Residents Ask Town Council to Protect Their Homes from Nearby Developments

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A room full of people gathered to talk about ways to make sure that the development boom in Watertown does not overwhelm nearby residential neighborhoods. The focus of the talk was creating transition zones between new developments and residential areas.

Many neighborhoods sit right up against properties zoned as industrial. Some long-time disused or underused properties in these areas are being redeveloped and bigger and busier projects have been constructed.

Town C0uncilor Aaron Dushku asked to have transition zones created where neighborhoods border industrial zones. Last week, the Council’s Economic Development and Planning subcommittee discussed the issue.

Most of the new projects have gone up on the Westside of town in the Pleasant Street Corridor, but the new focus of development is Arsenal Street. Residents said they believe the projects that have been built or approved have overwhelmed the homes in the area.

Town officials have tried to alter zoning rules to encourage a certain kind of development, including the Pleasant Street Corridor where many say the projects are too big and site too close to the street.

Councilor Vincent Piccirilli worked on the new zoning in the Pleasant Street Corridor and warned that new changes could also be unsatisfactory.

“I guarantee that no one will be totally satisfied,” Piccirilli said.

Many at the meeting did not like that message, and said they hoped the Council could find ways to change the zoning that would make most people happy.

“We are putting our families in your hands,” resident Sean Forde said. “Keep trying. Don’t give up.”

Kathy Santoian said she has worked for decades to make sure her home is not negatively impacted by the nearby Arsenal on the Charles complex. She hopes the Council will keep residents’ concerns at the top of their list.

“We elected you because we trust you to take the interests of residents first, not the commercial developers who come into town, build something and then leave for the next project,” Santoian said.

Piccirilli said he hopes to make new zoning that residents will like, but he worries about history repeating.

“It’s frustrating. We put together zoning and it is not turning out the way we want,” Piccirilli said.

Councilor Susan Falkoff suggested looking at the issue neighborhood by neighborhood so the unique issues of each area can be addressed. She suggested that local residents lead tours of their area for Councilors and others.

The town has rules in place to make some buffer between industrial areas and residential properties, said Steve Magoon, director of Community Development and Planning.

The current rules say:

  • No structure in an industrial zone can be built within 25 feet of the property line of an abutting residential property
  • A building between 25 and 35 feet from a residential property cannot exceed 25 feet or two stories
  • Between 35 and 50 feet, buildings cannot be taller than 36 feet and three stories
  • A structure built 50 feet or from the neighboring property cannot be taller than 50 feet

The town already has multiple efforts looking to change the zoning rules, Magoon said, and he recommended against starting a separate one to look at transition zones.

The biggest changes will come with the Comprehensive Plan, which looks at the whole town and addresses a wide array of areas, not just economic development and residential areas. The Council and Planning Board are also considering changing the Pleasant Street Corridor zoning. Finally, the Council recently agreed to hire a consultant to make a set of design standards and design guidelines in town.

The standards and guidelines will apply to both small commercial, industrial and mixed used projects and large commercial, mixed use and residential developments, Magoon said. The standards set out the limits for things such as height, setback and landscaping, Magoon said, and the guidelines provide examples of what the town how like standards be used.

The rules for transition zones should not only address building height, said resident Mark Kraczkiewicz, but also impact from noise, light and other impacts from developments.

Resident David Sprogis said he has seen other communities where the zoning rules take more than just size and shape of structures into account. In San Francisco, developments must fit into the character of the neighborhood, down to small details.

Sprogis said he wants to see the “principals and values of residents included in the zoning.

“We want to protect our property values and quality of life,” Sprogis said.

Falkoff suggested waiting to see what happens with the other zoning changes before holding another meeting about transition zones, and the subcommittee voted 3-0 to do so.

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