Zoning Board Wants More Changes to Main Street Project

Print More
A view of the revised plans for the 104-126 Main Street project. The sixth floor has been scaled back and would not be seen from Main Street. (Illustration by Icon Architecture)

Developers of the six-story mixed-use project on Main Street reduced the number of apartments slightly and increased the landscaping along the public walkway along the building, but that did not satisfy some members of the Zoning Board of the Appeals.

The hearing for the project at 104-126 Main Street, which stretches to Pleasant Street and Cross Street, was continued for a second time after some Zoning Board members said on Wednesday night that they did not think the project met the requirement to provide public amenities.

Meeting that requirement is necessary to get the additional height to allow the sixth story. Attorney William York, representing project developers O’Connor Capital Partners, argued that he believes the sixth floor would be allowed because the building is located in Watertown Square.

The size of the project was cut by two units (143 to 141), and by about 3,000 sq. ft. to 151,550 sq. ft. The reduction was made on the sixth floor, allowing the facade on the Main Street side to be pushed back more than 40 feet to 88 feet.

“You will no longer be able to see the sixth floor from Main Street,” said Matt Marotta from Icon Architecture.

The size of the retail space on the ground floor was increased so that it is 50 feet deep, adding about 900 sq. ft. of space. Three parking spaces were removed to make room for the additional retail, leaving 151 parking spaces.

Plans also show an increased amount of landscaping along the walkway between Main Street and Pleasant Street, known as the art walk.

Brett Buehrer, Senior Vice President at O’Connor, said he has spoken to Watertown Public Arts & Culture Planner Liz Helfer about opportunities for public art along that walkway.

Some of the changes pleased the Zoning Board members, but some still hesitated to throw their support behind the project.

“I want to be clear, I like the project very much as a whole,” said ZBA member Chris Heep. “I have no problem with the overall number of residential units. I don’t have any problem with the sixth story, as you guys have modified it. My personal concerns with the project are whether or not it adequately addresses (the requirement) that the project provides public amenities.”

A view down the artwalk, a public walkway between Main Street and Pleasant Street, running along the proposed building. (Illustration by Icon Architecture)

Zoning Board Chair Melissa SantucciRozzi said she did not see the changes as “overly meaningful,” and also had concerns about the public amenities.

“Frankly, the revisions made from the last meeting to this meeting really need more detail,” she said. “Thinking about if I was going to visit this property, am I going to be lingering there, is there any reason for me to go here if I don’t live here or (are not) using the retail? I think that is lacking.”

ZBA member Gregory Girard said he liked the changes, and addressed some of the public comments asking to wait to approve the project until after the City has completed the study of Watertown Square. Funding for the study is included in the recently approved Fiscal Year 2024 Watertown Budget.

“I think life is what happens when you are making plans, and the idea holding this off until the plans for Watertown Square is in place just runs contrary to that,” Girard said. “Life goes on, development goes on. You can’t sit and wait until plans are tightly done. They never will be.”

The board asked about the future of the Watertown Square Post Office, which is currently located on part of the property that would be redeveloped. Buehrer said O’Connor has reached out to the Post Office to discuss creating space in the retail area.

“To this point we have had no comment for the Post Office to stay in the location,” he said “We have a dialog with them. We know they are looking at other locations. … They have made no positive movement that they want to stay at this location.”

O’Connor asked the board to continue the hearing on the project until the next Zoning Board meeting, which will be on July 26. See the most recent renderings by clicking here. All the project documents can be seen here (scroll down to “Click here for Applications …”).

10 thoughts on “Zoning Board Wants More Changes to Main Street Project

  1. Having the Post Office in a central location is more important than this entire project. Sorry to say. Concerned resident.

    • Residents can get to the Post Office wherever it is, by the same means they use today. Building new housing is MUCH more important than the Post Office staying in its current location. I believe this Comment reveals a false rationale, i.e. masks the writer’s true reasons.

      • Walking access to the post office and to the essential services it provides to residents in its present location should not be arrogantly or derisively dismissed.

        Reasonable people can question the judgment of those who support building child-proof, market-rate, auto-centric housing in Watertown Square as a solution to the housing crisis. The O’Connor project squeezes as many units as possible on the site, touting luxury urban living while charging market-rate rents for units that ten years ago would have been larger than what is typically offered today. With few three-bedroom, family-friendly units, the unit mix favors singles, roommate arrangements, childless marrieds, and transient students with guarantor rent-paying parents.

        The project is unacceptably auto-centric which drives up the price of the housing, limits the number of affordable and family-friendly three-bedroom units, undermines public transit, and increases traffic congestion. Nimbys may support the Main St. project because it will keep mixed-use development out of their neighborhoods, won’t burden the local school system with more children, and will keep cars from parking on neighborhood streets. Unfortunately, child-proof, auto-centric, market-rate housing discourages racial and class diversity, which is fundamental to community-building.

    • Then I recommend we move it to the current abandoned lot off of mount auburn street right next to the heart of Watertown square (there hasn’t been anything their for over a decade now) Or we can move it directly into Watertown square corner where the rundown HR block is (have people never heard of TurboTax ?) and the rub and tug massage place right above it.

      There are 5-6 locations all within walking distance of the current location that would be available. You could even put it into the building across the street that used to be a Santander bank. The post office location is a completely fabricated issue with regards to this project.

      • Goodness gracious! “Have people never heard of Turbo Tax?” How snidely and arrogantly elitist!

        The post office location is not a fabricated issue for many Watertown residents and those from neighboring communities, whose residents depend on the post office.

        Overheard while standing in line at the post office: A lady making small talk while in the queue asked an older lady behind her, “Did you hear they’re going to tear down the post office?” The elderly lady vehemently responded, “Mothaofgawd over my dead body!” She clearly expressed that the post office is not a fabricated issue.

      • Well if I had something to do with Amazon, maybe it would be fabricated. The Developer knew well in advance it was there, the property owner definitely knows it’s there, from collecting all the rent over the years it’s been there, maybe you think they’re getting a free ride being the Government and all? No one is holding this project up, it’s called due process and they there say and the Boards that represent the City/residents have theirs, ALL have a say. If a certain group is worried about housing for people, due to a shortage, where are the displaced residents of Cross St. rowhouses going to go, Huh, in your way maybe, so this project can get going?

  2. ZBA member Girard’s use of a quote often attributed to John Lennon to derisively dismiss that the City Council, the citizens’ elected representatives, voted approval for spending $200,000 of taxpayers’ money on a Study of Watertown Square is troubling. Mr. Girard appears to think the O’Connor project and other Watertown Square development should proceed, notwithstanding the clear intention of the city’s governing body to be informed by the analysis, recommendations, and conclusions of the Watertown Square Study report, whose due date is April 2024.

    Voluminous research in cognitive neuroscience and environmental psychology reveals how much the built environment — cities, buildings, and places affect us. Research shows the subtleties of human reaction to rooms, buildings, or city squares and how design matters far more than anybody, even architects and planners ever thought it did. People inhabit spaces physically and mentally, so we should be designing for human experience.

    Think about it. It’s important for Watertown to carefully consider what and how it builds. Clearly, it takes the same resources to construct a building that degrades our sensibilities as it does to build one that enhances them. What’s at stake is individual need and collective welfare.

    ZBA member Girard may not think it important to take the time to get Watertown Square’s built environment right, but concerned Watertown residents clearly disagree because we understand that the built environment affects us all the time, not just when we’re paying attention to it. It can shape our moods, emotions, and sense of our physical selves in space. It’s time to look at buildings, landscapes, and whole cities afresh and remake them to be less soul-deadening and more enlivening to the human spirit.

    • There is so much being said about this project, but the reality is the project is merely a reflection of the current priorities in town. Self-interest, over saturation, stretching established limits, budget undermining, deceitful leadership, and false promises. Its frivolous to pick on one project because you’ve all let the local government run wild with planning. This project, like many before and after it, will be shoved down our throats with a little sugarcoat of whatever particular cause you fight for: more housing, more infrastructure, pretty sidewalks, low-income housing, parking availability, green building, post office accessibility, lower taxes, etc etc.

  3. As we all consider the (re)placement of the Watertown post office it is good to remember that the very first post office in colonial America was established in 1639 in the Boston home—which was also a tavern that sold “stronge water”—of a man named Richard Fairbanks. **

    Why not build upon Mr. Fairbanks’ precedent?

    We have taverns. We have homes. We most assuredly have “stronge (albeit dirty) water.”

    Watertownians, we are sensible folks, even more so when planning and zoning in our fair city, therefore I submit we should put the post office where it was always intended; inside a Tavern.

    **Reader’s Digest.

Leave a Reply

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