The Linx office complex which has an Arsenal Street address but backs onto the streets of Coolidge Square received approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
As part of the project, which will turn the underused Verizon building into a 185,000-square foot office building, a new entrance will be added on the north side of the site onto Nichols Avenue. This feature was a plus for some and a minus for others.
Architect John Sullivan said the new entrance will help the office be part of the area.
“It will reunite the site back into Watertown and tie it into Coolidge Square and Arsenal Street,” Sullivan said. “We think we have the ability to attract a Class A tenant, a technology type tenant.”
Some of the restaurants and businesses in Coolidge Square wrote letters supporting the project, said ZBA Chairwoman Melissa Santucci Rozzi. Residents were mixed, with some opposing the project because cars would be coming and going through the new Nichols Street entrance, while others like the proposal.
East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she likes the project, with a big exception of the new entrance. She said once it is opened, the gate will be a permanent feature of the site and could create a potential cut through from Coolidge Square to Arsenal Street.
“A gate will be put in, but will not be a key card activated gate,” Kounelis said. “There is nothing stop us from utilizing this as a cut through, or others in the 480 Arsenal area, namely NESN.”
Town Senior Planner Gideon Schreiber said the traffic will be studied when the building is 90 percent occupied. If there is cut through traffic, efforts will be made to slow driving through the site in an effort to make it unappealing to cut through the site.
Councilor at large Tony Palomba said he supports the project.
“I think it is a comprehensive redevelopment project. It is taking a building that is not being used and developing it into first class office space,” Palomba said. “It is taking an area and making well needed improvements, and we are connecting it to Coolidge Square. I think the businesses will benefit from the project.”
Council Vice President Steve Corbett said the project is the type of development he wants to see in Watertown.
Who will be in the new building is not certain, said Bill McQuillan, principal with developer Boylston Properties. He hopes to get a company or companies to move from the tech-heavy Kendall Square or Rte. 128 areas. There could just one tenant, or up to five, and he estimates there could be between 600 and 800 employees.
The design of Linx is intended to appeal to these types of companies, with a modern glassy look and metal features, as well as a large green area outside the building for relaxing or having outdoor meetings. It also sits just off the Community Path, which could allow people to walk or bike to work.
ZBA member David Ferris said he thinks that might work well with the new apartment complexes being built along Arsenal Street. Employees working at Linx could live there and commute along the Community Path.
The outdoor area will be next to the path. ZBA member John Gannon suggested installing a water fountain available to the general public to get a drink while using the path.
The question of traffic and parking came up at the meeting. The town’s design consultant David Gamble suggested considering adding a third level to the parking deck proposed by developers. ZBA members considered it, but with the garage on the Nichols Avenue side, they thought it might add more cars going through the Coolidge Square area.
What kind of food service would be available at the office building became an issue of debate. McQuillan said he planned to have a small “grab and go” area where workers could grab a cup of coffee and some pre-prepared food. If there was one big tenant, or a couple larger ones, he said, there is a possibility they might want a cafeteria.
Santucci Rozzi said she worries that a full cafeteria would mean that workers do not go to local restaurants.
“I’d like to put in condition prohibiting cafeteria,” Santucci Rozzi said. “It take away from the economic vibrancy that this particular use can have on Coolidge Square and the Arsenal Street side.”
A limit to the size of the cafeteria was proposed, but McQuillan said that could hurt his ability to sign a tenant.
“If you impose something tonight to limit it to 5,000 square feet, if we have tenant who wants 6,000 square foot area, I can’t come back to you,” McQuillan said. “I can’t move that quickly. I need to say yes to a tenant.”
In the end, the ZBA did not limit the size of the of the cafeteria.
The ZBA unanimously approved the project with a few conditions, including adding more shrubbery near the parking garage and along the Community Path, adding the water fountain near the path and if the project installs solar panels developers would need to show the plan to the ZBA.