Preliminary Plans Submitted for Multi-Story Garage at Transformed Watertown Mall

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Alexandria Real Estate Equities A conceptual drawing of the garage that may go at 480 Arsenal Way, and would be part of the “Watertown Mall Transformation.”

The first step in the redevelopment of the Watertown Mall, and neighboring properties, appears to be the construction of a multi-level parking garage. It would be part of a complex that includes life science buildings, retail, and second parking garage.

Alexandria Real Estate Equities submitted preliminary plans to the Watertown Planning Department for a 700-vehicle garage that would be built at 480 Arsenal Way. It is part of what developers are calling the “Watertown Mall Transformation Project.” The project is in the pre-application phase, and no official application has been submitted.

The five-story parking garage would be 60-feet tall, and have a solar panel array on the roof. It would be located next to an existing life science lab/office building, and just north of the Community Path (also known as the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway). Open space with picnic tables and landscaping is proposed to go next to the garage. Improvements to the property’s stormwater system that would allow it to handle a 100-year storm are also proposed to be part of the project.

The garage is part of a plan for the project that goes from 446 Arsenal St. (near the Autozone) to the Watertown Mall property (550 Arsenal St.). The other parcels sit in the Regional Mixed Use District (RMUD), and will be part of a separate submission to the Planning Department.

The project narrative reads, in part:

“The parking garage is intended to support the adjacent Watertown Mall Transformation Project (the “Transformation Project”). … While the Transformation Project’s parcels are located within the RMUD zoning district and subject to a Master Plan Special Permit process, the 480 Arsenal Way site is in the Industrial-2 zoning district and as such requires a separate permitting process.”

Alexandria Real Estate Equities An overhead view of the concept for the “Watertown Mall Transformation.” The new garage is in the upper left (dark grey), while on the far right is Target (the white square). Between are office/lab buildings, retail and more.

A pocket park is also planned for the area near the garage, along with landscaping, according to the project narrative.

Included in the second phase would be four office/lab buildings (two of which will be attached). One, known as Building OL4, would go on the site of the current properties where MicroCAD Training and Consulting (property known as 446 Arsenal Street) and the Autozone building (458 Arsenal Street) are now located. Buildings OL3 and OL 2 would be built in an L shape at 500 Arsenal St., the current location of Enanta Pharmaceuticals.

Target will remain in its current location, according to plans submitted to the Planning Department. Building OL1 is shown on the current location of Best Buy. A second parking garage, with an attached building called A1, is shown in plans right next to Target. It would go on the land now occupied by the section of the Watertown Mall that includes the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Joyful Garden, Miss Maria’s School of Dance, Carter’s, Work ‘N Wear and Moda.

On the section of the parking lot next to Best Buy would be built a building called R1. The rest of the current Watertown Mall’s front parking lot, in front of Target, would remain.

The project has not been formally submitted, and has not been scheduled to go on the agenda of the Planning Board or Zoning Board.

See the plans and the project narrative by clicking here (scroll down to “Click here for Applications, Reports, Plans …”).

37 thoughts on “Preliminary Plans Submitted for Multi-Story Garage at Transformed Watertown Mall

  1. The traffic on Arsenal St./Watertown Square is already hideous. And now we’re going to add a parking garage for 700 cars? Furthermore, developers think by tossing in some “green space, landscaping and picnic tables” that residents will be appeased. Not so. There was a similar “green space” proposal for the development plans submitted at the Russo’s site. We as a community need to make our voices heard. Enough is correct.

  2. I wish the city would commission it’s own independent and comprehensive traffic study before considering any more mega-projects like this. Developers keep telling us that their projects will only add a few cars here and a few cars there and nobody ever seems to question them. We need to quantify what effect all these developments are having across town, not just at the immediately adjacent intersections. It’s well past time that our elected officials took the initiative and figured out what all the development that has already gone on has done to our roads before adding more buildings and more cars to our already overburdened streets.

    • Amen Brian. The traffic studies are done by traffic engineers hired by developers. Guess what? They don’t get hired if their study delivers information that contradicts the developers plans.

      We should also be lobbying the new Healy administration to bring the MBTA into the 21st century. Better public transit will help the traffic problem.

    • I agree with Brian and Joe. Watertown urgently needs an up-to-date comprehensive traffic AND transportation study. Also, if we want to support green initiatives, when will we get serious about building affordable housing for all the retail and support workers who contribute to the quality of life for the higher-paid employees working in these life sciences complexes?

      I do hope some of these proposed projects can be readily converted to alternative uses. My building was developed in the early 2000’s as a research building and was retrofitted to condos that came on the market in 2006. History can – and will – repeat itself.

  3. We’re going to lose more businesses that have served us well for a long time like Carters, Joyful Gardens, The Registry and Best Buy to more life science buildings – ridiculous. The Registry is a business that serves a diverse community and may even help other businesses in Watertown by drawing people here.

    Other cities offer a choice of where to shop. We are limiting ours even more. We are forced to go to Waltham, Newton, Burlington and other cities if we don’t shop on line.

    Seniors have nowhere in the city to shop except for Target and the expensive shops in the Arsenal Yards and many won’t go to the Arsenal site as they don’t feel comfortable going into the garages as they feel uncomfortable and unsafe in those isolated spaces. I’ve heard that the elevators there break down with some frequency too. Who wants to be stuck in them?

    If these plans go through, Watertown is going to be at a definite risk of having too much of one business type in place if the biolab industry companies go bust in a sketchy economy. Are the developers controlling our Planning and Zoning Boards or are we? We pay the taxes and should have equal input. If there are public meetings, I hope people find the time to attend them or at least give their input to the Boards, the Councilors and City Manager Proakis. Speak now or forever hold your piece. The future of Watertown is being decided NOW. Is this becoming a place in which you want to stay?

    • While I am not in the habit of responding to allegations in the comments section that developers are “controlling” the Planning Board, I would like to point out for the record that board members are unpaid volunteers, contributing our time to our communities – we are not paid by the city, nor “under-the-table” by developers. Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue and insulting.

      • Jason, I am not sure that there was an accusation of graft being made. But you must understand that many Watertown residents feel that their input to town boards has absolutely no impact and that the Planning Board and the ZBA do not, in any way, safeguard their best interest as citizens.

        They look at poor development decisions–the Sphinx on Galen Street for example–and they wonder if anyone is looking at projects with a critical eye. The Planning Board and the ZBA have a lot to answer for. They are either out of touch with their townsfolk or they simply don’t care. Many intelligent and well informed Watertowners feel this way.

        • Many intelligent and well informed Watertowners like the new biotechs coming to Watertown. More job opportunities close to home for me.

          • It’s not the Bio-techs, per se, but the cumulative impact of poorly vetted development. And too much car-centric development.

  4. I just received this automatic notice from our city and this is one BIG opportunity to voice your views on this Watertown Mall site. Please get involved if this huge development is of importance to you.

    I would encourage all of you to sign up on the City’s Website to get these automatic notices about meetings and things going on here so that we can be more proactive rather than reactive.

    Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. virtual meeting
    Join us at the Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. virtual community Information meeting

    Please join Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. (ARE) for a review and discussion on plans for a proposed garage in the front section of the surface parking area at 480 Arsenal Way. The purpose of this meeting is to update the public with ARE’s proposed plans to develop the garage, as part of ARE’s Watertown Mall transformation.

    The discussion will highlight plans for the new garage building and the associated public realm.

    We will be hosting the community information meeting on Monday, December 19. The meeting will provide the full project presentation. Click here for meeting documents.

    The meeting will be conducted virtually via Zoom. To join the meeting, please access the link below to join via computer or mobile device. You may be instructed to download the Zoom application. The project team will also attempt to secure a live broadcast spot with local cable access TV. If none available, project team will record and make it available through local cable access TV for on-demand viewing.

    Download the meeting agenda.

    Meeting Date: Monday, December 19, 2022
    Meeting Time: 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
    Meeting Place: virtual, via Zoom meeting
    URL: (note: all lowercase)
    Meeting ID: 862 8769 9272
    Passcode: 02472
    Telephone Dial-in: (312) 626-6799
    Meeting ID: 862 8769 9272
    Passcode: 02472
    First-time Zoom help:

    Project Contact:
    Rickie Golden, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc.

    View message in browser
    Watertown City Hall, 149 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472 | Phone: 617-972-6486 | Email | Website

  5. It was Alexandria properties along with Mark Developments that just put on hold the building of their Newton lab complex citing rising building costs and the number of other lab/bio buildings going up. They will be switching to building the apartments 1st according to the article.

    However Watertown don’t fret, don’t worry about the looks of a giant gray draconian concrete parking garage, we’ll get a pocket park and some shrubs. To the town planning department, thats a win win…….

    When Cambridge lab space Vacancy rates have risen from 1% to 5% in Q2-Q3 alone, makes you wonder what watertown could potentially have.

  6. The news is full of stories that the Greater Boston area is already overbuilt/overbuilding for life sciences. Biotech firms are shedding workers all around us. We are putting too many of our eggs in a single basket, an overfull basket. So we want empty buildings in our future?

    • As someone who lives and owns a home in Watertown and works in small biotech companies, including one in Watertown — I can confirm there’s still a strong investment in new drug development. While some small biotechs go out of business, other new ones are springing up. That is the nature of drug development – 95% of experimental drugs don’t work and never get approved. But any company which goes out of business will sub-lease the highly-coveted space to another company quickly, so you will not see “empty buildings” … although you might see a new, highly effective drug to treat a cancer or other disease you may get in the future.

      I must say…. the complaints I read from Watertown residents who resent these new biotech buildings smells of envy. By their own choice, they didn’t get an education which would qualify them for one of the highly-paid jobs in this industry. Don’t resent those of us who did spend THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF HOURS getting that education. We’re not “elite,” we just worked hard.

      • Wh0a. . .stop right there! Not everyone has the opportunity–for a variety of reasons–to get an advanced education. You should not look down on those who haven’t had the opportunities that you have had. Many who didn’t get an education work extremely hard for their money and they have as much worth as human beings as you do.

        Many so called manual labor jobs actually require a great deal of skill. And many folks of modest means get up every morning and learn from life.

        BTW, I got a good education for which I am grateful. Count your blessings and respect you neighbors.

      • Your statement about education is pretty repugnant, Kathi. I have worked as a researcher in biotech and currently am in pharma and fully despise the continual development for lab space and life science buildings.

        We need more affordable housing in this state, and especially so in the greater boston area. Efforts should be concentrated on that, no more commercial space.

  7. Things are only going to get worse… a LOT worse unless city government and elected officials step in to deal with the situation.

    Not only do we have this monstrosity to not look forward to, this past February Boylston Properties acquired the Home Depot property and parking lot. I doubt there are any plans to evict HD and replace it with something else for the foreseeable future, but the way things are going, nothing is off the table.

    What I am concerned about though is their plans for the parking lot. During public meetings with BP, CEO Bill McQuillen did not have a favorable opinion regarding the lot. As to what future plans there are, one need look no further than the Stop and Shop parking lot just across the river where yet another mega structure is underway.

    Adding even more to the spread that is heading our way is Harvards vision for creating an “Innovation Corridor” stretching the entire length of Western Ave. to the Arsenal St. Bridge. Whatever plans they and developers have in mind to head even further West across the bridge is anyone’s guess.

    Unless something is done and done soon, Watertown is going to be consumed and completely over run with yet more unwanted developments.

  8. According to a recent The Boston Globe factoid, most life sciences workers drive to work alone, according to a new poll from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council that involved more than 1,300 people who work for or support life science companies. The poll, taken earlier this fall, shows 57 percent of workers say they primarily drive alone, versus taking another form of transportation, compared with 44 percent in 2019. Only 16 percent said they ride the bus or subway, and 9 percent say they take commuter rail, compared with 26 percent and 15 percent, respectively, three years ago. It’s no wonder life-sciences projects feature lifeless vehicle storage buildings and impermeable asphalt waste lands to accommodate cars. What does this accommodation do for Watertown’s air quality and for the level of service on the major arterials through Watertown? A developer’s traffic consultant said at a council Planning Committee meeting last month in support of another Arsenal area project that the level of service on Arsenal Street was 2, which he said was acceptable. The numbers and turning counts were measured in 2021 during the pandemic when driving was way down, making them dubious at best. Inquiring residents need to know the highest and lowest years.

    The 2021 score card developed by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy didn’t give Massachusetts a single point or half point for actually reducing vehicle miles traveled over the last decade. New York and D.C. got a full point. One of the keys to dealing with climate change is to reduce vehicle miles traveled by getting people out of their cars and getting them to use reliable modes of public transit.

    Reasonable people can readily see Watertown is strangling on traffic during the morning and evening commutes, and traffic isn’t much better during other daylight hours. With climate change, we will likely see more unhealthy air days as emissions from idling vehicles at intersections like Watertown, Galen, California, Main, Arsenal, and Mt. Auburn cook into an unhealthy stew during hotter summer days.

    Asphalt paved surface parking areas don’t absorb water. The Charles River Climate Compact reveals Watertown is one of the cities most vulnerable to flooding in the case of a 100-year-storm. In the case of a 10-year-storm, Watertown would experience significant flooding.

    While Watertown is green-lighting all these life-sciences developments, there aren’t any accompanying proposals for housing. The city’s issuance of housing permits doesn’t seem to be keeping up with all the biolab job growth. The question isn’t “If you build it, they will come.” Rather it’s “If you build it where will they live?” The lab boom is crowding out housing construction and driving up land prices. Most people acknowledge the number one economic problem in the metro area is the lack of housing, specifically affordable housing. According to a 2015 Metropolitan Area Planning Council study, Eastern Mass. needs more than 400,000 new housing units by 2040 to keep up with growth. Clearly, we are far, far behind on that score, and biotech companies aren’t ensuring that their proposals have housing to keep pace with job growth.

    It may be well past time to step back and take a hard look at how life-science growth is altering the economic and physical landscape of Watertown and ask ourselves if this is what we want.

    • Since when have developers of commercial/industrial buildings been required to ALSO build residential housing alongside, as your comment suggests? This does not sound reasonable. We definitely need more affordable housing in Watertown and Massachusetts overall. But the unresolved question is: who’s going to pay for it?

      • Eastern Massachusetts has a shortage of affordable housing that has reached crisis proportions. The “markets” don’t seem to be responding to this basic human need.

        Watertown is a community that transitioned from agrarian to a street car suburb with the creation of industrial jobs, affordable housing for workers and public transportation. Watertown also has a long and continuing history as a welcoming community for immigrants.

        We desperately need more affordable housing and more public transportation before the housing, traffic and environmental crises reach the point where they are beyond repair.

      • Cambridge has zoning housing requirements alongside development. I don’t think it’s that the developer has to do both but that there has to be a ratio of housing to development per sqarea – so if you want to build more lab/commercial development you can’t throw of the ratio and some opt to develop housing as a part of larger developments to get approval.

        There is also a lot history in Boston and Cambridge of lower income housing being displaced by lab and university expansion – google the longwood expansion in the 70/80s and the activism of some top scientists at Harvard Med who fought hard against unethical expansion into neighborhoods

    • I have to wonder what impact the plans for eliminating two travel lanes on Mt. Auburn St. will have with all these new developments and increased traffic?

      When was the last traffic study conducted? A LOT of new projects have popped up in the last 3 – 4 years (with even more in the pipeline), that the planners could not have foreseen.

      • Exactly my question.
        It takes at least 10 times as long to get from the square to home depot.
        I no longer go to home depot because it’s just too frustrating.

        • It would be good if they took the construction vehicles off the road and re-opened the right turn lane into Home Depot where Miller’s Tavern used to be. That traffic mess has gone on too long. Developers should have prioritized work on that side of the building to end the massive traffic screw-up there a lot sooner.

  9. People aren’t criticizing the volunteer board members. They all seem to ask very intelligent questions regarding projects that come before the boards. It seems that it’s when the initial offers come from developers to the City’s Planning and Development staff that there need to be more considerations of what types of businesses are going to be best for Watertown. Not knowing how that process actually works makes people skeptical.

  10. Hey Charlie,
    I know my business can’t afford to pay you anymore for advertising but sadly you forgot to name Miss Maria’s School of Dance in your article. As an fyi, we are also located inside the Watertown Mall and are right in between Registry of Motor Vehicles and Joyful Gardens.
    Hoping you are well and have a wonderful holiday season!
    Miss Maria

  11. I don’t know what the solution is but we are becoming a “factory” (biomedical) town, with lots of arid and faceless commercial architecture That is moving ahead, nonstop. The proponents of affordable housing, small business and green space are not as vocal, as wealthy or as well-organized. Nor is it clear what can be done to slow the trend. How can the Town govt and the Boards help us? We need help . How many residents support the current trends?

  12. I’m sorry, I feel this is all Mute. We talk and yell and talk till we are blue in the face and 99% of the time it’s already a done deal and letting the residents have a voice is just for show.

    Sorry that is just how I feel.


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