The Town Council opened the way for a multi-story hotel to be built in town, but only in a small area on the east side of town on Arsenal Street by unanimously voting to change a town zoning ordinance.
The change of the zoning ordinance allows a hotel of up to 79 feet and seven stories tall, and it will be limited to the Industrial 1 (I-1) Zone. The Council also considered extending the changes in the zoning to I-2 and I-3 zones. One such hotel has been proposed at the former Charles River Saab site which is in the I-1 zone.
Other changes to the zoning include a reduction of parking requirements to .75 cars per room and one for each employee at peak times, and allowing employees to park one behind another blocking them in. The zoning includes a reduction of required loading docks to one (from three). See details of the zoning changes by clicking here.
Director of Economic Development and Planning Steve Magoon said when the zoning change was brought before the Planning Board the recommendation was to only include I-1 because other zones were closer to residential neighborhoods.
This reasoning resonated with councilors, all of whom said they supported the change in I-1 but were not ready to change it in other areas.
“A hotel and possibly more than one hotel is a good amenity for Watertown,” said Councilor Cecilia Lenk. “It is a good use of I-1, but I have long spoken for the need of transition zones separating I-3 zones from neighborhoods.”
The I-1 zone is limited to an area on Elm Street from Chadbourne Terrace to Arsenal Street, and along Arsenal Street including the Arsenal Mall, the Watertown Mall and a small section along the old railroad tracks ending at School Street.
Some at the meeting pushed for extending the new hotel ordinance be included in I-2 and I-3 zones. Advocates included a representative of the owner of the Super 8 Motel, a representative of a developer hoping to build a hotel with a restaurant and pool on Arsenal Street (but not in I-1) and a real estate agent who has a client who wants to build a 10-13 room boutique hotel near Watertown Square.
Steve Winnick, an attorney for Saracen Properties which seeks to build the hotel with a pool, said the zoning only applies to hotels and he does not think dozens of hotels would pop up in town.
The Council heard from residents concerned about zoning and development changing too quickly. Most supported a hotel in the I-1 zone, but did not want it to apply to other areas. Resident Anne Fitzpatrick said she is worried about the character of Watertown changing and becoming more like Boston. She wants the council to be careful when allowing developments in town.
“It’s OK as long as we guide it and develop it smartly, and take it on a case by case basis,” Fitzpatrick said.
Several members of local trade unions asked the council to push developers to use union workers on the project.
Town Council President Mark Sideris and Councilor Aaron Dushku both spoke to the developers, Boylston Properties, who said they would speak with unions about the project. Dushku noted that Boylston have a history of using union workers, but Boston has a requirement to do so which does not exist in Watertown.