Dear Sustainable Watertown and Neighborhood Networkers,
Join us this Wednesday, July 30, 7-8:30 PM for a brainstorming session for Sustainable Watertown at the Library, main room. Help us plan for the future and keep abreast of all the amazing and fraught things happening in Watertown. We need to set some goals and share the work for the next season.
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It has been a busy month again for Development issues. 202 Arsenal Street won approval at the ZBA for a special permit and will be starting to build any time now. Neighborhood groups and individuals raised important issues before the developer meeting which were noted by the Planning Department and sent to the Hanover and Cresset developers. Hanover reneged on a promised second meeting at which Sustainable Watertown had organized some crucial topics for discussion in depth. That document as well as the Network summaries were included in the Planning Department Report (which supported the development). We had many people in attendance at the Board meetings. However, very few improvements were made in the plans which are a specialty of Hanover and used, nearly in toto in many communities, mostly suburbs, around the country. We had hoped for place-based sensitivity and connections to our already existing community, but to no avail, other than a guaranteed bike path down from Birch Street to the island enclave below. We will have to work harder to include the new residents in town activities. We remain hopeful.
One victory you’ve heard about is the requirement for a developer meeting. We had hoped for at least two, but one is now assured by vote of the Council. Unfortunately, the only legal invitees are abutters. To maneuver around this limited publicity, please sign up for Notify Me on the town website and read notices from your friendly citizen groups and Councilors. Another excellent occurrance is the participation of some Councilors and the Planning Department in community meetings about both Arsenal and Pleasant Street zoning improvements.
The draft Comprehensive Plan has been slowly moving through joint meetings of the Council Subcommittee on Economic Development and Planning (Corbett, Falkoff, Piccirelli) and the Planning Board with the Planning Department. All elements from the Vision to the particular goals and strategies are read and comments solicited. The public has been invited to speak and the officials have been most open and amenable to suggestions from the few of us in attendance.Your comments by mail are most welcome and important. Each participant has prepared carefully by studying the language and implications for Watertown’s future and for implementing zoning changes. It is slow going, and appropriately so. However, community members and officials are all concerned that galloping development proposals will outrun the town’s ability for sensible sustainable projects because the vision, goals, and zoning changes will not have been implemented in time for Watertown to make a stand. For this reason, citizens petitioned and gathered support for rapid responses to the particular issues presented by the Arsenal Street plans. Hundreds of signatures were collected. However, pleas to the ZBA to "continue" the 202 Arsenal Street development until after the citizen initiated hearing was held the next week by the Council went unanswered. The special permit was approved unanimously so that the huge development can begin without clarifying interfacing and interconnections with other developments to come in areas such as traffic and transitions to the community. AthenaHealth has approval for an Overlay District not including a garage structure.
Meanwhile, local groups, individuals, and supporters of sustainable development collected signatures for the Moratorium on development on Arsenal Street until a master plan could look at infrastructure, traffic and circulation, density issues, green space, interconnectivity, etc and an architect could develop design standards. More than 150 names were certified. Council President Sideris called a Special Council meeting July 22. Because the Council did not seem to have the votes for a Moratorium-- though other cities and towns have instituted them, including Watertown before completion of the Pleasant Street Corridor Plan-- another petition was circulated by CCG, the Concerned Citizens neighborhood group. This one called for hiring an architect/master planner to work with the Planning Department in case the Moratorium failed. More than 200 signatures were collected from all over town.
The Special Council Meeting was well attended and again, many residents made strong statements. The Council President had asked the Planning Department to come up with a plan to satisfy some of the basic issues raised by residents without calling for a Moratorium on development. Steve Magoon, Director of Community Planning and Development and now also Assistant Town Manager presented the compromise plan. It was unanimously approved by the Council and will be discussed further at the next Council meeting. Introduction and proposal from Mr Magoon are as follows:
We have heard the concern from residents regarding the development activity that has taken place and is being proposed, particularly in the Arsenal Street corridor. One result is tonight’s hearing regarding a proposal to create a moratorium on development within the Arsenal Street corridor.
A moratorium is a serious and significant step to take, and one that should not be taken lightly. It can have the effect of suggesting to the region that we are closed for business, and this is not a place to invest in or bring business to. It also not only affects proposed development projects, but also prospective projects, it affects property owners, and it affects the industries that feed this system, including designers, financiers, suppliers, construction trades, etc. Therefore it is a step that should be approached very cautiously.
I would propose that we undertake an analysis and creation of Design Standards and Design Guidelines. This will allow the Town to develop a more specific set of standards that address how a project is designed, within the envelope that zoning allows. It will give us an opportunity to give greater definition to how new projects look, how they relate to adjoining properties and neighborhoods, and how they address issues like circulation, step backs and transition areas. Design Guidelines then take the next step of providing guidance to how projects can achieve the elements described in the Standards.
While the projects immediately before the Town on Arsenal Street seem to be driving the primary concern, I would suggest that this effort apply more broadly. The design concerns and consideration that have been expressed can and should also apply to projects in the major street corridors in other areas of Town. I believe that this is a better use of Town resources and will result in a more meaningful result in the long term, and can help us address similar concerns elsewhere.
Design Standards and Guidelines can be developed and vetted through a public process that would involve interested parties, while also striving to be as quick as possible.
As the Council is aware, the Community Development and Planning Office is a very busy office these days, and I would propose that we enlist some outside assistance to complete this process. I don’t have a good idea of the total cost at this point, but would suggest that if it is an approach acceptable to the Council, that staff be given an opportunity to put together a scope and cost estimate for Council consideration for the August meeting. I will also need to work with the Town Manager to address the necessary funding for such an effort. As time is of the essence for this concept to be effective, I would suggest a quick turn around and would also place a premium on a process that can be completed in a timely fashion./////
The Moratorium vote, which was the reason the meeting was called, was 6-3 with Dushku, Falkoff, and Palomba voting yes. Cecilia Lenk suggested funding be found for additional permanent staff as soon as possible, notwithstanding the approval of the architect/master planner to aid in conceptualizing the corridor(s). President Sideris also asked the Planning Department to inventory prospective developers and work with the Council President to arrange a Town Hall community meeting in the Fall for discussion in general about what Watertown would like to see here.
July 23 the ZBA approved a special permit for the hotel at Arsenal and Elm Streets. The Pirolli plans for 300 residences with commercial has had site plan reviews. http://www.watertown-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/15152
Tuesday, July 29, 9AM, CVS has a Site Plan Review in the Lower Hearing Room, Town Hall, for a 14,000 sq ft store at the gas station and Elks properties at Mt Auburn and Arlington Streets.
Monday, August 4 a CVS developer meeting is scheduled for 6:30PM, Coolidge School Apartments. Plans are available at the town website:
The Staff Report on CVS can’t be too far ahead, so now is the time to meet in the neighborhoods and get your thoughts organized before the developer meeting and the hearings.
Thursday, August 14, 7PM, Council Chambers, the Economic Development and Planning Subcommittee will discuss Transition Zones. Councilor Dushku writes: "Transition Zones and what we allow in them are not new issues here in Watertown but I was able to get a new referral of this matter to the economic development committee of the town council. So, on August 14, this committee will discuss the low and medium density residential areas that abut commercial or industrial zones. My motion asked for discussion on 'analysis' and 'planning' in these areas. We know that there are new developments under consideration for a few of these. Houses on these streets could be discussed so please, tell people you know there to show up at the meeting at Town Hall: Acton St, Arlington St, Cottage Ln, Clarendon St, Crawford St, Hearn St, Kondazian St, Midland Rd, Molloy St, Norseman Ave, Parker St, Phillips St, Pleasant St, School Ln, Swetts Ct, Waltham St, Washburn St.”
Your anticipation of issues and potential solutions as well as zoning implications are very important.
Monday, August 18, 7PM, Joint meeting of the Economic Development Subcommittee and the Planning Board meets to continue going over the Draft Comprehensive Plan.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS TUESDAY JULY 29:
RETHINK PLASTIC WILL EDUCATE, ILLUMINATE, AND CONTEMPLATE WHAT TO DO ABOUT SINGLE USE PLASTICS-- IS IT TIME FOR WATERTOWN TO INNOVATE? Cities and towns all over the country and the state of Hawaii have banned bags and styrofoam as have cities in Massachusetts as well. 7PM, Coolidge Apartments. Please Join the Discussion.
THE TAPESTRY OF CULTURES, Watertown’s second public art project is underway. Read all about it and enjoy photos.http://blog.watertownbikeped.org/2014/07/watertown-mural-2014-painting-f...
Thanks for all you do.
Please help us brainstorm for Sustainable Watertown Wednesday, July 29, 7-8:30, Library.