Consultant Will Help Draft Changes to Watertown’s Zoning

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The Town Council agreed to hire a consultant to figure out how Watertown’s zoning should change to encourage development in town while preserving its neighborhoods.

A set of design standards and design guidelines will be drafted with the help of the consultant. The Council decided to go this route, rather than having a building moratorium on the Arsenal Street Corridor, as a group had petitioned to do.

Putting together the design standards and guidelines will take 3 to 4 months, said Community Development and Planning Director Steve Magoon.

The design standards lay out the rules that developers and property owners must follow when building in town, Magoon said, and design guidelines provide examples of how the standards would be applied.

“Design guidelines show them what things ought to look like, and what they ought not to look like,” Magoon said.

Developing the standards and guidelines will be done in three phases. During first phase, which will take about four weeks, consultants and the town’s planners will look at design standards and guidelines in other communities. Magoon said that Dedham could be a model, and added that Cambridge and Somerville also have such documents.

In the second phase, the consultant will develop a preliminary draft of the standards and guidelines, which will be reviewed by the Planning Department staff, Magoon said.

The final draft will be written during the third phase, Magoon said, which he expects to take about three weeks. Any changes to the town’s zoning must then be approved by the Town Council and Planning Board. Each board will hold public hearings, too.

Councilors had some suggestions for how to undertake the process. Councilor Cecilia Lenk has looked at design standards and guidelines from communities across the country.

“I have seen some cookie cutter ones. We should move away from that or else we will look like the Southwest where everything looks the same,” Lenk said. “Good design standards and guidelines should look at connecting spaces and improving the town.”

When the design guidelines are drafted, Councilor Tony Palomba said he would like to see consultants work with local architects and designers.

“There are architects interested in the further of Watertown,” Palomba said. “I believe we should get them involved.”

Magoon estimates that the cost of the consultant will be about $50,000. There will be some public meetings,

Rather than having a call for proposals, Magoon said he planned to select an experienced firm and try to work out a contract. Some Councilors said they would like to see a broader search, but ultimately decided that cutting down the time would be more important.

In another effort to cut the cost, Magoon said the town’s Planning Staff could run public meetings in place of the consultant.

Council President Mark Sideris said he would rather have the consultant run the meetings.

Town Manager Michael Driscoll said that the budget for the consultants has not been set and said it will be enough to get the job done.

The Council will likely vote on the funding for the consultant at their next meeting on Sept. 10.

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