Residents Question $25 Million in Improvements Proposed by Athenahealth, Town

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Watertown Recreation

Kayakers hit the Charles River Saturday thanks to a joint effort by the Watertown Recreation Department and Live Well Watertown.

Watertown Recreation

Kayakers could hit the Charles River from Watertown’s Squibnocket Park if $25 million in I-Cubed agreement between Athenahealth, the Town of Watertown and the Department of Conservation and Recreation is approved.

Watertown could get $25 million in improvements to roads, parks and paths without putting up a dime, but attendees of a meeting last Thursday were not leaping to seal the deal. 

The proposed work would be part of the I-Cubed program, in which a developer – in this case Athenahealth – bonds money from the state to pay for the infrastructure and teams with public entities – the Town of Watertown and the Department of Conservation and Recreation – to do the improvements.

The bonds will be paid by the increased tax revenue going to the state from Athenahealth’s campus expansion and the additional jobs it will create. None of the money can be spent on Athenahealth’s property.

Thursday night, Athenahealth officials presented the list of projects it would do with the money. They include:

$7.5 million – Arsenal Street: roadway and sidewalk improvements, upgraded traffic lights and timing

$900,000 – Sewer improvements on North Beacon Street and Greenough Boulevard

$6.3 million – Roadway improvements to North Beacon, a cycling and pedestrian path, signal upgrades

$1.7 million – Watertown Square repaving, sidewalk improvements, upgrades to traffic, pedestrian signals and timing, and realigning Charles River Road

$700,000 – Completing the improvements of the Watertown Riverfront Park on the north bank of the Charles River

$1.7 million – Greenough Boulevard: bicycle and pedestrian path upgrades, improvements to the roadway and signal upgrades (including a traffic light at Greenough and North Beacon)

$2.7 million – Squibnocket Park: adding a canoe/kayak launch, a boardwalk and river overlook, and landscaping

$400,000 – School Street/Dexter Avenue/Walnut Street: sight-line improvements and curb realignments

$400,000 – Arsenal Park: extension of the Community Path through the park

$2.7 million – Drainage and parking improvement on Talcott Avenue near the Commander’s Mansion, cosmetic improvements to the Mansion and grounds and realignment of Talcott Avenue, and possibly linking it to either North Beacon or Greenough

The I-Cubed program would be a “win-win” for Athenahealth and the town, said  Mark Blair, the company’s Manager of Environment and Construction. While the town would get improved parks, roads and paths, it also helps the company.

“(The improvements) really effects our ability to attract talent in a very competitive environment,” Blair said.

Watertown Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said the money will allow the town to make some improvements to some problem areas, particularly Watertown Square and Arsenal Street, without using local tax funding.

Dan Driscoll, director of Recreation Facilities Planning for the DCR, who said the I-Cubed money will allow the DCR to complete project which it has identified but for which it had no funding source, including the Riverfront Park and Squibnocket Park.

“We are fully on board with this,” Driscoll said.

All the work must be completed within three years of approval of the project by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.

Several people complained that the list of projects is set in stone with no input from the public.

“There is enormous pressure to move, move, move,” said resident Jonathan Bockian. “There is not a Planning Board review. Once the Town Council votes it is out of our hands.”

Even Town Councilors said they felt uncomfortable, and noted that the I-Cubed program was first discussed in February 2016, but there has not been a public meeting or discussion by the Council since then.

“You talked about it for a year there was little (public) conversation,” said Councilor Aaron Dushku. “It is disappointing that (the Councilors) were not part of the conversation.”

The projects were selected from the Watertown Comprehensive Plan and from the DCR’s Charles River Basin Master Plan and other plans.

Councilor Tony Palomba said others could have looked at the Comprehensive plan and come up with a whole different list of projects for the I-Cubed list. He also wanted the public to have more of a say.

“I don’t see time set aside for public input into the projects that you would expect, Palomba said. “It is difficult for the Town Council to sit and think about $25 million in projects when we have almost zero input from the public.”

The only two additions to the list since the last time I-Cubed was discussed, said Bill York, an attorney representing Athenahealth, were the Watertown Square work and the Riverfront Park improvements.

Resident Elodia Thomas worries that this will add even more construction in an area of town where several major projects have already been approved.

“It is going to be a big bang (of improvements) at the end of three years, but how do we get to the end three years without killing each other?” Thomas said.

The Council must approve I-Cubed by a 2/3 majority, and then the Office of Administration and Finance must approve it. If approved, the clock starts ticking on the three year deadline to complete the project.

9 thoughts on “Residents Question $25 Million in Improvements Proposed by Athenahealth, Town

  1. One developer wants a tax break. Another wants to pony up 25 million for town improvements. No input from residents?? (naturally) No input from the Council??? (probably a good thing) When all is said and done, will this be on Netflix??

  2. The fact that decisions are being made about traffic flow without input from the residents and Town Council and boards is troublesome. Opening Talcott Ave to N. Beacon or Greenough is a bad idea. The traffic pattern at that bridge is already a disaster. Need a better plan. How about closing Greenough BLvd. altogether and letting that become a part of the Arsenal Park. It would greatly improve the traffic flow coming over the bridge and at Arsenal St. Let’s not rush into spending 25 million dollars that we tax payers fund without a complete and comprehensive traffic plan.

      • Did YOU not read the article? “Athenahealth – bonds money from the state to pay for the infrastructure and teams with public entities – the Town of Watertown and the Department of Conservation and Recreation – to do the improvements…The bonds will be paid by the increased tax revenue going to the state from Athenahealth’s campus expansion and the additional jobs it will create.” Also take a look at this earlier article: which states “The I-Cubed Program earmarks general state funds for local public infrastructure improvements…the Patrick Administration granted preliminary approval for $25 million in state funding based on collaboration between representatives of Watertown, DCR, and athenahealth…$25 million, funded by taxes generated from athenahealth jobs in Watertown, will be granted through I-Cubed”.

    • I hate to break it to you, but, although it is a great idea to close Greenough Blvd, there is little chance that will happen because of the fact that the developers of the Arsenal Yards (Mall) want to have a driveway exiting from their property onto Greenough Blvd. Unfortunately, this driveway is a real possibility.

  3. Sure, $25 million for town infrastructure improvements is a great idea and since the money will not come out of town funds, even better.

    BUT ….. the issue here is about the complete absence of pubic and elected town official input over the last year and a half. With proper, informed planning, this $25 could be used in many wonderful ways to benefit our town. As currently proposed, there are new designs to Squibnocket park with additional blacktop for parking and paths – maybe not the best use of that space. As mentioned above, opening the corner from Talcott Ave to N. Beacon/Greenough is a terrible idea. Personally, I would add my vote that closing little Greenough to traffic is a great idea.

    After presenting a set of vague slides to Town Council and the public early in 2016, there was a deafening silence from developers and town officials until last week. We later find out that two town officials, Gerry Mee and Steve Magoon, have been meeting continuously with Athena folks, all behind closed doors for the last 15+ months. Now their proposals are being presented with ridiculously short time frames for any sane and reasonable decision making. There should have been pubic and Town Council input on this project months ago. The blundering by our appointed town officials may end up in a loss for this town if decent infrastructure improvements cannot be designed, planned and put in place within the required three year timetable. Planning and DPW departments need to remember that they represent our town and they need to work together with citizens and elected government for the betterment of our town, not the developers.

  4. In the last 15 months, they could have engaged the community and Councilors in discussions about what should be done with the $25 million, but they chose not. It was 15 months wasted. And now there will be a looming 3 year deadline in which there won’t be time for discussion.

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