I am writing in response to Mr. Bockian’s open letter regarding the proposed zoning amendment at Arsenal Yards. I agree with Mr. Bockian that maintaining the integrity of Watertown’s Planning Board is extremely important. However, I don’t believe that BP’s [Boylston Properties] proposed zoning amendment constitutes a threat to local governance, and nor do I believe that the proposed increase in height constitutes a threat to the Watertown community.
Mr. Bockian writes that the zoning debate has been “reopened quickly and opportunistically.” In fact, the RMUD zoning has been in place for over two years, and when it was initially approved BP stated publicly that they had accepted the zoning as a compromise and planned to reconsider it further along the line. Legislators across our nation use this tactic to make timely progress on issues while looking ahead to future achievements. For instance, Massachusetts legalized “civil union” partnerships as a compromise before finally legalizing gay marriage a few years later. Revisiting earlier decisions does not constitute a threat to “the Town’s social and political fabric,” but shows flexibility and willingness to evolve.
Mr. Bockian also suggests that BP could reduce the overall size of Building G to solve the problems with its large footprint, calling it a design problem within BP’s control. BP could certainly do this, and many would be happy to see a smaller building. However, given the amount of investment BP has poured into Arsenal Yards, it isn’t realistic to expect that BP will willingly accept losses to this investment by shrinking their building. If Watertown rejects the height amendment, the town should be willing to accept the larger footprint at Building G, which according to renderings would be a much more significant barrier to Arsenal Park than the taller design. Moreover, shrinking the building would reduce the number of total units and thus of affordable units – a reduction no one can in good conscience approve, given the increasing demand pressures forcing up rents across the area.
Finally, Mr. Bockian points out that Watertown is already stressed with development pressures, producing “anger and mistrust.” I believe it is unfair to associate BP with other developers’ misdeeds in Watertown. BP has shown good faith in developing the LINX and Marriott properties, creating valuable permanent jobs in the Town. They have begun construction at Arsenal Yards in a timely manner, working with existing retailers to keep the Mall open and minimize disruption. And they have consistently been present at public meetings and met with community members to address their concerns. We can contrast these actions with the actions of developers in neighboring communities like Somerville, where Assembly Row’s developers quietly brokered deals to reduce their affordable housing quotas, and got them approved with no input from the community.
In conclusion, Boylston Properties’ interactions with the Planning Board do not represent bullying or dominance over local government. They represent a carefully considered attempt to improve upon compromise zoning. Increasing the height of Building G would solve its design issues while maintaining the current totals of affordable housing, and the Planning Board should strongly consider all of these favorable elements as they make a decision on the updated zoning.