AODD Ordinance Amendment

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.

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