Several residents spoke out against the large residential garage being constructed on Morse Street on the Southside of Watertown at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, and Town Council President Mark Sideris told them that construction has been halted on the building.
The garage going up at 73-75 Morse Street was allowed to be built by the Town’s Planning Department to replace a condemned garage. The new building has a second story with what appears to be living quarters, and it sits just five feet from the property line of the neighbors backing up against the property.
Judy Antonucci lives right behind the property and said she and her neighbors were never notified about the proposed garage, nor were they giving a chance to oppose it. She added the garage has made a huge negative impact on her property.
“I see it from my first floor, my second floor, and even my third floor windows,” Antonucci said. “I don’t get any sun anymore. I’m sure in the summer I won’t have any grass or flowers, and I will not even be able to sit and enjoy a sunny April day in my yard.”
Ellen Ridge, a nearby resident, said the garage is 18 feet tall, and neighbors have seen plumbing going into the area above the garage.
“It is no longer just a garage,” Ridge said.
Morse Street resident James Brown said that the town needs to change its zoning rules, otherwise “this is going to set a precedent.”
Watertown resident Chuck Dickinson said that the issue is larger than just the one property.
“This really is an issue of the credibility of government at the local level,” Dickinson said.
After the residents spoke during the Public Forum, Sideris told them that the developer had been into the Watertown Planning Department earlier that day.
“Work has stopped and the garage will be redesigned,” Sideris said.
He added that he is considering bringing a proposal to the next Town Council meeting to look into whether the Town should change the rules regarding garages. Any change to Watertown’s Zoning Ordinance would have to go to the Planning Board first and then be approved by the Town Council.
After the meeting Steve Magoon, Assistant Town Manager and Director of Community Development and Planning, said that residents had also contacted the Planning Department about appealing the decision of the Watertown Zoning Enforcement officer to allow the garage to be built without getting a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. This would be required if it was not an existing non-conforming condition.
He said the garage had been allowed because the previous garage was grandfathered in as a non-conforming structure in a two-family zone (T Zone). The property also has a one family house and a two family home on it.
The garage and the two-family home had been condemned, Magoon said, They were allowed to be rebuilt by right (and not having to go before the Zoning Board), he said, because condemned structures are treated the same as if they were destroyed by a fire or natural disaster.
When the developer came in this week, Magoon said, Planning Department officials discussed the garage that has been built.
“We said we have real concerns that this is a two-story garage,” Magoon said.
Whether the developers have to appear before the Zoning Board will depend, Magoon said, if the neighbors are satisfied with the new design for the garage.