The new owner of the Arsenal on the Charles, athenahealth, has a grand vision for revitalizing the complex, but one feature may stand in the way of getting approval from the Town Council – a seven story parking garage.
The company bought the 29-acre complex between Arsenal and North Beacon streets to be its corporate headquarters and company officials want to add more than just additional space for athenahealth, said Bridger McGaw, director of athena environment told the Town Council.
The company has a master plan, which it seeks approval from the town so the approval process can be streamlined. Athenahealth would like to bring in retail stores, restaurants and even put in a beer garden. Another idea is to create a “Quincy Market-like” area by putting glass over areas between the “finger buildings” – the long buildings east of the Arsenal Center for the Arts.
If the master plan is approved, the company will not need to get a special permit for each project on the campus, as long as it fits within the guidelines in the plan.
Athenahealth also seeks to make the campus more appealing by creating more green space. To do so several hundred parking spots will have to be removed from surface parking and they would be moved into a parking garage on the westside of the complex. The company also seeks to close off some of the roads, including the roadway between the current garage and the Boston Sports Club.
The proposed garage would have 1,800 spots, and would be seven stories, and 79-feet tall, McGaw said.
Residents living near the Arsenal on the Charles said the garage would be a huge negative addition to their neighborhood. North Beacon Street resident Kathy Santoian said she has met with an real estate agent who said the new garage across from her home would reduce the value of her home.
Bay Street resident Marcia Ciro brought in an illustration of how large the garage would appear from her street.
“It would be major for us to look down our street and see such a big building,” Ciro said. “It also dwarfs the other buildings in the complex.”
Anjalee Davis, a Charles River Road resident, worries that all the cars from the garage will use the North Beacon Street exit to leave the complex because it is the only exit with a traffic light.
Officials from the Arsenal Center for the Arts, and a board member of the New Repertory Theater, said the garage would be a big help for their patrons.
Megan O’Halloran, executive director of the Watertown Belmont Chamber of Commerce, said she believes the improvements will help the complex and the town, as well.
“It will promote Watertown as a great place to do business,” O’Halloran said. “As far as the garage, I understand people hesitation and fear of such a large garage. But they will be creating green space and it will be a nice place to visit, eat and enjoy.”
Some Town Councilors had their doubts, too. Angeline Kounelis said she would not support the project with the proposed garage. Besides being large, she said it is on the far end of the complex, meaning it would be a long walk for the elderly or disabled.
Councilor Ken Woodland said that he works at the Riverworks Complex on and he has to cross Pleasant Street to get to work. He would prefer to walk from a garage in the same complex.
The overall plan looks good to Councilor Vincent Piccirilli, but he does see a problem with it.
“This is very exciting. It fits in with the concept of the Watertown Comprehensive Plan and fits with the 21st century innovation economy,” Piccirilli said. “The height of the garage does seem to be a problem.”
Council Vice President Steve Corbett said he supports the plan, including the garage.
“We should support the proposed changes,” Corbett said. “Athenahealth is an excellent corporate citizen. They do not want to maximize density or size. The plan envisions attracting merchants and creating open spaces. I don’t believe seven stories is prohibitive on the site.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris said that he is understands why athenahealth would not want to spend money designing the garage, but he said councilors have their own concerns.
“We hesitate because we will lose all control,” Sideris said. “The Planning Board, which would approve projects, is not elected by the general public. We are.”
The Council voted to continue the hearing, and Sideris said he would consult with the town’s attorneys and others others about the project. The public will have another chance to weigh in at the next meeting because the public hearing was kept open.