LETTER: Former Councilor’s Shares Letter on Development from 2016

Print More

In response to recent projects being approved and proposed in Watertown, former District A Councilor Angeline Kounelis sent out a letter she submitted to Planning Board and City Officials in December 2016 regarding the property at 485-615 Arsenal St. (Arsenal Yards) and the Master Plan Special Permit. She added that she voted against the 2015 Watertown Comprehensive Plan and the 2016 Regional Mixed Use District.



For many years; many of us have been advocating for: “…balance…for viable development that will blend with less consequence on our community and its residents.” Although some of the then proposed site specifics for Arsenal Yards have changed; the location remains: “a city within a city with amenities galore for its prospective residents.”

The 2016 scenario now holds true for so many fragile nook and cranny neighborhoods in our community. You be the judges of the pro and con consequences, associated with the current, city-wide, development status. 

Impacts from decisions of today, will be realized in Watertown’s future. It’s about sustainable quality of life…..



The following is the letter from Dec. 14, 2016:

Dear Chairman Hawes and Members of the Planning Board,

To put this quite simply, Watertown has not seen a development of this magnitude in recent history; a city within a city with amenities galore for its prospective residents. The urban sprawl associated with this development will change the character of the East End of Watertown and community-at-large for generations to come.

Due to a prior commitment, I will be unable to attend the Planning Board Hearing on 12/14/16, rescheduled from 11/29/16. For numerous months, many residents and I have been sharing our thoughts, comments and many concerns at neighborhood meetings and at the Special Planning Board Hearing on 10/20/16. The entire three hour presentation by the development team before the Board can be viewed at: http://wcatv.org/vod/planning-board-special-meeting-2/ (Note: the meeting link no longer works). My comments can be seen by advancing to the approximate 2 hours and 23 minute marker.

According the Transportation Impact Assessment document, page two, Executive Summary, http://www.watertown-ma.gov/documentcenter/view/20375 (Note: the meeting link no longer works), the project is expected to generate 6,366 additional vehicle trips on an average weekday and 10,648 additional vehicle trips on a Saturday (both are two-way, 24 hour volumes). The prospect of so many vehicles in one concentrated area is overwhelming.

Overall, the project is anticipated to include: five new buildings, one of which could be 12 stories high on the south side of the parcel; the renderings for Arsenal St. depict the new buildings as 6 stories high, with some set-backs; up to 500 apartments; an 8-screen movie theatre, a 16-lane bowling alley; a 25,000 sq. ft. supermarket; 221,500 sq. ft. of retail space; 48,000 sq. ft. of restaurant space and over 2000, garage and surface parking spaces, all within the confines of what has been known to us as the Arsenal Mall, aka Arsenal Project. The development project currently excludes the Home Depot and Harvard Vanguard buildings. The Staff Report http://www.watertown-ma.gov/documentcenter/view/21161 (Note: the meeting link no longer works), prepared in the Department of Community Development and Planning, offers more specifics.

Granted, the parcel will be developed. The massing and volume are extreme for a site situated in the south-east corner of 4.17 sq. mile Watertown that is accessed only from Arsenal St. It is the Planning Board’s responsibility to weigh the impacts and achieve the balance necessary for a viable development that will blend with less consequence on our community and its residents. Thank you.

All the best,

Angeline B. Kounelis
District A, East End, Town Councilor

13 thoughts on “LETTER: Former Councilor’s Shares Letter on Development from 2016

  1. That old mall was horrible. It was a massive parking lot that had a Gap, Marshalls, a run down food court and generic box retailers.

    My wife and I go to the New Arsenal Yards at least once a week for lunch, shopping, date night, etc. It saves us having to pay a baby sitter extra to drive to chestnut hill / dedham / assembly row.

    Everyone can complain all they want about the traffic, but the new Arsenal Yards is objectively better in a number of key ways compared to what used to be there, and the tax revenue from development is going to go a long way to pay for the $7m court loss the city just got stuck with. (still waiting on appeal)

  2. It is nice that some people can afford to go out to eat weekly at the Arsenal Yards restaurants. With the costs of the meals there and inflated and increased costs for the basics in our lives, many of us can’t do this. We don’t even go to that area to shop as many of the stores don’t serve our needs and are expensive except for perhaps Marshalls.

    A lot of people didn’t want the Arsenal Yards to be developed to the heights it has been or to have so many biolabs in there. We were hopeful that the taxes on those buildings and businesses would hold the taxes down for our homes, but that has not happened.

    In another of today’s Watertown News article one of the biolabs appears to be in trouble and is cutting their workforce and replacing their high level executives. Not knowing what their internal problems are we can’t speculate regarding what is going on there, but we do know that the economy is shaky and unpredictable and that can’t be helpful to any businesses right now. These labs are working on things that may or may not succeed. If they don’t succeed, what will happen to these spaces?

    With the development of so many other biolabs in Watertown to the exclusion of other types of businesses, many people are concerned about the future tax base of our City if some of these others don’t succeed. With the extreme heights and size of these developments the quality of life of Watertown residents is being or will be affected, especially in the residential areas they abut.

    Former Councilor Kounelis always had Watertown’s best interests in mind and often was a lone person voicing her opinions against some of the development issues. I applaud her for continuing to comment on these issues as she continues to want to keep Watertown a livable and resident-friendly community.

  3. The Arsenal project was planned and approved by short sighted people who didn’t understand the real economic and community impact and cost.

    It has no reason to exist. The stores that will survive the next five years are the same ones that existed in the old mall (Gap, Marshall’s, Home Depot) while trendy hipster places like Sweetgreen, Buttermilk & Bourbon and Taffers will be gone by 2030. They opened a movie theater, for Christ’s sake, at a time when theaters across the country and the area were struggling or going out of business. And it’s only a matter of time before a child — or several — is killed by the out of control new traffic in and around the complex.

    Is the new development the end of the world? No, the community will survive. But it will be different. To claim it’ “objectively” better reveals a privileged mindset that’s sadly becoming all the more common in a Watertown that looks and sounds progressively more like Newton.

    • Outside of the traffic, how is the new development not objectively better than what was previously there ? I have still not heard one point besides “to many cars or I don’t like how tall the buildings are”. We now have more housing options (yes they are really expensive), more food options (I will take sweet greens and Buttermilk & Bourbon over the burger king and fast food Chinese place from the old food court any day). We finally have a grocery store on the east side of Watertown so now I don’t have to drive through the square to get food. Yes the pandemic ruined the movie theatre opening (I looked forward to it opening for a year and went to the opening weekend 2 days before the pandemic lockdowns started) but I like not having to drive 25 minutes to see a movie in the theatre.

      Did everyone like staring at the massive asphalt parking lot as they drove by, do you miss the cellphone case & jewelry repair kiosks. Is there some nostalgia for the sporting goods store that barely had anyone in it.

      Am I privilege, 100%. But that doesn’t change that the old mall was a complete waste of space, and the new development has been a success for the town. And I for one look forward to the changes these kinds of projects will bring to Watertown.

      • Have to agree with Mr. York on this. The old mall/parking lot was a dump; the new Arsenal Yards creates housing, some interesting food choices, and more. (Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, and some other places at Arsenal can’t be considered “high end.”) But the relative success of the Arsenal doesn’t mean all development is good. The crazy boom of lab spaces, especially as they encroach into neighborhood areas such as Pleasant & Rosedale, is of great concern.

        • Agreed. It’s sad that some people think Watertown can’t be a desirable destination for both its residents and visitors!

      • Eric, to pose the question “is it better than what was there” is to set the bar ridiculously low. The appropriate question is “is it better than something else that could have gone there.” In a predominantly working class town, high cost housing only pushes up rents for those who can’t afford big bucks.

        The predominance of national retail over locally owned business is detrimental in a town known as a nurturing environment for small business. Who needs a national chain called Garbanzos when we have some of the finest Middle Eastern food in Massachusetts under local ownership?

        Finally I would ask if the give back to the community has been in line with the money being made at Arsenal Yards. I ague that is has not been. Further, I think that the owners of AY have remained quite oblivious to the character, strengths and values of our community. But after all, these big wheels must know better than us grubby schlubs.

        • To start, I think your claim Watertown is predominantly “working class” is false. (I define working class as manual/physical labor with a household income under $75k)

          Watertown’s median household income is roughly 100k, 2/3 of the population has at least a bachelors degree , and the median home value is 600k. This puts +75% of the population well into the middle and upper-middle class groups.

          As for national vs local business , that is up to the business owners to determine. If they want to try and compete with local Mediterranean restaurants then so be it, let them compete on price and quality and see who wins. Politicians/citizens shouldn’t be hand picking which restaurants go where as they aren’t taking on the financial risk to set them up and operate them.

          As for “giving back” , the Watertown tax revenue has grown 50% since 2016 with all these developments. We just built 3 elementary schools and are about to build an amazing looking high school with no new taxes / budget overrides etc. Now yes, the developments are not good for renters as they cause rents to go up, but it does increase home values which makes homeowners/landlords happy.

          In the end I think Ben is right in that the new developments are going to make Watertown different from what is was. I am looking forward to all the new office/lab spaces so maybe an opportunity will come up that would allow me to walk to work. I like the new schools because my kids will get to go to all of them. I like the shops and restaurants because it gives me more options to spend money locally and I like the new high end apartments and condos because it makes my property value go up (my neighbors thought I was insane when I moved in when they looked up what I paid +6 years ago) so for me the answer is no to the question of “could something better have been built there”. For me it was like the developers just ran down my wish list of things I wanted within a 5 min drive from my house and built it.

          Now if I could get them to do the Watertown square so I don’t have to look at the closed down HR block and sketchy massage parlor or the massive empty lot (that’s been there for 5 years) while taking my kids to school, I will let them hang whatever sign they want on the next building they put up. (Excuse any typos I did this on my phone)

          • This reply reads like the customary justifications and excusatory rationales for the machinations of big money. I’m not buying it.

            I don’t have time to fact check the writer’s demographics. But if they are accurate, I suspect that over the last two decades that median income has increased dramatically.

            Most of my neighbors in the East End are folks of modest means. I would say from middle middle class on down. They have to watch their money. There are also many immigrants who are just getting a start. I enjoy their presence and the contribution they make to the ethnic flavor of our town.

            I’m glad that the writer is doing so well that he feels free to celebrate the gradual erosion of Watertown as a community where folks of modest means can settle and enjoy a good quality of life.

            The building of the new schools should indeed be a point of pride. But many reasonable and well informed Watertown residents believe that too much has been allowed in the way of development and not enough has been gained. Many also feel that they have been denied an effective voice in the changes that impact their community.

            To downplay the value of locally owned small business by stating, “let them compete on price and quality and see who wins,” brings to mind Oscar Wilde’s scolding of “those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

            As we are learning in the twenty-first century, a sustainable political economy involves not just monetary values, but qualitative values as well. Small businesses nourish communities in ways large distantly controlled businesses don’t. There is also the accountability of having an owner also be a neighbor.

            Change is an inherent function of the passage of time. No place will, or should, remain the same. That would constitute decay. But change just for the sake of change is equally short sighted. Too much change of ill considered quality will erode the history and existing assets of a community. We should build on those, not sweep them away.

      • By the way, traffic and the size of the buildings are legitimate concerns. Traffic is one of the major problems plaguing this community.

      • By the way, traffic and the height of the buildings are legitimate concerns. Traffic is one of the major problems plaguing this community.

  4. In MY opinion, again this is only MY opinion the new development of Arsenal Yards is ugly. It’s a bunch of tall building wrapped in billboards. Sure it’s great to have some new places to eat but I have to admit that the ones I have tried so far have not been impressive.
    The parking is a nightmare and the garages are scary. Who thought those steep inclines and tight turns were a good idea.
    The old mall needed to be updated and new life but at least we could see the sky.
    Not to mention where is all the green space we were once promised? Instead there is just more building being done around the park and commanders mansion. That side of the complex is now just all building and construction and no green space.

    On the plus side I do love the movie theater.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *