Response to “Before coronavirus, Newton development was booming. Now what?”

I sent the following letter to The Boston Globe and editor Brian McGrory after this article by John Hilliard was published on March 24, 2020. The Globe didn’t publish the letter, so I am publishing it here.

The world is facing a devastating health and economic disaster. But for Newton developer Robert Korff, everything remains “on track” for a summer 2020 opening for his Trio apartment complex, with its wine bar, dog-washing stations, and other luxury amenities.

Let’s ask some hard questions about the spate of high-end developments planned for Newton, which were not addressed in the article:

  • Now that entire sectors of the local economy have collapsed, what are the implications for jobs, salaries, and retail activity, and by extension, demand for expensive residential and commercial real estate?
  • Will the rents at these developments be lowered, or more affordable housing be made available to the legions of people who have lost their jobs?
  • What are Mayor Fuller and the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce doing to encourage landlords, banks, and developers to reduce rent and mortgage payments for residents and small businesses directly impacted by sickness or layoffs?

Longer term, Newton’s political leaders need to stand firm to prevent developers from exploiting changed economic conditions to demand additional concessions and benefits. Korff and his development partners have a track record in this regard, ripping up the negotiated 2013 Riverside agreement with the city and local residents after claiming the original plan wasn’t profitable enough. This gambit, encouraged by the mayor and many city councilors, more than doubled the size of the planned development over the objections of local residents.

It’s precedents like this that open the door for developers to extract even more favorable rights in a post-coronavirus world.

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