AODD decision pending--time to act before May 14 Planning Board meeting

Dear Friends,
It is time to drop everything and consider the effects of the amended Arsenal Overlay Development District (AODD) that will be presented to the Planning Board at its regularly scheduled meeting, Wednesday, May 14. FYI, 202 Arsenal Street will not be discussed until the June meeting.
The link to the proposed amendments is very interesting. It is a comprehensive plan for a campus. The redlined version of AthenaHealth's proposal is here:
Watertown's Community Planning and Development Dept has edited in red and added the blue, which are, we presume, protections for Watertown.
The conundrum is, as the Planning Department explained to us, that proposals for developments cannot be made unless the zoning code has already approved such use. At that point, it would seem that it is impossible for the town to then restrict such buildings because approval for them has been given in advance. In other words, a nine story building cannot be proposed unless nine story buildings are allowed in a particular zone, or overlay district. How then could the town legally reject nine story buildings if they are already in the code and meet requirements in the special permitting process? An overlay district, like the Pleasant Street Corridor, pre-approves zoning in certain areas and gives prior approval so that proposals need not go to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Planning Board gives final approvals when zoning requirements have been met by pre-approval.
It seems that the rules that require proposals to be pre-approved are flawed. This overlay district really grants carte blanche in exchange for development. The master plan of AthenaHealth is not definite (I am told) and does not need to be. Watertown will lose its ability to have much influence on the master plan once the AODD amendments are granted.
Zoning is an area that is very complicated and requires much thought, and perhaps some research into the experiences of other cities and towns in the Commonwealth and elsewhere. Sustainable Watertown is working for good development, not to stop development. We are at the same time wary of islands of development that are closed off from the town by design. It seems to be referred to as the Google model these days, yet we are not on a mountain top, but a well connected city. We are concerned that retail development in a campus environment might make it easy for employees, and there will be at least three thousand we are told, to avoid our restaurants, markets, and shops that already exist. There is also some question about a campus with university connections in which there are many other people about, students and faculty, and scientific research of unspecified nature, all which seem to be a carryover from the original Overlay District when Harvard was directly involved. But those permissions remain over time, making it appear that overlay amendments are quite permanent.
While many residents are grateful for the artful preservation of historic buildings and additions to the work force to come at AthenaHealth, it also appears to many that it is premature to grant the AODD amendments at this time.
Please read the entire document about AODD amendments. We think that it is time to make your opinions known to the Community Development and Planning Department, members of the Planning Board, and our Town Councilors.
We would like to hear your opinions and any concerns you might have.
Barbara Ruskin
Neighborhood Network coordinator
Sustainable Watertown

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