To developers, the vast parking lot at the MBTA’s Riverside terminal should be one of Greater Boston’s best transit-oriented opportunities.
Normandy Real Estate Partners sure thought so. But the New Jersey firm’s project has been stalled for years, and the company now owes $1.6 million in back rent to the T, a debt that grows by about $82,000 a month. Both sides were called in to a Newton City Council hearing last week to explain the situation.
Normandy is crafting a new plan with Mark Development — best-known in Newton for its efforts to reshape Washington Street — that would more than double the size of the nearly 600,000-square-foot proposal that was approved in 2013. The key to unlocking the site: the Hotel Indigo property next door. With the additional land, Normandy and Mark envision a complex with up to 1.5 million square feet, spanning about 15 acres.
The new Riverside complex could be the biggest project Newton has seen in recent memory: a collection of several buildings that would include an office tower, a hotel, hundreds of apartments, and a garage that can serve Green Line riders. The developers are considering a direct highway connection to minimize the additional traffic on Grove Street, which passes by an elementary school and through two residential areas.
“The state has been a great partner in working with us to reshape this project into something that is really going to be the premier mixed-use, transit-oriented development in the entire region,” said Robert Korff, chief executive at Wellesley-based Mark Development.
It turned out that the earlier Riverside project wasn’t large enough to be financially feasible after it was pared back from an even earlier version, said Jamie Nicholson, a senior vice president with Normandy. The hotel site, he said, should provide the scale and additional access it needs to be economically viable.
The new project’s dimensions and size are still being determined. Nicholson said he plans to submit a special permit request to the City Council within the next three to six months. By then, he said, Normandy and Mark will have resolved the lease payment issues with the T.
The developers are seeking support at City Hall, where the project might run into some opposition. City Councilor Lenny Gentile has kept a watchful eye on the property for the past decade. He says the project’s new size won’t sit well with neighbors, and argues that the T should put the project out to bid again.
“They’re not being very realistic about what people are willing to accept or what’s fair to the area,” said Gentile, who lives nearby. “I believe something should happen there. We’ve got to be open to listening to other proposals, but not a proposal that more than doubles what was already approved.”
Korff, meanwhile, says Mark and Normandy represent the most appropriate development team, in part because they control the hotel property.
For now, at least, the T is sticking with Normandy — and its new partner — although a T spokeswoman says the agency is keeping its options open.
Newton-Needham Regional Chamber president Greg Reibman said he’s eager to see buildings take shape on the lot. The area needs more apartments to satisfy employers’ workforce housing needs, he said, and a direct access road could help alleviate traffic concerns.
“This is a perfect location,” Reibman said. “This place is the poster child for smart growth. There is nowhere else within I-95, on this side of Quincy, that intersects with the T that is so readily available.”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.