Town Council Splits on Zoning Change for Self Storage Facilities

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Watertown City Hall

Watertown Town Hall

A change in the number of parking spots required for a self-storage facility in Watertown received the Town Council’s approval Tuesday night, but concerns over whether such a facility was wanted in town and where it should go led to some votes against the zoning change.

The proposal called for changing the formula for determining the number of spots needed at a storage facility from one spot for every three storage units, to two spots per every 10,000 sq. ft. of gross floor area.

Steve Magoon, Assistant Town Manager and Director of Community Development and Planning, said under old standard a 50,000 sq. ft storage facility – a typical size – would require 100 spaces or more, while in the new standard it would require just 9 spaces.

The proposed change came forward from the owner of the property at 80 Elm Street – the former Atlantic Battery site – where a hotel was proposed but was rejected by the Zoning Board. Magoon said the change would not just be for that site, but for the zones where storage facilities are allowed – I-1 and I-2 industrial zones.

Bill York, the attorney for the property owner, said that self-storage does not produce a lot of traffic. He said most units are 10-feet-by-10-feet, and that 80 percent of users visit less than once a month and 27 percent come less than once a  year.

East End Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she is concerned that the proposal came from the property owner, noting that the owner has a purchase and sales agreement with a developer to build a facility.

There are homes on Elm Street and nearby, Kounelis said, and she worries what they will be facing if a storage facility is built. Most are big buildings with blank walls.

“We are making a major change here and I don’t see why it must be,” Kounelis said. “All the I zones are in the East End and there are homes there. The residents are not second-class citizens.”

Councilor Lisa Feltner said that she is not sure that self-storage is something that should be allowed or encouraged in Watertown, and that the area is already undergoing a transformation.

“It is in an area of town where a lot of changes are coming, with a medical marijuana facility, the hotel, and the mall coming,” Feltner said. “I am concerned about taking a step before deciding if the use is appropriate.”

The Planning Board, when it recommended making the change, said it was concerned about having a stand-along self-storage facility, Magoon said. They recommended it be part of a site with other types of retail or other uses.

He added that if the Council does not believe self-storage is an appropriate thing to have in town, it can prohibit the use in the zoning rules.

Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said he wanted to focus on the question before the Council and look at whether the parking requirement should be changed. He noted that the proposed change would be put within the standard used by the Institute of Traffic Engineers, and is similar to what is seen at self-storage facilities in Waltham, Brighton and Somerville.

“This is well within the national norm,” Piccirilli said, adding that under the old standard a facility would require “acres of parking.”

He added that self-storage usually is used by people who live in the community or businesses in town.

Councilor Anthony Donato said he thinks the change is appropriate, and corrects the zoning rules.

“Based on the numbers in the reports, both clearly establish the parking required (in the old standard) for self storage is grossly overestimated,” said Donato, who added that the new standard includes twice the number of spots that is acceptable in the studies.

The Town Council voted 6-3 to approve the new parking requirement for self-storage facilities, with Kounelis, Feltner and Michael Dattoli voting against it.

6 thoughts on “Town Council Splits on Zoning Change for Self Storage Facilities

  1. Why would anyone be surprised that the proposed zoning change came from a developer? After all, the planning dept let Athena and Arsenal Mall write theirs. That’s the way we do it here in Watertown.

  2. No more businesses in Watertown. Too much building with no planning for traffic congestion or any concern for safety of the residence of Watertown. What kind of toxic chemicals all these businesses are bringing to Watertown? What happens if there is a fire? Will the neighborhood will be evacuated and we have to live in shelter? Will our the neighborhood be conteminated like it once was when the Hood rubber factory? Please no more condos, factories or hotels. Watertown is a residential town and not a industrial park.

  3. dear Watertown, by now I have more than four years of self-storage “dependence” and I am neither in the 80% or 27% mentioned in this article. thus I’ve seen a lot! So, apart from the exterior aspect that a self-storage building might have (sorry but most of them are….not nice among by-heart-picked homes) there are certain issues regarding the safety of such facilities.depending on what the facility offers, drug dealers, homeless people, abused animals/pets can find their “home” in a self-storage facility! here, you mention a street near a mall; in many police reports one could and still can read about hand-to-hand drug transactions in parking lots around the malls…. To make the story short, if you do need or want a self-storage facility just, please, ask for exactly what you wish; a fitting business with a good management.

  4. Why is it that Watertown keeps diving down to reach the lowest common denominator in approving building projects? Cookie cutter motels masquerading as hotels. Apartment developments that include windowless “bedrooms.” And now, self-storage units. How about a few more nail salons? Pizza shops, anyone? Where are the planners, designers, architects with a vision for our future? This is beyond embarrassing, and certainly short-sighted.

  5. Once again we have Zoning before Planning in Watertown, the opposite of good land management. Yes, Councilor Piccirilli, it was the issue before the Council, but the underlying issue is enabling a use some residents never expected and do not want without community input. Once zoned by this Council vote, the building will go directly to the Planning Department process since the vote enables this development to be built if it meets Board approvals, I assume. Planning Director Magoon admitted that this use and typical design is opposite the goals of the Comprehensive Plan which should be a key factor in any approval. And he said that a mixed use self storage facility was a definite rarity. This is already designed to be a four story building filled with 10X10 foot units. By voting for this zoning change, the Council and Planning Department have given their go ahead to this project so that Mr York’s client has zoning code approval to build such a facility with less parking . If it isn’t “spot zoning,” it looks a lot like it since the developer brought the zoning change to the town and the town and residents have never discussed the appropriateness of such a use since the Comprehensive Plan was approved and certainly not in this location. I thought we were beyond the desperation point when it came to attracting development to Watertown. Do we really want to put what Councilor Piccirilli approves of in “Waltham, Brighton, and Somerville” and the “national norm” of a hulking faceless building on the doorstep of neighborhoods near Elm Street already under commercial pressure? The neighbors do have to decide on their traffic and compatibility concerns–they didn’t want a small hotel. But, Planning before Zoning would be a big improvement for Watertown.

  6. This is not good development for Watertown. We have yet another case of bottom feeder development, when we can do so much better. As citizens, we must stop putting up with these degradations of our town.

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