On January 28, a discouraging event in town governance occurred here in this chamber. Against the wishes of 400 hundred Watertown residents who signed a petition; in disregard of the testimony of approximately 40 East End neighbors; against the advice of the Planning Board; contrary to the expressed goals of the Comprehensive Plan; but in accordance with the advice and counsel of Town Planning staff, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted 5-0 to approve a special permit for a proposed CVS project that a preponderance of Watertown residents feel detrimental to Coolidge Square and the East End in general.
This decision is one in a long history of poor development decisions in Watertown that can fairly be described as acts of municipal self-mutilation. Many residents feel that the character of Watertown is being destroyed project by project. This dysfunction must end now.
This ZBA vote left too many feeling that their Town Government is dismissive of their concerns and does not work in their interest. It has left many questioning whether the Planning Department values their long-term quality of life or whether it is primarily concerned with the interests of developers. In short, confidence in the democratic essence of our Town Government has been undermined.
The Town Council must act decisively to dispel this distrust and assure residents that the government that they support with their tax dollars does indeed take their concerns seriously.
The Council must examine the CVS decision and take steps to avoid a recurrence of such an undemocratic edict. In particular, the Council must work with Planning to address the widely perceived inadequacy of traffic studies that are used in the analysis of development projects. We must establish a more stringent mode of critiquing traffic studies presented by developers, one that addresses traffic dynamics as perceived by the residents who have real life experience with these problems.
The Council must call on Mr. Magoon to reassure the citizenry that he can run a Planning Department that is responsive to public input and that his department is committed to building a future Watertown that is in line with what residents themselves desire. Too often citizens have felt that their well-founded and honest concerns have been dismissed as naïve or a product of NIMBYism.
Mr. Magoon must demonstrate that he understands what citizens value about Watertown and what makes it unique, with a long, diverse and proud history. Watertown is not Anytown, USA.
The Council must shepherd to completion the Comprehensive Plan, the Design Guidelines and a revamping of our Zoning Codes to make them consistent with those documents. It is important that public input continue to be a guiding influence in all stages.
The Design Guidelines must be put through another draft that incorporates an overlay of distinctive guidelines for Coolidge Square, Watertown Square, the Arsenal Corridor and Pleasant Street. We must examine what makes these areas unique and what specific challenges are present.
The Council must vote a moratorium on development until the above measures can be accomplished. This is the only responsible course of action at this juncture and the only effective way to protect the future of our town.
Finally, the members of the Zoning Board of Appeals must submit their resignations forthwith.
The board members have repeatedly shown that they are not equal to the challenges Watertown faces at this historic moment. The ZBA has consistently shown an arrogant disregard for the concerns of neighbors and neighborhoods. It is not fair, decent or moral to hold the views of one’s fellow citizens in contempt and simultaneously claim to represent those citizens in Town Government. They must resign.
This is not a pleasant message to deliver and I do so with a heavy heart. But these are times when difficulties must be faced honestly, candidly and sincerely if we are to fulfill our responsibility to future generations of Watertown residents.
Joseph M. Levendusky
(Read at Town Council on Feb. 10.)