The Town Council approved a new member of the Planning Board at Tuesday’s Council meeting, but the candidate did not receive unanimous support.
Jason Cohen, who has been an alternate member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, was appointed to the Planning Board to replace John Hawes, who recently stepped down after more than two decades on the board.
Cohen, is an architect, has served on the ZBA since 2015, has lived in town since 2001 and has two children attending Hosmer Elementary School. Professionally, he works primarily on large multi-unit housing projects, but during his interview with the Economic Development & Planning subcommittee he said he is interested in larger urban planning issues that come before the Planning Board, including approving projects on Arsenal Street and Pleasant Street.
Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she could not support Cohen because she believed he did not consider all input from residents when considering a case. She pointed to the proposal for the medical marijuana facility at 23 Elm St., and the ZBA meeting in May 2017.
“By Mr. Cohen’s own admission, he did not attend any community meetings or the Planning Board meeting where residents offered their testimony, both pro and con, for the proposal,” Kounelis said. “And yet, Mr. Cohen strongly felt that residents should have shown-up and made their voices heard, since the ZBA is the last stop on the approval process. Mr. Cohen repeated: there are no members of the public appearing or speaking out against the proposal and he takes this at face value.”
Kounelis said many residents showed up to community meetings before the case went to the Zoning Board, and
. She added that she believes residents voices should be heard and considered at any meeting, forum, or even just by contacting their Town Councilor. She noted that some people do not feel comfortable speaking at a public meeting, or signing their name to a public letter for a variety of reasons.
The Council approved Cohen’s appointment to the Planning Board by a vote of 8-1, with Kounelis opposing it.
Green Schools and Trees
Residents spoke in support of building “green” schools and adding more trees to Watertown during the Public Forum at the Council meeting.
The group Watertown Faces Climate Change, part of Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice & the Environment, presented the Town Council with a petition signed by 581 residents asking for Watertown’s three elementary schools to be rebuilt, or renovated, to be energy efficient and environmentally
“All of us believe that the upcoming renovation to our elementary schools represent an important opportunity for our town to provide healthier, cleaner, more forward thinking learning environments for our youngest residents,” said Amelia Young, who spoke on behalf of the group.
The petition asks Town Councilors to consider including onsite energy generation (including solar panels), building material rated highly for safety and health, and the strongest feasible energy efficiency standards when building the schools.
Residents also spoke out in support of a proposal to plant more street trees and make sure trees, old and new, thrive. The Public Works and Rules & Ordinances committees held a joint meeting where they discussed possible regulations to strengthen the protection of trees.
According to report on the meeting, read by Councilor Anthony Donato, the joint subcommittees and the members of the public attending the meeting agreed on the following points:
1. Watertown residents want to live on pretty tree-lined streets, and the Town Council should make this both an operational and a budget priority.
2. Watertown should develop a data-driven plan to determine what neighborhoods and specific streets are underserved by public shade trees, identify specific locations in those areas to plant new trees, and develop budget policies based on this data.
3. As part of street & sidewalk construction projects, Watertown should identify locations for new street trees early in the process so that adequate planting beds can be designed into the project, and also institute policies so that existing street trees are both properly cared for and have their planting beds improved during such projects.
4. For planting new public shade trees in locations where no construction projects are planned, policies should be developed to insure such trees thrive in the long-term, by providing appropriate sized planting beds, by providing automobile barriers in locations where there are no curbs, and by planning the planting locations so that they will not be disturbed by future construction projects.
As part of the effort to improve Watertown’s urban forest, group of high school interns for Trees for Watertown will be conducting a survey of all street trees in Town over the summer. Those interested in joining can visit tfwteensfortrees.org
Request by Mall for Taller Building
The Town Council had a first reading of a request from Boylston Properties, the developers renovating the former Arsenal Mall, to allow a building to be 67 feet higher that currently allowed by Watertown’s Zoning Ordinance.
Arsenal Yards is located in the Regional Mixed Use District (RMUD), which allows for buildings to be 79 feet high by right, and up to 130 feet if granted a special permit by the Planning Board. The proposed amendment would increase the height limit to 197 feet, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon.
The amendment was referred to the Planning Board, which will hold a hearing and make a recommendation for the Town Council.