A group of Watertown residents worried that changing the town’s residential zoning rules could hurt property rights is gaining strength after holding a kick-off meeting Thursday night.
The Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association’s meeting at the Apartments at Coolidge School attracted about 50 people. The group seeks to spread the word about the Residential Design Guidelines and Standards being proposed in town.
The group worries that Watertown homeowners would lose property rights, and that the restrictions could even mean a loss of property value if it is harder to make additions, or residential property cannot be easily redeveloped.
“Seniors in Watertown who own their home plan on retiring on that aren’t going to be able to sell their property for as much,” said resident Steve Messina. “Today they could get $500,000, but if they put in rules and requirements on it will be worth less. If you told someone they are taking away their Social Security, they would be up in arms.”
Residential Design Guidelines
The exact details of the proposal have not been finalized. The town’s Community Development and Planning Department has hired consultant David Gamble to help come up with a set of recommendations that would be considered by the Planning Board and Town Council. The group proposing the changes opposes tearing down homes and replacing them with larger ones or with more units, especially large ones that loom over other homes on the block.
According to the town’s website, the goals of the Residential Design Guidelines “will clarify expectations about what is permitted (and why) in order to maintain the existing neighborhood character and promote a more harmonious relationship between the existing neighborhood fabric and new construction.”
A variety of options for controlling development and protecting neighborhood character were presented at a community meeting in November. See details here.
The schedule on the town site calls for the draft Residential Design guidelines to be presented by Gamble in late January or early February.
Opposition Group Rises
Resident Curtis Whitney, one of the group’s organizers, said he heard about the plan, but did not think that the general public knew about it.
“It was brought to my attention that a group with a certain agenda presented the plan to the town. I felt, it was done with not enough notice or public debate,” Whitney said. “There were public meetings, but it should have been something people were notified in their tax bills.”
Among the proposals the group opposes is restrictions to what can be done to homes by right, such as adding a dormer or a porch, as well as, any approval required for landscaping or building design.
“Right now residents have the right to build a single family home, or a two-family home in a two-family zone. You can add a dormer, a deck or a porch, replace windows, siding or trim,” said former Town Councilor Steve Corbett. “They want to take these rights away or at least restrict them.”
The group also opposes increasing the length of demolition delays from 12 months to 24 months, and broader range for the Historical Commission to put on the delay.
Lenny Holt, one of the organizers of the Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association, said that he opposes the new requirements that would require a design plan review of all projects
“The question is not if we want good design, of course we want good design,” Holt said. “We have 120+ pages of zoning already and it take months to get a permit. A design plan review would takes months more.”
Watertown real estate agent and resident Mike DelRose attended the community meetings and saw the proposals for more attractive designs. Looking at one for Cape-style homes, he noted that instead of the tradition dormer, it would call for an extension that would change the frame of the home and require a larger foundation to be added.
“It would cost about $100,000 for a two story addition,” DelRose said. “They say it would increase the property value, but who has that sort of money.”
Whitney said if people knew about what was being proposed they would come out and oppose it.
“The way someone put it, it is really time to wake up the silent majority,” Whitney said. “It is important for residents to get involved.”
The group will be presenting a petition at next week’s Town Council meeting, and plans to come out at future meetings on the Residential Design Guidelines.
To spread the word about their effort, the Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association is starting a website (www.WatertownPropertyRights.org), is printing up lawn signs and may mail post cards to all property owners in town, Whitney said.