Zoning Changes Wanted to Create Galen St. Project, Councilor Wants More Community Input

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The proposal for properties on Galen Street if requested zoning changes go through.

Owners of properties along Galen Street and Water Street seek zoning changes so they can build a biotech complex with a park, but the District Councilor said she wants the public to be able to weigh in before the change goes through.

Tuesday night, Boston Development Group came forward requesting the zoning change. The developers have purchased a number of properties east of Galen Street, and while more than 80 percent of the land is in the Industrial 2 (I-2) zone, about 17 percent is zoned as Limited business. They have requested that all the parcels be zoned I-2.

Bob Doherty, a vice president with Boston Development Group, said that under the current zoning, two life science buildings could be built with a mixed-use building in the Limited Business zone. With a change of the zoning to the properties (70, 78, 84-86, and 88 Galen St.) two life science buildings could be built, along with a 25,000 sq. ft. park on the area next to the MBTA bus yard and not far from the Charles River.

The properties they purchased include the former Colonial Buick-GMC dealer, the former Valvoline oil change, a house that had a fire, and the former U.S. Petroleum gas station.

The areas on Galen Street being considered for zoning changes from Limited Business to Industrial 2 are shown in orange. The pink are other Limited Business zoned properties that would not change.

In addition, they propose re-aligning Water Street so that it intersects Galen Street across from Aldridge Road. This would allow MBTA buses from the Watertown Yard to use that as an entrance and exit, instead of its current location.

“It will cut down the number of buses exiting into the pinch point at the Watertown Square,” said Attorney Bill York, who is representing Boston Development Group.

Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said that the traffic may also be improved at the intersection of Galen and Nonantum/Watertown streets because currently there is a phase in the traffic light to allow the buses to exit.

District B Councilor Lisa Feltner, represents the area, said she does not feel comfortable approving the zoning change because she does not know enough about the impact of the project on the area, including on traffic, parking and light. She also said that she wants the public to have more input.

Feltner made a motion to refer the proposal to a Council subcommittee to study the proposal, and also to have a community meeting. No one seconded the motion, so it failed. Then Feltner used her Charter Privilege to delay the vote on the zoning change.

Town Attorney Mark Reich said the vote will be held at the next Town Council meeting, which will be on Feb. 11. Also, because the public hearing was held and closed, no more public input can be heard, but councilors can discuss the motion.

Feltner said she still hopes to hold a community meeting before the vote.

An illustration of what could be built on the site without the zoning changes.

Before Feltner used her Charter Privilege, other councilors spoke in favor of the change, though some were wary. Councilor Tony Palomba said that while the change might help the town, they also help the developer.

“I am looking at the plan fairly close, and expect what the developer does with it does not stray far from what we are talking about,” Palomba said. “It is a bit of a leap of faith.”

Councilor Anthony Donato said that he heard some of the concerns of the Planning Board, and said that the zoning for the Industrial 2 zone may need updating. He added, however, that he did not want to punish the current property owner because of that. He added that, he thinks it would be a better project if the zoning change is approved.

Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said that old uses were auto-focused businesses, which created significant traffic.

“By redeveloping it into a biotech complex it would remove a lot of vehicle intensive uses that were there,” Piccirilli said.

24 thoughts on “Zoning Changes Wanted to Create Galen St. Project, Councilor Wants More Community Input

  1. If a member of the council says that they do “not know enough about the impact of the project on the area, including on traffic, parking and light”, then it should be discussed further. There should be no decision made without having this information. How can any councilor make an informed decision on the matter without this important information? It’s very disconcerting that only one member of the council has any interest in actually doing their job. The public hearing should have been continued. I can’t understand why no other council member wanted to study the proposal further. This is very disappointing. Why are the other members of the council even there, if they have no interest doing the work necessary to make the right decisions?

  2. How is what’s there more vehicle intensive than 100s of biotech employees coming in
    and leaving during rush hour in the most backed-up artery to the pike???

  3. Charlie, it was a little unclear to me whether there actually will be a community meeting, so residents can learn about the proposal and weigh in. Could you clarify? Thank you.

  4. I attended the meeting and I did not understand why the new design cannot be accomplished without a zoning change. If some one can identify where in the zoning code it deals with 1 parcel spanning two zoning districts I would appreciate it. There must be more to this but it was not explained well at the meeting. At the meeting I did not understand Lisa’s vote but after additional thought I agree. I think this needs more time to understand it. The town should not rely on the developers to do our planning.

  5. The questions being raised sound legitimate, however I did not hear anything significant.
    Vincent Piccirlli’s comment of there perhaps being less traffic is probably not going to be true as these two life science buildings and additional business will likely have more people coming and going than there was before.
    I personally like what I see so far but, Devils will be in the details.
    While a change in zoning may benefit the developer, it would not be logical to block the change if it is also a benefit to the over all town plan.
    I’m not sure using Water St. is a better location of buses coming and going.
    What do the bus drivers and the MBTA think?

  6. Has the developer mentioned the number of spaces in the proposed parking lot? How will putting in parking for as many cars as would be entering and exiting for this size of a project “remove a lot of vehicle intensive uses that were there”? I don’t understand why auto-focused businesses led to “significant traffic”; did a car dealership and the Valvoline service contribute as many vehicles to the traffic as this complex would? I have lived off Galen Street for more than twenty years. Commuter time traffic clogs Galen Street; it has made access from driveways and side streets nearly impossible creating dangerous, accident-prone entries into the traffic flow. Emergency vehicles are equally affected.

    • No, the developers did not mention the number of spaces. I should be clear, however, that changing the zoning would not approve the project. It would still have to go through the Planning Board and Zoning Board. During that process there would be a community meeting. Of course, changing the zoning would last beyond this proposal and be permanent (or until the Town changes it again).

  7. By all means, proceed with caution. But anything that replaces an auto dealership, a gas station, an oil-change shop, and a burned-down house–and adds parkland–has to be an improvement.

  8. When was the public hearing for this building? I live across the street and have heard nothing about this, either from my district councillor or the developer. I would absolutely have attended the public meeting for this project.

    • You can see my other comment, but the short version is there was a public hearing at the Town Council for changing the zoning. The project will have to then go through the normal hearing process which includes a Community Meeting and hearings with the Planning and Zoning boards.

  9. The town changed the zoning on the Pleasant Street corridor and look what that got us……when the time comes for a community meeting. People need to turn out and questions need to be raised, how big will the buildings be, number of parking spaces. Biotech labs have multiple deliveries per data (UPS, Fed Ex), they have 18-wheeler loads of gases and supplies so delivery areas have to be far off the street. Not too mention the noise from a biotech lab, these buildings require large roof mounted air-handlers which always run. ….stand next to the C4 Therapeutics building off Bigelow Ave and you’ll understand…..

    letting a developer make zoning changes is like letting the Fox guard the chicken coop

  10. “Town Attorney Mark Reich said the vote will be held at the next Town Council meeting, which will be on Feb. 11. Also, because the public hearing was held and closed, no more public input can be heard, but councilors can discuss the motion. ”

    DOESN’T THIS STATEMENT DIRECTLY CONTRADICT THE RULE THAT ANY TOPIC can be addressed during Public Forum at the start and end of Town Council meetings?

  11. Here we go again. Let’s JUMP HIGH to input any zoning changes requested by developers. Yet we haven’t updated our noise or lighting zoning in years. Thank you to Lisa Feltner, Town Councilor for District 4, for being the only Councilor with the guts to stand up and request a stay for this vote. All the others were ready to just go ahead and give the developer what they wanted. If you read the developer’s presentation, it is basically a treatise for “Let us build big and dense and make as much money as we can off of Watertown! And we’ll give you…….nothing! No real mitigation for the consequences of our development, but really folks, it will be GREAT!” Our government has left us all holding the bag.

  12. it all started at the planning board with Gary Shaw stating that you’re making the zoning change before seeing what Boston Properties wanted to build there, also that if Boston didn’t want to build there they could also sell the property to someone else with the zoning change in place, pretty much said why he was against voting for! 5 councilors in the audience 1 stands up to object [Feltner] to this also. She also carried it over to the council hearing great job Lisa, other 4===at council hearing 1 says too much traffic from gas station, car dealer oil change etc. funny I never noticed cars backed upped trying to get in there only trying to get into the square. another states he was at the meeting agrees with G. Shaw but is going to vote for the change. #3 at the council meeting states he’s giving them a gift by allowing the change #4 who knows what they think? But good citizens of Watertown Steve Magoon has given it his papel blessing along with his faithful followers so don’t worry what could go wrong…….Another Athena or Arsenal yards who cares about the residents & what they got to say, do they ever get back to you? Hey I live in the west end & this change stinks all the way over to here. STAND STRONG

  13. Our planning committee needs to put the brakes on. When the former Water Street project was voted down by most of the folks that live and traverse Galen Street I thought that set a precedent. Now, seemingly when most of us are in the dark about these current plans, it appears that this project, likely twice or three times the size of the former Water Street project, is going to cripple the traffic.

    Has a traffic study been done that will surely illuminate the forever mess that will be created if this project goes through?

    I am imploring our Town reps to join Lisa and not allow a project to be built that will
    negatively change the main road into Watertown forever.

  14. I should be somewhat clearer on this subject. something is going to be developed on the site which would be an improvement for sure. the way they are going about it, making the change of the zoning before seeing the plans for what they want to do shouldn’t really be a big secret.

  15. Congratulations to Town Councilor, Lisa Feltner!

    I agree with many others that this area can be redeveloped into something that is an asset to the town. A previous post here sums it up, saying that increased park and green space will be far better for the town than the current gas station and auto dealership.

    But . . . . building more biotech/industrial space could end up being a very bad idea for all of the reasons mentioned here. There is absolutely NO WAY that adding a new workspace to this area will reduce traffic. Sad to hear this argument from some of our elected and appointed officials!

    Many of Watertown’s access routes are already extremely congested during rush hour, with no sign of traffic mitigation any time soon. Without massive improvements in public transit, Watertown is on the verge of strangling itself with traffic congestion from over development.

    The Globe article about “sorry Watertown” only covers part of the argument against biotechs moving to Watertown. I have heard specifically from a few small companies that they have not moved to Watertown because commuting to Watertown is so inconvenient and they have heard about how bad traffic is around here.

    So, put on the breaks and reconsider this development proposal, Watertown’s Town Council!

  16. With all due respect Mr Passell, any development is not necessarily better than what we have, when what underpins our town is a lack of vision and the right rules to go along with it, thought about consequences, and good planning. Although I will say ANY planning would be an improvement over what we have now, which is a planning dept, planning board and Town Council who will vote yes on any developers proposal. Thanks again to Lisa Feltner and also Gary Shaw for asking the questions that need to be asked.

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