buffer to the Whitman Road neighborhood.
“The intent of the buffers is to create dense vegetative screening from the abutting uses, and I intend to comply with that,” said Northland Residential President and CEO, Jack Dawley. “But to have it so restrictive at this point in the document before design development, engineering drawing has been processed and submitted to the Z.B.A. and adjudicated, is premature.”
The agreements also state that five percent, or four of the units, will be set aside as affordable for households earnng no more than eighty percent of the area medium income. This development proposal has caused notable apprehension among nearby residents. At the community meeting Northland held in January to collect feedback from the public, attendees voiced concerns about a range of issues such as traffic, congestion, water and sewer infrastructure, and road safety. At the February 28th Select Board meeting, one neighbor, Andrea Danenberg, said the agreement failed to address the concerns residents previously raised.”The draft development agreement does not demonstrate any substantive changes made in light of the thoughtful questions and concerns presented by my neighbors.
During the meeting, all the attending Select Board members expressed the support of the items listed in the agreements. Some members explained the Zoning Board of Appeals, or ZBA, would serve as the permitting authority for Northland’s future development, and many of the concerns raised by residents would be addressed through the ZBA’s permitting process.
Matthew Borrelli stressed, “This agreement is a roadmap for us to go to the ZBA. It’s very tight with logistics that the ZBA would not really care about because it’s beyond their purview. In other words, how do the ANR lots get transferred? When do they get transferred?
What happens if if this falls through? Do they still get–so, it’s those nuts and bolts that are outside of what the ZBA would be looking for. That being said, we do have buffer language as you discussed in there, and it’s the intent of myself, and I know this board, to follow up on that. And I think when you get before the ZBA, you’ll have a peer review, and say, ‘Okay, you know what? I know you want to put your drainage there, but could you put it there and add some trees?’ And there’ll be that negotiation back and forth at that time.”
“And I think this board, whatever can be done for buffers to maximize those is absolutely at the at the forefront of our minds,” Borrelli continued.”Things like density and traffic, top of our mind as well, but I know the ZBA is more than capable of dealing with those issues and
having experts look at those issues.”
The board will vote on agreements on Monday, March 6th.