Months after it first appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeal, a three story life science lab building at 23 Elm Street got approval to be constructed on Wednesday night.
The proposal first came before the ZBA in February, at a meeting where board members expressed their concerns about the amount of parking for the then 78,000 sq. ft. building, as well as its proximity to the next door Residence Inn by Marriott.
A second hearing was delayed by a lack of quorum at some meetings, but on July 28 the ZBA saw the revised plans for 23 Elm St., which include a building with less than 70,000 sq. ft. with the same number of parking spaces, including some that would accommodate larger vehicles.
It will have a public plaza in front of the building, and about 10,400 sq. ft. of solar photovoltaic panels on the roof. The project will add about 50 vehicle trips during the peak traffic hour, said Jeffrey Dirk, a traffic consultant from Vanasse & Associates. As part of the mitigation for the project, the developer will pay to install a light at the intersection of Elm and Arsenal streets.
The building was moved back away from the edge next to the hotel, said architect Alan Westman from KSID.
“At its closest point it was 3 feet from the hotel,” Westman said. “Now it is 25 feet from the hotel.”
Parking remained a concern for the Zoning Board. Andy Mann, a principal from Elm Street Partners, said the reduction of about 12 percent in square footage increased the parking to floor area ratio from 1.25 spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. to 1.41/1,000 sq. ft. The parking requirement is less for a research lab than an office, said Watertown Senior Planner Gideon Schreiber.
Of the 98 parking spaces, 25 will be tandem (where one car is parked right behind another) which will be monitored by parking assistants. The developers hired SP+, a company that manages over 2 million parking spaces in about 3,500 facilities located in 39 states and Canada. (See information about the parking plan and SP+ by clicking here.)
Tim Shaw, regional manager of SP+, said the tandem spaces will be used when the other spaces fill up. Drivers will park their cars and leave their keys with the parking attendants in case they need to be moved. The attendants will also ask how long people will be parking and when they plan to leave when they park vehicles.
Shaw said the attendants will learn the patterns of employees.
“It is not just operating parking facilities. We learn about the people in the building,” Shaw said. “We learn about their tendencies, their habits, when they normally come in, and what company stays late.”
Zoning Board members thanked the developers for the changes they made, but had a few concerns.
ZBA Chair Melissa SantucciRozzi said it is important that the parking plan works, and she does not want to see cars parked in the aisles. She said 98 spaces means there is room for only 98 vehicles. If the plan doesn’t work, the developers will have to come back to the board to work out a solution.
“It’s going to be up to whoever is there, SP+ or whatever company you end up with, using their parking expertise to make sure the plan is implemented,” SantucciRozzi said. “If they don’t do that it’s not going to work and then we are going to make you do things you are not going to like.”
She added that Watertown has not had experience with these sorts of parking situations — with parking assistants and tandem spaces — and said it will be a learning experience for the Town.
The developers will have to come back to the ZBA with a report about how the parking plan is going 12 months after the building is fully occupied, or sooner if there are issues.
Some brought up concerns about deliveries. The design allows for trucks up to 30 feet long to make deliveries and be able to turn around so they do not have to back out on to Elm Street to leave the property. SantucciRozzi said the delivery requirements must be made clear to tenants because they will be the ones setting up deliveries.
If there is ever a change in the type of tenants which require more parking, such as office space, the applicant will have to come back to the Zoning Board, SantucciRozzi added.
The Zoning Board voted unanimously to approve the project.