The developers of the Arsenal Mall renovation got a mix of opinions Monday night about their request to build a tower even higher than the 130-foot limit in Watertown’s Regional Mixed Use District (RMUD).
Watertown residents packed a room at the Arsenal Mall, a short distance from where developers of Arsenal Yards would like to put up Building G, a 197-foot condominium tower. Boylston Properties, the developer of the property, has submitted an amendment for the Town to consider which would increase the maximum height of the RMUD — located around the eastern end of Arsenal Street — by 67 feet.
The people speaking in opposition to the height increase outnumbered those who like the idea of a taller tower.
Andrew Copelotti, project manager for Boylston Properties, said the new tower would be 18 stories, rather than 12, and have the same number of units, 122, and approximately the same floor space, 188,000 sq. ft.
With the taller tower, the footprint of the building would be smaller, Copelotti said, allowing for more light to shine around the building and between Building G and previously approved Building F, an apartment building with Roche Bros. on the bottom. The space between the two buildings would be increased from about 24 to 47 feet, said Eric Brown, project architect from PCA.
“We want to open it up and make it a useful space for the building,” said Brown, who added that in the shorter building the space between the buildings would be mostly used as a service and delivery space.
Brown added that the final building would almost definitely look different from the renderings presented Monday, and available online here. Designers made the renderings to give people an idea of what it could look like, Brown said.
The wider gap between buildings would allow the tower to have more glass, said architect Laura Portney, of PCA, which would have been prohibited with the narrower space due to fire safety laws.
People asked why developers wanted to build a taller building, and why they did not ask for it originally. Bill McQuillan, principal of Boylston Properties, said when the RMUD zoning was approved in 2016 he said 130 feet was probably not high enough and said that Boylston may be back to request an increased height limit. He added that they considered asking for the taller height for just Building G, but were urged by people in the Town to ask for a RMUD-wide change.
As for why the taller building, he said the condos on the 18th floor would go for more than those on the fourth floor.
“We are not a not-for-profit company,” McQuillan said. “We are risking $400 million. And we invested $100 million and have worked on this for four years.”
He added that the plan is to bring in a condominium developer to build and run the building, but that Boylston Properties would be involved in the process.
People wondered what the 197 foot tower could compare to in the area. The Tufts Health Plan building on Mt. Auburn Street is 155 feet tall. The tower at Perkins School for the Blind is believed to be the tallest structure in town, at about 180 feet.
The Ten Ten Memorial Drive condominium building in Cambridge (next to Mount Auburn Hospital) is about 18 stories tall.
Many opposing the taller building said they did not think it fits in Watertown, and some feared that other tall buildings would be coming down the road. The zoning change would allow for a taller building on properties in the RMUD that have at least 10 acres of land. Currently, the only other property with that much space is the Watertown Mall, across from Arsenal Yards, but other properties could be combined to reach 10 acres.
Some favoring the taller building said they think it looks better, others said it would allow for more open land around the building. One man said he thinks the area needs to be upgraded from the old Arsenal Mall and he liked the look of a modern tower.
Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Pettito Devaney said she worries about firefighters’ safety, since the ladder trucks would not even be able to reach half way up the building.
“They will have to climb up 18 floors carrying their heavy gear,” Pettito Devaney said. “I’m concerned about this building and our firefighters.”
Others spoke in favor of the building because they like the other Boylston Properties developments in town, and said it will increase the tax revenues coming into Watertown. Resident John Labadini said he likes the Linx office building and the Residence Inn by Marriott, and he has always found Boylston Properties approachable and willing to answer questions.
Some people worried about traffic, and resident Dennis Duff said he is concerned the next door Arsenal Park will become the personal park of those living in the tower and not have enough room for other Watertown residents.
McQuillan said that he would like the park to be improved for all, and Boylston will be donating money toward improving the park.
Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis, who represents East Watertown, said that she not only opposes the 197 foot height, but she also opposed the 130 foot limit set in the RMUD. She said she understands why Boylston Properties has been pushing for the amendment, and why they lobbied people in town. Kounelis added that she thought that some of the people who came out to the meeting were encouraged to do so by the developers.
More community meeting on the proposed amendment to add height in the RMUD will be held, Copelotti said. The amendment will also have to go before the Planning Board and get final approval from the Town Council.