The Charles River provides a place to stroll, see nature and even commute, and town officials looking at the Comprehensive Plan draft discussed whether it could also be a place to dine or have more active recreation.
A joint meeting of the Planning Board and the Town Council’s Economic Development and Planning subcommittee was held last week to continue reviewing the Comprehensive Plan – a major planning document that will help shape what Watertown will be like in the future.
The river could be a place for more town residents to enjoy and even draw people from outside of town. Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said that will not happen on its own.
“It is not good enough to just be next to a body or water,” Piccirlli said. “You have to give people things to do.”
Some have talked about finding a place along the river to put a restaurants. The Charles has very few such places in any community through which it flows. In Waltham, Margaritas was built with a patio along a walking path on the river and has been a big success.
In Watertown, there are a few opportunities for such restaurants. The new owners of the Arsenal Project have talked about adding new restaurants and taking advantage of the river. While it is not right on the river, the mall property overlooks the Charles.
Another spot could be behind the Russo & Sons property, near the John Ryan Skating Arena. Councilor Aaron Dushku said the Arena may make sense because it already has parking and is not used during the summer.
The town could also find a place along the river where people could rent a canoe or kayak. The group talked about where such a facility would go, and the consensus was that it had to be east of the Watertown Dam to give more water to boat along, and so people could paddle toward Boston if they wished.
Making the river more attractive could also have some negative effects, said resident Barbara Ruskin.
“We should make sure we don’t destroy the natural part of the river,” she said.
Open spaces and natural spots are hard to find in Watertown. The group discussed ways to make more areas open the public, including by encouraging private groups to make their property open to the public. One such example is Walker Pond on the property of the recently built Alta at the Estate housing complex off Waltham Street. People can now walk around part of the pond on a path, and use the dog park there.
Piccirilli said the town could look for similar opportunities such as Sawin Pond on the Eastside of town.
As for town-owned property, Dushku said he would like to see improvements made to the Watertown Square Delta to make it more pedestrian friendly. He suggested adding a plaza and places for people to sit.
Finding the funds for the town to acquire more open space can be a challenge. One way to do it is through the state’s Community Preservation Act. The town considered it in 2005, but residents voted it down.
Passing the CPA would add to the property taxes, but the state would match a portion of the dollars. This year the match rate was 35 percent, said Steve Magoon, the town’s director of Community Development and Planning.
The members of the Council and Planning Board reviewing at the meeting said they did not want to make reconsidering the CPA a goal in the Comprehensive Plan, but said they could mention in the plan that residents could start their own effort to pass the CPA.
About half the chapters of the Comprehensive Plan have been reviewed in the three scheduled meetings on the plan. More meetings will be scheduled to continue reviewing the draft.
See previous stories on the Comprehensive Plan: