LETTER: Too Much Land in Watertown Square is Being Wasted

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This letter was inspired by the commenting process on the Watertown Comprehensive Plan. If you haven’t participated yet, it’s not too late! But I wanted to get this letter in front of a wider audience because this problem affects all of us. Too much land in Watertown Square is wasted by ground-level parking lots.

Watertown is small by area, and we only have one central downtown location. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking to see our Watertown Square, which has so much potential, be practically ruined by all these parking lots.

Almost half of Watertown Square is taken up by parking lots.

With so much prime real estate dedicated to parking lots, it’s hard for the businesses and public services that are there to get enough foot traffic, because everything is pushed so far apart. Imagine how vibrant that area could be if a significant chunk of that land could be additional restaurants, bars, shops, salons, parlors, museums, and homes!

Of course, those businesses do need places for their customers to park, and I’m not against parking — far from it! I have a car, too, and I sometimes drive down to Watertown Square. But there’s no reason to use such a huge chunk of our best land for this. Instead, Watertown should strongly consider turning a portion of the huge parking area into a multi-story municipal parking garage, perhaps in that large area between the CVS and First Parish Unitarian. Then, the rest of the nearby land that’s currently covered with vast expanses of empty asphalt could be developed into any of the things that make Watertown Square great, by developing city-owned land and by eliminating parking minimums for businesses close to the new garage. With the right proportioning, we could end up with:

  • The same amount or more parking as before
  • More housing, amenities, great restaurants, playgrounds, etc
  • More tax revenue from the businesses and homes occupying the land that was formerly parking lots
  • And to top it all off, the entire project should be cashflow positive: The value of the developable land  freed up should greatly exceed the construction costs of the garage, and the city could choose to sell or develop some of that land to finance the project

Maybe I’m missing something, but this project seems to me like such a win-win that I’m having trouble understanding why nobody has proposed it yet. What do you all think?

Matt Lashof-Sullivan
Watertown Resident

12 thoughts on “LETTER: Too Much Land in Watertown Square is Being Wasted

  1. I agree with Matt about reducing the amount of surface parking in and around Watertown Sq. However, a multistory parking structure in the area between CVS and the First Parish church is not the right answer. How about an underground parking lot like the one under the Public Garden in Boston? That would free up even more space.

    • This would be awesome! I didn’t default to this because I figured it would bring out people complaining about the cost and worrying it was infeasible, but this would be the actual ideal.

  2. So, we could turn this “prime real estate” into even more condos, which is what would happen. We already have playgrounds that are not utilized by most residents, we have many more restaurants since Arsenal Yards has arrived, and thus, this “cash flow positive” would come from one thing, I repeat, more condos and million, dollar duplexes. All of this after losing beautiful Moxley Field to a temporary high school. Enough already with more “progress”!

    • I mean, yeah, that’s the idea. What’s better, a home for people to live in, a restaurant, a park, or a barren swath of tar mixed with gravel?

    • Moxley Field isn’t “lost”. It’s temporarily being used as swing space for the high school. It will be even better when it’s reopened.

  3. How dreadful that would be to turn a nice surface of an open parking area into an eye sore of an ugly garage behind CVS like downtown Boston !! I recall a conversation with Steve Maggoon wanting this to happen about ten years ago with double the height of all the buildings in the square that could give more office space above CVS ! Whatever happened to a charming like atmosphere for our newly termed city of Watertown We have a huge garage at the Arsenal yards and I certainly would not want to see a garage like we are parking in Harvard Square because we are not anything like Cambridge in Harvard Square.
    You don’t drive into beautiful charming Belmont Center or Newton Center or even Lexington Center and see a multi level Garage there which to many of us would be in bad taste and ludicrous. The better restaurants don’t even stay in business in Watertown as they don’t get the revenue of a higher caliber of clientele to dine out who mostly all seek cheap eats. Watertown is not the classy Chestnut Hill neighborhood who has many dining establishments one after the other who has a flat open parking lot at the mall as well in which many people prefer that for their overall safety.
    It’s difficult enough that we are inundated by all the condo complexes up and down Arsenal and Pleasant Streets in the ever growing phase of our Watertown community that take getting adjusted to. In speaking with many older adults and residents the inadequate planning at one park in particular that many people use lack many interior trees for shade and have very few in fact because this main park is catered to kids and students and not to the older and more elderly who should have more shaded trees to walk safely for them. To conclude adding another cemented garage area and and reducing any open space would be a deterrent in our opinion.
    More open land to be developed into a three or four story garage would certainly be an eye sore, and adequate plans for Watertown Square are a necessity even if the thought of consolidation into one small area would even hinder the accessibility of the huge delivery trucks that need to be able to get in and out of the CVS parking area too for dropping off a multitude of goods. Much more realistic plans need to be drawn up by top notch architects before the building of a garage should ever take place. Watertown square’s buildings in both directions lack an aesthetic design element and every front looks like a mish mash without any coordinated effort of building owners, with the exception to the many banks of course that are kept up nicely.

    • “Nice surface of an open parking lot”? Really? I didn’t realize that vast expanses of desolate asphalt were “nice.” Perhaps we could replace more parks, homes, and businesses with parking lots, since they are so nice? Perhaps we should get Joe Biden to declare Parking Lot National Monument, where people who love parking lots can go and visit to enjoy the beautiful vista of flat black asphalt as far as the eye can see. I wonder how many visitors it would get?

  4. In response to Mr. Lashof-Sullivan’s letter regarding parking lots in the square. After looking at the map he provided,it seems to me that at least 4-5 or maybe more of the lots circled are on what I would imagine is private property, such as apartment buildings and small businesses. Does he propose taking this land by eminent domain? What good would it do to remove the parking that one multi apartment building has for it’s tenants? So they could then build another building where it once was? and if we have just one centralized parking facility, such as a garage, so then he would want us all to now have to walk even further once we’ve parked in order to get to our intended destination? I’m handicapped and I would find it very difficult to have to walk 2-3 blocks after I’ve parked to go to say, City Hall, instead of parking directly behind it like I do now…I’m not sure he’s thought this through

    • Many of those private lots are required by law to be provided by the property owner. If we concentrated the same parking into less land, we could relax those requirements and allow the owners to build more things for us to enjoy instead of vast desolate expanses of asphalt.

      One could still maintain small amounts of handicap-reserved parking in strategic locations while vastly cutting down on wasted space.

  5. This is exactly the approach that was taken for the Arsenal, consolidate a massive paved parking lot into 2 structures and then build living and commerce. Watertown square looks horrible to anyone coming to the square for the first time. From the rub & tug massage place on the second floor right on the corner of Mt. Auburn (i do think they finally closed that place down) to the abandoned HR Block and random safari adventure place that in my 15 years here have never seen a single person enter. We as a community can do better than that.

    Is it going to be painful and inconvenient to have that level of construction in the center of town, of course. But keeping things as they are doesn’t do anyone any favors.

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