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May 2015 Update

Dear Sustainable Watertown,

We are delighted to report that the Town Council has had a first reading to include a $130,000 position for a Transportation Planner. We are hopeful that the position will be approved, funded, and filled with great urgency since the need is tremendous. The Planning Board has approved the Design Standards and the Council will vote on them. The Council and Planning Board are having a joint hearing of the Comprehensive Plan this week before a future vote. A Transportation Planner could be expected to view these plans with an eye to the public realm and consider traffic, parking, and all modes of transportation from pedestrians to TMAs, or Transportation Management Associations. A Transportation Planner would work with our Planning Department as has David Gamble, the Architect Planner previously hired to work on design guidelines and non- public realm issues. An overview of the city and its circulation, streets, paths, sidewalks, and parking is essential. Hundreds of petition signers for a Moratorium last year hoped to have a Transportation Planner look at the public realm infrastructure. We look forward to learning from and working with a creative and future-thinking Transportation Planner.

The [Soul of the Community Study] found that the most important factors that create emotional bonds between people and their community were not jobs and the economy, but rather "physical beauty, opportunities for socializing and a city's openness to all people." The Knight Foundation also found that communities with the highest levels of attachment also had the highest rates of gross domestic product growth and the strongest economies.

Place is more than just a location on a map. A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics--visual, cultural, social, and environmental--that provide meaning to a location. A community's unique identity also adds economic and social value. To foster distinctiveness, cities must plan for built environments and settlement patterns that are both uplifting and memorable and that foster a sense of belonging and stewardship by residents.

...In the future, planners will have to help communities adapt to change while maintaining or enhancing the things that they value most. Lyman Orton...calls this "heart and soul planning." It is both a process and a philosophy.

The process seeks to engage as many people as possible in community decision making. The philosophy recognizes that special places, characteristics and customs have value.Given all this, I believe that one of the big questions for cities in the future will be:Do you want the character of your city to shape the new development, or do you want the new development to shape the character of the city?
Edward T. McMahon, Why Character is Key to an Economically Vibrant City, April 11, 2012, Urban Land.

Sustainable Watertown is moving forward with an expanded steering committee. We still need help with the Planning and Zoning public discussion series. You will find some questions we would like to discuss, which you might want to incorporate into your questions for an applicant for the ZBA next week. Read more below and at the May 27 entry.

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
  • Council and Subcommittee approval process
  • Oversight of a Board and ongoing evaluation of members preparedness
  • 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)
  • 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.

Look for the posters in store windows all over town from ReThink Plastic that say: Make a Difference with Reusable Shopping Bags. We look forward to a ban on single use plastic bags in Watertown being voted in this Spring.

Don't forget to Friend Sustainable Watertown's new Facebook page. We'll see how it works for facilitating discussions, finding new sources of information, and getting important information to you between Updates.

Thanks for all you do,
Sustainable Watertown


  • Planning and Zoning Process Community Discussion-Volunteer to help
  • Comprehensive Plan Hearings
  • Developer Meeting, 80 Elm Street Hotel
  • Planning Board Greystar/Elan and 80 Elm Street
  • Traffic Designs for Mt Auburn and Orchard/Spring/Church Streets
  • Town Council Budget Review and Meetings
  • ZBA 65 Grove and possibly others
  • ZBA Alternate Member Preliminary Interview
  • WPTTF TMA Forum


MAY 6, WEDNESDAY, 9:30-12, Senior Center. First time seniors can buy a Charlie Card.
MAY 6, WEDNESDAY, 6-9PM, Watertown Middle School. Comprehensive Plan hearing, combined Council and Planning Board.

MAY 7, THURSDAY, 7PM, Coolidge School Apartments,Developer meeting for 80 Elm Street hotel redesigns.Let's see if Design Guidelines and the values and goals of the Comprehensive Plan had any influence on the original "design."

MAY 9, SATURDAY, 10-2PM. Recycling event.

MAY 10, 8-10AM. MOTHER'S DAY WALK FOR PEACE. Contact minister@fpwatertown to see if there is room on a bus going from the First Parish Church at 7:15.


MAY 13, WEDNESDAY, 7PM, Town Hall. Joint Committee Safety, Rules, Economic Development. Bring Your Own Liquor Licenses.


MAY 13, WEDNESDAY, 7PM, Town Hall. PLANNING BOARD. Greystar/Elan (Irving and Arsenal Streets) and 80 Elm Street Hotel.
Check Documents on the Town Website, Planning->Cases.

MAY 14, THURSDAY, 7-9PM. Public Works presents aninformational meeting about the Mt Auburn Street and the Orchard/Church/Common Street intersection redesigns. Really. Tufts Health Plan, 705 Mt Auburn Street, Cafe. Please check the draft plans carefully on line and take your ideas for a Complete Streets design that includes safe passage for bikes, pedestrians, as well as cars.

MAY 18, MONDAY, 6-8PM. TOWN COUNCIL BUDGET OVERVIEW. Town Hall. Please check these important documents and look for meetings on particular areas of the budget: MAY 20, Wednesday, 6-8. MAY 26, Tuesday, 8-10. MAY 30, SATURDAY, 9-3PM. Council Chambers.

MAY 27, WEDNESDAY, 6;30-7. Economic Development and Planning Committeepreliminary interview withJason Cohen, applicant for ZBA alternate position. Please submit your questions for the applicant to the Subcommittee members, Mr Corbett, Chair, Ms Falkoff, and Mr Piccirilli.
See note re: Planning and Zoning Public Discussions.
MAY 27, WEDNESDAY, 7PM. ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS. 65 Grove Street. Others locations TBA.

JUNE 4, THURSDAY, 6:30, Library, TMA EDUCATIONAL FORUM to discuss Transit Management Associations which supplement the MBTA and could serve the public as well as the private sector. Watertown Public Transit Task Force (WPTTF) is sponsoring the Forum in collaboration with the Watertown Belmont Chamber of Commerce.

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