Officials Want to Discuss Ways of Protecting Watertown’s Neighborhoods

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Watertown Zoning Map

With single family homes being torn down in Watertown and being replaced by two-family or larger developments, residents have pleaded with town officials to do something to preserve their neighborhoods.

Wednesday night, the Economic Development and Planning Subcommittee discussed creating a set of design guidelines for residential neighborhoods and other steps that can be taken to stop what many residents see as unsightly and oversized projects replacing homes in town.

Susan Steele, a member of the Watertown Historical Commission, said that several times residents have come to the commission’s hearings trying to save a home due to be demolished and replaced with a bigger project.

“They were saying, ‘Can’t you help us?'” Steele said. “We are very limited in what we can do.”

Properties that are particularly vulnerable are single family homes on a corner lot, said resident Tia Tilson, especially those in the “T” zone – or two family zone.

“In our neighborhood a single family home is coming down and a lot is being subdivided and two family homes are being built,” Tilson said. “So one home is being turned into four units.”

Steele and a group of others in town interested in doing something to place greater protection on Watertown’s neighborhoods met to come up with a plan. Another member of the group, Maria Saiz, told the subcommittee that the group would like to hold some public forums where people can talk about what they are seeing learn more about the issues.

“We don’t want it just gripe, we want it to be productive,” Saiz said. “We want to give people a chance to say what’s on their mind and turn that energy into something we can do.”

Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon presented a long list of possible steps the town and others can take, including creating a historic or preservation district, limiting the size of homes in the town’s zoning, and requiring developers to get a special permit from the town to convert a single family homes into two family homes.

Magoon has also approached David Gamble of Gamble Associates, about creating design standards and guidelines for residential neighborhoods. Gamble was the town’s consultant who came up with the recently passed design standards and guidelines for Watertown’s business districts and main corridors.

Any changes to a residential zoning restricting what people can do to their homes can be controversial, Magoon said.

Gamble will be brought in to speak to the Economic Development and Planning Subcommittee sometime in September, Magoon said.

A tentative schedule for creating the residential design guidelines has been laid out with the final proposal set to be finished in December, Magoon said.

The community forums would also be held during that time. Each one should have a focus, said Councilor Susan Falkoff, such as historical rules, people from other communities that have preserved homes and design experts.

See the town’s Zoning Ordinance by clicking here, and view a full size version of the Zoning Map by clicking here.

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