LETTER: Resident Upset by Public Input Going Unheard on New Developments

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A friend of mine went to observe the Planning Board Meeting for the Russo and Sterritt sites on
Wednesday night. It went until 11:00 p.m., and she left in tears … not because either of those projects affected her personally, but because a large group of neighbors came with their constructive comments and valid concerns and went home feeling unheard.

The plans were accepted using none of their input. The plans were finalized, voted on and approved as soon as the public’s comments concluded. The people most directly affected by the change to their neighborhood had no, zero, zip say.

My friend said, “I felt so badly for them. These people came to make an honest attempt to be part of the process, earnestly conveying their thoughts and feelings, when in actuality, their input was too late.” They asked their councilor, “What can we do now?” The answer is “nothing.”

Question: When IS the time in the process for residents to be heard?

Currently in Watertown:

When the site goes up for sale … no
When the site is bought … no
When the site plans are developed … no, not even then
When is the public invited to make comments? At the “Planning Board Meeting”, when all discussions between the City and the developer are over … huh??
Does … That … Make … Sense … To … You??

We need a new process! Or, if this is an incorrect analysis of the situation, we need clarity. It would go a long way to healing our community.

Come to one of the Comprehensive Plan Meetings. (There’s more power if you’re actually there):

September 20, 2022 6:30 p.m. at the Watertown Middle School Cafeteria

September 29, 2022 6:30 p.m. at the Watertown Free Public Library (Watertown Savings Bank Room)

Or

September 27, 7:00 p.m. City Council Meeting, City Hall

And/Or

Call or write your councilor and express your concern.

Let’s insist on putting the people back in the process!

Linda Scott
Olcott St.

7 thoughts on “LETTER: Resident Upset by Public Input Going Unheard on New Developments

  1. The letter writer has a legitimate complaint. It often seems that decisions are taken in spite of public input, and, in fact, public input is irrelevant.

    We live in a democratic society and the purpose of public process is to have citizens bring their concerns to those who are representing them and working on their behalf, and to have citizen input taken into consideration. This democratic function seems to have eroded in Watertown.

  2. Not only are the residents not heard or listened to but at times it felt like the boards and councilors are annoyed and inconvenienced by the residents they have been elected to represent. There is a real lack of concern or commitment to serve the best interest of the residents. No one wants to be the one to stand up and support the concerns of the residents and try to restore some of what used to make this such a wonderful community to live in …the people and the neighborhoods!

  3. Hi. There should be room for constituents being heard and responded to during the public process surrounding certain approvals. I agree. BUT, there is also another really good way to guide the way development happens. My first answer to your question “When IS the time in the process for residents to be heard?” would have been, CHANGE THE ORDINANCES. This is really what a legislative body like the City Council is expected (and empowered) to do…enact and update legislation. The Zoning Ordinance is an incredibly complicated document and some of it is governed by state law but nevertheless, we can still change it and that is where I have seen constituents really making a difference with their advocacy (in other ordinances, also). It takes work and it takes compromise but in my experience on the council, it was an incredibly gratifying experience for everyone involved.

  4. As one of the people who have attended many of the community, zoning, and planning meetings on developments in the west end, I agree with the thoughts of those above. We take the time to go to these meetings with legitimate and considerate ideas and walk away feeling that we often just get a crumb thrown at us.

    For some of the new buildings on Pleasant St. between Rosedale and Bridge St., they did reduce the size of some of these buildings by just a FEW apartments. The traffic studies shown each time provide the same details. They say they will work on the traffic congestion problems going over the bridge to Newton on Bridge Street and there are no solutions so far. They say they are working with Newton on traffic light timing and this has been stated for YEARS, but the problems persist. The traffic study experts repeatedly say there will be x% amount of people who will travel east, west, north, or south to and from these new sites. People haven’t even been hired to work in these buildings or in the case of apartments, live in them. How can they legitimately project which direction they are going to go after leaving these sites? There don’t seem to be any solutions and yet these experts’ opinions continue to be accepted and the large buildings still go up.

    The incentives of providing bike racks, giving some public transportation relief and encouraging ride sharing are great thoughts, but in reality people live busy lives and often need to get to appointments or react to unexpected family needs. We don’t have consistently nice weather in our area, and some people can’t ride a bike due to age of other limitations. People need their cars to do what they need to do in their ever-changing schedules. That is a reality.

    We often feel that it is a futile attempt to go to the meetings, that the decisions have already been made behind closed doors with the developers before the meetings happen. And we still don’t seem to demand enough of the developers to help improve areas around their sites. Other cities seem to have a better control on these procedures. I do admit that the developer at the Russo’s site did make some improvements around the grounds after our community meeting, but the people living across the street at Repton Place and The Mews still have many concerns about more noise and traffic.

    These developers are making millions of dollars on these projects and claim they are concerned about the communities they build in, but we don’t have the same perceptions. And many of these buildings are being built to specs for bio labs. If this industry gets overbuilt, they say they can convert them to offices. However, with the extra floor height they want for their labs, their buildings end up being higher than average office buildings and for the Sterritt Site on Waltham St., the neighbors are forced to look at a huge building as they look out their front doors and deal with the extra traffic cutting through all the side streets.

    If the City wants to prove that they listen to us, maybe they will seriously consider the request of District D Councilor Emily Izzo to buy the Sterritt Lumber site by eminent domain and preserve the space as green space instead of having a huge building there that will only create more traffic for a mostly residential area and reduce the quality of life of the people near the area.

  5. You hit the nail on the head, Linda. If not for a zoning change proposal mandating a full City Council vote, that insidious sign being proposed for Arsenal Yards would probably be a done deal.

    Aaron Dushku, thank you for that excellent input. If the zoning ordinance must be changed to require inclusion of abutters’ inputs and concerns, then we need to do so now. This seems to require an effort separate from the Comprehensive Plan update. I, myself, am at a loss as to where to start this effort.

  6. I do certainly understand how the neighborhood feels. Did the developers hold community meetings ahead of time to discuss this? I do remember a couple of years ago when there were plans to put apartments on the Sterritt site the neighbors spoke out at the community meeting and the city was going to block it the developer decided not to move forward. However the areas in question are zoned for commercial use, so the city’s hands are tied and limited to what they can prevent. The only solution would have been the city to take the land by imminent domain but that can be expensive. To change the zoning to prevent the use would also have been considered Spot Zoning, which would open the city to a possible lawsuit.

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