Board Sends Housing Section of Comprehensive Plan Back for Overhaul

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The Housing section of the Watertown Comprehensive Plan focuses too much on affordable housing and does not have a clear stance on what kind of residential developments should be built in town, said the boards reviewing the plan.

Looking at the goals in the housing section of the Watertown Comprehensive Plan, the members of the Town Council’s Economic Development and Planning Committee and the Planning Board said the recommendations focus too much on creating affordable housing and not enough on what kind of housing should be added.

Town Councilor Susan Falkoff said she has heard differing views from residents.

“Do we want families or do we not want families,” Falkoff said.

The large developments with mostly one- and two-bedroom units tend to attract single people or childless couples. Most of the new housing in town has been of that type. Those types of developments have also been unpopular with many residents.

Homes that attract families, however, could add more children to the schools, resulting in more expenses for the town. Planning Board Chairman John Hawes said he has talked to developers who have said that they believe Watertown does not want housing that attracts families. He said he is not so sure that is the message he wants to send in the Comprehensive Plan.

“It is a dicey issue and I am not so sure that’s a done deal,” Hawes said. “The underlying question is about families and schools, but those are the glue, what ties the community together.”

Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he often hears that people leave Watertown because they cannot find single family houses. He noted there are 20 percent more two-family homes than single family houses in Watertown.

The goals focusing on affordable housing have the aim of Watertown reaching the 10 percent affordable housing required by the state. One of the recommendations would to increase the requirement for new project to 12.5 percent of the units affordable instead of the 10 percent currently required.

Town Councilor Steve Corbett said he worries about the change.

“That is a 25 percent increase, and I think it gets to the point where we push too far,” Corbett said.

Senior Town Planner Gideon Schreiber told the group that other towns have the 12.5 percent requirement, including Somerville and Arlington, and Cambridge required 15 percent.

Hawes said he believes the Housing section needs more work.

“I think housing needs a bigger discussion,” he said.

Steve Magoon, director of the Community Development and Planning Department, said he and his staff will work more on the chapter and will bring it back at a future meeting.

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