A project that will build three stories of condos on top of a level of commercial or retail space got the approval of the Watertown Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday.
The building at 33 Mt. Auburn Street will have 15 condos and 1,924 sq. ft. of commercial or retail space. It will go on the property near Watertown Square (across Taylor Street from the New Yorker Diner) that has been vacant for several years and was once the home of Port Oil.
“There is a missing tooth in Watertown Square, this site, which is in need of quality economic redevelopment,” said attorney Bill York, who represented the developers. “The ZBA approved a similar plan. That permit lapsed, and that developer moved on. This is a new development team.”
There have been a number of changes from the first proposal, including that the old plan had 24 units and they were apartments. Also, two levels of parking has been reduced to one level.
Resident Dennis Duff said he liked he new project and was glad the developers were helping out the town.
“First, I would like to say this is a great improvement over the first proposal,” Duff said. “I thought it was nice to know that some developers give back, and I don’t mean in a token sense as we have seen in other projects, but in a real way.”
Developers have agreed to work with the town to build a pocket park at the corner of Mt. Auburn Street and Taylor Street on a piece of land owned by the town. They have also agreed to contribute $50,000 toward the renovation of Taylor Street, which is where the Community Path will connect from Arsenal Street to Mt. Auburn Street, said Zoning Board Chair Melissa SantucciRozzi. In addition, they have pledged $35,000 toward the Town’s work on infiltration and inflow projects, which seek to find places where the town’s sewer systems has cracks and leaks.
The building sits right near the back of the condominium building at 24 Arsenal St., which led to some concerns from Zoning Board members. Member Kelly Donato said she wanted to make sure that trash pickup did not disturb the neighbors. The ZBA put a condition that waste collection will not take place between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Another concern was light coming from the building. Architect Steve Hurley from Janovsky/Hurley Architects said that the exterior lights will be on the walls of the building and will have shades that allow light to only shine downward.
With one parking lot for both residential and the retail space, and only one lobby, ZBA member David Ferris said he did not like the idea of the general public having access to the lobby to the residential area. Hurley said people gaining access to the entrance to the residences could be required to have a key card.
The building will have 19 parking spaces – one for each of the condos and four for the retail spaces. Alternate ZBA member Jason Cohen wondered if the project could have few parking spaces, since there are many public transportation options in Watertown Square. He noted they would be the first project to do so.
Watertown Senior Planner Gideon Schreiber said that the project could seek 25 percent less parking, but it is up to the developer.
“There is an option for reduced parking but we have not seen anyone comfortable enough or the board has had the appetite to look at that option,” Schreiber said. “With this site connected to so many public transportation options it is probably the most likely to have less than one car per unit. From the code perspective, the board is allowed to look at that.”
York said that cutting back the number of spaces for the retail would make the space less marketable. Developers did not seek a lower number of parking spaces.
The board also wanted to make sure that the pocket park was not polluted by the former use of the area as a gas station. Schreiber said that because the park will be on Town-owned land the ZBA cannot make it a requirement for the developers to study or clean that land. He added that the Town will not make it a park until it is clean.
The Zoning Board voted 5-0 to approve the project.