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.