The owner of the building that has been a place for people to grab a meal – most recently Wild Rice – has been frustrated by the lack of parking in the area. Last week he was denied a request to add street parking in the area near his property on Elm Street.
Property owner Gabe Tutunjian said that the lack of parking has been a problem for the property, which is about a block off Arsenal Street. He has struggled to lease it and has looked at selling it, but without parking he has not been able to do so. The building used to be part of a bigger parcel of land, Tutunjian said, but when it was broken up the property he now owns did not come with off-street parking.
The Traffic Commission denied Tutunjian’s request for parking, in part because that area of Elm Street where the restaurant was located is a commercial zone, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon, who is on the Traffic Commission.
“We we concerned about the width of the road and trucks turning movements,” Magoon said, adding that the back entrance to the Watertown Mall is near the former Wild Rice site and there is a lumber yard down the street. “(Tutunjian) mentioned that further up the street there was (street) parking, but that is a more residential area and this is a more commercial area.”
Tutunkian said he thought that it would be more appropriate for trucks to be coming into the Mall from Arsenal Street.
Tutunjian hoped to get permission for a couple parking spots in front of the building. He believes the parking would have the added benefit of slowing traffic on the street, which he said has gotten worse in recent years.
“It is dangerous, and there is a daycare next door,” Tutunjian said. “You could put parking on the street so people don’t fly down the street.”
Having street parking that makes drivers slow and wait for vehicles coming from the other direction would not work in that section of Elm Street, Magoon said.
“Certainly, that is common to see that in residential areas of Watertown, but that section of Elm Street is not residential,” Magoon said.
Before Wild Rice was in the spot, the building was home to Grappa for several years. Tutunjian said that in those days people could park on the street along the side of the Target parking lot. When a new sidewalk was installed, the road was narrowed and no parking signs were put up, he added.
While people parked in that area of Elm Street, technically it was not allowed, said Watertown Police Lt. James O’Connor.
“We have never understood that the area was legal parking,” O’Connor said. “We found a Traffic Rules & Ordinances book that dates back to 1991 and as far back as then parking was illegal (on Elm Street near the Mall).”
Tutunjian also suggested turning the street into a one-way road, which would allow for parking.
Magoon said that is a long process, and others may not agree.
“One way streets create a lot of unintended consequences,” Magoon said. “There are a whole lot of things that have to happen (before changing to one way) and all the other property owners will want to weigh in.”
Magoon said that the Department of Public Works will take another look at the area to see if some changes might be made.