Developer Eyeing Spot on Major Watertown Intersection for 40B Housing Project

An image from Google Maps showing the proposed site of a 113 unit 40B housing project at the corner of Coolidge Hill Road and Arlington Street.

A developer has started the process to build a Chapter 40B residential project on a major intersection in East Watertown. Under the state law to encourage the building of affordable housing, 40B projects do not have to comply with many local zoning rules.

The project is proposed for 19 Coolidge Hill Road, on the former E.H. Hinds Atlantic Plant property. The proposal, according to information submitted to the MassHousing Partnership (which oversees 40B projects), would have 113 rental units on the 0.9 acre lot, and would have 28 affordable units. The proposal was submitted by 19 Coolidge Hill Road LLC.

The land on Coolidge Hill Road falls into Watertown’s Industrial 2 zoning, which does not allow residential projects. It is located across Coolidge Hill Road from Mathilda’s Sandwich Shoppe on the five-way intersection with Arlington Street (two ways), Nichols Avenue and Crawford Street.

This is not the first 40B to be considered in Watertown. One previous potential 40B was withdrawn, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon.

40B Process

Under 40B, the Town does not have authority to approve or deny the project, and the developers are allowed to bypass a municipality’s zoning. Magoon said that does not mean Watertown will have no input into the project.

“There is still a public process. It is not carte blanche to ignore everything, but it provides an opportunity to not adhere to all the (Town’s) rules and regulations,” Magoon said.

The fact that the project has been officially submitted by developers to MassHousing is a significant step, Magoon said, but it is an early step in the process. Magoon said the same developers have also expressed an interesest in building a self-storage facility on the 19 Coolidge Hill Road property.

If the project goes ahead, it will go before the Zoning Board of Appeals, which can comment on design and technical aspects of the proposal. It cannot, however, do an independent study of the project. Peer reviews are allowed.

The Town will submit comments on the proposed project, which Magoon said he and his staff are working on.

According to a MassHousing presentation, the comments should be based on “the development: design, access, relationship to neighborhood, wetlands, open space, etc.” However, they cannot include the fiscal impact on the town, including the public schools.

East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis has put together her list of comments on the 40B proposal. She notes that the Town of Watertown has taken actions to create more affordable housing.

“Watertown’s Team has worked fervently to foster affordable housing. We anticipate that the review process by MassHousing will take into consideration the plight of our East End residents, business owners and Watertown community-at-large by noting the recent, and on-going, massive developments and traffic growth within Watertown’s 4.17 sq. mile boundaries,” Kounelis wrote in the comments she submitted to MassHousing.

She added that the Town, particularly the East End, has seen many new large apartment projects built, or approved, in recent years. Those will add more than 600 units to the Arsenal Street Corridor. Also, the East End is home to several of Watertown’s largest employers.

The Arlington Street corridor gets heavy traffic from people going to and from work, Kounelis said, and it is a link between two major arteries: Arsenal Street and Mt. Auburn Street.

Being located in the five-way intersection, Kounelis said the project is not appropriate for a residential building. She also worries about the impact on nearby neighborhoods.

“The proposed density of the housing development would overwhelm the fragile residential neighborhood; comprised predominately of small, multi-family housing units; abutting commercial properties,” Kounelis wrote. See all her comments below:

Kounelis Email 40B by Charlie Breitrose on Scribd

Affordable Housing Requirements

Developers can use 40B if a community does not have a Subsidized Housing Inventory of least 10 percent of its total housing units. Watertown falls short of the 10 percent mark, but has taken steps to increase the Town’s affordable housing stock. A 40B project must have 25 percent of its units rented or sold at affordable rates.

The Town has increased its proportion of affordable units. According to the Watertown Housing Production Plan, adopted in 2014, Watertown has 6.51 percent of its units in the Subsidized Housing Inventory. In May 2018, the Watertown Housing Authority found that of the town’s 15,521 housing units, 1,072 were offered at affordable rates (6.91 percent). Currently, Magoon said, Watertown has 7.5 percent of its units in the Subsidized Housing Inventory.

As of June 2018, the Town needed to add 481 more affordable units to reach the 10 percent mark, according to Andrea Adams, a Senior Planner with the Town’s Department of Community Development and Planning.

Some efforts the Town has made to increase the number of affordable units. The Town Council’s Human Services Committee has held a series of meetings trying to find ways to increase the number of affordable housing units in Watertown.

From 2010 to June 2018, the Town added 231 affordable units, according to a report In 2016, the Town Council approved increasing the required amount of affordable units in new developments from 12.5 percent to 15 percent. However, most of the big residential projects on Pleasant Street and Arsenal Street were approved before the 15 percent requirement was adopted. An exception is the Arsenal Yards complex.

6 thoughts on “Developer Eyeing Spot on Major Watertown Intersection for 40B Housing Project

  1. Bad location for such a large building, in my opinion. We need open space, and this developer wouldn’t have any place to put it!

  2. I think it’s the perfect intersection for it. It’s not one of the busiest intersections, and there are already traffic patterns and (long) lights in place. Not knowing the actual building plans, or number of stories, it’s hard to give a true opinion. But with that hill behind it, it could be 4 stories and still not change the skyline from Nichols St. I think.
    Actually, just thinking about that intersection, it occurs to me that all that “open space” there is just asphalt, not green space. Maybe we could add a rotary to both add some green and get rid of that long light.

  3. I live right around the corner from this property and wholeheartedly approve of it becoming becoming housing (or anything but self storage, for that matter). This place is a totally eyesore now, and has been for far too long. I really feel like a mix of high end/affordable units would be perfect for the neighborhood – adding to the population density and bringing in a number of highly educated folks who could contribute to the economy (and hopefully improve the schools as well).

    Let’s face it – East Watertown will never have babbling brooks, rolling fields and top ranked schools. If you want that type of thing, move to Concord or Lincoln. What we do have here is a vibrant, urban (but still tight knit) community comprised of immigrants, long time townies, tech folks, and creative types who have been priced out of neighboring towns. Let’s keep that going and keep progressing.

  4. Take a ride up to Cushing Square, look at the monstrosity of a development there and how it has TOTALLY changed the character and fabric of the neighborhood, adding a decidely urban and congested character to a neighborhood that was once rich in suburban values. You want more of that for Watertown, really? Move to Concord or Lincoln for the relaxed suburban affordable feeling, yeah, right.

    • I’ll take a mega condos any day over crumbling, abandoned factories, sidewalks in disrepair and sub-par schools.

      A lot of the push back on these housing initiatives seem to be coming from folks who want Watertown to return to the Watertown of 40 years ago, rather than look ahead to what this city has the potential to become. Also, you can’t compare the Watertown of today to the Watertown of yesteryear, but you can compare it to surrounding towns and cities, most of whom have much pricier housing and significantly better school systems. The best comparison might be to Arlington, who once had a similar blue collar population and currently has a similar population density. You’ll find that homes in Arlington sell for, on average, ~$100 more per square foot than in Watertown, and their schools are significantly higher ranked than ours. We can do better. Building new condos where crumbling buildings ones once stood and luring upwardly mobile families to the area is a good way to start the process.

  5. I’m not opposed to this in principle –not a bad idea to add to the housing (and affordable housing) stock near our budding techie corridor. But have any of the commenters above had to drive down Grove St or Arsenal St in the morning? Grove St (along Mt Aub Cemetery) is bumper-to-bumper at 7:30 AM with most of the traffic coming from Belmont and beyond. It’s a convenient cross street and alternative to Fresh Pond Parkway. And it’s very very busy already. Will only get worse with this unless the city and 40B authorities come up with an abatement plan –which is hard to imagine unless we add cross roads…

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