Another citizens’ petition has been submitted to the City Council seeking to change zoning rules. This one seeks to reduce the impact of developments on abutting residential districts.
The petition calls for “discretionary” transitions for new developments next to residential zones, which could include considerations for height, setbacks, and screening, among other things. It was signed by 439 people and submitted to the City Clerk on April 27.
Along with the petition, a letter was sent to City Council President Mark Sideris from resident Joan Gumbleton, who was one of the organizers of the petition effort. Part of the letter reads:
“As you are undoubtedly aware, Watertown is now among our state’s ten most population-dense municipalities yet is still known for its distinctive small-town character. Unfortunately, the recent patchwork of special zoning districts stitched alongside long-standing neighborhoods lacks sufficient transitions. While these districts have been incredibly successful in encouraging new investments in our city, the development along their borders is rapidly encroaching upon our neighborhoods and threatens that character. Left unchecked, this may destroy the integrity and cohesiveness of our communities through real irreversible impacts on residents’ quality of life.”
The letter continues: “This petition is not an attempt to stop such development; Watertown has many under-utilized properties and citizens appear eager to see them revitalized. Instead, it is a sincere plea to our city’s elected leaders, appointed bodies, and hired staff to utilize the tools at their disposal, including those granted by these amendments, to better weave future developments into the fabric of our city and ensure that such projects are genuinely sympathetic to the abutting neighborhoods.”
The petition will be considered by the City Council at the May 9 meeting, and will likely be referred to the Planning Board for its recommendation, and finally a joint meeting with the Council and Planning Board would be held to make the final decision.
The text of the petition starts:
“The goal of this petition is to protect existing residential neighborhoods from the intrusive impacts of outsized and incompatible development on the borders of adjacent districts. We thus respectfully request that the City Council initiate a zoning amendment requiring the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), and other approving bodies to impose additional restrictions when approving development on lots along the edge of a nonresidential district that abuts a residential district.”
The petition requests amendments to the Zoning Ordinance to make it so parcels adjacent to residential districts “may be subject to increased regulations, restrictions, requirements, and conditions as may be necessary to ensure an appropriate transition between the abutting districts.”
It seeks to “limit the impact of said development on, and protect the integrity, character, and quality of life within, the neighborhoods of the bordered or overlapped Residence district.”
The restrictions and conditions called for by the petition “may include, but are not limited to height, dimensions, orientation, setbacks, buffers, open space, facade, screening, and usage.”
For most projects, the Zoning Board of appeals makes the final decision on the project. In some areas, such as the Pleasant Street Corridor District and the Regional Mixed Use District (on the east end of Arsenal Street) the Planning Board makes the final decision. The body making the decision is known as the special permit granting authority (SPGA), and the petition asks for the language “designated Special Permit Granting Authority (SPGA)” to be added to the Special permit section of the Zoning Ordinance.
In the Council referred to the Planning Board a citizens petition requesting the size of building in the Central Business District, which includes most of Watertown Square and part of Main Street. They did not debate the merits of the petition and the City Attorney said they were required by statute to refer the proposal to the Planning Board.