Assisted living facilities will now be allowed in certain areas of Watertown after the Town Council approved a change in the town’s zoning ordinance, but some were uncomfortable approving it for an entire zone rather than just for the spot where a developer hopes to put up a facility.
The zoning change impacts the Industrial 3 Zone – the I-3 Zone. The proposal for the zoning change came forward from the Department of Community Development and Planning after a developer approached the town interested in putting up a facility for seniors to live and receive nursing care and other services on the site of the Super 8 Motel on North Beacon Street.
The zoning change would allow assisted living facilities in the I-3 zone, but the applicant would have to get a special permit with site plan review from the Planning and Zoning Boards. The ground floor would need to have non-residential uses, such as retail.
Many councilors said that the town needs more assisted living facilities. Currently there are two – the Brigham House on Mt. Auburn Street and The Residence at Watertown Square on Summer Street.
Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said that his mother-in-law lived in the Brigham House for several years.
“It was great to be able to visit her in three minutes and for my sons to see their grandmother,” Piccirilli said.
Others said while they believe it is good for more residents to be able to have a place to go as they age, not everyone can afford assisted living facilities. While the Brigham House has some spaces set aside for lower income people, The Residence does not.
“What I am a little afraid of this being another assisted living facility that people will not be able to afford,” said Councilor Tony Palomba.
District B Town Councilor Lisa Feltner said she does not oppose assisted living facilities, but she would rather have the zoning change apply only to the Super 8 site. A large portion of the I-3 zone is located in her district, with other I-3 areas in the East End of town and a third area off Pleasant Street right in Watertown Square.
“I have heard from a lot of District B residents that zoning by project is not what they want,” Feltner said. “We could do an overlay (of the parcel where the facility would go).”
Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon, who is director of Community Development and Planning, was also asked whether the change was being made because of the proposed development. He said that was the reason, but he does not take such requests lightly.
“A lot of property owners come into my office to talk to about projects that do not fit in the zoning. They say, ‘Can’t we just change the zoning?'” Magoon said. “Most often my response is ‘No, we can’t just change the zoning.'”
He said he proposed the change for assisted living because it is a need in town, there is relatively little traffic created by such facilities and because the bottom floor would be retail.
Town Council President Mark Sideris said without approving the zoning, the future of the Super 8 site is not certain.
“If we don’t approve this the developers could go away and we would not be sure what will go there,” Sideris said. “I also think this use would be useful for the community.”
The Council voted 8-1 to approve the zoning change, with Feltner opposing it.