Town Council Votes Down Prohibiting Self Storage in Watertown

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Charlie Breitrose

Watertown’s Town Hall.

The Town Council split on whether to prohibit self storage facilities from operating in Watertown on Tuesday, ultimately noting not to ban the use. 

The proposed amendment to the town’s Zoning Ordinance came about after the Town Council approved a change to the parking requirements for self storage facilities in January.

Some Councilors and residents opposed the parking change — which reduced the parking requirement to one spot for every three storage units to two spots per every 10,000 sq. ft. of gross floor area — in part because the amendment came from the owners of the property at 80 Elm St., a potential spot for self storage.

The question of banning self-storage as a use in Watertown went to the Planning Board in April. The proposal also included a report from the Watertown Planning Department which recommended that self storage be allowed if it gets a special permit from the town, and that it be a mixed use development. The proposal from the Planning department was to require either 20 percent of the ground floor be used for something other than self-storage, or incorporate a mix of uses on multiple floors which make up at least 10 percent of the total floor area. Another recommendation was to have at least a 50-foot setback from any abutting residential property.

Assistant Town Manager and Director of Community Development and Planning Steve Magoon said that many people use self storage, and currently Watertown residents and businesses must go out of town to use storage. It creates little traffic but also does not bring many people to the area to patronize other businesses.

Traditionally, self storage has been in large, monolithic buildings, Magoon said. More recently, however, they have been designed to be more attractive.

Ultimately the Planning Board voted to recommend not prohibiting self storage and said it should be allowed with a special permit. The board, however, did not require projects be mixed use.

East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis supported eliminating self storage as a use in town.

“I am voting this evening to oppose self storage,” Kounelis said. “They would be in I-1 and I-2 zones which would be predominantly located in the East End of Watertown.”

Kounelis added that along with 80 Elm St., developers have also expressed interest in putting self storage on a property on Coolidge Hill Road. She is concerned that the town changed the zoning to help specific properties.

“Are we enacting spot zoning for the benefit of a property owner?” Kounelis said.

Councilor Anthony Donato said that he does not think self storage should be totally eliminated, and it will still need to get approval from the Planning and Zoning boards for a special permit.

“It would eliminate the use in all I-1 and I-2 (industrial zones), not just 80 Elm St.,” Donato said. “I think the special permit process is the perfect way to resolve citizens concerns. The process works, if you think of the hotel (proposed for 80 Elm St.) that was ultimately denied.”

Councilor Caroline Bays wondered how many tax dollars self storage would bring in, and how much compared to other uses, such as a a hotel. Magoon said that he does not know how much each use would bring in. She also asked how many employees would be hired. Magoon said in most facilities there are one or two people working at a time.

Councilor Susan Falkoff said she opposed self storage because she does not like how they look and has never seen one of the attractive ones.

Councilor Lisa Feltner said she had trouble supporting self storage as is because it does not bring many people to the area to “activate” the area. She wanted to know if the proposal could be amended to require the recommendations from the Planning Department for having other uses along with self storage and require a set back.

Town Attorney Mark Reich said that an amendment could be made if it is less restrictive, but since the vote was on whether to restrict the use it would require a substitute motion.

Town Council President Mark Sideris and others said they were not ready to discuss alternative motions.

“I prepared to consider prohibiting a use or not,” Sideris said. “I am not prepared to vote on limitations.”

To pass, the amendment needed a two-thirds vote in favor, but the amendment fell 4-5, with Falkoff, Feltner, Kounelis and Bays voting yes.

Town Council Splits on Zoning Change for Self Storage Facilities

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