Zoning Board Asserts Safe Harbor to Stop Proposed 40B Apartment Project

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Nordblom Company

A rendering of the proposed apartment complex at 148 Waltham St., the former Sterritt Lumber site.

A rendering of the proposed apartment complex at 148 Waltham St., the former Sterritt Lumber site.

The 253-unit residential project proposed for the former Sterritt Lumber site on the Westside of town was stopped by the Zoning Board on Wednesday night when it asserted that the Town has met the state requirements for subsidized housing.

The developers of the project at 148 Waltham St., Nordblom Development Company, submitted the request for a comprehensive plan under the Chapter 40B law, which allows for denser housing developments in communities that have not met the minimum standards for subsidized housing. The project would have had more than a quarter of its units, 64, rented at below market rate.

The ZBA, however, asserted “Safe Harbor” which allows towns with more than 1.5 percent of the land zoned for residential, commercial or industrial use is being used for subsidized housing, said ZBA member Kelly Donato when she made the motion.

“The board elects to proceed with the full local hearing with the board having the right to deny the application or grant the application with conditions, and with the finding that the board’s denial or grant of the application would be consistent with local needs and with the applicant having no right of appeal to the Housing Appeals Committee from the board’s decision,” Donato said.

The ZBA voted unanimously to have its Chair, Melissa SantucciRozzi, send a letter to the applicant informing them that the town has invoked the 1.5 percent area safe harbor exception. A copy will also be sent to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Watertown qualified for the safe harbor in January by making the land use calculation for another 40B project proposed on Coolidge Hill Road. A self-storage facility is now planned for that site.

The board did not hear a presentation from the developers, nor comments from the public because there was no formal public hearing, SantucciRozzi said. She added that the comments will be read if and when any part of the proposal comes before the board for a public hearing in the future.

The ZBA met for the first time since the Governor’s orders limited public gatherings, which led to the cancellation of its March meeting. Wednesday’s session was held online using the Zoom app, and members participating remotely. It was also televised on Watertown Cable.

Assistant Town Manger Steve Magoon said that board met to hear cases that were already in the works before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The Town feels it’s appropriate to allow existing projects that were disrupted mid-process to have the review and approval process continue to completion,” Magoon said at the beginning of the meeting. “At this point in time, a freeze has been put on new applications, but this allows some certainty in this uncertain time for existing applications.” 

5 thoughts on “Zoning Board Asserts Safe Harbor to Stop Proposed 40B Apartment Project

  1. What’s wrong with more housing? Aren’t Democrats always complaining that there is not enough? Now you don’t want anymore?

    Where are the illegal aliens that you virtue-signalling Democrats who support “sanctuary cities” and whom you invite in supposed to live?
    I have never gotten an answer to that question. I doubt there is one. Easy to talk about “sanctuaries”, isn’t it?

    What would the town prefer on that site? A homeless encampment?

    By the way, where is all the new tax revenue from the Arsenal Street and other projects going to? Who is auditing it? How much new revenue is it bringing in? Inquiring minds want to know. It’s public information, isn’t it?

    • Telos, I’m fairly liberal and agree with much of what you’re saying here. Liberals all around the Boston area complain about the lack of affordable housing, but when it comes time to build these units in their town, many have a “but not in my back yard” attitude. When plans for a mixed housing development were proposed in my neighborhood, I was totally in favor of it. I was happy to bring some new energy and more diversity to the East End. Most of my neighbors seemed to oppose it however. “Traffic,” they claimed, was the reason.

      Where in the Boston area isn’t there a traffic problem? Where should these mixed condo/affordable housing developments be built? Somerville? Cambridge? There’s so much more available space there. Right.

  2. How great we have safe harbors . Last night the zoning Board invoked Safe Harbors.

    If not – the state would make the decision on Waltham street apartments proposal .

    Safe harbors allows the town to make the decision .

    Safe harbor protects communities to oppose inappropriate development – too large etc
    Great news in these most difficult times.
    The zoning board will meet on this proposal in July. They have their work cut out to prepare approximately 100 pages of documents . We won!!!

  3. I’m really getting tired of hearing people complain about these large condo projects. The mockup looks great and it would be nice to have a bigger tax base here in town. Besides, what should go here instead? Another self-storage facility? No thanks.

    I’m all for encouraging millennials with disposable incomes to come to Watertown. This means a more favorable environment for businesses (restaurants, bars, etc.) and more tax revenue in general while not putting much strain on the public school system. Now, as far as improving the public schools in town …

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