Developers of the parcel on Galen Street that includes for former Colonial GMC dealership, say their project will bring millions in property taxes with the new biotech space, and also improve traffic in and around the Galen Street area. Residents remain worried that the gridlock will continue, or move onto side streets.
Boston Development Group hosted a virtual community meeting on Oct. 1 to present the planned building, and ways they want to improve the traffic and public transportation in the area. Another meeting will be held on Oct. 8 (see below for more information). See documents from the developer’s presentation by clicking here.
The project will create 199,600 sq. ft. of life science lab space in a building that is five stories tall, with the top level scaled back from the facades. There will also be two park areas that create a total of 44,000 sq. ft. in green space.
Bob Doherty, a vice president with Boston Development Group, said that the project will generate an estimated $2.3 million in property taxes for the Town. If approved, the project will take about 2 years to construct, Doherty said. The number of employees is expected to be between 500 and 550.
The two parks will be open to the public. Developers said that the stormwater runoff will all be contained on the site. Rainwater will be captured and used for irrigation of the plantings. Also, there will be about 25,000 sq. ft. of solar photo voltaic panels on the roof of the building. The project is expected to meet LEED Gold standards, said Tim Talun of Elkus Manfredi Architects.
The building will have 277 parking spaces (including 15 electric vehicle charging stations), all below grade and not visible from the street. In addition, there will be 45 secure bike parking spaces. Also, a Bluebike station will be installed on the site.
Developers also emphasized the changes being made to the roadway to improve traffic flow and public transportation in the area. The project includes redirecting Water Street so that the entrance from Galen Street is opposite from Aldridge Road. The traffic would be allowed to turn into and out of the project from Galen Street, but vehicles could not go straight across onto Aldridge or straight from that street onto Water Street, said Jeffrey Dirk, a traffic engineer from Vanasse & Associates.
Other moves to improve traffic include installing adaptive traffic signals on Galen Street and in Watertown Square which can sense how much traffic is at the light and adjust signal timing to move the vehicles through more efficiently, Dirk said.
Traffic calming efforts will be installed on Aldridge Road, Dirk said, to discourage people from using the street as a cut through route.
In terms of public transportation, the development also reconfigures the Watertown Yard bus depot next to the development. Buses would no longer exit from the driveway right near the Galen Street/Nonantum Road intersection. Instead they would turn in approximately where they do now, but continue right and drop off and pick up passengers at a stop along the new park. Then it would turn onto the new section of Water Street and turn left onto Galen Street at a signalized intersection.
Developers also want to install a dedicated bus lane along the length of the development so buses could avoid backups near the Galen Street/Nonantum Road intersection. Dirk said the bus lane would not mean losing a lane of traffic on Galen because it would be located where the parking lane on the east side of the street is now.
Doherty said developers have been in discussion with both the MBTA and Town officials.
“Indications from the ‘T’ are they are generally accepting of the layout of the park and roadway,” Doherty said. “Conceptually, in terms of bus stop on the side of park, they are in general agreement with that. In terms of bus lane, I am not sure where that stands.”
Dirk said 75 percent of people will drive to work, while 15 percent will use public transportation and 10 percent will bike or walk to work. According to the traffic study for the project, during the morning peak hour there would be 145 vehicle trips and 170 during the evening peak hour. He noted that a next door parcel also owned by Boston Development Group could be phase 2 of the project, and would add 126 vehicle trips in the morning peak hour and 164 during the evening peak hour.
Traffic will come and go from a variety of directions, but about 34 percent are expected to use the Mass Pike, Dirk said.
The traffic data was taken before COVID-19 hit the area, and during a time when school was in session, Dirk said. The study also includes other propose projects around Watertown.
Dirk said he expects the number of vehicles coming and going to the site will be lower, based on the other biotech business in Watertown having about 60 percent of employees driving to work. In addition, the company will provide incentives for people to commute using other methods, such as a free T pass and a free Bluebike membership or money toward someone’s personal bike.
During the Q&A residents said they worry about drivers coming from the Mass Pike getting off Galen and using side streets to get to Nonantum and come in the back way. Dirk said the design was made to make it easier to go down Galen Street and turn right into the project.
Other residents said they do not think changes to the traffic lights and reconfiguring Galen Street will solve the traffic problems in Watertown Square. Some suggested the Town take a more detailed look at the situation, including looking at all the proposed changes from other projects approved in Watertown, as well as plans to redesign the intersection in Watertown Square. One resident even suggested building a tunnel under the Charles River to improve the traffic in the Square.
Paula Pollis, who is one of the owners of Farina’s, said parking spaces across from the store would be lost if a bus lane was installed. She wondered if there was plans to replace them in the project or somewhere else. Doherty said there is a possibility that spaces in the garage could be used during off hours and the weekends.
Residents were also worried about people bicycling across the bridge in Watertown Square (a common route if using a Bluebike from Cambridge) or crossing Nonantum at Water Street. The plan calls for a flashing light at the crosswalk in that location, Dirk said. People asked if a traffic light could be installed there, noting that before Nonantum was redesigned that area had many accidents and even some fatalities. Dirk said state and federal thresholds must be met to install a traffic light, and currently there is not enough traffic to reach the standard.
Developers will answer more questions during a second community meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
To join by Zoom click here: http://bit.ly/66-galen-street
Webinar ID: 919 7464 4138
Telephone Dial-in: (312) 626-6799
Webinar ID: 919 7464 4138