Town Council Rejects Moratorium, Will Fast Track New Design Guidelines

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The proposed moratorium that would have temporarily halted development on Arsenal Street was rejected by the Town Council Tuesday night, but instead voted to quickly develop guidelines and standards for how projects can be built across town.

A group of residents petitioned the Council to put in the moratorium, and Tuesday’s special Town Council meeting was scheduled to address the issue.

Community Development and Planning Director Steve Magoon advised the Council that a moratorium would send the wrong message to developers.

“It can send the message we are a community closed for business and not a place to invest in,” Magoon said.

In addition, the moratorium can take time to go into effect. Town Attorney Mark Reich said it must be posted by the Planning Board and it has 65 days to hold a public hearing, and then it must go to the Town Council to have a public hearing.

Reich said there are ways to reduce the amount of time it would take to pass the moratorium, such as having a joint Town Council/Planning Board meeting.

Instead, Magoon proposed a plan to come up with a set up design standards and design guidelines that will say how projects can be built, how projects connect with adjoining properties, and what they will look like. The Watertown Planning Department staff will come up with a proposal and present it to the Council at its Aug. 12 meeting.

These new rules would not just apply to Arsenal Street but the entire town.

To help them complete the task in a quick manner, consultants will be hired to help the Planning staff come up with design standards and design guidelines.

The Council unanimously supported the idea of come up with design standards and design guidelines. After the vote, Councilor Aaron Dushku proposed having a two month moratorium to help make sure the standards and guidelines get into place before more proposals come forward.

The Council voted that down 6-3, with Dushku, Tony Palomba and Susan Falkoff supporting the moratorium.

The majority of the residents who spoke at the Town Council supported the moratorium, but some said they did not think it was the right way to go.

Former Town Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney said she supported having the moratorium, and when she was on the council one was put into place to stop tall buildings from being built, and it did not take long to pass. She also said she did not like that fact that the public did not have a chance to comment on the plan to develop design standards and guidelines, and that it was not presented until the time of the meeting.

Town Council President Mark Sideris said he worked with Magoon and checked with the Town Attorney to make sure the process met muster.

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