RMUD Ready for Public Hearing After Subcommittee Votes on Amendments

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A map showing the proposed Regional Mixed Use District on Arsenal Street.

A map showing the proposed Regional Mixed Use District on Arsenal Street.

A map showing the proposed Regional Mixed Use District on Arsenal Street.

The Regional Mixed Use District proposal is ready for the Town Council to weigh and vote next week after a subcommittee finished wading through dozens of proposed amendments on Tuesday night.

The proposal would majorly overhaul of the zoning rules for the area near the east end of Arsenal Street, including the town’s two malls, along with other properties on Arsenal Street, plus parts of Elm Street and Coolidge Avenue. Basically, it would change the zoning form industrial to mixed use, which allows for residential, commercial and office project.

Tuesday, the Economic Development and Planning Subcommittee finished its fourth meeting reviewing the proposal and debating which amendments to the zoning to recommend be adopted by the full Town Council.

On Monday, Feb. 8, the Town Council will hold a public hearing on the RMUD proposal and must vote it up or down or ask for more time to consider it that night. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be in the Council Chamber in Town Hall.

On Tuesday the subcommittee looked at several amendments:

Parking Rules

The subcommittee also voted to require parking for apartments or condominiums to be “decoupled” from the housing unit and offered spaces for a fee.

The proposal came from Councilor Aaron Dushku, who said he wants to reduce the number of cars in town, and also said it could reduce the cost of an apartment or condo if someone does not want a car, or more than one car.

“I think it is a great step for the Council and a great step for developers,” Dushku said. “We are hearing a lot in town that we are over parked. We can put this in place and see how much people want to use the garage. It is good for congestion and good for the environment – less emissions.”

Senior Planner Gideon Schreiber said the town’s zoning will still require developments to have 1.5 spaces per unit. The change would not impact the rest of to the town, Schreiber said.

Councilors Susan Falkoff and Ken Woodland said they were interested in having the discussion about having this rule townwide, and considered not voting on the proposed amendment so the Council could discuss the issue separately. Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he likes the idea, and encouraged the subcommittee to recommend it – which they did in the end with a 3-0 vote.

Project Extensions

When a project that is not completed could get an extension was another amendment taken up by the Economic Development and Planning subcommittee.

When a master plan is approved it should not be good indefinitely, so a sunset date should be given. There were discussions of whether it should be 7 or 10 years, after which time the entire master plan special permit process would have to start over.

Bill York, attorney for Arsenal Project owner Boylston Properties, said he would like to have the opportunity to apply to the Planning Board for an extension if it is coming close to the end of the master plan period and they need a little more time.

Schreiber said that the Planning Board would not have to give the extension.

“If the board said it is not a valid reason, then (developers) would have to go back to redesign the project,” Schreiber said.

What would be a “valid reason” was also debated. Magoon said that sometimes a project is delayed because of a court appeal, so that would be one reason. Another would be a downturn in the economy resulting in the developer not being able to get financing for the project.

York argued for a 10 year time frame.

“Ten years goes fast, especially when you have a large build out like the Arsenal Project,” York said.

The subcommittee voted 3-0 to set the time limit for the master plan special permit at 10 years and allow applications for an extension before the end of that time.

Required Master Plan?

The master plan process is proposed to be only for projects of 2 acres or more, with more than one building and only if the developer chooses. Some residents, however, said they wanted it to apply to all projects.

Piccirilli said he worries this is too restrictive.

“I am concerned if we have a small parcel or if there is a building and they want to make a small addition they would have to have a master plan,” Piccirilli said.

The subcommittee voted 3-0 against the amendment to require the master plan for all projects.

Green Buildings

Another amendment that did not receive approval was one regarding requiring green and sustainable buildings. It asking for projects to either be certified as LEED Silver level or certifiable as LEED Gold – so it would able to reach that level but not required to go through the process.

Resident Dennis Duff said he would like to see the town go for a higher mark.

“Why not go for Gold?” Duff said. “Why not go for first. We always go for second best in Watertown.”

Falkoff said there are other measures, and getting certified costs money that could be used in other ways to make buildings sustainable.

Transportation Requirements

A citizen amendment request asked for a requirement for all project over 20 residential units or 20,000 square feet in size be required to join the town’s Transportation Management Association (TMA) in an effort to reduce traffic from the project.

Schreiber said the town has not yet created the TMA, and said he does not believe this should be part of the zoning rules, but rather part of the mitigation worked out between the developer and the town.

Resident Barbara Ruskin said she would like to set a baseline of what is expected in Watertown. Resident Elodia Thomas said she and other are very concerned with traffic and she “is looking to you to be strong here.”

Piccirilli said the TMA is only one way the town wants to use to cut down traffic. The subcommittee voted 3-0 against the proposed amendment.

See previous stories on the RMUD:

Subcommittee Supports Tall Building at End of Arsenal Street in RMUD

Council Subcommittee Rules on RMUD Borders, Passes on Affordable Housing

One Tall Building in Plan for Arsenal Mall; Some Worry About Park Next Door

Arsenal Mall Owners Reveal Some Visions for Revamping Their Property

Subcommittee Recommends Building Heights up to 130 Feet in RMUD

Residents Say RMUD Moving Too Fast, Want More Details from Mall Owner

Impact on River by Arsenal Mall Rebuild, Height of Buildings Worry Residents

Proposed New Zoning for Area of Malls Concerns Residents

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