First off, I would like to say that no one I have spoken to about a moratorium is anti-development. I do not feel that this is a black and white issue; on the contrary, I feel this is an exciting opportunity for the town—if done well. Whether it’s a moratorium, or hiring a dedicated consultant to help us get the Comprehensive Plan in place, we need to do something fast before it’s too late.
Let’s face it: developers need a strong incentive to do the best for the town. Unless we have a good vision, codified into our laws, we negotiate with all developers from a position of weakness and rely on their mercy for our requests. Development is happening quickly, the town is totally unprepared, and we do not have a legal position to demand much since our planning department can just react to each plan as it comes. This is a very poor way to do things.
We feel a better way to do things, one that would benefit the town for years to come, would be to get the comprehensive plan in place including the zoning to go with it addressing:
- height variety and restrictions
- set backs from the streets, neighborhoods and river
- use of public transportation
- green areas
- parking …
The list can go on. We will have to live with these new buildings for many years, through good economic times and bad. Not spending the time and money to do it now, will have dire consequences for the town. Already, you can see how bad planning has resulted in a mess on Pleasant Street. Let’s not let that happen to the Arsenal St corridor.
I am dismayed to hear some of the town councilors express support for recent proposals by saying: it’s so much better than what’s there now. What a bad standard to use! I want the BEST for Watertown, not just better than an empty lot. If we are smart, we can have our cake and eat it too—IF WE ARE SMART ABOUT PLANNING.
Recent proposals have been disappointing and I am afraid that they will get through because we are unprepared. 202-204 Arsenal St, a mixed-use development of 300 apts and street-level retail, could be great. Instead it is a cookie-cutter design that Hanover/Cresset has plopped down in other places and just slightly revised for our town. It is like a gated community that turns its back on the adjoining neighborhood, the street, the whole town. What a shame that we can’t negotiate from a position of strength, with a real vision for Watertown to work from. Instead, we are begging for a few tidbits like a street closing, a walking path, a little more green space, etc. (in a laughable turn of events, they have given us a closed drainage ditch with grass on top to serve as green space!).
Likewise, we are lucky to have AthenaHealth in the Arsenal Office Park. They have really exciting plans for the property. But in creating those plans, they have ended up with a parking problem. They have hired a developer who has recommended the cheapest, easiest solution: build a huge, 9-story garage on the west end of the property, right across from my 2-story neighborhood. Is that the best they can do? Probably not, but if we don’t have the best laws on our books, that is probably what we’ll get. Again, what a shame.
The new Marriott Hotel has been given permission to build to 79 feet from the 50 foot limit on the books now. This is probably fine for that space. But now we have a request for a 79 foot garage at AthenaHealth and well, since we don’t have a plan for how height can work on the whole street, we have no legal way to refuse this, even though we all recognize it’s not the best. Again, we are reacting to each proposal, one at a time, with no vision. And there is a lot more to come.
My hope is that our town government will finally recognize that we are in a bad position without good planning and zoning in place, and do what’s necessary to get us there. My hope is that they will recognize that governing by reacting only makes their job all the harder, and sows a lot of frustration in their constituents. Let’s do what’s necessary to make Watertown a great and attractive city.