The developers of the project proposed on Main Street in Watertown want to create a place where residents can live steps away from restaurants, stores, and public transportation available in Watertown Square.
John O’Connor, senior vice president for acquisitions and development for O’Connor Capital Partners recently spoke with Watertown News about the proposal for the 104-126 Main St.
The development would have 146 residential units in four stories above 5,450 sq. ft. of retail/office space on the ground floor.
O’Connor Capital Partners has properties around the United States and Mexico, including around 12,000 apartment units and 20 million square feet of commercial space. The New York City-based firm focuses heavily on New England, New York and South Florida, and O’Connor said Watertown is an appealing area.
“We think with the growth of the employment base in Watertown — there has been so much new life science development — and we think it is the kind of housing option that would be interesting for a lot of the new and existing residents of Watertown,” O’Connor said.
Constructing a building in the middle of an existing downtown will be challenging, but O’Connor said “it is such a great location.”
“We think the project we will be delivering is going to be a lot more authentic and more walkable for tenants — they can walk to the bus station or walk to the restaurants in town, or walk to the various employers in town,” O’Connor said.
The existing retailers in the property will have a chance to stay in the new development, O’Connor said.
“We have also offered all of the existing tenants space,” O’Connor said. “Our vision is to hopefully — we are not done with the Post Office — to have the Post Office in one part of the retail and then have some restaurant or cafe or coffee shop in another part of the retail.”
News of the project has sparked opposition from some residents, and there has been an effort to make that stretch of Main Street a Historic District. A petition was presented to the City Council in May, and City Council President Mark Sideris said he expects it to appear on the Council agenda in June.
The current proposal would have 148 parking spaces in two levels of parking (one at ground level and one below), but O’Connor said the residents could also take advantage of nearby public transportation options.
“We are hopeful that more people will be using public transportation given how close we are to public transportation, but we are going to be offering sufficient parking for our tenants,” O’Connor said.
The project includes parcels on Main Street, Cross Street and Pleasant Street. The majority of the traffic will come and go from Pleasant Street, rather than Main Street, O’Connor said.
Developers had a couple of informal meetings with City of Watertown officials, and last month they had a Developers Conference.
“The town gave us some comments and based on our Developers Conference we are going to be coming back with a response and then meet with the town again,” O’Connor said.
The project has already gone through a few iterations, he said, and some changes include keeping the exterior of the existing row houses on Cross Street (which will be where the building’s amenities will go), and having more retail space.
O’Connor said that the scale of the project will not likely change.
“It’s really hard for it to be a viable project with less density,” O’Connor said. “Just given the complexity of building, and keeping some of the historic structures, and the infill location, and the way construction costs are heading we really need as much density as the local zoning allows.”
While the firm is based in New York, it has local ties.
“Our whole entire family grew up not too far away, we are from Newton and some still live in the area,” O’Connor said. “We are very respectful of what the community thinks of us.”
A local connection led to the proposed project on Main Street.
“We’ve been working on this deal with the Salusti family for probably five years now,” O’Connor said. “They have a long-term family friend who has worked at our company for a long time and we initially came in to help them envision what could be done here. And then we were going to partner with them, and for various reasons it is easier to just buy the parcel ourselves.”
Any income-based affordable apartments being considered?
Good question. Yes, all projects over 20 units must have at least 15 percent offered as “affordable” which is based on income of a household.
Will there be other design proposals presented? I think it is very important to have a few (or several) ideas proposed and to then let the community decide what is the best fit—instead of just pushing forward with one scheme. Let’s also think about Watertown Square as a whole plan. Not just this one site..
Yes. Watertown square is a pedestrian nightmare. The bus stations should be consolidated – and definitely shut down the station on Galen St.
The confluence of streets is way too wide,and the traffic lights are suicidal.
Start with how to attract foot traffic and then how to serve the people so it becomes a gathering point for real interaction not parades and special street fairs.
I agree with Bruce. The safe walkability, bike-ability and public transportation access of Watertown Square needs to be better planned out and updated FIRST. Only then can these development projects make any positive impact.
Not to worry. There is a rubber stamp awaiting this proposal for another round of “development” that will make a few very wealthy, while the rest of us get nothing but more traffic and nothing else. “Vision” is the key word, but whose?
That’s an ugly building. I agree with Jessica above—this will significantly change the character of Main St. We already have one ugly tall building just down from this. Whatever happened to creative architecture? It’s all put it up fast and cheap. This building looks like it was designed by high school students (no offense to HS students, who might be more creative actually). And will the retail on the first floor be big enough for anything but a nail salon? Look at all the empty space in buildings on Arsenal and Pleasant. Planning should vet these spaces for viability, but they never do. And I love the way these developers throw out the “local” card. Is anyone fooled by that anymore? But I’m glad it will be “authentic”. Huh?
Do we need more congestion in our downtown area? There are, I believe, 34 new apartments being developed in the old 711 site, which is just doors down from this proposed development. With limited parking already for people who wish to do business with the existing businesses and post office, I’ve heard of many people who are avoiding these stores and going elsewhere. With new businesses that may or may not make it in this location and the loss of parking in the back lot of this area, I don’t see much success for them. People will be driving around trying to find parking spaces and just give up and go to Waltham where they offer free parking for a couple of hours and have more small parking lots to help the businesses. Many elderly people don’t want to park in the CVS lot, pay a lot for parking, and then walk across the street, especially in the winter. Many have physical limitations for this activity just to enjoy a meal or run an errand. They can go to Newton’s post office on Watertown St. where they have a small parking lot near there that provides free parking for three hours. We aren’t a business friendly city except for the Arsenal St. ones! Also, would you want to live in these new apartments and have to deal with the backed up traffic trying to get through the square at peak travel times? If you need to get your car out, you’d have to rely on a polite soul to let you into that traffic line. Good luck with that!
This is great for Watertown, especially Main Street. Main Street has not changed much and is looking tired. You have got to give these developers and building owners a chance to invest money into these properties. It creates desirable retail locations and draws in new business.
The current downtown is seedy. The building that will be replaced has had a faded sign honoring first responders tacked on to its facade for years. Nice sentiment but the sign has seen better days. I wish the coffee shop well and hope they can get a space in a new building, but the building in which it is now in is in pretty rough shape. I’m for the new building, its in-building parking spaces, and getting more people living right downtown. I hope a developer takes another look at 85 Main Street across the street too — getting a restaurant on the ground floor there and spicing up/replacing that unattractive structure would be an improvement.
Oh my God I am SO TIRED of development happening in my town! The constant construction, blocked roads, traffic, extra noise…. It’s been insane here the last two years. Haven’t we developed this town ENOUGH for now!?
I’m worried about this developer as a trustworthy partner in bringing some upgrading to Watertown Square. Existing small businesses report that this statement is UNTRUE:
“We have also offered all of the existing tenants space…”.
In fact, the developers have avoided the small businesses’ queries and have offered nothing.
I hope residents, City Council, Planning and Zoning entities all consider preserving a welcoming and supporting relationship with current small businesses. They have invested in our city and we want them to stay.
I was in touch with Crown Cafe and they said the company had reached out to them.
Zoom in on the second picture in this article: I see no on-street parking, no bike lane on our Main St., no continuous sidewalk, no major crosswalk across Main Street—-and..wait for it… a motorcycle driving in a pedestrian walk????!
Housing is desirable in a walkable city center. Think of the residents enlivening the area after shops close and on weekends and as shoppers for our stores and participants in our civic life. Neighbors have their eyes on each other and the pulse of the area–if there are porches/balconies, benches, and places to be social. We missed a big opportunity for enriching the life of the Square by building a memory care and assisted living institution instead of housing for a mixed generational neighborhood. Parking was the hangup. Watertown Square needs long range planning before reactive zoning and construction.
The architecture presented is common cookie cutter from this period. It is terrible looking in my estimation. I agree with the writers above that we need some creativity; acknowledgement that glass was invented thousands of years ago and that light in living spaces is valued; and recognition that a city center can and should have trees and green spaces. Why do we encourage cement building going right to cement sidewalk when cities need green and stormwater protections? Why are there no streetside entrances, balconies, or at least sliding apartment “Juliette” windows when people need connections to the outside? Planning that includes design must come before zoning and construction. I am encouraged that the historic workers cottages are being preserved–it’s the only section of this plan that looks scaled to people and has direct access to the neighborhood. I’m all for density and apartment living, if there is some semblance of beauty and scale and access built in to infuse the area with life.
Everywhere people are worried about parking right at a shop they visit, but it is not always possible in a multi-use street design. Parking will be available nearby and perhaps special handicapped parking can be made available. Planning before construction. And bike lanes will get more people out of fuel burning cars–and bike riders are shoppers also and ride slowly enough to notice what stores there are and stop often. Buses help us move traffic and have to be allowed to move through traffic. Planning before construction.
There should NOT be “adequate parking” for all residents. The point of building in a city center is to encourage walkability and use of public transit. This location should self select residents who appreciate such a lifestyle. Parking for some disabled people and visitors, plus zip cars and rental bikes should be there in limited numbers. Any extra area that fewer parking spaces permit should be used for green space and doorways, or balconies.
So, let’s talk about alternative designs that are created for the future, not the past. Let’s look at the totality of Watertown Square’s traffic, walking, shopping, and living before we build. Let’s try to modify this development between Main Street and Pleasant Street to be part of and become a neighborhood that is welcoming to those who live there and those who live and work nearby.