December 11, 2023
• The fate of Linden/Chambers lies in Needhamites’ hands, but some residents have reservations with the current plans.
Concerns over potential traffic and flooding, as well as the scale of the proposed development, dominated the joint Planning Board and Needham Housing Authority public meeting Dec. 6. Dozens attended in person and over Zoom to offer feedback before a zoning bylaw amendment for the project appears at the annual Town Meeting.
Built in the 1960s and ’70s, Linden/Chambers now needs replacing, NHA Board of Commissioners Chair Reg Foster said. The 152-unit affordable housing complex, catered toward seniors and disabled residents, is composed of 23 buildings — 18 one-story buildings at Linden Street and five two-story buildings at Chambers Street. Developers are looking to combine them into two four-story, 53-foot buildings and add an additional 95 units.
At Linden, the 72 420-square-foot studios would be replaced with 128 575-square-foot one-bedrooms and eight two-bedrooms totalling 800 square feet. The 80 units in Chambers would be increased to 111 units.
Under the proposed zoning, the development’s 20-foot front yard setback would double, and the side and rear setbacks would also increase several feet.
They’re aiming for appealing landscaping and more green space, as well as better accessibility, since the Chambers laundry rooms are located on the second floor, Foster said. Energy efficiency is also a top priority, he added.
Architect Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype created a building design that achieves those goals, Foster said, but it fails to comply with the current zoning in the High Rock neighborhood.
Redeveloping Linden/Chambers is just one of several projects that would improve conditions at NHA properties, he said.
“Most of our 115, plus or minus, physical structures are worn out,” Foster said, “and all but 20 buildings are badly in need of major investment and modernization or complete redevelopment.”
If approved at Town Meeting, the Planning Board would conduct a site plan review that summer, and the NHA would apply for funding next fall to begin construction the following year, Board Chair Adam Block said. Leading up to that vote, the Finance Committee will hold two briefings in January, and the Planning Board will hold a hearing before voting on final zoning language — along with the Select Board — by March.
Given the volume of feedback they received last week, it may be a busy next few months.
Nancy Potts lives across from Linden/Chambers in a one-story home her father built in the ’50s. A 53-foot development “would ruin the appearance of the neighborhood,” Potts said, and she fears how it may impact flooding and traffic.
“It would be like living across from a project,” she said.
Maple Street resident Danielle Rodriguez also worries about the potential impact on their stormwater management. After extensive flooding last summer, Rodriguez said the town should be prepared for similar weather events.
“It wasn’t just the August storm. There’s been other storms as well,” she said. “I don’t want them to think it was just once in 100 years, I think it’s going to happen a lot more than that.”
On the drainage issue, Block explained the development was built before the town’s stormwater management bylaw, but new projects are required to meet those regulations. The proposal also details a decrease in impervious surfaces — things like concrete and roofing that don’t absorb rain water — of about 6-8,000 square feet, BH+A Principal Dan Chen said.
But Lionel Desrosiers of Linden Street, who said he’s invested thousands of dollars into mitigating flooding at his home, said more could be done to address residents’ concerns.
“For this amount of money to be spent, we should be fixing the existing problem in addition to just saying, ‘Oh, well, we’re going to maintain the status quo, so you’re still going to flood, no problem, but we’re just not going to make your flood more,’” Desrosiers said. “‘So you’re going to get a foot of water instead of five feet of water.’”
Because it’s community housing, Linden/Chambers is not considered spot zoning, Block said. Resident Cynthia Conturie disagreed, stating there’s a legitimate concern for the amount of traffic it would bring to the area — a child was struck by a car in the neighborhood.
In 2017, a local teenager was injured in a hit-and-run at High Rock Street and Marked Tree Road, about a half mile from Linden/Chambers, though it’s unclear if this was the incident to which Conturie was referring.
“And they like to spot-redistrict in our area. They like to just ignore the needs of the people who live in that region,” Conturie said. “And again, they’re ignoring the needs of the people who live in that region by putting a four-story, city-like building in a neighborhood (with) roads that cannot accommodate that. They can barely accommodate the buses that they’ve inflicted on that area.”
Should the zoning pass at Town Meeting, engineering surveys and a traffic study will follow, Block said.
“Certainly safety is a priority for everybody,” Block said, “including pedestrians that live in the area, that play in the area, and that will also be factored into the site plan and the circulation plan and the traffic impact analysis.”
NHA conducted its own traffic study, measured during rush hour, but Foster did not elaborate on those findings. That will be shared with the Planning Board at a later date, he said.
In the current proposal, the available housing would be reserved for the elderly and disabled, but removing that age restriction is still up for discussion.
Select Board Chair Marianne Cooley, speaking for herself and not the board, said she favors removing that restriction so the NHA can “manage the backlog” of affordable housing applicants.
Town Meeting member Joe Leghorn, who lives on Linden Street, said the town should concentrate on the “common good,” rather than making decisions based on individual wants. Leghorn said he believes “a lot of careful thought has gone into this,” and issues such as drainage will be addressed further along in the process.
“But I think when we look at things, we can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good,” Leghorn said. “Linden/Chambers needs to be replaced. We need to provide habitable, modern spaces for the folks that live with us who will have the ability to get upstairs with an elevator.”
“I will be happy to see these people living in dignity and in a fresh and clean, updated, upgraded environment,” resident Joni Schockett said. “I think it’s wonderful.”
Jim Flanagan, a Town Meeting member, also supports changes to the zoning and reminded attendees that “with any change comes fear.”
“My fear is that we delay this and miss key state and federal approval deadlines, many of which are competitive,” Flanagan said. “My fear is that when I drive down Linden in 2027, there is no change other than further deterioration and greater deferred maintenance and increased costs.”