The new look for the Arsenal Mall, which includes added retail and hundreds of residential units, received the approval from the Planning Board Wednesday night.
The Arsenal Yards, as the mall will be known, was in front of the Planning Board for the third time, and the board voted unanimously to approve the master plan. Many supported the plan, but some had questions about the traffic and the size of the building in the project.
The project adds more than 100,000 sq. ft. of commercial or retail space, and 503 apartments or condos, some of which will be in a 12-story building. Developers plan to add restaurants, a movie theater, and a market.
Town Council President Mark Sideris said the project would bring new life to the mall.
“It is something we can be proud of. People will want to come to the mall again,” Sideris said. “What is there now is awful.”
East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she supported the general ideas of the project, but some of the specifics worry her. She said the developer asked and received permission for a 12-story tower and to put up six-story buildings along Arsenal Street without pushback from the town.
There will also be four new multi-story buildings built in what is now the front parking lot.
“As impressive as it is, I support the proposal, but I don’t support the massing,” Kounelis said.
Resident John Labadini said he believes the town needs the tax dollars, and he likes that the owners live in communities around Watertown.
“I don’t want to see Arsenal Yards owned by a nameless, faceless global real estate company,” Labadini said.
Improvements to Arsenal Park, which will be right next to the 12-story apartment tower, have been discussed. Town Councilor Lisa Feltner noted that the town has not yet convened a committee to look at renovating the park.
“It’s hard for a developer to work with us when we don’t provide a clear vision,” Feltner said.
Resident Michelle Cokonougher wondered how much it would cost the town to provide resources, such as police, fire, public works and schools, when the new project is complete. Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said overall, the project will bring in more tax revenue than the town will spend on resources for the new mall.
Traffic was the main subject of discussion by the Planning Board Wednesday evening.
At the meeting in December, the Planning Board voted to delay a final vote until they received the report from the town’s traffic consultant confirming numbers in the developer’s traffic study are accurate.
The number of vehicles trips (a car going to and from the site counts and two trips) will increase by 6,366, including 244 more trips during the morning peak hour and 545 during the evening peak. The biggest increase would be on Saturdays due to the addition of the movie theater. On Saturdays, there would be 10,648 more trips, and 7o4 more on Saturday nights.
Michael Pompili of WorldTech (the town’s consultant) confirmed that the numbers are correct. He also met with members of the Planning Board for more than an hour to go over the report.
Included in the report were the list of mitigation projects for which developers Boylston Properties will pay. Pompili wrote a letter to the Planning Board saying that with the completion of the mitigation and that of other projects in the area, the traffic in the area of the mall will be like the “no build” scenario, i.e., if the project was not built.
The numbers of cars will increase, Pompili said, but the impact on drive times will be minor.
“It is not reducing traffic to no-build levels. There will be minor increases in delays,” Pompili said.
Councilor Aaron Dushku wanted to make sure the traffic generated by the new mall is accounted for, and that the developers stick to the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan. The TDM calls for monitoring for five years, but Dushku said he wants to monitor beyond that time.
“If it is voluntary to come back to the town for monitoring, I don’t think it gives real incentive to follow through,” Dushku said.
Boylston Properties committed to spending more than $2 million on mitigation. This includes $1.8 million focus on improving intersections, including:
- Replace the traffic signals at Arsenal Street/Arlington Street
- Replace controllers and upgrade existing signal at Arsenal Street/Arsenal Court, Arsenal Street/Arsenal Mall and Arsenal Street/Watertown Mall
- Make timing adjustments to the signals at School Street/Belmont Street
- Reconfigure the right-in, right-out driveway at the Arsenal Mall
- Revise and re-stripe Arsenal Street and widen the street east of the mall
- Mill and resurface Arsenal Street and replace the sidewalk on the south side of Arsenal Street in front of the mall
Another $250,000 has no been earmarked, but could go to putting in a signal at Arsenal Street/Elm Street or at Greenough Boulevard, south of Arsenal Street, adjusting of signal at Soldiers Field Road, traffic calming on Maplewood Avenue or improvements to traffic in Watertown Square.
Some residents wanted to see the mitigation go elsewhere.
Jonathan Bockian said he would like to see some money go toward improvements to the MBTA along Arsenal Street. Magoon said the mitigation money could be shifted over there, and it might be after the study of the Arsenal Street Corridor by Mass. Department of Transportation is complete.
Developers of the mall will have to come back to get approval before each building can be built.
Planning Board Chairman John Hawes said that is when some of the issues brought up during Wednesday’s hearing can be addressed.