Dear Friends & Neighbors,
I delivered the following comments to our Town Council on August 14, 2018.:
I am here to talk about Biotech in Watertown.
Last week, August 8th, I attended a Planning Board hearing regarding Arsenal Yards. At the hearing, the developer requested approval for façade modifications, changes to the ‘river green’ layout, and a change of use to Building A’s second floor from a commercial office/retail use to a combination of office and R&D use
Since I could find no staff report, I checked a promo piece for Arsenal Yards, and found that, without receiving approval from the Planning Board, they are already promoting 100,000 square feet of creative office and “lab space” (www.arsenalyards.com/office/).
During the meeting, the Planning Board was focused on proposed changes to the windows, entrances, the roof, and the ventilation system. Until I posed the question regarding “use”, nobody https://consteril.com/biosafety-levels-difference/ad raised concerns about R&D. Nobody spoke of labs, the biosafety levels intended for these labs, and their suitability at this particular site. I shared definitions of proposed levels 1 and 2 (https://consteril.com/biosafety-levels-difference) and suggested that the Planning Board hit the pause button, allowing time for the issue to be thoroughly researched.
After some discussion Jeff Brown, Chair of the Planning Board agreed and continued the hearing until September 12. Bravo Jeff Brown!
Do you realize that Watertown has no ordinance, no regulations, no required annual inspection and report, no review process, no safety or training protocols, and no biotech oversight committee regarding these biotech labs?
Currently Community Development and Planning estimates that there are about 20 biotech labs in Watertown. There is no documentation as to what level they are, what they are working on, or exactly where they are located.
Given the 2-minute limit at Public Forum – I’ll be back. Thank you.
At the Planning Board meeting, the developers did their best to downplay any potential hazards, referring to all the biotech in Cambridge, near residential properties. But, they are not the ones in jeopardy if something goes wrong. (Note: Cambridge seems to have the “gold” standard regarding biosafety (www.cambridgepublichealth.org/services/regulatory-activities/biosafety/index.php).
The LINX building use changed from office space to a bio-tech level-two facility. I could find no Town documentation to support this change from office space to lab R&D. LINX is in an Industry-2 district. According to our zoning ordinance, p.37, 5.01, 5 (e) 2, laboratories require a Special Permit and Site Review
(https://www.ci.watertown.ma.us/DocumentCenter/View/3364/ZONING-ORDINANCE–Amended-192018?bidId=). LINX is fully leased with five bio-tech tenants. It is a very cool building. Could LINX be sold in the near future? Then what?
Should we simply trust the tenants to police themselves? Apparently, that is what we are doing with each of the 20 or so labs we currently have.
Again, what kind of work are these labs doing? What safety precautions are being taken? Are animals involved? Do they have adequate security? What are their protocols for waste disposal, for emergency responders?
So far, I have investigated ordinances and regulations in Cambridge, Belmont, Newton, Bedford, Lexington, Arlington, and Waltham. All these communities have regulations and biosafety oversight committees.
For the record, I am not opposed to having biotech labs in Watertown. I am opposed to a policy or should I say “non-policy” of treating them as though they are just another group of commercial tenants.
At this point, we have no idea of what we don’t know. How do we address this uncertainty of what we don’t know? What is the purpose of government if not to serve and protect its citizens? I believe the only way we can build trust regarding the growing biotech industry in town is through transparency, clear expectations, and controls.
I urge this Council to promptly appoint a committee to establish an ordinance, regulations, and a biotech oversight committee, before something unimaginable happens that makes other town problems seem minor.
Thank you for listening.