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Welcome to Sustainable Watertown

We are a civic organization committed to improving the quality of life for people who live, work, and learn in Watertown. Our goal is to mobilize our citizens to address our community's challenges, build on our strengths, and to create a healthier, more just and prosperous community. We are working to form coalitions in support of citizen-initiated projects. If your neighborhood or civic group needs town-wide support for an initiative, let us know.

Contact us at info@sustainablewatertown.org to receive updates on our initiatives. We hope you will decide to participate and help us create a more liveable Watertown for the future.

Sustainable Watertown is hoping to present a public forum to discuss the Planning and Zoning process in Watertown. We have heard an explanation from a town lawyer about what is; we have seen that in action. What we need is a town wide discussion about what should be and what goals we are trying to achieve. The Comprehensive Plan and Design Guidelines and Standards (which put the Guidelines into the zoning code specifically) represent those values and goals. The actual process is insufficient as it now stands. Consider the following Questions. We need your participation in planning this event and in asking the new applicant for a position on the Zoning Board of Appeals where he stands when he is interviewed May 27.

Questions for discussion, Planning and Zoning process in Watertown:

  • Selection process by the Town Manager and the timeline for selections to be sent to Council
  • Qualifications of Board members (respect for community participation, length of time in Watertown, devotion to values and goals of Comprehensive Plan and Design Standards, not simply profession)
  • Duration of appointments
  • Council and Subcommittee approval process
  • Oversight of a Board and ongoing evaluation of member preparedness
  • Decision making processes of Department and Boards and the members' views of their roles
  • Transparency, clarity, and availability of final decisions and explanation of member votes
  • Role of Town in supporting Board members in case of legal challenges to decisions
  • Clarification of State regulations, responsibilities, constraints on Boards and Planning Department, including flexibility of allowable timeline
  • Expectations for public participation and responses to questions at Developer Meetings and public hearings
  • Timeline used in the Planning and Zoning process--does the timeline rush the process and pressure for quick decisions? How could a large and complicated project be legally studied over time?
  • Access of the public to Boards and members of the Boards before cases are heard
  • Attendance of members of Boards at public forums before cases are heard
  • Access of the public to the Planning Department activities, including preliminary drawings, site plan reviews, filing information on line in reasonably easy form, improved website
  • Evaluation of new appointees for a period of time

Your suggestions?
Volunteers are needed to make this project successful. We would appreciate your help with this Planning and Zoning Public Discussion Series. Please contact info@sustainablewatertown.org with comments, to volunteer.

Dear Sustainable Watertown:
The following is a thread of letters about damage to trees along the river at Greenough Blvd. Happily, the Commissioner of DCR and the Watertown Tree Warden have agreed to a halt to any more “pruning” of trees along the river. We do need to show our support and the need for a coherent policy for the trees here and all over town, so no agency, or NSTAR can simply order the destruction of trees.
I encourage you to write simple notes of support for the Restoration project and a sensible, green, and healthy policy for the trees in our town. Thanks.


Letter from Tree Warden Christopher Hayward with the good news:
Hi Barbara:

Its already done. I spoke with DCR reps yesterday and requested a cease and desist on tree maintenance until we can sit down for some follow up discussion to what has already been done. They have agreed.

Thank you for contacting me.

Chris

Christopher J. Hayward, MCA
Conservation/Preservation Agent, Tree Warden
Town of Watertown l 149 Main St. l Watertown MA 02472 l 617-972-6426

-----Original Message-----
From: Barbara [mailto:barbwired00@me.com]
Sent: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 6:30 PM
To: Hayward, Christopher J.
Subject: Trees along the river at Greenough Blvd

Hi, Chris,
Maureen O'Sullivan has alerted us to the damage caused by indiscriminate cutting of trees and branches along the river by Greenough Blvd. With the restoration of the area by the Solomon Foundation and supposedly the DCR, there is no excuse for this. Would you please become involved in stopping the cutting immediately and helping develop a sensible and green policy that actually supports our trees instead of making them more vulnerable.
Sincerely,
Barbara Ruskin
member, Sustainable Watertown
140 Spring Street
__________________________________________________________
Letter with phone numbers and emails for your letters and calls.
Thank you for the emails & phone calls in support of this. It was a shock to see the destruction caused in that area last week. The photos only capture part of it. The full extent of the damage is worse when viewed in person.

The DCR is currently reviewing the situation and may make a decision on it today which is why it is critical for people to get objections in by phone call & email this afternoon if possible. The problem is, the damage is being reviewed by the person who "oversaw" it, Matt Thurlow & his crew. I have not been informed of any independent, objective evaluation taking place.

I strongly recommend that everyone who has time, contact the DCR today. The DCR contacts listed below would be the # 1 people to contact. They need to hear your voice. You can cc. town officials and reps and Herb Nolan of the Riverfront Restoration Project, however make sure to address your email to the DCR personnel people listed below.

I spoke with the DCR a short while ago and they advised that they had not heard objections from anyone else. I know a few people did call, in which case I would recommend contacting them again by email to make sure the communication is documented & gets attention. Councilors and town officials are busy & might not get to this today which is why it is important for residents send their communications directly to the DCR.

Thanks again for the support. Hopefully with enough phone calls & emails we can prevent further loss of trees.

Maureen.

DCR Telephone #’s
Main #: 617-626-1250
Carol Sanchez, Commissioner: 617-626-4990.
Matthew Sisk, Deputy Commissioner: 617-626-4964.
Peter Church, Director of Forest Stewardship: 617-626-1461.
Joe Orfant, Arborist Manager & Director of Bureau Of Planning: 617-626-4933
Lisa Bishop, Assistant to the Commissioner: 617-626-1309

DCR Email Addresses
"Carol.sanchez@state.ma.us",
"Matthew.sisk@state.ma.us",
"jorfant@massmail.state.ma.us",
"peter.church@state.ma.us",
"Patrice.kish@state.ma.us",
lisa.bishop@state.ma.us

Herb Nolan, The Solomon Foundation, Charles Riverfront Restoration Project:
Phone: 781 431-1440
Email: Herbnolan@solomonfoundation.org

Watertown & Cambridge Town Officials
"David Webster" dwebster@cambridgema.gov,
"David Lefcourt" dlefcourt@cambridgema.gov,
"Cathy Fosher" cfosher@cambridgema.gov

Cc: "Chris Hayward" chayward@watertown-ma.gov,
"Steve Magoon" smagoon@watertown-ma.gov,
"Mark Sideris" msideris@watertown-ma.gov,
"Steve Corbett" scorbett@watertown-ma.gov,
"Vinnie Piccirilli" vpiccirilli@watertown-ma.gov,
"Tony Palomba" apalomba@watertown-ma.gov,
"Susan Falkoff" sfalkoff@watertown-ma.gov,
"Cecilia Lenk" clenk@watertown-ma.gov,
"Aaron Dushku" adushku@watertown-ma.gov,
"Angeline Kounelis" akounelis@watertown-ma.gov,
"Ken Woodland" kwoodland@watertown-ma.gov,
"Gideon Schreiber" gschreiber@watertown-ma.gov,
"Andrea Adams" aadams@watertown-ma.gov,
"Gerry Mee" Jmee@watertown-ma.gov,
"Will Brownsberger" William.Brownsberger@masenate.gov,
"John Lawn" John.Lawn@mahouse.gov

Trees for Watertown (always looking for members):
"Libby Shaw" elshaw@mit.edu,
"Anni Clark" Anna.Clark@rcn.com,
"Genie Johnston" eugenie.johnston@gmail.com,
"William Kahn" williamhkjr@gmail.com,

________________________________________________________________________
Letter sent yesterday to us:

Dear fellow residents of Watertown,

I hope you don’t mind my writing to you on a different subject to development. This past week I noticed large scale removal of beautiful trees along Greenough Boulevard between the Elliot Bridge and the Arsenal Bridge. Several beautiful trees were either totally cut down or subjected to large structural loss a process that affects the long-term health of a tree. Removing large amounts of a tree can cause hazards by weakening the tree, disrupting the leaf-root ratio and center of gravity, turning well-balanced healthy trees into top-heavy weakened structures at greater risk of falling over in a storm. In addition to the damage to tree health, this area with it’s beautiful scenic views of lush verdant trees has now had large sections turned into an unpleasant sight of matchstick structures with gravestones that were previously camouflaged now in full view.

Links to photos are provided below along with copies of my correspondence to the DCR, town council members and Jonathan Hecht requesting a prompt addressing of the issue. To prevent further destruction of these beautiful trees I am writing to ask if each of you would call and write to the DCR first thing this morning to request that the tree-cutting be stopped until an independent evaluation is conducted and resident input taken into consideration. Contact phone #’s and email addresses are provided below. Please also forward this to your respective groups & others that you know.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter. It may very well help prevent further damage and preserve the remaining beauty of the area.

Regards,

Maureen O’Sullivan.

____________________________________________________________________________
To Commissioner Carol Sanchez, DCR
Letter send May 17:

Dear Ms. Sanchez:

I am writing to follow-up on phone calls I made to the DCR on Friday, May 15th. I am cc’ing Trees for Watertown and Sustainable Watertown on this email as well as other residents & groups in town. Since preservation of the beauty & health of trees along Greenough Boulevard is an issue of serious importance, I will be forwarding this separately to additional residents and community groups in town, as well as members of the town council and the state rep, Jon Hecht.

This past Friday, I called the DCR in regards to the recent excessive cutback & removal of beautiful trees along Greenough Boulevard in Watertown & Cambridge. I first spoke with Matt Thurlow who responded to my inquiry with sarcasm & disrespect, providing abrupt answers to a few questions only then refusing to answer any additional ones or discuss valid points that I raised. He said the reason so many trees were cut back and removed was to remove dead wood, create clearance for snow plows and remove invasive species.

I drive and bike ride along that area on a regular basis in summer and in fall and mentioned to Mr. Thurlow that the vast majority of these trees were in very good condition during the later months of last year. While there was the occasional decayed branch, there certainly was not a vast # of dead branches that would warrant such a large-scale clearance of the area. I also mentioned that the removal levels were far in excess of that required to allow adequate clearance for snow plows. Several trees had entire limbs removed 20, 30 feet and higher. This is greatly in excess of what would be required for clearance for snow plows which are probably no higher than 6 to 8 feet. I mentioned the problems that result from such large structural loss to trees and the impact on the root leaf ratio. Since leaves are the vital food supply to a tree and its roots, depleting trees of large amounts of limbs & leaves results in food loss to the root system resulting in both root decay and loss of stability of the tree. In addition, removal of large amounts of the lower structure of the tree disrupts the center of gravity creating top-heavy trees that are at higher risk of toppling over in a storm. Even the utility companies have admitted this.

Mr. Thurlow refused to discuss any of these issues other than retort: What book are you reading from? When I referenced some articles I had read on the issue, he refused to discuss it further and disconnected the call.

I called back to see if there was someone else there who would be willing to discuss the issue and advise why so many trees were removed and subjected to such severe cut-back. I spoke with Peter Church, Director of Forest Stewardship, who apologized for Mr. Thurlow’s behavior and agreed it was a disrespectful way to respond to a resident inquiry. He advised that he would bring the matter to Joe Orfant, Mr. Thurlow’s manager, and would have the issue addressed. He said he would request that Mr. Orfant or someone else would get back to me to follow through on the issue.

Since I was advised during the earlier call that the tree-cutting was continuing that day, I went to the area that afternoon. When I arrived, Northern Tree Service was removing healthy limbs and branches from a pin oak tree on the river side, slightly west of the Grove St. exit and feeding it into the chipper. I spoke with Peter Wormstead who was in charge. While it was difficult to talk due to the noise, he did his best to answer my questions in a helpful way.

When I inquired as to the reason for cutting down so many branches from what was clearly a healthy tree, I mentioned that I did not see any dead wood in the tree, he relayed that the reason for the cutting was not the removal of dead wood but to create clearance for snow plows. I mentioned that the tree was sufficiently far back from the road not to be in the path of snow plows. He responded that he was instructed to clear all branches up to a certain point. I inquired how high. He didn’t provide any exact clearance heights but indicated removal of up to 60% of the tree structure. I mentioned that limb loss at these high levels causes trauma to a tree, weakening the tree and making it more likely to come down in a storm. I also mentioned the ANSI guidelines that stipulate that no more than 25% of a tree be removed in a growing season, that this was an absolute maximum and should be adjusted downward based on the tree’s age, health and location. He seemed to be unaware of this and was of the impression that as long as you leave 40% the tree would be fine. I explained not according to ANSI and described the problem that resulted from Nstar’s massive tree-cutting a few years ago which shifted the problem of branches falling to entire trees toppling over in storms, due to die-off of roots and loss of the balancing structure of the lower part the tree.

Mr. Wormstead was interested in the concerns I relayed and offered to postpone further tree-cutting that afternoon to allow me and other residents to make our concerns known to the DCR. He said he would be willing to postpone further cutting on Monday if the DCR authorized this.

Another point I relayed to him was the Riverfront Restoration Project that will involve narrowing the road and extending the riverside grass towards the road to provide additional space for trees, pedestrians & cyclists. I brought this up in relation to his response when I inquired why trees several feet back from the road were being cut. He said he was instructed to remove all over-hanging branches, even if the branches were several feet back and not close to the road at all. As far back as the trees and branches currently were, I mentioned that with the grass extension and road narrowing, all trees would be even further back from the road eliminating any reason to cause such loss in structure.

Mr. Wormstead said he wasn’t aware of the Riverfront Project and did not know that the grass area was being extended. In light of these facts, he agreed to hold off on further tree-cutting until the DCR reviewed the situation.

I called the DCR at 4:30pm to follow-up. I spoke with Patrice Kish, assistant planner. She mentioned that she had spoken with Joe Orfant and Matt Thurlow and that they were going to go out sometime next week to have a look. She said they had busy schedules and might not get to it until later in the week. I expressed my concern over the damage already caused to the area and additional concern over further damage being caused Monday and during the next few days if review of the matter was delayed until later. I asked if the tree-cutting could be postponed until the situation is investigated. She wasn’t sure but would relay the request. She provided me with your email address to contact you in writing and provided the email addresses of others in your department to include in the correspondence.

Due to the seriousness of this issue, the area has already been badly damaged with valuable tree shade lost, I am writing to you and to others at the DCR to ask if the tree-cutting could be stopped and no further trees cut until the situation is fully evaluated and citizen input obtained & taken into account. Watertown and Cambridge residents have already had thousands of their street trees subjected to severe gouging by Nstar during the past few years. Due to the uglifying effect this has had on our neighborhoods in addition to the loss of valuable shade during the summer months, people value the beauty & shade provided by trees along the river. It is one of the most beautiful and magnificent drives in the metro Boston area. I one week take longer detours along the Boulevard just to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the area. It was a complete shock recently to see how quickly this beauty was erased and turned into an eyesore with mature lush trees turned into lollipop structures and bare toothpick structures with top-heavy canopy residue on top. The following are links to before & after photos.

Beautiful Trees Cut Down & Subjected To Excessive Limb Removal Along Greenough Boulevard, Watertown & Cambridge, MA
After Pictures -
https://plus.google.com/photos/108203876068077887458/albums/614993969624...

Before Pictures -
https://picasaweb.google.com/108203876068077887458/BeforePicturesGreenou...

It is a tragedy and great loss to Watertown and the surrounding towns to see such beauty
reduced to this. Watertown, while full of character, is generally acknowledged to be a little short on beauty. The riverfront front however is the prized jewel of the town. To have the beauty of the area & one of the gateways into the town damaged in this way is a serious loss to a community striving to create a new image for itself and attract new business. Studies have shown that landscape & environment play a vital role in attracting quality business & residents. Due to major loss of trees, over 1,400 trees were subjected to major structural loss by Nstar in recent years, Watertown needs to preserve its remaining tree canopy. Cambridge & Belmont have also been subjected to similar loss in tree shade and would benefit equally well by preserving the health of natural trees on the waterfront.

The ongoing loss of shade trees in Massachusetts has been recognized as a serious problem for the state. Tree loss as a result of storms, trees weakened from excessive utility-pruning, over-salting of the roads, urban sprawl (nearly 16,000 acres of open space being lost to development each year), over 40,000 trees lost as a result of the Asian long-horned beetle – these are very serious concerns for the future of our urban forest. So much so that I think it was your office, the DCR Division of Forestry, in recognizing the seriousness of the problem, drew up a 5 year plan to tackle this during the recent decade.

The plan states that: “At least 40% of all street trees are in fair to poor condition. This suggests that there will be a significant tree loss over the next decade, unless there is aggressive and consistent tree management and replacement.”

As a result, it called for the following action items:

§ Increase tree canopy, not reduce it.
§ Adopt policies that support no net loss of tree canopy.
§ Work with the legislature to assist communities in protecting local trees & forested areas.
§ Ensure more trees are planted than removed.
§ Acknowledgment that trees create habitat for migratory birds and indigenous wildlife.
§ Listen to & incorporate citizen input. Public involvement in urban and community forestry is growing across the country, and an effective plan cannot be created by a few individuals in an office somewhere. A plan for urban and community forestry must be founded upon broad input from diverse stakeholders across the state – rural and urban residents, detractors and supporters, activists and practitioners. All stakeholders, including decision-makers, professionals and activists, integrate their work.

https://r.duckduckgo.com/l/?kh=-1&uddg=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mass.gov%2Feea%2...

Citizen input is a very important element and I am writing to request that it be taken into consideration. When residents call to express concern about loss of urban trees, their questions need to be listened to and responded to in a respectful manner and their input accepted and included in the process. I know that some residents have already contacted your office and once I cc. others on this I am sure you will be receiving additional calls & emails.

Further concerns regarding what is being done on Greenough Boulevard is the effect on birds when large amounts of tree structure is removed during nesting season. To my knowledge, a depredation permit is required in certain circumstances to remove any section of a tree where birds are nesting, in particular, migratory birds. I would like to inquire if each of these trees were inspected for migratory birds nests and if the appropriate depredation permit was obtained?

The lush undergrowth that surrounds these trees also provides a protective landscape for other wildlife including river fowl and rabbits. Substantial sections of this protective landscape was removed during the recent clearance of trees.

Additional benefits of trees include reduction in traffic pollution and noise, lowering of air temperature, reduction in asthma and blood pressure & improved overall health.
People are impacted by ugly or attractive environments. Trees in particular have a calming and healing quality as well as a calming effect on traffic resulting in safer driving.

http://treesforwatertown.org/uploaded/22BenefitsofUrbanStreetTrees.pdf

One thing that is greatly puzzling is the fact that the goal of the upcoming Riverfront Project is to restore the area. I’m puzzled why the DCR would allow so many trees to be removed and so many limbs sawed off remaining trees when another project is planning to revitalize & restore the area. It seems like a contradiction and one that will undermine the reason for and value of the restoration. Several of those trees that were removed or cut back camouflaged the graveyard behind. It provided a beautiful contoured canopy to the area. Now you have depleted toothpick structures with gravestones visible behind. One would be hard-pressed to see the point of creating green space for people to linger & enjoy the view while destroying the beauty of that view.

In regards to non-domestic species of trees and vines, I understand the need to manage these species, however, surely there are more moderate ways of doing this than tearing down several trees and leaving large empty gaps? Could not trees be replaced on a gradual, moderate level and vines cut or otherwise removed? Not all of those trees had bittersweet and if some did, they certainly seemed to be surviving pretty well. The impact from the bittersweet, if any, was negligible compared to the lethal impact of the chainsaws.

Due to the unique beauty of Greenough Boulevard it is an area worthy of Scenic Road Designation and the protections afforded to such roads. I will be forwarding a copy of this to members of the Watertown Town Council to see if something can be done in this regard. While it will take time to process and approve, I would request that in the meantime, the boulevard be afforded the protections of a recognized Scenic Route and that no further tree-cutting be done until the situation is evaluated and citizen input taken into consideration.

Ms. Sanches, if you would place a halt on any further tree-cutting scheduled for Monday morning, that would be greatly appreciated. Since one of the primary goals of the DCR is conservation, I’m hoping this conservation can be applied towards the remaining trees.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for giving this matter your urgent attention. I look forward to hearing back.

Regards,

Maureen O’Sullivan.

Here’s a letter from a group of members about the Arsenal Overlay Development District. Note: the 50 ft height of any garage comments on the current height regulation limitation which is being debated on the Zoning Board. It does not mean that a 50 ft height on any garage is wanted.

From the letter:

We appreciate the Town Council’s delay on the vote for AthenaHealth’s proposal for changes to the AODD. We are assuming they have realized, like we have, that we need more details from them in order to make an informed decision. Any changes to the AODD should be considered with the future in mind: how will these changes affect Watertown’s ability to control what happens on that property while AthenaHealth owns it, as well as after they have gone. We hope AthenaHealth stays for the long term and works with the town in good faith, but businesses come and go, so we shouldn’t give away our rights to some determination on that property.

Read the entire Watertown News Letter to the Editor

Dear Town Councilors,

Please accept the following comment and recommendation about the proposed amendment to the AODD provisions of the Zoning Ordinance.

Praise: I look forward to realization of what I understand Athenahealth’s vision to be: an active corporate campus that invites community presence through on-site retail, recreation and cultural offerings, and that is respectful of the existing and evolving adjacent neighborhoods and the wider Town. I am excited to live nearby. Based on Athenahealth’s corporate success and the few personnel I’ve met, I have hope that this vision will be creatively and professionally executed, and Watertown residents will be proud to host the Athenahealth headquarters.

Criticism: If I lived on North Beacon opposite the Arsenal, I would fear that allowing a 90’ high garage as of right would be too much of an imposition on the quality of my neighborhood. By allowing a 90’ high garage of right, the proposed new AODD ordinance requires residents to visualize in 3D something that isn’t designed, and to have sufficient faith in Athenahealth and the Watertown permitting process to believe that a 90’ height will be designed wisely, to minimize the visual impact of the new garage. The proposed AODD amendment does not appear to address residents’ concerns. The legitimate fears of the neighborhood could be addressed by having a tighter baseline control – that is, making the 79’ height the “of right” height limit — but allow the Planning Board to give a height bonus by special permit under certain reasonable conditions.

Revision: In plain language, the AODD could be changed to say that a project does not have a right to a 90’ high garage but may be given permission to go to 90’ by a special permit only if the project creates open space equal to the bonus parking garage area allowed by the 90’ height, has a green roof (not parking) at the 90’ level, and, most importantly, the Planning Board affirmatively finds that the height will not adversely affect the residential neighborhoods*.

To that end, the proposed amendment should be revised by changing section 5.12(e)(2) as follows: in the first sentence, delete from the words, “except that the maximum height…” to the end of the sentence. Insert the following: “By special permit, the Planning Board may allow the maximum height for a new structure used for structured parking (except to the extent other uses are allowed or required pursuant to Section 5.12(e)(4) [Setbacks]) to be up to 90 feet, provided that (i) such additional height will not adversely affect the residential neighborhoods to the west and south of the AODD, (ii) such additional height enables public vegetated open space within the AODD to be increased by an area not less than the gross floor area to be created by allowing such increased height, and such additional gross floor area is necessary to comply with the provisions of this Section 5.12(f) [Parking Requirements], and (iii) the top level of such structure shall not be used for parking, i.e., shall be a “green” roof over the top level of parking or the roof of occupied space.”

This change does not forbid or allow a 90’ high garage, but it take consideration of such height out of the abstract and focus it on a specific design when and if a specific proposal is in a special permit application. It may be that athenahealth determines the 90’ height is not needed either because they are allowed to reduce required parking enough, or for some other reason. It may be that athenahealth’s architect will be able to design a 90’ high garage structure that is acceptable to most neighbors.

Thank you for considering this suggestion. Please let me know if you have any questions about this proposal.

Jonathan Bockian
165 Irving Street
Watertown, MA 02472

*Note that it is necessary to require the finding about no adverse effect, because if the special permit granting authority is the Planning Board, not the ZBA, zoning ordinance section 9.05(b), which requires the same finding for ordinary dimensional special permits, would not apply to this special permit. Alternatively, the permit granting authority should be the ZBA.

On Wednesday July 2nd at 6:15pm, President Mark Sideris has scheduled a Town Council meeting to consider action on the petition for a temporary development moratorium along Arsenal Street. The meeting will be held at the Town Hall in the Town Council chambers. Please spread the word about this special meeting and come to express your views!

The agenda is as follows:

  1. Roll call
  2. Motions, Orders, and Resolutions
    a) Review and consideration of further action regarding a petition submitted to the Town Council expressing support for a moratorium on large projects along Arsenal Street.
  3. Adjournment

The petition was signed by over 100 citizens and read as follows:
PETITION: we the undersigned support a temporary moratorium on large projects along Arsenal Street in Watertown for up to one year, while a master plan for the corridor is developed and zoning is re-written with input from all stakeholders! Repairs and simple renovations to existing buildings for pre-existing uses should not be affected.

There is another important development meeting Tuesday, July 1, Police Station, 552 Main Street, 7-8:30pm. This one has been called by Councilor Ken Woodland. The proposed amendments to the zoning code concerning the Pleasant Street corridor and the Comprehensive Plan and how it could be translated into zoning law will be on the table.

The Watertown Concerned Citizens Group (WCCG) is calling for a temporary moratorium on large projects along Arsenal Street. The petition reads:

PETITION: we the undersigned support a temporary moratorium on large projects along Arsenal Street in Watertown for up to one year, while a master plan for the corridor is developed and zoning is re-written with input from all stakeholders! Repairs and simple renovations to existing buildings for pre-existing uses should not be affected.

If you wish to support this, print out the petition (pdf 67 KB) and get your neighbors to sign it. Filled out petitions should be returned to the 40-42 Washburn St. porch box by 5pm on Tues 6/24 for review before the Town Council meeting begins. Copies of the petition and flyer/map (pdf 741 KB) showing the area (in case you cannot print out your own) may be found at 48 Chester St, or at 34 Parker St. (red house).

Two town residents have recently presented suggestions for a moratorium, and Roger Erickson and CCG introduced the idea at the Planning Board meeting. Please sign on if you agree before the Comprehensive Plan meeting tonight (6:30PM, Middle School auditorium, tonight), or before the Zoning Board meeting (next Wednesday, June 25, 7PM, Council Chambers).

Please send your thoughts and comments, or just add your voice if you agree with those requesting a temporary moratorium until Watertown can create a “master plan” for the Arsenal Street Corridor. Email addresses for the councilors may be found on the town website, or send to the office assistant who will distribute them. Ingrid Marchesano, imarchesano@watertown-ma.gov will distribute your comments to Steve Magoon, Gideon Schreiber, and Andrea Adams of the Community Planning and Development Department.

You may have heard that 202 Arsenal Street was approved by the Planning Board, but must be approved by the Zoning Board (June 25), which many see as the greatest hurdle and an opportunity for us to respond.

Zoning changes for Pleasant Street were continued for further discussion and exploration.

The Arsenal Overlay Development District was approved, but without mention of the proposed 90’ parking structure. We think that the idea is that when a proposal comes before the town, there will be sufficient time for discussion. Barbara Ruskin proposed that the town work with AthenaHealth to decrease substantially the number of parking spaces so a nine story building with all the attendant problems will not be necessary. Director Steve Magoon agreed. Watertown is a transit hub, all the developers are trying to attract Millenials who prefer public transit and bike riding, and the Arsenal Corridor should be improved, etc, etc. A perfect segue back to the idea of a “master plan” for the Arsenal Street Corridor. Here are the letters. There have been many who have written to sign to the the Bockian letter. They both contain important ideas for you to consider.

FROM JONATHAN BOCKIAN TO THE PLANNING BOARD, TOWN COUNCIL, TRANSIT TASK FORCE, SUSTAINABLE WATERTOWN, AND OTHERS:

The draft Comprehensive Plan is full of terrific goals and ideas that will be overtaken by events on the ground unless the Plan is implemented much more quickly than the draft proposes. The fate of Arsenal Street will be sealed without the Plan making any difference unless a moratorium on large new projects along Arsenal Street is put in place immediately, while a master plan and new zoning for the corridor are completed.

One of the most important things the Comprehensive Plan would do is to rewrite some of the zoning ordinance — the law that sets the limits and requirements on what gets built, where its built, how dense it is, where people live and where there can be an office building, a restaurant, or an auto body shop. The implementation schedule in the Plan calls for changing some of the zoning ordinance in 1 to 2 years. It makes sense that good changes to zoning should be well thought through, carefully written, and talked about a lot by residents and business owners before the Planning Board and Town Council vote them into law. But if projects can get permits to move ahead under existing zoning while the rules are being revised, the revised rules won’t impact new projects.

A moratorium is a powerful step, not to be taken lightly, but I recommend the Council puts a temporary moratorium on large new projects along the Arsenal Street corridor for up to one year while a master plan for the corridor is developed and the zoning is re-written, with input from all stakeholders. Repairs and simple renovations to existing buildings for pre-existing uses should not be affected. There’s lots of precedence for a moratorium: cities and towns do it all the time when events are outpacing their ability to plan. Watertown recently put in place a one year moratorium on medical marijuana centers, which has expired. I welcome redevelopment of Arsenal Street, if it’s done well. A moratorium is not without risks, but the risks of uncoordinated bad development along this crucial Town corridor outweigh the risks of a moratorium.

We should all applaud the Community Development & Planning Department’s hard work on the Comp Plan. Let’s not waste it.

Jonathan Bockian
Irving St., Watertown
This comment is on my own behalf as a town resident and not on behalf of any client or community group.

FROM NANCY HAMMETT :

Attached please find my comments on the Comprehensive Plan as it relates to next steps for the Arsenal Street Corridor.

I feel strongly that we need to develop a Conceptual Master Plan or vision for Arsenal Street as a next step -- a short-term effort to develop a coordinated plan for all the elements that will make the Arsenal corridor a vibrant and attractive place to live, work and do business.

This process will:

  1. Provide a more coherent way to plan for traffic, transit, open space, bike & pedestrian use, street and sidewalk design, transitions to local neighborhoods, infrastructure and Green Infrastructure investments, etc. -- all the interrelated pieces that determine the success of the Arsenal corridor redevelopments.
  2. Identify areas where investments by the Town will significantly enhance outcomes, and allow us to seek funding for those investments; and
  3. Provide a forum for more effective public input.

The attached comments describe these benefits and suggest additions to the Comprehensive Plan goals and implementation matrix.

Thank you for considering my comments.
Nancy

NEW DATE: Thursday May 1st, 7-9pm.
Watertown Free Public Library
123 Main St.
Watertown Square
Raya Stern Trustees Room

Open to the Public
Please come and share your T riding experiences and your ideas on Public Transportation in our community, present and future.

An Initiative of Sustainable Watertown
www.sustainablewatertown.org
watertowntransit@earthlink.net

PUBLIC TRANSIT is officially on the table in Watertown. Sustainable Watertown member Joe Levendusky asked the Town Council to support the transit riders of Watertown by working with the MBTA to improve public transportation and identify measures to improve the system here. We think of ourselves as a hub for public transportation and will attract major development, yet buses are overcrowded and suffer delays at both peak and non-peak hours. Pleasant Street and Arsenal Street are important areas of concern as well. If we are to increase ridership and decrease our carbon footprint in the region, excellent public transit is key. The Subcommittee on State, Federal, and Regional Government discussed short-range and long-range suggestions for improvements with members of the Council, State transportation groups, Senator Will Brownsberger, and Representative Jon Hecht, and Planning Director Steve Magoon before sending its recommendation of support to the Town Council. The Town Council voted to work with the MBTA on these issues. Rejecting an idea for a town sponsored task force, the Council Subcommittee recommended that citizens organize themselves into a task force for public participation. Mr Levendusky has initiated just that as an initiative of Sustainable Watertown.

The first meeting of the Watertown Task Force on Public Transit will be Thursday May 1st, 7pm, upstairs at the Library. All are welcome. This is our chance to make a difference. Please look at Quick Links for background and contact information. If you are willing to distribute flyers for the inaugural meeting, or would like more information, please write to WatertownTransit@earthlink.net.

Click Here for some additional information (find it at the end of the article)...

Presentation to Town Council:

There are three possibilities for financing solar panels. An owner can purchase them outright. An owner can take out a loan to finance them. And an owner can allow the roof of their building to be "leased" for the production of solar energy. This third option is called a Power Purchase Agreement or PPA.

Next Step Living gave Watertown a Purchase option and a Solar Loan option. It did not give Watertown a zero-down PPA option, which is the solar leasing option. SunBug and Corbin gave Watertown all three options: a Purchase option, a Solar Loan option, and a zero-down PPA option as was requested in the RFP

Although, at first glance, it would seem that the RFP does not require the installer to offer a zero-down PPA to the community as evidenced by the following paragraph, the Attachment BI makes it clear that a zero-down PPA is to be offered. Here is the RFP language:

"In order to participate in the Program, the Installer must provide a dollar per watt ($/W) “Purchase Price” for solar PV systems that will decrease by defined tier levels as the total contracted capacity of solar PV within the community increases. For Lease or PPA projects, the Installer must provide a base dollar per kilowatt hour ($/kWh) Lease/PPA Price, as well as financial incentives for customers that sign a Lease or PPA for solar PV systems as higher tiers of contracted capacity within a Community are reached. As such, proposals will not only be evaluated on the Installer’s ability to provide the highest quality design and installation services, but also on the ability to deliver a tiered pricing structure for the purchase of systems and a tiered financial incentive for Leases or PPAs. See the Pricing Proposal and Adder Form (Attachment B.1. and Attachment B.2.) for more information on the specific pricing tiers."

However, in the pricing requirement Attachment B1, there are rules about how the installers present their pricing. This is to create a level playing field for the selection teams to decide between bids. All bids are to use the same assumptions in order to price it's per kWh PPA price. This is in place so that those looking at the bids can compare apples to apples. That language in B1 is the following:

"Provide a Lease/PPA price for a system that produces 90% of optimal production. All Lease/PPA Prices should assume $0 down upfront. In addition, provide the contract escalator that company applies to projects."

Next Step Living did not follow these rules. Thus, Next Step Living by not offering a zero-down PPA was able to make its per kWh PPA price look much better than SunBug's or Corbin's. Town Council's WE3C advisory committee should have immediately disqualified Next Step Living and considered only Corbin/Onforce and SunBug. Instead, they chose Next Step Living, which requires the homeowners of Watertown to pay $3000 for the lease option.

Unlike the other two bidders, Next Step Living's bid gives financing options for obtaining the $3000 if the home owner wishes a PPA, but after either a year or eighteen months, that loan will require interest payments. This loan (and subsequent interest) will be added to the overall debt load of the homeowner. Thus, if that individual wishes to make another purchase using credit (appliance, car, home), this debt could negatively impact the amount and terms of a loan he or she is able to obtain in the future.

In addition, there is an NSL adder of 75 cents per watt for "Whole-home, low-interest financing." That is a $4000 adder on a typical 5kWh system. And there is also a statement about 25 cents per watt for "financing coordination support, which applies only to systems financed through Next Step Living partners other than the low interest loans." What is this exactly, and is this another finance charge? Does this mean that there is an additional 25 cent/kWh adder for every homeowner who is already paying $3000 for what should have been a free or zero-down option to begin with?

The PPA or solar lease option with zero-down is particularly attractive for multi-family homes, which Watertown has many of. The zero-down option allows the homeowner to "lease" their roof. If the owner wishes, for no cost, solar panels can be placed on the roof and connected to the units of the tenants. This creates an opportunity to tap solar and sustainable energy sources, gives the renter a break on their electricity bill, and makes the unit a more attractive rental option. On an owner-occupied multi-family, the owner can buy his or her system, and with a zero-down option, lease a system for the tenants. Both types of systems can exist on one roof. None of this is possible with the bid Town Council's advisory committee selected.

Solarize Watertown insists that the guidelines for Watertown are the ones that worked well for other Mass Solarize communities. Actually, what happened in Watertown happened in no other solarize community. All the other communities using this solarize process had zero-down options.

The Mass CEC and WE3C (Solarize Watertown) are victims of deceptive sales practices. But the real victims are the citizens of Watertown, who even with the tax benefits, don't have a "free" solar leasing option. Thus, our citizens will be paying thousands of extra dollars for the privilege of letting their roofs be leased because an advisory committee of Town Council chose Next Step Living. How is this a good deal?

Next Step Living Quality

Next Step Living is an enormous sales organization. It subcontracts out all its work. Thus Next Step Living has no installation quality, because it doesn't install. It does not "own" its process and recently has been infused with eighteen million dollars from the following four companies:

Black Coral Capital, Massachusetts Green Energy Fund, Vantage Point Capital Partners, and The Windquest Group.

The CEOs of these companies were at Bain and use the Bain model, which was described in detail by The New Yorker magazine when it ran an in-depth article on Mitt Romney.

Our other bidders included locally owned solar companies. These companies actually install and do not subcontract out residential installations. They own the process from start to finish and directly employ the people who actually do the installations.

On Angie's List, Next Step Living is the only solar company with a C grade. This is not anecdotal; there are over 150 reviews in total. It is literally the worst-reviewed solar company in the area. SunBug has an A rating with Angies's List Service Award for the last two years. OnForce/Corbin was not reviewed.

Additionally, on Yelp and other independent online review sources, Next Step gets reviews well below average while other solar companies fare much better.

Last but not least, other bidders gave us more options, including a choice of "local" with an American made panel and a Mass made inverter. Not so Next Step Living, which gave us a choice of an inverter made in Phoenix, AZ, which by their national standards may constitute local, but is not our "local."

Jaclyn Tager

[Editor's note: A petition asking to temporarily halt the Solarize Watertown initiative can be found on the town's website at: http://www.ci.watertown.ma.us/documentcenter/view/14579]

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