UPDATED: Town Council Candidates Discuss Their Priorities, If Elected

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Watertown Town Hall

(Note: Anthony Donato’s answers were updated, and the response to the second question was omitted from the first version).

Watertown voters have a choice of seven candidates running for the four Town Councilor At-Large seats, which are elected by the entire town, during the Nov. 5, 2019 election. To find out more about the candidates, former Town Councilor At-Large Aaron Dushku asked each a series of questions about what they would if elected, with the answers to be published by Watertown News.

This is the first in a series of five pieces featuring the answers from the Watertown Councilor At-Large candidates. (Note that Michelle Cokonougher declined to submit answers).

The candidate answers are posted in order that they were submitted for the first, then reversed for the second.

  • What is the first legislative action you’ll take in January if you get elected? By legislative action, we mean a motion, a committee referral or a request for information. Why?

Tony Palomba: I would make a request for information regarding the estimated cost for moving to weekly recycling pickup and how our current contract can be amended. Why? Because I have received many emails from constituents, one recently from a new resident to Watertown, asking why we do not have weekly recycling pickup. Everyone who contacts me makes it clear they have more recycling each week than trash.

Clyde Younger: Educational needs of our schools has always been a priority of mine.  I would also like the School Committee to reconsider their decision regarding a formal association with Minuteman. Refer for discussion how the Town Auditor can also be an Assistant Town Manager in violation of the provisions of the Charter. Refer Public Forum question so that the person is formally notified as to how their concern is being handled. Refer to Economic Development and Planning the need for the Council to take the lead in conducting a comprehensive review of our zoning in order to curb and eliminate over development in a city whose area is slightly less than four square miles. Ensure that there is an annual review of the Town Manager conducted by the Town Council President. Advocate for consideration of a Mayor be presented to the electorate as part of the 2020 Charter recommendations. Seek new opportunities for building new Public Housing. If we are going to allow development – Public Housing is a need. Affordable apartments in these new developments are not truly affordable. Seek to gain as much open space as possible.

Anthony Donato: The implementation of the “Watertown Connector” program. The Watertown Connector program is a partnership between Arsenal Street businesses and residential properties as well as Tufts Health to expand access to Boston area MBTA transit hubs through the existing athenahealth shuttles. I would specifically request information regarding the ability of Watertown residents to access Watertown Connector services. And, the Watertown Transportation Management Association’s request for funding of a commuter shuttle on Pleasant Street through the MassDOT Workforce Transportation Program.

I believe that the development and implementation of commuter shuttles on both Pleasant Street and Arsenal Street can have a significant impact on reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse emissions in Town.

Caroline Bays: I would like to address the parking requirements for developers. Developers are telling us that up to one third of the spaces in their developments are empty and residents are negatively impacted by unnecessarily large parking garages. We need to stop requiring that developers pave over what could be green space and allow them to build for the current needs of residents. I would like to refer the question of parking requirements to committee.

John Gannon: As a first-time candidate for Watertown Town Council At-Large, I have a unique perspective on working with local legislative bodies. As a municipal law attorney who has represented over 100 Massachusetts cities and towns over the past 25 years, I have worked extensively researching and drafting hundreds of local ordinances and regulations, as well as interpreting state and federal law to facilitate meaningful public participation in legislative meetings. I know from observing multiple legislative meetings that the most prepared councillors have done their homework on researching their priorities prior to advocating for their positions. I plan to be that type of Town Councilor. While going door-to-door during this campaign and speaking to hundreds of people, I have a well-informed sense of how local issues impact their day-to-day living. The first order of business is looking at the large developments and their impact on Watertown. We have seen dense, large-scale projects that provide significant traffic and transportation impacts, reduction in affordable housing options and that place pressure on public services. We can do better. I would advocate that the Town Council set up a committee to revisit the Watertown Zoning Ordinances to reduce the impact on future large-scale developments, such as, for example, requiring better buffers of such projects so that neighbors don’t have to look at parking garages and multi-story residences close to their lot lines, that an economic analysis be impacts are addressed before a project may be considered.

Jimmy Mello: Refer to the Economic Development Committee to look into a possible moratorium on conversion of single family homes into multi-family ones. Why? This is one issue that many residents have been concerned with. They are tired of seeing their neighborhoods being overrun with these conversions.

  • Can you multi-task? What’s the next legislative action on your list?

Jimmy Mello: To look into the town’s Community Development and Planning work with surrounding communities where we share common roads and intersections to synchronize traffic signals. This would help to alleviate traffic backup and congestion.

John Gannon: With significant challenges facing Watertown’s future, the Town Council will have to be adept at multi-tasking. There are numerous priorities that must be handled simultaneously to improve the lives of all residents. One issue that we must face head-on is climate change. Scientific studies indicate that there are measures we must at the local level tackle to leave a better future for our children and their children. This is multi-pronged effort that will involve continuing Town Council legislative efforts and adapting legislative approaches as new technologies advance. Watertown must reduce its carbon footprint, and we need to be forward-thinking in our approaches. First, we must work at making Watertown public buildings net-zero carbon impact; that includes the new elementary schools we are constructing and rehabilitating. That also means that we should retro-fit existing buildings to achieve low energy impact, and we must explore powering our buildings with alternative energy sources, such as solar panels on roofs, battery storage and geothermal solutions. Where the Town was able to aggregate its purchasing power to allow residents to power their own homes with renewable sources, we can do the same for our public buildings. Second, we must also work on reducing climate impact by reducing automobile trips. Increasing local public transportation alternatives, such as an Arsenal Street/Pleasant Street shuttle service envisioned by the Transportation Management Association, not only would reduce traffic impact, they are great for the environment. These efforts involve legislative multi-tasking, and they are vital to our future.

Caroline Bays: I would like to implement some of the ideas that have emerged from the Kitchen Table Conversations residents participated in over the summer. For instance, a popular idea was creating a town wide calendar. I also would like to pursue hiring a communications director for the town.

Anthony Donato: I can most certainly muli-task. In addition to my role as a Town Councilor, I have a full-time job as an attorney and I have continued my involvement in the Rotary Club of Watertown, as a Board Member of the Watertown Boys and Girls Club and as a Trustee of the Lt. Paul J. Sullivan Scholarship. My next legislative action  would be to submit a request for information to the Department of Community Development and Planning regarding the acquisition of land for open space and /or recreational use, which was Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Policy Guideline II.N.  In light of all the recent development in Town, I would advocate for the purchase of land that could be preserved as open, recreational and green space to ensure that these resources are not lost to the current and future generations of Watertown residents due to the pressures of development.

Clyde Younger: Certainly!! I have listed a number of items (see above).

Tony Palomba: Request a formal presentation from the Watertown Transportation Management Association (WatertownTMA) of its work in 2019 and its plans, benchmarks and budget for 2020, particularly in regards to the establishment of shuttle service on Arsenal and Pleasant Streets that will be accessible to Watertown residents. Why? Watertown is a member of the WatertownTMA, along with local businesses and residential developments. I think it is important for the Town Council to know the organization’s plans for shuttle service. Many Councilors have been talking about a shuttle as a way to ease traffic congestion in Town, it would be good to know when this might be a reality and what can be done to speed this up.

21 thoughts on “UPDATED: Town Council Candidates Discuss Their Priorities, If Elected

  1. Lots of really good ideas here. In addition to recycling happening weekly, I would love to see Watertown implement a weekly composting program as well. Not only does composting have its environmental benefits, but it’s also more cost-effective than traditional waste removal.

    Also, I’d love to see Watertown post an ordinance that limits the height of buildings within residential neighborhoods. I have no problem with new developments, but I do have a problem with five-story tall commercial and/or residential buildings being built adjacent to single-family and multi-occupancy homes, as will unfortunately be happening soon on Coolidge Hill Road.

    • I agree with Damian about restricting height in new development near residential neighborhoods. I’d also like to see increased requirements for green space and reduced requirements for parking.

      • Unfortunately, our zoning ordinance doesn’t have any requirements for “Green Space” nor do we have a definition of “Green Space” in our zoning ordinance. Many other cities and towns define green space in there zoning ordinances and have requirements for minimum set asides of “Green Space”. This is something I would like to change.

        • Michelle, I would have highly considered voting for you except for the fact that you declined to answer these questions that the other candidates addressed. Why did you turn down the interview?

    • Anthony Donato wants to buy green space, (with tax payer money), when the council has sold off all of the potential green space in Watertown to developers? What is wrong with you people? Should have saved a lot or two. SMH

  2. I am confused as to what Caroline Bays is talking about. Why would you want more cars on the street as opposed to having the parking on the property. I don’t know of any development in town where the parking is not being used. Look at the townhouses being built and often they have just two tandem spaces. The larger developments usually offer up to 2 spaces. I don’t think any parking requirements for developers should be lifted or lessened. If you want more green space then change the required amounts of land needed to build on.

    All one has to do is drive around this town and see how many cars are parked on the streets to know that lifting or softening a requirement will only make it worse. I happen to live in an area where there are several illegal 3 family homes and we have cars all over the place that belong to houses 3-4 homes away. I try to abide by a general rule of courtesy that if I want to park my car on the street I only park in front of my own property but unfortunately with the amount of overcrowding that is happening in town that general courtesy is not followed. It’s not at all unusual to find streets so filled with cars that they are barely passable.

    I think what the town really needs is a year round parking ban. That would really help to discourage some of the overcrowding and illegal apartments. In my area, the winter ban is not even respected. Cars remain on the street even during snowstorms. Very little ticketing happens in the area too.

    To Jimmy Mello, Not so sure I think that is really a problem. Many of the single family homes that get knocked down and turned into condos are in two family zoned neighborhoods so chances are there are multifamily properties all over that area.

    As for weekly recycling, hasn’t this been discussed and determined that it was too expensive? If so how about opening up the recycle center more than the two days it is open OR at least extending the hours so people could take advantage of it if needed?

    • The town did a study and found a lot of the big new developments (mostly the apartments, are not using all their parking. Some only use a bit more than half. But it does seem like the street parking is well used, at least at night.

      As for teardowns, in my two family neighborhood I don’t remember any two families being torn down and rebuilt, only single families.

      • Tenants are charged $50-$150 per month to park in the lots attached to apartment buildings in town. To avoid that charge, the tenants park on the streets during the months there is no snow ban. That is why the garages and lots appear underutilized.

        Is there any way to require that parking charges are included with rent to make use of the available spots without adding extra financial burden to tenants?

  3. Just wanted to add a couple notes here that I think folks might find helpful.

    Residential Height Restrictions can be found in the Watertown Zoning Ordinance. There is a good chart that summarizes different height restrictions based on zone (residential vs. industrial, etc.) on page 44. Generally the max height in residential neighborhoods is 35 feet.

    While the zoning doesn’t have a requirement for “green space” it has one for comparable “open space” defined, in part, as “Areas open, and unobstructed to the sky that can be used for active or passive recreation purposes.”

    The Council looked into composting in the beginning of 2017 and determined there was no municipal market for compostable waste at that time. That was almost 3 years ago so things may have changed. Probably worth another look as cities/towns are starting programs around us.

    The Council has looked into whether or not to add weekly recycling pick-up a couple of times. The last recycling survey found about 10% of houses actually fill their recycling toters under the bi-weekly system. The cost to increase recycling collection to weekly is about $539,000 per year (2017 estimate). It was also noted that doing so will double the carbon footprint of collection, double truck traffic in Town and is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in recycling as the current collection is sufficient for most. So instead we instituted the policy of allowing an extra recycling toter to those 10% that need it. That way there is no additional truck traffic, no additional carbon footprint from those trucks and those who need the extra recycling get it (and we don’t incur the extra annual cost).

    Ken Woodland
    District D Town Councilor

    • Our Open Space definition is not at all comparable to a Green Space definition. Based on Watertown’s Open Space definition, a development can satisfy open space requirements absent of any green space. A number of cities and towns have multiple Open Space Definitions in their zoning, including definitions of “Open Space, Green Area” and “Open Space, Landscaped”. They also have associated minimum requirements for each type of defined open space. Here are just a few examples of definitions from some other city/town ordinances:

      ARLINGTON (https://www.arlingtonma.gov/home/showdocument?id=43413) – Open Space, Landscaped: Open space designed and developed for pleasant appearance in trees, shrubs, ground covers and grass, including other landscaped elements such as natural features of the site, walks and terraces, and also including open areas accessible to and developed for the use of the occupants of the building located upon a roof not more than 10 feet above the level of the lowest story used for dwelling purposes.

      CAMBRIDGE (https://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/CDD/ZoningDevel/Ordinance/zo_article2_1397.ashx) – Open Space, Green Area. A landscaped area of land associated with and located on the same tract of land as a major building or group of buildings in relation to which it serves to provided light and air, or scenic, recreational, or similar purposes. Green Area Open Space shall be open and unobstructed to the sky, it shall be land at grade, and shall consist of friable, permeable materials (including but not limited to loam, gravel, sand, crushed stone, and including naturally occurring soil, bedrock, and incidental pipes and other underground utilities) having a minimum depth of three (3) feet. Said land shall be capable of supporting the growth of trees, grass, ground cover, shrubs and similar vegetation. Such area may not include any portion of the lot used for parking areas and access drives or other hard surface areas, except walks and terraces designed and intended for non-vehicular use. Green Area Open Space shall, except as provided for below, consist entirely of living trees, grass, ground cover, bushes, shrubs, and/or similar vegetation, as well as water and other natural features of the site. However, in no case shall hard surfaced walks and terraces, or pervious ground covers like gravel, stone, and wood chips not being used as mulch beneath vegetation, exceed twenty-five (25) percent of the total required Green Area Open Space.

      MEDFORD (https://library.municode.com/ma/medford/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIIREOR_CH94ZO_ARTIINGE_S94-2DE) – Open space, landscaped means open space designed and planted for pleasant appearance with trees, shrubs, ground cover and grass; including other landscaped elements such as natural features of the site, walks and terraces. Such space may not include lot area used for parking, loading, access drives, other hard surfaced areas or usable open space.

      • Thanks for providing this info, Michelle.

        Brookline’s zoning ordinance also makes a clear distinction between “open space” and “landscaped open space” (Thanks to Bob Lauricella for this info).

        This is an important distinction. Research shows that human health in cities is strongly affected by the percentage and quality of publicly-accessible green open space. Even something as simple as a view of treetops from a window correlates with better hospital patient outcomes, better elementary school student performance, less prison violence.

        Along with all the infrastructural and environmental benefits of landscaped grounds, this is why the zoning ordinances of Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Medford and a host of other Massachusetts cities have explicit definitions and requirements for “green” or “landscaped” open space at ground level.

        By contrast: Watertown’s “open space” definition as currently written doesn’t do anything to protect or promote green space. At the community meeting for the proposed new development at 164-166 Main Street, we learned that even apartment terraces on upper floors meet Watertown’s definition of open space.

        Watertown should have language in its zoning ordinance which assures that every development project includes some specified minimum percentage of healthy green open space with public benefit. The future health of our city depends on this.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful and comprehensive reply Kenny.

      The key concern of many folks in our community – open space does not equate to green space as noted in a Michelle Cokonougher’s reply.

      Also, in a developer’s meeting residents were told that a private balcony attached to a rental unit is considered open space. Does anyone else think the town has jumped the shark on this issue? We need to recalibrate and review our zoning regs.

  4. In regards to making single family homes into multi-family ones. I would like to look into the possibility of a moratorium. Obviously some conversions may work in particular neighborhoods, but I know some neighbors haven’t wanted them. I do not want to interfere with homeowners property rights. As for weekly recycling I will also say I would like to look into this issue, but as Councilor Kenny Woodland stated it has been looked into and isn’t cost effective. I certainly would not want to have a program that would waste taxpayers money.

    • Thank you for your reply. I am referring to single family homes in T Zones (two family zones) that get knocked down for townhouses. Usually they are surrounded by two family homes so if some of those people are complaining then it doesn’t make much sense that they live in a two family of some sort but don’t want their neighbors to. We currently already have a demolition delay and not sure a moratorium is the way to go. Perhaps making the land requirements larger is one way. I believe right now it only takes about 7500 square feet of land in a two family zoned area to allow for condos/townhouses.

      As for people wanting more recycling, and I am one of them, maybe the town could sell additional toters for a short period of time and offer some type of discount on the purchase.

      What I really want a councilor to address though is the quality of life in town and the many issues that are dragging it down. The overcrowding, traffic congestion, zoning violations with illegal apartments, high taxes, the overbuilding, etc have all negatively impacted us. Some of it could be difficult to change but some of it could be tweaked with better enforcement, better parking regulations and rules, maybe even a hotline number to report the properties in town that are causing strain on neighborhoods, etc.

      If we keep on this path then it will only get worse for all of us living here.

      • Extra recycling toters aren’t on sale now?
        It was my impression that they were?
        When we signed the last contract w Republic, we reduced the price considerably for this very reason and sales spiked. Give them a call at DPW and you might be pleasantly surprised.

  5. Which candidates support public housing for low income working families?
    What are candidates’ positions on police cooperation with ICE?

    Thank you.

  6. After hearing about the substantial tax burden related to the cost of having weekly recycling, I’m hoping that we don’t move forward with this initiative. Asking folks to purchase a second recycling bin (or even having the town provide a second one for free, at least for low income residents) sounds like a much more cost effective solution. As some have noted, having fewer vehicle on the street each week prevents carbon emissions, which is the point of recycling in the first place!

    This said, I would still love to see Watertown enact a weekly compositing program. Over 40% of household waste is compostable. Cambridge offers free composting to all residents. Other towns offer subsidized composting. I’d love the former but would be more than happy to have the latter as an option. I’m disappointed that no town council candidates have discussed this matter.

    • The private composting pick-up service I use provides covered bins and requires (compostable) liner bags. If I weren’t using their service, I’d have more food waste in my trash. How does shifting from a trash bin to a compost bin increase the rat population?

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