Councilor Explains Her Decision to Delay Vote on Galen Street Zoning; Info Meeting Planned

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Boston Development Group

The proposal for properties on Galen Street if requested zoning changes go through.

The proposal for properties on Galen Street if requested zoning changes go through.

Last week, Town Councilor Lisa Feltner decided to invoke a rule that delays the vote of the Town Council until the next meeting. The issue being considered was the rezoning of some parcels along Galen Street requested by a developer. Below you can read her letter explaining her decision.

Feltner also announced that she has booked space at the Watertown Library on Wednesday night to meet with residents, and hear their concerns about the proposal. The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, in the Raya Stern Trustees Room on the second floor of the Library, located at 123 Main St., Watertown.

Why I Tabled the Town Council Vote to Change Zoning on Galen Street

The request from Boston Development Group to change four parcels, from Limited Business (LB) to Industrial-2 (I-2), is not a bad idea except that the good ideas are not written into the zoning language.

I support making plans for this approximate 5 acre area, which sits next to the MBTA bus yard between Water and Galen, as a whole. However, we don’t have a neighborhood plan or sub-area plan or Watertown Square plan or “new gateway” or “South Square” plan -yet. Regardless, we don’t have the zoning for it – yet. I don’t support moving forward with a change in zoning before securing benefits for a vision and plans to mitigate known impacts, while also engaging residents. 

Before the January 28th Town Council meeting, I thought through the zoning change request again. What are the benefits? General assumptions and good intentions were shared in context with the concept plan along with references to the Comprehensive Plan. What are the impacts? They were generally ignored.

For example, creating a four-way signal on Galen with Aldrich Rd. and Water St. could address some traffic conflicts. What about the impacts on Morse St., Hunt St., Aldrich at Watertown and Fifth Ave., Nonantum Rd., Watertown Square, and beyond? How do we ensure we’re getting true mixed-use or a certain amount of retail or restaurant space, or improved transit options? It’s not written into the zoning change. In fact, I-2 zoning does not allow primarily mixed-use or residences; it encourages office, R&D, self-storage, marijuana among others. For all the loud concern about affordable housing, transportation, community and recreational spaces – we don’t really know what we’ll end up getting here. I support creative zoning and planning. This isn’t it. Instead of leading the charge, we continue to react, so I can’t blame “the developers.” I like this development team, but that’s not the point.

The public is not actively engaged in planning and doesn’t know about the impacts, and residents want connections across Watertown Square. Neither Planning Board nor Town Council received baseline information about the consequences of their votes regarding traffic, parking, heights, streetscape, noise – because “This is just a concept and you’re not voting on a project; you’re voting on a zoning change.”  

I’m looking forward to improving our zoning and our process. At least give me something I know will sufficiently benefit District B and Watertown without kicking the impacts down the road, something more than hopeful good intentions, things we can rely on, regardless of who owns the property or how the market changes. I owe it to the people.

Lisa Feltner
District B Town Councillor 

3 thoughts on “Councilor Explains Her Decision to Delay Vote on Galen Street Zoning; Info Meeting Planned

  1. Our Comprehensive Plan is out of date. Our Open Space Plan is out of date. Our Housing Production Plan is out of date. The time for a community meeting on where Watertown is going is long overdue. Do the residents in this town count for anything? Bravo Councilor Lisa Feltner. I hope the room is mobbed with folks who want more accountability in our town. Who answers to the people in our town? Please show up folks! Complaining on FB will not bring any out the change we need -Pronto!

  2. I support Councillor Feltner on this matter. It’s not that I don’t like some of what I see, but without a more concrete plan it is not wise to give away this bargaining chip. But my real concern is that the town has done a poor job at extracting enough public benefits and mitigation from developers of past projects.

    In the process of redeveloping Watertown, we must improve the quality of life here and the developers who are making vast sums of money must invest some of it in the community. In the past, they have gotten away on the cheap. It’s time for some accountability.

    This is a very sensitive location, both environmentally and with regard to traffic. We must be careful to safeguard our future quality of life.

  3. It probably should have been mentioned that 83% of the 5 acre area is already zoned I-2. So the proposed zoning amendment in front of the Council is only to amend the remaining 17%, which is zoned LB. Probably would have been worth it to also mention that the people that brought it forward want to put in a life science/lab type facility (the largest growing field in greater Boston). They are asking for a change because LB zoning doesn’t allow that use. Also, under the current zoning, without any change, they could already build a facility like the one they’ve been presenting. So the real question being asked is whether or not changing 17% of this parcel from LB to I-2 will result in a better project for Watertown? Staff, not the developer, has said it will and based that conclusion on two comprehensive zoning plans that have been approved by the Town Council (and involved significant community input). They’ve noted in their report that with consistency in zoning there will be more green space, better connections through the site and a better opportunity to implement traffic improvements (especially with the MBTA station), among other things.

    It’s also worth noting that if anyone wants to see the baseline information on what is allowed in I-2 zoning you can find the zoning ordinance on the Community Development and Planning page of the Town website. There you will find parking (starting on page 81), heights (page 46) and streetscape regulations (page 107). Noise is a separate ordinance (that is currently being revised) and a traffic study will be conducted as part of the Special Permit Process. Proposed plans for the development itself were also attached to the last Council agenda.

    Given all the above, I can say with confidence I have a very good of what will go in here and that the proposed change is in the best interests of Watertown.

    The last thing worth saying is that the Town Council does not approve individual projects. If the zoning amendment is approved, the proposal will have to go through the special permit process (including holding a community meeting). When the proposed zoning amendment first went to the Planning Board for consideration there was a public forum with feedback. When it then came to the Council there was another public forum with feedback. If approved by the Council there will be a community meeting and then another public forum. Additionally, there has been significant discussion with residents, who I believe are actually actively engaged, over the 6 months since this proposal was brought to the Council’s attention and more will follow if approved.

    Ken Woodland
    District D Town Councilor

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