(The following letter also was sent to Town of Watertown officials)
In 2016, discussions began in Watertown about a proposed development behind our Templeton Parkway home, on a steep, rocky 0.10 acre property with a large seam of ledge at 71 Salisbury Road.
Concerns were clearly expressed about potential damage to neighboring properties that heavy excavation of the ledge might cause. My next door neighbor talked with the developer about this concern. Councilor Kounelis sent a message of concern to the Planning Department. Eamon Fee, the developer, assured us he did not intend his excavation would come near abutting properties.
In 2018 the developer gave the Building Department written assurance that no major excavation would occur without a meeting with neighbors in advance, at which the developer would describe the scope and duration of the project and neighbors could register their concerns. The purpose of this communication opportunity would be to assuage neighborhood concern — and from neighbors’ point of view, to minimize excavation damage to neighboring properties.
A building permit was issued by the Building Department later in 2018, and in 2019, excavation work began.
No neighborhood meeting was held.
For over a week, tons of soil and bedrock were jackhammered to pieces and carried away in giant truckloads. Despite the developer’s assurance that neighboring property would not be put at risk, the excavation removed material that buttressed soil supporting our concrete block garage, and excavated a large volume of bedrock and soil on our neighbor’s property that buttressed his concrete retaining wall.
Another neighbor has a group of tall maples on the development side of his home, which are a major amenity in this increasingly canopy-barren East End neighborhood. Those trees’ roots were badly mangled by the excavation despite reported assurance by the developer to our neighbor that the trees would not be harmed.
Ignoring Trees for Watertown’s advice to hire a certified arborist specializing in tree care to assess and repair his neighbor’s excavation-damaged tree root systems, the developer hired an uncertified arborist who specializes in tree removals. The arborist opined that the trees will do just fine without root remediation.
The Planning Department has apparently accepted this assessment, despite receiving a detailed assessment from a qualified senior arborist hired by our neighbor, which stated that the trees urgently need care. We will not go into detail about the many messages which neighbors, Councilor Kounelis, and other citizens sent to try to enlist the help of our Planning and Building Departments. You’ve received many of these in your inboxes, and there are pertinent communications in the Building Permit file for 71 Salisbury Road.
Our questions to our Town Manager and elected representatives are these: Where was responsible Town oversight, before and during this excavation? Shouldn’t the Town weigh neighborhood concerns at least equally with concerns of developers?
– Why didn’t Watertown’s Building Department require that the developer meet with neighbors before proceeding with excavation, as the developer agreed to before a building permit was issued? This could have saved so much grief.
– Why didn’t the Building Department require survey boundary markers be professionally installed in advance of excavation, to clearly indicate the legal boundary to machine operators?
– Why didn’t the Building Department monitor this major excavation and stop it when it encroached on neighbors’ properties?
– Why didn’t Watertown’s Planning Department step in when the Building Department, a subdivision of the Planning Department, was patently not protecting neighborhood interests?
– Why did the Planning Department give no advice or support to our neighbor when important neighborhood green infrastructure, his trees, were damaged by excavation, nor even acknowledge the professional arboricultural assessment and the quote for arboricultural remediation that he provided?
These trees’ damaged root systems badly need attention from a competent Certified Arborist. The only acknowledgement our neighbor’s efforts received was a nasty letter from the developer’s lawyer, demanding that the neighbor stop harassing his client.
Based on our first-hand experience and observation of other recent developer overreaches in Watertown, the effect of Watertown’s lack of responsible oversight is to allow developers to get away with whatever they want, with some form of Town corrective action only if neighbors squawk long and loud enough.
To echo our dedicated Town Councilor Angie Kounelis’s refrain: what is the value of issuing a building permit if the Town provides no assurance that neighbors’ properties will be protected?
Surely Watertown should not allow developers to encroach on, destroy or destabilize neighborhood property nor irredeemably damage important neighborhood green infrastructure.
Can Watertown’s Town Manager and Town Council ensure that our Planning and Building Departments justly balance the interests of abutting taxpayers and residents with the interests of developers, by exercising active, responsible municipal oversight both before and during construction?
Will the Town provide written assurance that before occupancy is allowed in the new building at 71 Salisbury Road, the developer shall fully restore neighbors’ encroached property, fully restore the critical long-term buttressing function of excavated ledge and soil, and provide competent professional remediation for these important neighborhood trees?
Please help these Watertown Departments do a better job of providing neighborhood development oversight that prevents this kind of situation, by being proactive and at least as protective of impacted Watertown neighborhoods as of developers.
Thank you for your attention.
Libby Shaw and Jim Bredt