Staples - Craft Farm 1615 Beacon

Issue summary

The Suzuki Music School has purchased the property and will convert it to a music school and pre school

ZBA Hearing Begins Thursday November 17th, 7pm at City Hall (City Council Chambers)

11/10/16 Planning Dept. Memo to ZBA Regarding 1615 Beacon St. Comprehensive Application

The developer filed a 40B comprehensive permit application with the Newton Zoning Board of Appeals on October 21, 2016. The ZBA will open the hearing on this project on November 17th, 7pm at City Hall. Residents will have an opportunity for public comment. Residents can also submit written comments to the ZBA via Adrianna Henriquez of the Newton Planning Dept.  Email or mail to the Planning Department, 1000 Commonwealth Ave., Newton 02459 Attn: Adrianna Henriquez. The complete ZBA application with the most recent plans can be found here.

Mass Historical Commission Determination of Adverse Effect and MHC Consultation Process

As required by state law, M.G.L. ch. 9, §27C, the developer filed a Project Notification Form (PNF) with the Massachusetts Historical Commission on September 13, 2016.  The MHC review process requires state funding agencies to consult with MHC whenever they may support a project that could have an adverse effect on a property listed on the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places. On October 6, 2016, MHC issued a letter determining that the proposed three-story residential apartment building would constitute an "adverse effect" (950 CMR 71.05(c)) on the Staples-Craft-Wiswall Farmhouse "through the introduction of visual elements that are out of character with and would alter the setting of this State Register property. The proposed new construction size and massing is overwhelming in relation to the historic farmhouse.  The new construction encroaches on the historic farmhouse and detracts from its historic landscape and setting."

This determination of adverse effect triggers a consultation process whereby MHC will consult with the developer, the Newton Historic Commission and other interested parties to try to come up with alternatives that would minimize or mitigate the adverse effect of the proposal.  This process includes opportunity for public input and could include a public informational meeting. For more information on this process consult the MHC regulations.  The MHC consultation process must commence within 15 days of the adverse determination letter (October 21), unless the parties agree to extend the time frame. We do not have any information as to whether the consultation process has started, but we will provide updates here as soon as we learn anything.

Mass Housing Partnership Project Eligibility Letter

Mass Housing Partnership issued the Project Eligibility Letter on September 28, 2016, which allowed the developer to file an application to the Newton Zoning Board of Appeals.  MHP made several findings as part of the PEL, including that the site is appropriate for multi-family residiential development and that the proposed design of 24 units is "generally appropriate" for the site.  MHP noted that it expects that "the City of Newton's concerns regarding parking, traffic, and safety, including pedestrian safety, will be addressed through the comprehensive permit process."  MHP also stated that the comprehensive permit process should address the application of the Secretary of the Interior's Ten Standards for Rehabilitation to the proposal.

ZBA Application

Mass. Historical Commission Determination of Adverse Effect

Newton Historical Commission Recommendation and Record of Action

MassHousing Partnership Determination of Project Eligibility

Planning Dept. Letter to Mass Housing Partnership with Resident Comments Attached

Waban Area Council 5.12.16 Letter to Planning Dept.

Application to MassHousing Partnership


The developer proposes to build a 24-unit development at the 31,055 square foot (.71 acre) site located at the corner of Beacon St. and Windsor Rd.  23 units would be in a new building constructed behind and to the side of the historic home, one unit would be in the home itself. Six of the units will be affordable to households with incomes up to 80% of AMI (currently $55,150 for an individual, $78,800 for a household of four). The developer received a letter of project eligibility from MassHousing Partnership, the sate subsidizing angency. The developer has not held any meetings with the community, but there is opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed project at the ZBA hearing, which begins on November 17th, 7pm at City Hall.  Comments can also be emailed or mailed to the ZBA via Adrianna Henriquez of the Newton Planning Dept: or Planning Department, 1000 Commonwealth Ave., Newton 02459 Attn: Adrianna Henriquez.  We urge interested residents to attend the ZBA hearing or submit comments to the ZBA.

The property at 1615 Beacon St. (at the corner of Beacon St. and Windsor Rd.) is a designated Local Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The existing farmhouse, part of the Staples-Craft-Wiswall Farm, dates to c.1750 (evidence suggests that an earlier farmhouse at the site was constructed c.1690).  According to the Newton Historical Commission's Landmark Report on the property, the house "provides the oldest link in Waban to its agricultural beginnings."  In a 40B, the Newton Zoning Board of Appeals can grant a comprehensive permit that alters a Landmarked site without prior approval of the Historical Commission.  The Newton Historical Commission can provide comments to the ZBA, and the ZBA can take historic preservation into account in making its determination on the comprehensive permit application.

Issue full description

Landmark Designation

The Newton Historical Commission voted unanimously on April 23 2015 to approve "Landmarking" the property at 1615 Beacon St. To view the Newton Local Landmark Report, click here.  The Massachusetts Historical Commission had already agreed to landmark status for the site. Landmarking is a formal recognition of the historical significance of a property and under Newton's Zoning Ordinance, a Landmarked property can generally only be altered if the Historical Commission determines that the alteration (or construction or demolition) is "appropriate for or compatible with the preservation or protection of the landmark." Sec. 22-65(c).

History of Staples-Crafts-Wiswall Farm(this section provided by Chris Pitts)

The Staples-Crafts Farm at 1615 Beacon Street holds a prominent position in Waban’s  village center as a visual link with Waban’s agricultural past. John Staples, Newton’s  first school master, built his house on this site in 1688. By 1700 his estate included a  sizable 93 acres and stretched east along Beacon Street as far as Chestnut Street.  Moses Craft, a later occupant, apparently rebuilt the house utilizing its foundation,  structural members, and hardware. The floor joists in the front rooms of the present edifice are notched on their undersides, indicating their second hand nature. 

Farmer William Wiswall purchased the property in 1881. It is believed that he and his wife Ruth added the Greek Revival updates to the house including the front porch. Like the Hyde House at 401 Woodward Street, this house was originally one room deep  with double back chimneys warming the north, cold wall. An ell was added to the north  elevation in 1769 as more space was needed. The entrance with sidelights and full floor-to-ceiling windows indicates a Federal period renovation. David Kinmonth, a Boston dry- goods merchant, had the gable ends clipped, added dormers and bays and extended the verandah. He also added a dining room to the northeast corner, giving the house its present squared off shape. More recent additions give the building its rambling appearance. The Staples- Crafts farm demonstrates how the interplay of fashion, style and function affect a building over time. 

The property changed hands twice more before becoming the property of Waban’s visionary William Strong. Strong was the president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and he used the property as a nursery.  Strong is responsible for the major growth of Waban at the turn of the century: subdividing the farm land, adding roads, a commercial building, etc. all while keeping the original farm intact as it has remained to this day, 300 years after John Staples selected the build site for what would eventually become the heart of Waban.


Archived Post - July 2016 (posted by Kathy Winters)

Newton Historical Meeting Thursday July 28th 7PM City Hall Room 205

The Newton Historic Commission will discuss the proposed development at 1615 Beacon St. (Staples Craft Farmhouse) at their meeting on Thursday July 28th 7pm at City Hall Room 205.  Please note that 1615 Beacon is the second item on the NHC agenda.  The first item, the Cabot School design review, is expected to take 30-40 minutes and should be well attended.  

NHC is taking up 1615 Beacon St. at this stage at the developer's request. Unless there are significant changes to the design along the way, this will likely be the only time NHC meets to discuss this project. As the project proceeds through the 40B process, NHC will have opportunity to provide its comments (or minutes from this July 28th meeting) to the Massachusetts Historic Commission (who will review the project) and to the Newton ZBA. But this meeting is expected to be NHC's only meeting regarding the current proposal.

Interested residents are invited to attend and will have the opportunity to comment at the meeting.  If you are unable to attend but would like to have your comments considered, please email them to Katy Hax Holmes of the Planning Dept. and ask that they be forwarded to the NHC members. Email comments should be sent in by Tuesday to give members time to review them in advance of the meeting.

The developer's request to Mass Housing Partnership for a Project Eligibility Letter is still pending.

Archived Post -- March 2016

March 8, 2016 Update (posted by Kathy Winters (

The developers of 1615 Beacon St. propose to build a 24-unit rental development at the site.  Current drawings are here.  The development on the 31,055 sq. ft. lot (.71 acre) would consist of 24 rental units and 37 parking spaces.  A newly-built apartment building (27,435 gross square feet) would contain 23 units and the historic portion of the existing home would be retained as a single unit (2,990 gross square feet).  The apartment building would be 3.5 stories high, set back 5 ft. 2 inches from the property lines against the Windsor Club (on the north and west sides off the property, wrapped around the historic home).  31 parking spaces would be semi-underground at the bottom of the building, and six spaces will be above ground, for a total of 37 spaces.

The developers intend to file for a comprehensive permit under Ch. 40B, and 25% of the units (six units, all in the new building) will be affordable to persons with income at 80% AMI (currently $55,150 for an individual, $78,800 for a household of four).  The developers intend to file their request for Project Eligibility with the Mass Housing Partnership sometime in the next month.  This is the first step in the 40B process.  There will be opportunity for public comment at that point.  If the developers receive a letter of Project Eligibility, they will then be able to file an application for the comprehensive permit with the Newton Zoning Board of Appeals.  There is another opportunity for public comment at that stage.

We will update the community as soon as we receive notice that the developers have filed with Mass Housing Partnership, and will provide instructions as to how to submit comments on the proposal.  Sign up for our email list here if you'd like to receive updates about Council issues.   

At this stage the developers do not plan to hold a community meeting to go over plans with the community.

This update is based on information received by WAC councillors Pia Bertelli and Kathy Winters during a meeting with Geoff Engler, consultant for the developers, on March 3, 2016.  Mr. Engler informed us that he has also met with the Newton Design Review Team (DRT), a group consisting of Alexandra Ananth (Senior Planner), Katy Holmes (Historical Commission representative), and members of the engineering and fire departments.  We do not yet have information as to the identity of the developers.

Archived Post -- October 2015 (submitted by Kathy Winters)

On October 14th, 2015, Geoff Engler (one of the principals in the entity that purchased the property) met with Alexandra Ananth of the Newton Planning Dept. to go over preliminary plans for a mixed-use development at the site.  On October 20th, Mr. Engler met with Waban Area Council member Kathy Winters to discuss the proposed development.  The plans provide for retaining the historical portion of the farmhouse (and demolishing the addition which housed the orthodontist office) and using the house as office space (possibly for a small professional firm).  Behind the house (along the two sides of the property abutting the Windsor Club), the developer would build a three and a half story apartment building, housing 24 units and an underground garage.  All parking for the apartments would be in the garage.  Parking for the office space would be aboveground on the property.  The conceptual massing drawings can be found here, but Mr. Engler cautions that these drawings are preliminary and subject to change.  He expects to have more detailed elevation drawings, landscaping plans, and unit plans within a few weeks.

The developers intend to pursue a comprehensive permit under Mass. Ch. 40B.  For some background on the 40B process visit WAC's St. Philip Neri page.  As far as timing, Mr. Engler informed us that he expects to meet with the Newton Housing Partnership by the end of the year and would file an application for a project eligibility letter (the first formal step in the 40B process) sometime after that.  There is opportunity for public comment at that point.  Mr. Engler expressed a willingness to meet with abutters and immediate neighbors in the future, and eventually with a larger community group, but feels it is still too early in the process.