A redeveloped Arsenal Mall could have one building of up to 10 stories, but not more than that, and mall owners may improve Arsenal Park, the owners of the mall revealed Saturday at a meeting about the new zoning proposed for the east end of Arsenal Street.
Owners of the Arsenal Project revealed more details of their vision for redeveloping the mall if the Regional Mixed Use District gets approved by the Town Council. The vote on the RMUD zoning must be taken by Feb. 9, and would change the area from a heavy industrial zone (I-1) to one where projects can include retail, office and residential.
Developers can apply to have heights taller than the current limit it town – 55 feet.
At the meeting, developers from mall owner Boylton Properties and their designers showed a more detailed mock up of what the new mall might look like, including building heights. Three different buildings were marked as having up to 10 stories, but Bill McQuillan, founding principal of Boylston Properties, said he will seek to put only one tall building on the mall property.
“There could be small, medium and tall buildings,” McQuillan said. “There will not be three tall buildings, there will not be two tall buildings. There will be one.”
The tall buildings will not be along Arsenal Street, but closer to the Charles River and Arsenal Park. Residents had mixed reviews of the idea of a tall building overlooking some of the town’s parklands and the river.
The 10 story buildings are based on the proposed amendment to the RMUD zoning made by a Town Council Subcommittee to allow a 130 foot height limit by special permit. Resident Maureen O’Sullivan noted that the height limit is kind of an arbitrary one.
“The 130 foot limit is not accepted by the community,” O’Sullivan said. “It was put forward by one person and a lot of people in he community feel it is way too high.”
Others welcomed having a taller building. Mary Chiochios said she wish she had spoken up at the subcommittee meeting where the building height was discussed and advocated for even higher than 130 feet.
“I think that bigger may be better,” Chiochios said.
Tom Gorman, who lives near Arsenal Project, said that he would like to have a residential building looking over the park for safety reasons.
“I am not unhappy about a building there,” Gorman said. “Then there are eyes on the park and in this case residential eyes.”
Others want to keep the park and the mall separate.
“I am concerned with this building next to town parkland at any height,” said resident Barbara Ruskin. “I would like to have a discussion about that.”
The revamped mall will have a number of smaller buildings, rather than the current mall where it is all one big building. The historic, long buildings that were part of the Watertown Arsenal will be kept and improved.
Architect Eric Brown wants to make the spaces in between the buildings more attractive and inviting to people. This includes taking advantage of the nearby Arsenal Park.
A drawing showed a new green area on the mall property in between the old building where Marshall’s is located an the new residential building – which will replace the newer part of the current mall that links the old sections. The green area would attach to Arsenal Park, and there may be some changes to the park, Brown said.
“Now there are dumpsters and a fence separating it, but we’re going to clean this building up – repoint (the masonry),” Brown said. “We are suggesting a couple of the tennis courts come out or maybe the practice wall.”
While much of the discussion revolved around the plans for the Arsenal Mall, Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she worries about the future, and other potential developments on the mall property and others in the RMUD.
“Zoning goes with the parcel, not with the owners,” Kounelis said. “The Arsenal on the Charles has had three owners since the town bought it (and sold it in the 1980s).”
The proposed RMUD includes not only the parcels on the south side of Arsenal Street (the Arsenal Mall being the largest) but also those on the north side of the street including the Watertown Mall, as well as some properties on Elm Street and Coolidge Avenue (including the Mount Auburn Club and the asphalt plant).
Some of these parcels could be combined to make larger projects, said Town Planner Gideon Schreiber.
When she votes on the zoning, Kounelis said, she will be taking in to account what is best for the entire Watertown community.
The Council’s Economic Development and Planning Subcommittee will have two more meetings to review the RMUD, one on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. and one on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m. Both will be in the Watertown Savings Bank Room at the Watertown Free Public Library.