Council Stresses Importance of Transportation Planner, Worried About Development

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The Town Council is working on ways to cut traffic in Watertown by requiring new developments to reduce single driver vehicles.

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The Town Council wants a Transportation Planner to tackle issues such as traffic in Watertown.

The position of Transportation Planner has been discussed for years and the town has searched for someone to fill the role, but has struggled to find someone qualified to do the job. Tuesday night the Town Council stressed to Community Development and Planning Department Director Steve Magoon that they want the position filled. 

The Transportation Planner would deal with issues such as traffic, public transportation and the planned Watertown shuttle. Magoon appeared before the Council for his budget hearing. During the discussion, Councilors also worry that the Planning Department has enough resources to deal with all the development in town.

Filling the Transportation Planner position has been high on Magoon’s list.

“No one is as disappointed as I am that the Transportation Planner position is still unfilled,” Magoon said.

He has searched for a position and even gotten as far as interviewing a finalist and discussed salary, but in the end the person did not take the job, Magoon said.

Councilor Michael Dattoli shared the sentiments of his colleagues when he said, “I don’t want to be sitting here next year trying to find a Transportation Planner.”

Magoon said he is looking for someone with experience and expertise and it has been difficult competing with the private sector, which pays significantly more.

Town Council President Mark Sideris suggested that Magoon consider hiring a less experienced, but eager candidate and help them out by hiring a mentor.

“We have done that in the past with superintendents who did not have experience,” Sideris said. “It could be a good use of consultant money.”

Development, particularly in the East End of Watertown, has been a concern for residents and Councilors alike. Councilor Susan Falkoff wondered it would continue at this pace, and if something should be done to control it.

Magoon said while many of the obvious properties that are need of redevelopment have done so or are on the way, he believes there are still properties that could be redeveloped.

“The community should want to development and redevelopment to add to the tax base,” Magoon said. “The one thing you can’t control is the pace.”

Councilors said they are concerned that Magoon and the Planning Department Staff won’t be able to keep up with the new projects, with two huge developments – Arsenal on the Charles/Athenahealth and Arsenal Yards – approved and more on the way. Now there is talk of $25 million in infrastructure improvements with the I-Cubed proposal involving the town, Athenahealth and Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Magoon is confident his staff can deal with the development, and added that the I-Cubed project would not put a lot of extra work on the Planning Department.

“I’m more concerned with the (Department of Public Works’) capacity than Planning,” Magoon said.

He added that Senior Planner Gideon Schrieber has been given more responsibilities, and a stipend, to take some responsibilities off Magoon’s plate.

The Council also told Magoon that they hear the criticism aimed his way, and toward Community Development and Planning, but they said they support him.

“I know you and your staff constantly get beat up around the community,” Sideris said. “I want to say that me an my colleagues appreciate  all you are doing. You’re not driving the changes, it is the property owners who redevelop their property. We are facing difficult times and we will find a way through it.”

5 thoughts on “Council Stresses Importance of Transportation Planner, Worried About Development

  1. Hi, Mr. Magoon thinks the community “should” want development and redevelopment. The question is do they? I have no doubt some do but I suspect they are not in the majority. There has to be a point where the costs outweigh the benefits and I believe we are there. Mr Magoon and the Town Council is concerned about the huge influx of traffic. They have every reason to be, and yet these very big projects which either increase residences, short and longterm, or invite more and more people continue unabated. It seems like Mr. Magoon is of the opinion that a transportation planner is the answer. The position may be of some help but I fear it’s a simple case of too many people and Watertown is simply too small to accommodate the volume.

    • I agree. Development just for the sake of raking in more tax revenue is not good for Watertown. Good development is okay. But we have gotten too much bad development. Many who live here have a tough time making ends meet. So more tax revenue helps keep homeowners tax bills more moderate, while giving services like the school system more revenue.

      But it has to be good development that enhances the town. And we must be sure that we get enough mitigation from developers to offset the negative impacts of their developments. Finally we must have more public transit. There is no other way to improve the traffic situation, especially with development increasing the load on our streets. Watertown is a place where people use their public transit. We must build on that tendency for the future.

  2. With the recent disaster that is the remodeled section of Arsenal Street, it is obvious this position should be filled immediately. If they screw up Mt Auburn Street the same way it will be a nightmare.

    • Agreed. Mount Auburn is very important. We need a transportation planner and real public process to avoid costly and aggravating mistakes.

  3. We need more than a transportation planner. We should hire a consultant firm to oversee the changes to Arsenal Street and to look to make a strong comprehensive design to anticipate how these changes can be incorporated into future design. These existing changes are way too short sighted. It is not hard to imagine Arsenal Street being filled with 6-12 story apartments within the next 10 years. The demand for housing on this street has nothing to do with employment in Watertown but the proximity of this street to Boston.

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