LETTER: City’s Planned Linkage Fee Concerns Regional Chamber

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The following letter was sent by the Charles River Regional Chamber to City Council President Mark Sideris and Planning Board Chair Jeffrey Brown:

Dear President Sideris and Chair Brown:

The Charles River Regional Chamber and the Watertown development community share the city’s commitment to creating and preserving affordable housing and applaud last year’s establishment of the Watertown Affordable Housing Trust.

We also support the city’s goal of creating more affordable housing through linkage fees.

However, we respectfully caution the city to be thoughtful about implementing the linkage program given the serious economic headwinds — including rising interest rates, material shortages, weakening demand for life science and office space, layoffs in the tech sector, a labor shortage in the building trades and a looming recession — before us. 

Watertown’s linkage fees will inevitably be competitive with fees in Cambridge and Boston. But we fear projects in Watertown will be at a competitive disadvantage to neighboring communities that don’t require linkage payments.

We also worry about the impact the high cost of development might have on another one of our shared goals: The revitalization of Watertown Square.

Finally, our developers here take great pride in the many public amenities that have accompanied recent developments. Please understand that our ability to underwrite community givebacks will be offset by the demands of a linkage program.

Addressing our housing crisis is both an economic and moral imperative. We’re committed to partnering with the city on establishing the right path forward and look forward to working together in support of Watertown’s economic and cultural vitality.

Greg Reibman
President, Charles River Regional Chamber

5 thoughts on “LETTER: City’s Planned Linkage Fee Concerns Regional Chamber

  1. It’s good to see that this group of business men and women are raising concerns about weakening demand for life science projects, a concern that many of us have raised. Due to many uncertain economic factors for the next year or so, we don’t know what businesses will remain viable and profitable.

    Some type of linkage fees should have been put in place long ago when all the big developments started so that the then ‘town’ would have benefited at that time and going forward. To do it now may not be the best decision. The new Gov. Healey in her inaugural speech promised to create a network of life science developments across Massachusetts. I wonder how that will work out! Having all eggs in one basket never seems to work out.

  2. Good points Greg. This so-called linkage program might slide by in Cambridge, Somerville or Boston but it could be detrimental towards maintaining a strong and vital commercial sector in Watertown.

  3. There’s another way to look at this. We have a definite housing problem and people who work or grew up in Watertown cannot afford to live here. That is not good for the well being of our community. New development is contributing to this shortage. It is buying up land at exobitant rates and then needs to extract exboritant rents and returns. If this linkage fee is in place and developers do their due dilligence then they will they should just bid less for the properties. The downside is that a few individuals or landowners may not get as big a windfall. This seems like a good solution to bring more balanced development.

  4. What is conspicuously absent from Mr. Reibman’s letter are concrete proposals to address the affordable housing crisis in our area, and specifically our community. He makes it fairly clear what he doesn’t like–that’s linkage. But linkage is an alternative remedy to the prevailing situation without imposing more stringent market controls. So how do you propose, Mr. Reibman, to grow the affordable housing stock in Watertown?

    Building vast quantities of unaffordable housing–increasing supply–has only contributed to the affordability crisis.

    Already, we have a situation where many who have grown up here cannot afford to remain here. Already there is a threat to our economically diverse populace. Watertown has always be welcoming to those of modest means who seek a comfortable place to live. We would be greatly remiss to allow Watertown to become simply another suburb for the well heeled.

    Many Watertowners feel that developers have not contributed enough to the community where they are making their profits. They feel that developers view Watertown as a second class city where they are not required to make their developments attractive or integrated into the existing landscape and community. They feel that there are too many impacts of development have gone unmitigated and have negatively impacted the town.

    I would like to see Mr. Reibman address those concerns.

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