The CVS proposed for East Watertown had its first hearing in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday and residents said they worry that the approval of the project is being rushed.
The project has met resistance since it was proposed, both from residents and the town boards. Last week, the Planning Board voted 3-1 against supporting the proposed 13,000-square-foot project at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Arlington streets.
Neighbors and residents expressed the same concerns as they did during the Planning Board hearings – about lights, noise and most of all traffic.
This week, they also talked about whether the project was the “best use” for what is one of the gateways to Watertown.
“The ‘Welcome to CVS’ is not welcome to Watertown people want,” said resident Barbara Ruskin.
The town has been working on a set of design standards and guidelines for developments in Watertown, and resident Elodia Thomas she thinks they could have a positive impact on the CVS project. The standards and guidelines have not been approve yet, however.
“Can we slow down a bit and use this on the CVS?” Thomas said. “This is a unique area and we need a little bit more breathing room on this to discuss more ideas.”
Town planners suggested an even grander project, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon.
“It is a prominent corners, and we felt it could be more. It could be significantly larger, with two or three floors of residences on top of it,” Magoon said.
Developers preferred to go with just a pharmacy, but they have altered the project greatly, Magoon said. At first they planned just to renovate the former Souza True office building and put a parking lot at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Arlington Streets. The Planning Department encouraged them to have the store right on the corner with parking in the back – as the project has been proposed.
Residents of Wells Avenue, which faces the back of the project, say the new configuration will mean more noise, light and traffic for them. Wells Avenue resident David Peckar said by removing the office building and the Elks Club a new corridor will open up allowing light and noise from Arlington and Mt. Auburn to come through.
Developers said they planned to put up a six-foot mesh fence with vegetation on it to block headlights from shining onto homes on Wells Avenue. Peckar had his doubts about its effectiveness.
“Our first floor windows would not be blocked at all by the barrier because they are higher than eight feet off the ground,” Peckar said. “It would be a very small, ineffective device.”
Also, most of the cars going to the CVS would exit onto Wells Avenue, which will be the only way to get back onto Mt. Auburn Street because cars will not be allowed to turn left out of the pharmacy’s driveway onto Arlington Street.
Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said it only takes about four cars lined up on Bigelow Avenue to block Wells Avenue. Zoning Board member John Gannon said he worries that traffic will back up onto Wells Avenue and then into the parking lot.
Developers said they would put a “Do Not Block” and markings in the intersection of Wells and Bigelow so people to not sit in the intersection. They also will ask the town to optimize the traffic signals at Bigelow Avenue and Mt. Auburn Street.
The “Do Not Block” will only help so much, said Zoning Board Chairwoman Melissa Santucci Rozzi. She said anyone turning left will be blocked by those waiting to go right because there is no left turn lane.
The Zoning Board also wanted to see some adjustments to the building. Santucci asked if the sign would be the typical bright red one seen on CVSs. The sign would be the “corporate red” used by the chain, said Architect Kevin Patten of BKA Architects. However, they will be lit by lamps shining onto the building, so they metal sign will not be as bright as ones that have internal lighting, Patten said.
The back wall of the store is mostly brick, broken up only by the rear entrance. Board members asked that planters be put along the back wall, which the developers agreed to do.
Another large portion of brick section is a 25-feet long section on Mt. Auburn Street. Magoon said planners encouraged the most windows as possible, but the brick wall is needed in that section to create space for the secure pharmacy.
At about midnight, after five hours of discussion, the Zoning Board voted to continue the hearing until the board’s January meeting.