LETTER: Resident Urges Defeat of Proposed Sign at Arsenal Yards

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At this moment, there are folks working hard to convince our City Council to put the best interests of people who don’t live here above the best interests of our town, our neighbors and future generations who will live in Watertown.

It seems that there has been an organized movement — what community organizers refer to as an Astroturf campaign — to make a case for private gain over public good. An Astroturf campaign is a carefully constructed PR campaign disguised to appear as grassroots opinion.

At issue is a request by Boylston Properties to change our zoning to allow a 10 by 105 foot illuminated commercial sign on top of the tallest building in Arsenal Yards. The sign would be visible from many areas along our riverfront. Boylston Properties has made carefully constructed and deceptive arguments about the impact, visibility and appropriateness of this sign that they wish to erect.

Our Charles River waterfront is our most treasured natural asset. Years of work and taxpayer dollars have gone into improving the riverfront as a recreational area for all to enjoy. The sign proposal would degrade and commercialize that public asset.

Boylston Properties has made arguments that the sign will have limited visibility on this side of the river. Many residents, including myself, have concluded that their arguments are deceptive. Boylston Properties has submitted examples of other illuminated signs of similar size as case studies to prove the sign’s appropriateness. Yet each one of these examples is located in a setting that is far more urbanized, far more dense and not nearly as “green” as the Watertown riverfront.

Many of those signs, such as the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square and the Domino Sugar sign in Baltimore are historic artifacts and recall businesses or eras that no longer exist. They have been in place for generations. These apples and oranges comparisons do not make a valid case for appropriateness of the Arsenal Yards sign.

Boylston Properties has made arguments about “placemaking”. The problem is that Arsenal Yards is not equivalent to Watertown. Watertown has its own distinct identity which is deeply tied to the river. We became the first inland settlement when wooden ships traveled up the Charles River. Much of our subsequent history involves the river. We must protect our unique identity.

If this zoning is changed it will set a precedent for other sign requests that are similarly inappropriate. It is not hard to imagine Arsenal Street eventually resembling a modern-day Route 1.

Essentially, the argument being made for the zoning change is that what is good for Boylston Properties is good for Watertown. This is of a piece with arguments that have been made about much of the development—both good and bad—that the town has seen in the past two decades. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

The City Council will vote on this zoning change on September 27. Please write your Councilors at citycouncilors@watertown-ma.gov to express your concern.

Joseph Levendusky
Watertown Resident

11 thoughts on “LETTER: Resident Urges Defeat of Proposed Sign at Arsenal Yards

  1. We want to join Jon Bockian, Elodia Thomas, Dave Martin, Joe Levendusky, and a substantial number of other residents who have publicly expressed their strong opposition to the proposed rooftop sign at 100 Forge in Arsenal Yards. We totally agree with those who feel that this building is already way out of scale for its location. One need only look east from the North Beacon Street bridge to be struck by the jarring sight of this monster building looming over an otherwise beautiful and natural river landscape. To add an enormous, illuminated sign to the building would be adding insult to injury, and, as many others have pointed out, would open the door for similar signs to be installed in other places around the city.

    We believe it is crucial that, as a community, we adhere to the spirit of our Open Space Plan. Clearly, gigantic rooftop signs hanging over the Charles River are not consistent with the vision described in this plan. We urge the City Council to vote against any zoning changes that would allow this, or similar signs, to be erected.

    Susan and Will Twombly

  2. The signage of the Ensemble Casino in Boston is like a strong spot light aimed at the East facing windows of our apartment on Irma and Rangeley, except for three or four months of full foliage in summer which protect us from what we thought at first was powerful emergency lighting. Light pollution is increasingly a defacement of urban landscapes, particularly with the power of contemporary lighting technology.
    We agree completely that this proposed signage is misguided and should not be approved.
    Shep Ferguson

  3. What businesses should do first is to stop the crime in and near Arsenal Yards and the Watrertown Mall across the street:

    shoplifting, bike thefts, car breakins, etc.

    You have to be crazy to park your bike or car there.

    In effect, these places ALREADY have a big sign on them: Criminals Welcome.

  4. Well written and reasoned arguments against the loud signage.
    It seems there is a time and place for everything but I have to say that the flavor of the town will be forever damaged far over whatever gain can come to the developers.

  5. Joe left a sobering closing message with “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

    I interpret “Fool Me Once” to refer to the Boylston Properties claim that the basic building itself would not be that visible. Therefore, “Fool Me Twice” would appropriately refer to the arguments for the proposed signage.

    Yes, we were snookered into believing the building would fit nicely into the surrounding area. The Planning Department assisted originally in selling this 130ft high hunk of steel and glass to the Council.

    Please City Councilors, do not let them snooker us again, this time with the sign!

    Thank you Joe, for a very thoughtful commentary.


  6. We finally got rid of an ugly billboard in the west end on Pleasant St and I can appreciate what the east end and all of Watertown is facing with this proposed SIGN. I agree that we don’t need to open the door to allowing these new types of signs in areas where they are definitely not needed or wanted. Once you open the door it will be difficult to close it for others.

    People know the Arsenal Yards mall is there and we have enough traffic coming to our already busy streets. If the owners of the spaces want to advertise their businesses, that is up to them to do on their websites or by other marketing ways. We don’t need these large, overly bright signs looming over our city. I vote NO.

  7. I sent this to our city councilors today (edited):

    I urge you to say NO to the proposed illuminated sign above Arsenal Yards. One more reason:

    There is scientific evidence that bright lights at night have significant impacts on wildlife and ecosystems: migratory birds, nocturnal animals, predators, insects that are drawn to light, and more. See https://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/wildlife/ In our increasingly lit up urban environment let’s not add harmful and unnecessary light pollution. Through advertising, word-of-mouth and GPS, people will continue finding their way to the Arsenal.

  8. Plain and simple, does this sign benefit any of us of course not. only Once again this only benefits Boylston Properties ego. So why would any Councilor vote for this, could be interesting.

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