After numerous public meetings, hearings and discussions about the site, some Newton aldermen and members of the public had a chance Tuesday night to hear initial plans for a MBTA parking garage at the Riverside Station on Grove Street.
The garage, although technically an MBTA project, is a crucial piece to BH Normandy's proposed Riverside Station mixed-use development.
"[The garage] consolidates the surface parking of the lot into a compact site that is close to the station for convenience and safety of the patrons," said MBTA Director of Facilities and Transit Oriented Development Gretchen Von Grossman. "It creates the opportunity for new development."
Following requests from aldermen to attend a public meeting, Von Grossman and MBTA officials answered questions during a Land Use Committee public hearing Tuesday night. The hearing, which was continued from October, included discussion of the Riverside project as well as changes to the Hotel Indigo site next door.
Developer BH Normandy is currently proposing a mixed-use project for the Riverside Station site that would include a five-story, 331,000-square-foot residential building with 290 housing units as well as a 10-story, 225,000-square-foot office building, 20,000 square feet of retail space and 8,000 square feet of community space.
As part of that proposed project, the MBTA has agreed to build a six-floor parking garage at the Riverside Station. If the mixed-use project receives approval from the city, the garage must be built first to replace the parking lot on which the new development would be constructed.
But unlike the mixed-use project, the garage structure is on land zoned as "public use" and is therefore exempt from land use regulations. According to Ward 3 Alderman-at-Large and Land Use Chairman Ted Hess-Mahan, the garage site plan does not need a vote of approval from the aldermen.
According to Von Grossman, the garage would be an "intermodal" facility, with bus access and other T operations on the first floor and parking spaces on floors two through six. Its footprint would be roughly located in the space of the current parking lot that is closest to the Riverside T platform.
The garage would have around 1,000 spaces, which is the current capacity of the two Riverside lots, MBTA officials said.
Although MBTA officials emphasized the garage design is in its early stages, some features that may be considered include bicycle parking space, Zipcars and charging stations for electric cars. The second floor of the garage would also connect to the proposed 8,000-square-foot community center.
The exterior design of the garage was not ready to present Tuesday night.
"We have been working with the T on the project and the garage," said Steve Buchbinder, an attorney representing BH Normandy. "We haven't tackled the exterior of the garage yet."
The designers working with BH Normandy and the mixed-use project are also working with the MBTA on the garage design, Buchbinder said.
Once the exterior designs start to come together, the MBTA will solicit community input and use the feedback to help design a project that works for the community, Buchbinder said.
The garage will take between 14-18 months to construct, MBTA officials said, and during that time parking would be limited to just the larger Riverside lot (closest to Hotel Indigo). More interim parking options may be available, but a parking management plan has not yet been put together.
Overall, the garage will cost around $30-35 million, MBTA officials said.
As for the funding for the garage, the developer has agreed to cover some costs, but both the MBTA and Buchbinder said a large share would come from state and federal grant programs.
However, several aldermen shared concerns about the state's commitment to funding the project.
"The state is looking to see if this project has legs," Buchbinder said in response to the concerns. "If it has legs, there are people ready to go and put the funding in place."
If the entire mixed-use project passes, the garage would be part of the first phase of construction, along with the new front entrance off Grove Street and the widening of Grove Street. The second phase would include the construction of the residential and office buildings as well as other traffic measures.
In addition to the garage presentation, MBTA officials also answered several questions that were presented at the first part of the public hearing held in early October.
One major topic of discussion was the question of direct access from Route 128 through the back of the site, a measure both officials and residents say is necessary for the development to work.
However, MBTA Assistant General Manager for Development Mark Boyle told the aldermen and residents that an access road through the back of the site is not possible due to issues with MBTA operations as well as safety.
Several aldermen urged the MBTA to walk the site again with state and local officials as well as conduct a thorough assessment of the area to determine whether an access road could cut through.
"There are residents that are going to have to live with this," said Ward 4 Alderman Jay Harney. "There’s the developers and the MBTA that are going to make a lot of money -- yet the residents are the ones that are going to be negatively impacted by this."