A draft of the set of requirements that guide and limit developers who build new projects in Watertown was revealed by the urban design consultants hired by the town.
Last week, David Gamble of Gamble Associates discussed the proposed design guidelines and design standards that will shape how development will be done in Watertown in the future. They were presented at the third public workshop held in the past four months held during the making of the guidelines and standards.
The Town Council voted to hire the consultant to address what they and many residents believed had become out of control development in Watertown.
The changes were broken into nine categories: public realm interface, building massing, facade treatment, parking & access, building height, material selection, sustainable design, building setbacks and signage. (See the proposed design guidelines and standards below).
Guidelines help spell out how the town wants developments to be built and the standards are the language of the guidelines folded into the town’s zoning bylaws, Gamble said.
Gamble said they aimed for the guidelines to be specific, but not so specific that they prevent something people would want from being built. One example he gave was many asked for no neon allowed in town – aimed mostly at beer signs in windows of bars or liquor stores. He noted, however, that would prevent the Deluxe Town Diner from being built as it now looks – with a neon “DINER” sign.
He also warned that the standards will not make every building will be something that goes into architecture books.
“Not every building can be a signature building,” Gamble said. “There will be a sense of continuity and quality.”
The most guidelines with the most priority will become standards in the town’s zoning bylaws, while others will remain desires, Gamble said.
Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon, who heads the Community Development and Planning Department, said the standards will be ultimately be adopted by the Town Council, with the help of the Planning Board.
Gamble recommended that some person or group be in charge of overseeing how standards are implemented. Some places, like Boston, have a separate board that oversees major projects, other cities and towns use their own planning department staff and some places have consultants.
Jason Cohen, an architect who lives in Watertown, said he has done work in Boston and he has found it a difficult place to do new developments. He said he would not want to see Watertown go in that direction
“It can’t be a situation where you are looking for a perfect project and stifle good projects,” Cohen said.
Magoon said he spoke to Town Manager Michael Driscoll, and they agreed to move forward with hiring a consultant so that he and his staff have access to people with expertise to work with.
The proposals got good reviews from the audience at the presentation. Resident Joe Levendusky wanted to know how the town could “incentivize” developers to create signature projects.
Resident Maria Saiz said she hopes that the design standards and guidelines will be a living document, and reviewed periodically.
“We don’t want to find ourselves 30-50 years down the road doing this all again,” Saiz said.
Gamble recommended reviewing them annually.
The standards will not apply to some projects either recently approved – such as the apartment complex at 202-204 Arsenal Street – or already in the system – such as the Coolidge Square CVS, Magoon said.
The designs standards and guidelines will apply to projects in the main business district – Watertown and Coolidge squares – and the major arteries in town – Mt. Auburn Street, Main Street, Arsenal Street, Pleasant Street, Galen Street and North Beacon Street.
See Gamble Associates slideshow with details of the guidelines and standards by clicking here. The presentation included examples of how the standards could be applied.
Some of the highlights of the proposed changes are:
- The maximum length of the front facade is 400 feet with 150 feet being the longest stretch within that before being broken up (a building must be set back at least 25 feet to “break up” a facade).
- A minimum of 30 feet between adjacent buildings on the same site.
- A minimum height of 24 feet and 10 feet added to the maximum height in the area if at a major intersection or in exchange for a public amenity.
- A minimum of 50 percent of ground floors must have glass and a certain percentage must be occupied by retail or commercial uses that are accessible to the public.
- A maximum of 50 feet between public entrances along the public way.
- Reduce the amount of parking required for large residential developments by 25 percent and triple the amount of bicycle parking required.
- Require a solar assessment for projects and the use of native, non-invasive plants.
- Porches, arcades and stoops allowed within the allowable setback.
- Prohibit the use of vinyl siding, aluminum clapboard siding, asphalt panel siding and exterior insulation finishing systems.
- One sign allowed per building entrance, and banner signs must be at least 9 feet off the ground.