VW Used Car Center Project Stalls at Zoning Board

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Watertown City Hall

Watertown Town Hall

Watertown Town Hall

The proposal to create a Volkswagen used car center on North Beacon Street hit a road bump Wednesday night when the Zoning Board could not get enough support to take a vote on the project.

Boston Volkswagen seeks to build a new used car center at 21 North Beacon St., which as been Sullivan Tire & Auto Service. The project includes renovating the exterior of the building, adding landscaping, reducing the number of service bays and parking at the building, according to Carla Moynihan, an attorney with Robinson & Cole representing Boston Volkswagen.

They also seek to add a new curb cut to create a second driveway into the property, which sits just off of Watertown Square

The Zoning Board members had some problems with the project. Board member John Gannon said the second curb cut is not allowed in the zoning rules, and he would not support a proposal with that feature. He also wondered if a used car dealership was the best use of the property.

Steve Magoon, Watertown’s director of Community Development and Planning, said it is an improvement, but not likely the best use of the land.

“It is not what we envisioned for Watertown Square. An auto dealership is not the best use for the property,” Magoon said. “Is it less detrimental than existing conditions?  We thought, perhaps, it is.”

Zoning Board Chairwoman Melissa Santucci asked the property owners whether they looked at selling the property, rather than leasing it to VW.

Landlord Warren Healer said that the property had gone on the market. Ultimately, he said, selling the property would not have been as lucrative as leasing after paying capital gains taxes and finding a place to invest the money.

“Several people wanted to pay a substantial amount of money for this,” Healer said. “But when you start to work out the returns, it made more sense to lease out the property.”

Santucci asked whether the number of spots in the parking lot in front of the building could be reduced because it is quite tight. Parking has already been cut down from 12 to nine spots. If the parking was cut anymore, Moynihan said, the owners might find it more difficult to sell the property in the future.

Additional landscaping would visually screen the two service bay doors, Moynihan said. Board members asked if more landscaping could be planted in front of the building, including a third tree.

The Board also wanted to know why the signs on the nearby Boston Volkswagen dealership, 43 North Beacon St., are banners and not permanent signs.

Fred Lavery, from U.S. Auto Group, which owns the dealership, said since 2007 when they moved to Watertown Volkswagen has changed the design of dealerships multiple times. U.S. Auto Group is working to make the VW-approved changes soon, Lavery said.

The discussion took more than 90 minutes, and at the end Santucci asked if the developers would consider continuing the proposal to another meeting. Moynihan said her clients wanted a vote on the project as presented Wednesday night, and would accept conditions placed on the project.

Board members struggled with the proposal. David Ferris and Kelly Donato said they thought it was less detrimental to the neighborhood. Donato said it was only marginally so, however. Gannon said he would not support it with the unapproved curb cut, among other issues.

Ferris proposed approving the project with conditions, including no on-site employee parking, more plantings, a third street tree, replacing the sign and additional landscaping along northeast portion of the site.

The motion died it did not receive a second. No other motions were made, so Santucci asked the developers if they would like to continue the hearing. The agreed this time.

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