The City Council voted to send the petition requesting that the allowable size of new buildings in Watertown Square be reduced to the Planning Board for consideration. Councilors did not weigh in on the request, and were told they were required by statute to send the petition on.
The petition submitted with the signatures of more than 200 residents calls for the floor area ratio (FAR) be reduced from 4.0 to 2.2 in the Central Business District, which includes most of Watertown Square. FAR regulates and restricts the height, number of stories, and size of buildings.
Other factors impacting the mass and height of the building include the allowable height, the required setbacks from property lines, and the amount of open space required. In the Central Business District developments can cover 100 percent of a property, and there are no required setbacks. The maximum height is 55 feet, but developers can request more height.
Multiple residents spoke for and against the petition. Those supporting the petition said they do not want the Square to be filled with tall buildings, and some said that would lead to Watertown losing its small-town feel. Many pointed to the proposed six-story project at 104-126 Main Street as an example of they types of projects they oppose.
Those against said they do not like “zoning by petition” and said the City is taking a look at zoning in Watertown Square through the Comprehensive Plan process. Some said that the petition seems to be aimed at stopping one particular project. People on both sides said they support having more housing, some particularly pointing to having affordable housing.
See the petition language below by clicking here.
As the Council began considering the petition, Council President Mark Sideris clarified what they are considering.
“This is not a discussion of if we like the petition or not,” he said. “What decision is what to send it to the Planning Board for their discussion and expertise because they are the ones that help us deal with zoning along with the Zoning Board.”
Councilor Caroline Bays asked whether the Council is required by law to send the petition to the Planning Board.
City Attorney Mark Reich said the Watertown City Charter requires the Council to submit a zoning amendment petition to the Planning Board, and said that the charter allows proposed zoning changes by petition.
“To the comment about whether zoning should be done by petition, this is enshrined and in the charter. The council doesn’t have a choice as to whether to allow a petition, as long as the petition follows the charter and the statute,” Reich said. “So, at this point (the charter) mandates within 14 days that a petition submitted the Council it shall be referred it to the Planning Board.”
The Planning Board will hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the City Council. Then the Council will have its own public hearing before making a vote on the zoning amendment proposed in the petition.
Councilor Lisa Felter said she wanted the public to know that the Council is taking the petition seriously.
“Unfortunately I have heard things like: the Council doesn’t care, the Council is ignoring us, the Council is delaying, etc. But we are following the process that is in the Charter, also per State law,” she said. “I know things felt like this to me before I was on the Council. It feels like things take forever, but in a democracy we want to be transparent, and we have a process and that process has to be followed. That’s what we are doing.”
Dates were not announced for the public hearings at the Planning Board or City Council. Sideris said they will be posted, and the first 10 people to sign the petition will be notified by the City.