More than 100 residents came out Thursday night to hear about the Residential Design Guidelines, which many said they had only recently heard about. Town Council President Mark Sideris said he would make sure people are aware of proposed changes when they come out.
The meeting was held by a resident’s group, Concerned Watertown Homeowners, which formed in response to the guidelines working their way through the town government. (See the town’s Residential Design Guideline webpage here.)
The Residential Design Guidelines were first proposed by a group of residents concerned by smaller homes are being torn down and replaced with much larger homes, often two-family homes. They worried about changing the character of Watertown’s neighborhoods.
The guidelines could touch on a range of aspects of homes and properties, including building style, size, additions, landscaping and impact on the neighborhood. They were discussed at a series of meetings in the fall of 2015 and a presentation was made in November by the town’s consultant, David Gamble. (See the Watertown Cable video from one of the Residential Design Guideline presentations here.)
The vast majority of people at the meeting did not know about the meetings, or that Residential Design Guidelines were even being considered until they heard it from the Concerned Homeowners.
Group President John Labadini said he is concerned that the guidelines could be come mandates.
“What does a guideline become when it grows up? It becomes a law,” Labadini said. “All it takes is for the Town Council to approve it.”
Watertown also requires the Planning Board to approve zoning changes.
At the end of the meeting, Sideris said the Council will do a better job communication with residents about changes that could impact their home.
“I think the town made a major mistake when we had three meetings and did not include anyone from this group,” Sideris said. “It got out of hand and there was not proper notification to people.”
While some people said they feel the Town Council does not listen to their concerns, Sideris noted that seven of the nine councilors were at Thursday’s meeting, along with Town Manager Michael Driscoll and Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon, the director of Community Development and Planning.
“Whatever we do there will be proper notice,” Sideris said. “I give you my word on that. And maybe we do nothing.”
This was the third public meeting held by the Concerned Watertown Homeowners, and Labadini said this was the most well attended. The input from the public has been similar.
Some at the meeting worried about the impact of changes on property values.
Russ Arico of Fayette Street said he thinks people should be able to change their home to meet the needs of their families, whether it is more children or having a parent live with them. He worried that people would have to hire an architect to design additions and propose them to the town.
People at the meeting were concerned about what the guidelines would mean. Some feared they would have to change the way their yards and gardens looked. They also wanted to know who would be deciding on what is allowed.
Magoon said the guidelines and/or mandates would not impact how homes look now, but would impact changes in the future. He added that there is no proposal yet, so it is not known who will make the decisions.
Another concern of the group was a separate issue from the guidelines. There has been talk of increasing the demolition delay that the Historical Commission can put on homes from 12 months to up to 24 months.
Former Council Vice President Steve Corbett, who is a developer and member of the Concerned Homeowners group, said the reasons that a home could qualify for the delay have been expanded, including factors such as social, economic and cultural impact.
“I don’t know what that means but I don’t like the way it sounds,” Corbett said.
He added that he thinks that a one year delay is more than enough time to decided if there is an alternative to tearing down a home.
The Concerned Watertown Homeowners will have another meeting, but the date has not yet been set. For more information go to watertownpropertyrights.org