Planning Board OKs Southside Apartments, Some Concern Over Town-Owned Parking

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A rendering of 101-103 Morse Street, which developers want to convert from a commercial building into an apartment building

A rendering of 101-103 Morse Street, which developers want to convert from a commercial building into an apartment building. Fifteen parking in the back are owned by the Town of Watertown and sit next to Casey Park.

The Planning Board gave its support for the proposal to transform a Southside commercial building into an apartment complex on Wednesday night.

The proposal changed a bit from the one presented at the January community meeting. The number of units have shrunk from 49 to 45 and the roofline design has changed to look more like it has been historically.

When owner Kamran Shahbazi first purchased the building it was occupied by Cortiva Institute massage school, but soon afterward the school pulled out, as did many of the other businesses that relied on the school. Instead of looking for another tenant for the building, he decided to turn it into a residential one.

The first building on the 101-103 Morse Street site was built in the 1800s and there have been nine additions since then, said architect Gary Hendren.

One question the Planning Board had is whether there were enough spaces for the complex. The requirement for a building with a the mix of of apartments (3 studios, 32 one-bedrooms, nine two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom) would be 50 parking spaces, but there are only 47 on the property. Causing some confusion is that there are 15 more spaces in the parking lot that sit on Town land, so cannot be included in the parking calculation.

Bill York, the attorney for the applicant, said he believes that while the use of the building is changing the site has been grandfathered in to have fewer than the required number of parking spaces.

Hendren added that the parking will be unbundled, meaning that tenants will have the option to rent a parking space for an additional fee but are not required to have a space. York said the applicants do not expect all the spaces to be rented, in part because the the building is less than half a mile from Galen Street and about half a mile from the Watertown Yard bus depot.

District B Town Councilor Lisa Feltner said she was pleased to see the changes made to the proposal, but she is concerned that the 15 Town parking spots will become de facto parking for the 101-103 Morse Street residents.

“There is little awareness of the 15 spots,” Feltner said. “It does not go out in the list of available parking announcement (from the town) during snow emergencies.”

Recreation Director Peter Centola said he only recently learned some of the spaces in the lot belong to the Town. They sit right near the back of Casey Park, and he said if a path is is cleared out to the park it could be used by people going to youth baseball and soccer games.

Another concern raised is how someone in a wheelchair would access the building. There are two handicap accessible units that face into the parking lot, but it would not be straight forward to get there from the street. There is no ramp from Morse Street to the back entrance that would meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, said Planning Board Chairman John Hawes, who also sits on the Watertown Disabilities Commission.

Hendren said there is a way to go in the entrance from Morse Street by taking an elevator down one floor, go down the hall and go outside to get to the handicap accessible units. Planning Board member Janet Buck suggested that developers redesign the accessible units so they open into the hallway.

“(Under the plans) a person who lives there has to go outside to go visit people in the building, do laundry or go to the storage,” Buck said.

Hendren said he would look at possible ways to redesign the units.

The Planning Board voted 4-0 (with one open seat) to approve the special permit for a change from one non-conforming use to another non-conforming use in a Two-Family Zone. The board made the condition that the Disability Commission give its approval to the plans before it goes to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The next ZBA meeting will be on Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

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