Developers of the proposed Elm Street hotel met stiff resistance to their plan from East Watertown residents who are frustrated by the increase in development in their neighborhood.
The 102-room, five story hotel would be one of several projects proposed or even approved on the East End of town. The “upper, mid-range” hotel would be aimed at business travelers and would go on the former Atlantic Battery Company facility at 80 Elm St., behind Target at the Watertown Mall.
Developer Cherag Patel of Elm Hospitality LLC said the hotel would not be a Red Roof Inn, as had been rumored, but he could not say which brand it would be due to a confidentiality agreement. It would be similar to a Hampton Inn or Hyatt House, and would have a pool for guests, but not restaurant or meeting space.
Residents at the community meeting Tuesday night at the Apartments at Coolidge School complained about the look and height of the hotel, along with the traffic added to the side street off of Arsenal Street. It would also be the second hotel on the block, after the Residence Inn by Marriott was approved for the corner of Arsenal and Elm streets.
Other proposed projects in East Watertown include 65 Grove Street (the GE Ionics Building), the CVS at Arlington and Mt. Auburn Streets and the Verizon facility that backs onto Nichols Avenue.
Eric Boyd said the small residential neighborhoods in the East End are being overwhelmed by the new developments. He lives on Arlington Street, around the corner from the proposed hotel, and he fears the traffic will overwhelm the area.
Traffic engineer Jim Winn of Ron Muller Associates said a traffic study forecasts the hotel will add 550 vehicle trips per day on weekdays. On Saturdays it would add 700. The afternoon peak hour would have 62 vehicle trips from the hotel and would be added to and from the hotel and 75 during the busiest hour on Saturdays,
Elm Street residents said that traffic is already bad at times on Elm Street.
“We have MacLeod & Moynihan Lumber at Elm and Arlington,” said Elm Street resident Mary Horrigan said. “Massive trucks stop to back up. Have you factored that in?”
Pat Stenson, manager of the Watertown Mall said she is concerned that traffic backing up on Elm Street will block the entrance/exit to the mall on Elm Street.
Another concern for some was parking. There will be 79 parking spaces for the 102 rooms.
“My concern is most of the people coming to the hotel will be driving, and if the lot is full – where will you put the cars?” said Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli.
Patel said some business travelers will come together in the same car and rent multiple rooms, so they do not need more as many parking spaces as rooms.
The design of the hotel left something to be desired for those at the meeting. It is L shaped, with a brick facade broken up with light colored panels.
“This looks more like Woburn in the 1950s, not Cambridge in the ‘00s,” said resident Barbara Ruskin. She would like to see something added to the hotel for the public to use and enjoy, perhaps a cafe or ice cream store.
Resident Deb Peterson said the hotel should to be designed to fit into the area.
“The project should be looked at. It is not up to the standard of what we expect,” Peterson said. “It was just popped in there with no connection to what’s in the neighborhood.”
Patel said the current owner of the site has cleaned up the lead contaminated soil from the battery factory required to be cleaned up by the government. He plans to remove the rest of the lead-contamination to make sure it does not get into the ground water, at a price of around $1 million. Because of this, he needs to have more than 100 rooms to make it economically viable.
Real estate agent Bill Dillon, who marketed the land, said that other proposed uses could be worse for the neighborhood. He was approached by a business hoping to set up a brick yard, as well as a utility company looking for a place to store and maintain a fleet of trucks.
“If I lived on Elm Street I would not like that at all,” Dillon said.
Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis, who represents East Watertown, said she hopes residents’ input is heard by developers and incorporated into the planning.
Steve Winnick, an attorney representing the developers, said the meeting will provide useful information for the planning process.
“In a way you are now part of the design team,” Winnick said. “The input we get will be reflected in the proposal that goes forward.”
The proposed hotel will next go before the Planning Board. Some residents said they hoped to have another community meeting to see what will be proposed before it goes to the Planning Board, but Winnick said the town’s regulations sets a timeline for proposals after the community meeting is held.