Opinions Split Over Taller Tower Request by Developers of Arsenal Yards

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Boylston Propertties

A rendering of what a taller residential tower could look like at Arsenal Yards. It would be 197 feet tall, 67 taller than currently allowed, so developers seek an amendment to the zoning to allow the increased height. The red lines show the outline of the 129-foot tower currently approved.

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.

Why Taller?

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.

Boylston Properties

A rendering of what a building would look like at Arsenal Yards with the approved 130 foot height limit.

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.

Resident Input

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.

20 thoughts on “Opinions Split Over Taller Tower Request by Developers of Arsenal Yards

  1. I’d like to know which town officials succumbed to the developers’ lobbying, although I can probably guess. I hope they listen to their constituents instead. They have already changed Watertown enough. Please stop this madness.

    The only reason for this tower height change is to allow a higher sales price for the upper units—gotta give McQuillen some kudos for being honest about that. The “more space around” is crap.

    Allowing this height change will completely change the character and scale of all future buildings built in Watertown. If you like that, you should go live in Boston. Plenty of overpriced units for you there. This will not help to create affordable units. This will not help anyone but the developers.

    Thank you Angie for fighting the good fight. I hope the rest of the TC pitches in.

  2. These (and a number of the other developments) will make for excellent AirBnb investor unit$.

    Is Watertown regulating that? If so, has there been any fair, comprehensive enforcement, or just people singled out by someone complaining?

    You know there is a strong short term market, that is why hotels have been developed (heck, there’s one on the Arsenal plan).

  3. Gosh Marcia, we are getting a building G in any case. If we do not have the good fortune to live there, then it is just a question of which shape of outdoor sculpture looks better.
    I say pick the taller building. Then lets push Bill and his team to take some of that additional profit and put it into the park and a really great looking landmark building G. Did you know that we are going to get some three bedroom affordable units in the mix with this new plan?
    Rather than just saying no, how about if you take some of your graphic art skills to really make a difference by giving us some renderings as to what sort of style you think would look best here? We already have plenty of six story boring cube buildings in town.
    Check out the improved proposed new footprint, really interesting angles to work with.
    I have no problem with the taller height if the building is decent looking.

    • I haven’t exactly made up my mind about the taller building, but I am leaning against. But I am certain that without additional public benefits, Mr. McQuillan should get no further concessions. He has already gotten quite a lot and he has not been as generous to the residents of Watertown as he should be. He is the one walking around town saying that the TMA shuttle will never be public. What’s in it for us Bill? That’s how this game works.

  4. Building height isn’t the only issue here. What seems to be overlooked is that the number of studio units has gone from 30 (24.5%) to zero.
    The number of 3 bedroom units has been increased from 3 (2.5%) to 33 (27%).

    https://ma-watertown3.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/25304/061318-Arsenal-Yards—Community-Meeting-Building-G—Presentation-PCA-2018-06-18

    One of the biggest concerns I hear from residents and town officials is the shortage
    of available housing. McQuillen’s change in plans only compounds the problem for the sake of lining his pockets. If he really believes a taller building is in the towns best interest, he needs to put his money where his mouth is and devise a plan that includes smaller affordable units. Enough housing units (both affordable and market price), were already eliminated after the original plans for building B were changed from residential to a hotel, and now this (is anyone else seeing a pattern here?)

    Height increase aside, town officials and residents need to examine and and ask themselves if the negligible gain in open space is worth the loss of living space.

    • The total living space (square footage) in both buildings is practically the same Alan. What changes is the configuration of the units as you noted. And that can change, depending on market conditions when construction gets underway. Many folks downsizing from a house to a condo still want space. Example: master bedroom, guest bedroom, and home office. Or a family with two children = 3 bedrooms. Previous complaints at many project hearings were that there were not enough 3 bedroom units. Granted many of these buildings were rentals. Costs, changing demographics, fluctuating market conditions, and Planning Board review may lead to some changes in condo sizing.

  5. To repeat what has been said before.
    The amendment is not about one building but about as many 197′ buildings developers choose to build. This puts planning at the discretion of the developers and not the Watertown planners. We have not heard from the Watertown planners only the developer.

  6. They actually cannot make a request for a taller tower at this point, because the zoning does not allow it. The request is to change the zoning, which you mention in the article, but the title of your article is misleading. The fact that developers held a community meeting to discuss a height increase to one of the buildings in their plan that is beyond what is currently allowed by the zoning was very premature. The fact that this meeting was held to only discuss Building G is a distraction from the actual issue at hand, which is a request to change the zoning for an entire district. There should be a meeting hosted by the town, not the developers, to discuss the affect this zoning amendment could have on the entire district and to the abutting districts. This is not a small request and it deserves serious discussion.

    • I agree, the town needs to make sure residents understand this is a zoning change and the possible implications to RMUD and other districts going forward.

    • I totally agree with Michelle and Kate. We need to have a serious community discussion on this issue as well as an update on the Comprehensive Plan (accepted in 2015) – what’s gone right, where we need to recalibrate, what may be no longer relevant. No matter what height BP is allowed to build at, the building will need to be attractive to potential buyers given the location and pricing. BP mixes pride and profit, as they should. This is the biggest project that they will have done to date. That our city is silent on this issue is truly concerning given all the info floating around. Where is our leadership?

      • Good question? All dog and pony shows by the Developers. Most the new development is ugly and expensive for renters. As a resident, my neighborhood is being impacted. Traffic is crazy and the plan for Mt. Auburn hurts existing businesses.

        Even town run meetings are given over to the Developers. Where has the money gone to? Can’t see great improvements.

        Like the CVS allowed on Mt Auburn over the neighbors objections , the Developers own the process, are throwing up ugly buildings, changing designs – like the hideous garages at the Arsenal.

        Where is the leadership and vision?

  7. I have a few concerns:
    1. With this many 3 bedroom apartments I have to wonder what the impact would be on the number of new students attending our schools.
    2. Does our fire department have the necessary equipment to handle a fire in a building of this size? If not what would be the cost on obtain and maintain such equipment?
    3. I just cannot imagine a 197 foot building in Watertown, do we want to look like Boston?

    • Good points John,

      As for the fire department, I asked Chief Quinn about this and he said that Watertown has the same size ladders as Cambridge and Boston. At a certain point, you can’t have a ladder high enough, so they have fire suppression lines inside the building which firefighters can hook onto, and a pump truck will provide pressure. They will have to walk up the stairs (they don’t use elevators in emergencies). I think there is also a concern with staffing with this and the other new developments in town.

  8. although Elodia is correct that some people will down size to 3 BR units it is more likely that it would attract people with children. This change will result in 60 extra bedroom over the 30 units, at 1 student per bedroom this could add 60 students to watertown schools. To date the additional apartments have not been adding students, since they are mostly 1 & 2 BR. This increase in student cost would wipe out any tax advantage the town would gain with higher value units. At even $10,000 per student the town would need $600,000 yearly for student costs. The underlining justification for the additional development has always been the tax gain the town would see. This issue has never been quantified in any of the meetings. Maby it is about time that it is.

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