34 thoughts on “LETTER: Resident Supports Taller Tower in Arsenal Yards Project

  1. Thank you Daniel and I aggree.
    I wonder if we can free up zoning for smaller micro condos and apartments?
    We need density for the social and ecologic benefits, its not always about profit.

    • I fear that by advocating for smaller/micro units we’re simply forcing working-class and other residents of limited means into overcrowded spaces akin to tenement housing. They deserve a reasonably-sized home like anyone else. A better question might be whether very large homes should be taxed against their inefficient land use to subsidize affordability.

      • Cities and towns can set their own minimum dwelling unit sizes. Here is the minimum standard for MASSACHUSETTS-105 CMR: DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH 410.400: Minimum Square Footage (A) Every dwelling unit shall contain at least 150 square feet of floor space for its first occupant, and at least 100 square feet of floor space for each additional occupant, the floor space to be calculated on the basis of total habitable room area. https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2017/09/11/105cmr410.pdf

  2. Daniel

    Your premise is incorrect.

    The height has no bearing on the density or the quantity of development. The FAR controls that by allowing development proportional to the amount of land. If you want more development you need to increase the FAR.

    Also the height increase is 67 feet not 30. They are asking to raise the height from 130 to 297 feet.

    One aspect of increasing the height is that it does leaves more land. The problem here is that unless the open space percentage is increase you run the risk that the open land will be used for surface parking. A good example of the this type of development is the towers at Fresh Pond in Cambridge.

    This amendment change leaves the decision of where height is allowed to the developers and not the planners.

    • I think I may be misunderstanding your note here — by density, I mean additional units per square foot, which I think a taller tower will achieve.

      • The FAR (Floor Area Ratio) defines the maximum allowable floor area that can be built. Regardless of the height, the floor area that can be built remains the same (square footage). Whether this increase is granted or not, the number of units that could be built on the land would remain the same.

        • I’ll have to look into that — it’s not what I understand of the issue from what I’ve read and heard.

  3. This was already discussed and a variance to add height variance of 130ft allowed. I don’t agree with making an even larger tower in our lovely town. This will cast an even larger shadow over Arsenal park(one of few in town) in the morning hours. A balance needs to be maintained in Watertown so that we don’t get much denser(IMO) and keep some of Watertown green, yet still having single/double/triple+ homes. We are already one of the top dense towns in MA fyi.

    • But if we want green spaces (I do!) and the population is also growing along with the local economy (it is!) and we want to support people harmed by the high cost of housing (I do!), then we want high density development like tall towers, not suburban sprawl that wastes land and creates more reliance on fossil fuels and move what could be public green spaces into private hands.

      • By green spaces I don’t mean the space you look at from the 20th floor but a persons front or backyard too. Gardens and trees throughout the tapestry of our already very dense town. Land that we can nurture/grow things in and connect to the earth doing so. The high rise units will serve almost only those who make a lot of income and do not have many kids. The Gabels lowest price for 1 bedroom is 2327. 2 bedrooom is 3220 and up per month this is not going to help many in the area you speak of. I would not call Watertown suburban sprawn, by any means, but urban and highly developed. I would hate to see our lovely town turned into high rises and more city-like Impersonal rectangular towers. Housing issue is not Watertown’s alone and we have set some measures in place to help. So large towers to help low income housing sounds very familiar without great success. Big issue which needs new ideas. To bring people along

        • There’s no reason that mid-sized towers like this can’t have green spaces available to residents—I don’t know what the plan is for Arsenal, but in principle it seems like a false dichotomy.

          I also have personal reservations about privileging amenities like backyards in the face of the harm being done to vulnerable populations over these past decades, and in the decades to come.

          Assuming that an apartment can’t be a home for a family reveals a strong personal preference that isn’t necessarily shared. There are plenty of families paying high rents for cramped, often run-down living spaces only to spend significant portions of their day commuting to jobs in Cambridge, which forces them to pay for extended daycare (upwards of $2100 per month)—and these families would love to improve the quality of their lives by moving to a new development in an attractive area that’s close to their workplaces.

          • I believe you have missed my point which is about balance. Watertown has a height restriction of 79Ft so a mid-rise in Watertown is approx 40ft not 130 let alone 279ft! I believe the small plots we call backyards are one large part what makes our town beautiful and livable. These are very small plots which are appropriate in our very dense town. I will disagree with you on this(small yards). You make quite an assumption from my last reply with respect to my beliefs(Assuming that an apt can’t be a home), I did not state this. Watertown has wonderful homes which are Apartments/Single families/2 families/Condos/3-6 families…. again it comes back to Balance. I did mention that the Apts that have been built are very expensive 2300 for 1 bedroom 3200 and up for 2 which will only create new homes for those with a good income and not many kids(not a bad thing but again not what you are looking for overall). 130ft Apt building is quite a large building for Watertown and a variance to start with. Watertown should stick to their guns and only allow what was worked out prior otherwise go back to 79ft if 130ft is not enough.

        • Yes 197ft is the new ask from 130Ft agreed upon, correct(still very large and considerably taller than 79ft).

  4. My apologies if I misstated the height adjustment amount in my letter. It doesn’t change my view that both Watertown and the region would benefit from higher-density developments like this one. Thanks for engaging!

  5. My understanding is that under the new proposed height that the total density of the building, (ie. total square footage of living space) would not change. Rather, the taller building would allow the developer to create MORE OPEN SPACE than what is currently already approved to be built. In layman terms, a shorter larger footprint would become a taller smaller footprint. Isn’t that what everybody wants, more open space?

    With regard to the shadow that a building casts, I can’t think of a better location in Watertown to have a taller building. We’re not talking about casting shadows on a neighborhood (like at Irving and Arsenal) but rather on a park during the morning hours.

    The last time I checked the sun sets in the West. And the park is west of the towers. In the afternoon the shadow would be on the Home Depot parking lot and Greenough Blvd.

    Seems like a win-win situation to me. As such, I support building the taller building and encourage our Town Council to support the proposed height increase. Not only will we get more open space, the tax revenue will be greater on a taller building thereby creating more revenue to run our Town.

    • Personally, I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest that there be some area’s in town that can handle taller buildings.
      Perhaps this is one of them. If truth be told no one idea is right and the other wrong.
      Living in smaller houses has it’s beauty and benefits as does living in towers.
      Personal isolation or the disregard for the planet often associated with living in towers is not necessarily true (though is has often been true in my past experience).
      It all depends on the situation and the decision should be best by public vote and carried out by the planning board. The decision should not be made by the councilors and or planning board alone as they can be influenced by personal benefits.
      The wisdom of the crowd should be used for all such large projects.

  6. Be careful. A smaller foot print does not mean open space in the positive sense.
    Unless the open space percentage is increases It allow the open land to be used for surface parking. Since surface parking is much cheaper than garage parking the attraction to developers is to use the land for surface parking. At this point in the zoning I do not believe there is any significant control on the surface parking.
    Remember unintended consequences.

    • Having been attending the RMUD formulation meetings for years, surface parking does not count as open space. One of the best features about this new development is the ecologic benefits of storing our soon to be antiquated private petroleum cars in mostly covered and underground garages. The modernizing of the ground water containment systems and increasing permeable open space in Arsenal Yards and Athena, in itself, is a huge ecologic win for the Charles River. The Conservation Commision is doing a great job here in Watertown.

      • Whatever potential land is freed up by giving greater height is not guaranteed to be open space. The developer is not legally bound to create any more open space than is already required by the zoning ordinance. So, the potentially freed up land could be turned into surface parking. The developer has already removed a level of underground parking from the original plans due to cost issues.

  7. Jeez, higher density is good? Maybe in Brooklyn, NY. Is that what we want for Watertown? That is not why I moved here. Times change, and the Boston area is booming, but every community needs good planning that helps decide whether it will maintain a balance, as Kate so eloquently details, or turn into something else. Most people I know prefer the former.
    As to affordable housing, the building in question will be luxury housing, which is what developers make the most money on. It will not help any families that I know.
    As to open space created by a taller building—is this going to be given/added to Arsenal Park? I doubt it. It will probably be exclusive to the building. Unfortunately, our planning process allows a special change in zoning the precludes the actual plan. It allows for the developer to be granted their wish and leaves how that wish will actually look up to our unelected, limited authority Planning Board.
    I guarantee that this particular developer has absolutely no altruistic intentions beyond his own wallet.

  8. Allowing developers to get the variance to 197ft sets the precedence for future developers to build taller elsewhere around town. What would prevent the Logan furniture building from becoming a high rise? We are still waiting for a shuttle for all the Pleasant street developments (and three of those developments are not even finished yet). Who enjoys driving through the square at rush hour? What about the intersection this new complex will flood into? Public transportation on that side of town is limited (one over crowded bus route), not exactly encouraging to tenants considering public transport.
    Tax revenue from the taller building is not going to impact our town when you weigh in the increased need for more police and fire for all these new projects and the strain on Arsenal street and surrounding side streets which will have to be resurfaced and repaired.

      • That is(the height restriction of 130ft currently for RMUD) officially correct, though his premise is true too. That a 179ft tall building in one area of town will set a precedence for other areas in town. The zoning(as we have seen with RMUD) can change relatively quickly. So though Charlie’s statements are 100% correct, so are the concerns of Cory.

  9. You are not grasping the point. Height does not increase open space unless the developer choses to use it that way. This amendment does not increase the open space percentage. He is required to have the same percentage of lot area devoted to open space if he builds 10 feet high or 197′ high. Yes you are correct surface parking does not count as open space. That is the point the developer can use the land beyond the open space requirement as non permeable surface parking. Height benefits the developer with more valuable units the higher they are. It is primarily an aesthetic issue to neighbors.

    • I am hoping the developers architects will offer a number of schemas and styles for how this proposed building will look and from multiple perspectives. It will probably not happen with this meeting, but having much to choose from is a way that we can discuss and input as a community. Personally, I think a cutting edge modern style would be fun to look at. Something that reflects Watertowns history of innovation and pointing to that continuing into the future. At one point I remember Steven Magoon, the Director of the planning board, asking for something “edgy” and I aggree.

      • Sorry Steven, I misquoted you. It was your Chairman, John Hawes Jr., that asked for an “edgy” architectural style for Arsenal Yards. It has been a pleasure to watch his evenhanded style at meetings.

      • I believe this was asked in meetings at the beginning by many: “I am hoping the developers architects will offer a number of schemas and styles for how this proposed building will look and from multiple perspectives. ” Some also asked for 3D renditions so that there would be a better understanding of size/relation to surroundings. My point is …this was already done and the result was a variance of 130ft.

  10. I hate to be picky but it does matter.
    The 130 foot height was part of the RMUD zoning change, It was not a variance.
    I believe a variance could be asked for by this developer for this particular building but they have chosen to ask for a height change for the entire RMUD district.
    There should be a technique for granting height for a particular building but no one has come forward with how to do this.
    Once again. This change will allow 200 feet height for any building within the RMUD within a 10 acre parcel. I believe the Arsenal Yard is 23 acres. (per the planning staff report)

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