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, firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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:
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.
Dear Sustainable Watertown ,
Special Edition: We have prepared some topics that would focus further discussion of the proposed 202 Arsenal Street development of 300 apartments and a supermarket. We have also tried to incorporate much of the discussion from the big meeting and the five neighborhood groups that met beforehand in a summary of thoughts so far. In addition, some new concepts that have come up and a few comments from the Land Use report of the Comprehensive Plan have been included.
COMPREHENSIVE PLAN: How do elements of this 202 Arsenal Street proposal support the goals and values and limits of the Comprehensive Plan being prepared for Watertown as expressed in the community meetings for the Plan?
SIZE AND DENSITY and the effect that such a large development will have on town resources, businesses, political, social life. No impact on the schools is anticipated because of the small size of the planned units; will Millenials who become parents have to leave Watertown to raise a family? What, however, will the effect of 300 units be on these areas? Only both of the Repton Place developments match the size of the proposed Hanover development.
MASSING OF BUILDINGS is important in transitional areas between large developments and neighborhoods. The transition to the neighborhoods at 202 Arsenal depends on the gradient of the land and a green strip. Neighbors are worried that the transition is abrupt and will be ineffective. The development is built out to the limit. The developer claims that the area would otherwise need remediation. However, other areas have been cleaned up satisfactorily. We are fortunate that his particular development is proposed for a location set at a lower grade than the surrounding neighborhood to the north and that an area of the fourth floor near Birch Street is set back. The Arsenal Street side is set at three stories. However, the entire development is set apart from the rest of us because no through streets are planned. Green space is planned within the apartment rings for use of tenants only; this area is closed off to the public. It should not become a model development for other areas of town.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE GROWTH FOR WATERTOWN? PIECEMEAL DECISION-MAKING. We are told that Arsenal and Grove Street developments would yield more than 1000 new residences. Pirolli will build. Arsenal Projects plans a gigantic redevelopment. There will be a hotel. Who knows which other properties will be developed in the Arsenal Corridor in this area, or closer to Watertown Square. We cannot make decisions only one development at a time when the effects are area-wide and very long term. Will the Comprehensive Plan provide any guidelines for broad based development? How does Watertown create a sustainable plan for development? Does Watertown have an interest in maintaining the commercial properties along this corridor? Will design review be required for new and existing property development? How big is big enough? How big is too big?
TRAFFIC AND PARKING: We have already talked about Traffic, but people are not satisfied by the three block traffic light rehab and the report that the 300 new units will have little effect on traffic elsewhere in town. If Hanover is aiming for those Millenials who will walk to work at AthenaHealth we must consider fewer numbers of parking places (with appropriate Zoning changes), and the increased number of pedestrian and bicycle users in this target population (therefore requiring better bicycling paths/lanes for commuting as well as recreation). David Hall said that the old numbers of parking spaces will be offered until proven unnecessary at this site. But look at Riverbend Park which has fewer cars than residents.
We should be a leader in anticipating fewer cars owned, if not car-free living in the future. We should be proud of our location, as always, but press the advantage of being a transportation hub (even though we need improvements, but that's part of the point--we can't delay advocacy of one for the other). It seems to us that a further next step is for the community to meet with our Peer Traffic consultant to get a town-centered future-thinking perspective. And if Hanover's traffic team studied the whole town, we should have that information and be able to compare the work with that of the independent. Is parking part of a traffic study? Shuttles to Watertown Square, available to the public, until public transportation catches up with need. Decrease traffic on neighborhood streets by exploring a through street from North Beacon Street on the Arsenal property to connect to Woolsey Street. Add traffic light allowing left turn onto Arsenal Street. It might draw cars from Exit 17 and lessen traffic in Watertown Square.
ENVIRONMENT/SUSTAINABILITY INFRASTRUCTURE. Landscaping and street trees, setbacks, stormwater, emphasizing pervious surfaces at entrance, firelane, supermarket area, sidewalks. LEED Certification, or equivalent checklist assurances. Do Watertown's requirements surpass those of Massachusetts in any way? Solar. Green Roof practices. There is tremendous surface area on the roof of 202 Arsenal St. Rooftop gardens are now fairly commonplace (not just on rooftop parking garage if fewer spots are needed in a few years as Mr Hall agreed). Recycling--he said there will be places for recycling to be taken in the trash room. Will most people really go there? Are there plans, ideas to make this a serious endeavor in such a large development?
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: We've talked a bit about landscaping, aesthetics, high quality materials, finishes, windows. Some about lights, signage, noise, pollution, construction hours, etc. affecting neighbors. There are other aspects of Public Benefit and amenities. Increase size of public gathering space at entrance; Setbacks for green plantings at all retail, including supermarket; Green streetscape along Arsenal Street; Living fence/screen transitions for abutters. We suggest a public meeting room so that local groups can try to involve Hanover's residents in Watertown activities on site and have a meeting place in the area. Recycling Plans developed fully. Public Art fund financed by developments for use all over town, not just at a particular development. This is a common practice in cities and towns nearby. Advocate with town for improved public transportation for the influx of new residents. Union builders. Cell antenna safety. Neighborhood connectivity through multiple public pathways through the development North/South as well as East/West.
COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS AND INTERACTION: Mr. Hall of Hanover indicated that he will carefully maintain the fortress shaped building because it will be a separate community there. We want them to be part of OUR community. Many of us want the building to be bisected E-W by a greensward, or a street.The concept of the Urban Village incorporates large developments, but connects them to the surrounding neighborhoods by streets and by decreased massing. Perhaps the fire lane/trash/mail route could provide connection in some way. Creative approaches are called for, not immediate dismissal. Perhaps other businesses in the area will work with the Planning Department. The recreational part of the Community Path could go under the building abutting the rear park inside the development. It would open up their community green space to ours and connect neighborhoods. It sounds as if Pirolli is planning a path in the transitional area as well as on Arsenal Street. In some small way, this development could have direct access to open green space as would the Community Path on its way across town. It would allow a protected greenway for recreational users as well as the street-side lanes for bikes. Whether commuters would use a bike path along a track next to the sidewalk remains to be seen, but a green Community Path, as part of an Open Space Network as referred to in the proposed Comprehensive Plan would be an important amenity for the Town of Watertown.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Hanover could work with Watertown to advocate for improved public transportation system. Extra service when necessary. Town-wide study. Map. Publicize Watertown as a transit hub, perfect for car-free living. Enhanced MBTA stops. New ideas for more efficient payment. Improved bike lanes (and bike parking) and Community Path. Zip Cars. Hubway, or similar bike share.
RETAIL AND SUPERMARKET: If the idea is to create a lively streetscape on Arsenal Street, we are hoping that mixed use will mean an infusion of diverse, particularly local independent businesses, or at least a variety of small shops that residents can go to for ordinary shopping needs and enjoyable places to go for browsing. One of the features of good retail space for local independents is small size and, in new construction, divisibility which allows flexibility in renting. Bank frontage limitation policy is being used in various cities and towns to prevent banks from taking over retail frontage that would better serve the economic health of a community as storefronts for local independent, or small businesses. Zoning limits most business frontages to about 25 feet, though banks and other businesses may have the space they require without extra frontage behind the other shops. Transparency is the concept of keeping windows facing streets to attract customers, allow us to look inside, and have an interesting streetscape. Look for the drawings of a vibrant shopping district here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/uws/presentation.pdf. Frontage limits go hand in hand with transparency to achieve the goals of a varied and interesting business district. Hanover promises only a restaurant and one other business on its property. That seems insufficient to create a vibrant destination. The supermarket space is sized for a Whole Foods, or some similar store. If that concept does not reach fruition, however, we hope that Watertown has an interest in protecting us from more big box stores that might anchor this site. Remember that 33,000 square feet was what Walmart proposed for a mini market plus. What alternatives does Cresett/WC have for this site?
We hope that these points will be useful for discussion on the 202 Arsenal Street development and the basis for others. Thanks for all you do. Let us know what you think at email@example.com.
Sustainable Watertown has been supporting a network of neighborhood groups. It's a great way to get to learn about development and other issues in your neighborhoods and to meet your neighbors and talk about what's going on in town. Five groups met to talk specifically about 202 Arsenal Street which is proposing to build 300 apartments, retail space, and a supermarket. Groups poured over maps and descriptions offered by the Planning Department and at least one Councilor. Summaries were sent to the Planning Department and they sent them on to the developers before the community meeting with the developers. They are useful and provide a good basis for further discussion. You will find them below.
If you would like to gather a group together to be a watchdog in your neighborhood, learn about developers' plans, and meet your neighbors, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have maps and blow ups of plans and can tell you where to find them on line. There are many residential developments proposed, a hotel, and we expect more retail. Small is good, so don't worry if you just want to call some people on your street and ask them to call others nearby. That's the idea. If you don't want to host, but want to attend, please let us know that, too.
Summary of feedback among us so far:
1) Too dense, built out to the max;
2) Inferior architecture, ugly, more "boxes" like Pleasant St;
3) Not built for the future: demographic of this project=more transient residents. We want to attract and support residents who will be invested in Watertown's future: Schools, Recreation, Arts, Community programs, Riverfront, etc;
4) How does this project support the Comprehensive Plan?
5) Gated community, walled off, where is bike/ped path?
6) Mixed use portion is underwhelming and not clear;
7) What are anticipated hours of operation for commercial areas? Limited hours are safer for community;
8) Parking garage is better than all open-air parking.
The following is a list of the topics discussed at the meeting. There was a range of opinions on many of the topics. These notes will be provided to the Watertown Planning Department, as input to the community meeting with the developers scheduled for Thursday Feb. 6th, 7 pm, at the Watertown Library. In general, the group looks forward to hearing more about the traffic impacts, pedestrian paths, likely types of commercial tenants, and handling of trucks delivering to the market.
· Hope for more attractive landscaping and less vehicle-centric design for the public area at the east entrance – to provide an attractive public gathering place for neighborhood residents and shoppers.
· How will the project design enhance the street-level experience, and encourage walking and biking?
· Would it be possible to provide pro bono or reduced rate space for a local nonprofit?
Landscaping, impervious surface and stormwater management:
· Fire lane – could pervious pavement be used, to improve stormwater management?
· This is a good opportunity for a green roof.
· Zoning requirements should be adjusted to reduce the number of required parking spaces.
· Concerns about impacts of more vehicle traffic on surrounding intersections and at Watertown Square.
· Will significant traffic be diverted to North Beacon St.?
· General agreement that traffic impacts can be reduced through better public transit and by encouraging biking and walking. (See below.)
Encouraging bicycle use and walking:
· Generally welcome the plan to extend the bike path along Arsenal Street.
· It is important to provide good separation of bicycle vs. pedestrian traffic in the sidewalk design. Examples of good bicycle-and pedestrian-friendly design in European cities were noted.
· Need plentiful bike parking in the project.
· Landscaping that enhances the transition to the Birch Rd. and Franklin St. neighborhoods is critical
· General desire that high quality materials be used and desire for attractive design (finishes, windows)
· General agreement that Watertown needs improved public transit to accomodate this and other planned developments.
· Wide-ranging discussion included advocating for improved MBTA bus service, advocating for light rail service (preserve the rail right-of-way for this purpose?), discouraging cut-through traffic from turnpike drivers avoiding the Cambridge tolls (add a toll at Exit 17?).
· Shuttle-bus service for individual developments will help reduce traffic impacts, but this is not sufficient to meet the need for improved public transit.
· A more general study of public transit needs and options in Watertown is needed.
· It is hoped that the developer will support wider town efforts to address this issue.
· Welcome the reported plan to include some larger 3-bedroom units.
· Hope the commercial tenants will include small, independent businesses.
· How does this project relate to the goals being discussed in the Comprehensive Plan process?
· Should Watertown hire a marketing director to focus on attracting desirable businesses to Watertown?