LETTER: Thoughts on Citizens Petitions & Developer’s Plans for the Cannistraro Site

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By Linda Scott
Watertown Resident

Question: If a dozen equals twelve and a peck equals two dry gallons, what does a “some” equal?

When referring to the 600 plus citizens who signed the two citizen’s petitions calling for zoning changes (zoning relief, if you will), this group is many times referred to as “some people.”

It sure didn’t feel like “some” as we went door to door and stood outside in good and bad weather speaking with fellow citizens about their thoughts on Watertown’s current development.

It also didn’t feel like “some” to Councilor Palomba who said at the July 11th City Council meeting: “Those names really demonstrate a breadth across the city…” and included names of people “who do not live in areas adjacent to development.”

As Joe Levendusky said, 600 people is a lot of people that are showing dissatisfaction. To quote Joe when referring to the numbers who want change, “I subscribe to the tip of the iceberg.” Now let’s quote Councilor Gardner, who is the only councilor who chose not to say a word at the July 11th City Council meeting, but had plenty to say in her newsletter:

“The Council acknowledged that the petitions signal that some residents have serious concerns about the scale of buildings when they abut single and two-family housing or are in the Central Business District. I also often hear concerns about the need for more housing (especially workforce and affordable housing), greater density to create that housing, and development that supports transportation by means other than single use vehicles.”

There’s that “some” word again … and that “housing” word thrown in for good measure, both implying that the 600 voters who signed the petitions are an insignificant number and that their calling for zoning changes somehow is at odds with providing housing for our citizens.

As astute citizen, Marcia Ciro, commented in Watertown News:

“Our zoning code is way out of date, so this is the way we do zoning in this city: whenever a developer needs a change in zoning to do what they wish, they go to the Planning Dept, who helps them submit it (and highly recommends it) to the Zoning Board. The developer is almost always granted their amendment. In this way, our zoning has become a hodge-podge of very particular amendments, overlay zones, etc, to help developers get past the code.

“But notice, when citizens want a change, they are given no help from anyone (not the Planning Dept. who just wishes they would go away, nor their Town Councilors who really can’t get involved—you know, public meeting rules and all).

“So they work hard to get many signatures and submit their wish in good faith. But jeez, it’s too vague. Oh no, it’s too specific. Just can’t vote for it, but we SO appreciate the work that went into it and the citizens who spent all that time for nothing. This has happened before. I bet if you go back, there has never been a citizen’s petition granted in the history of this town.

“Zoning has needed updating for at least 10 years. Zoning underlies everything that gets built in this town. This government has finally agreed to hire someone to evaluate our zoning. But this government doesn’t like to do the hard stuff, so they have given it a 4-5 year timeline. Will there be anything left to build then?”

May I add to Marcia’s comments? Didn’t developers actually write their own zoning code for Arsenal Yards? Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “a business friendly community.” Let me tell you about a beautiful piece of property in Watertown’s west end. It’s big (multiple acres). It’s on the Charles River, with easy access to bike and walking paths and with multiple choices of walkable transportation available.

And because of the outdated zoning, what was it destined to become? A bio lab. Not just any bio lab. A 200,000 square foot bio lab. We need another one of those, right? This one will be right up there with the big boys … the 224,000 square foot 66 Galen St.s lab. Lights on, giant outdoor fans blowing, and traffic from their 525 car garage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So, given that this big piece of Watertown property is destined to be yet another bio lab, there’s nothing left to do, right? Wrong!

If we don’t support the folks in this small West Watertown community and neighborhoods in similar situations all over the City, Broder and companies like it will run roughshod over their neighborhoods.

There was a developer meeting in March that 150 concerned residents attended. It didn’t go well for Broder and their plans then.

Because of this, they’ve scheduled another set of developer meetings next week. (Monday, July 17th 6:00 p.m. at the Broder site (60 Acton Street) for a walk through and Tuesday July 18th at 6:00 p.m. on Zoom. (https://bit.ly/broder-community-mtg2). See more info on the meeting and links to the most recent plans by clicking here.

Rumor is the plan hasn’t changed much, just the expectation that waiting till the middle of summer and giving people minimal notice will mean that residents won’t come … Just “some” people will attend … no need to pay attention to them.

I plan to be at these meetings. I don’t live in that tiny neighborhood, but I sure can empathize with being pushed around and ignored by powerful, rich people.

Come. Bring a snack and your thoughts. We all have something to contribute. We are all Watertown!!

(Send your letters to the editor to watertownmanews@gmail.com)

9 thoughts on “LETTER: Thoughts on Citizens Petitions & Developer’s Plans for the Cannistraro Site

  1. If anyone knows, Marcia Ciro and the residents along North Beacon St. put up a good fight against Arsenal Development, I’ll guarantee you they’re still angry about what went down. Seems we keep visiting the same issues over and over, just a different address. When SOME become Proactive rather than Reactive and questioned by Board member/members for doing the legwork to get and inform 600 signatures, asking who do they think they are claiming to represent the signed residents, that’s a rather unique way to publicly dismiss or shame someone or SOME people for what they feel is a different look than theirs. Maybe the SOME 600 show up, to see who represents who, now that would be interesting! Would you then impose maybe Marshall Law in order to protect your Fiefdom! Glad to see your still in fight Marcia! Hope to see more

  2. I clicked on the link to see the current plans. The lab and its campus remains a massive project. The only change made is the slight decrease in height for one of the buildings. The footprint of the project remains the same and overwhelms the character of the Rosedale/Acton community. This bold design that impacts the quality of life for Watertown residents should spark a concern in public officials to review and revise zoning laws in a timely way so that future implications of the current design/review process are not repeated.

  3. Hey Johnny Collini, where’s your petition? When you try to organize a group of people to go out and collect 600+ signatures, you may end up changing your idea for the meaning of “some”.

    Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to actually think about the issues. You are either FOR development or AGAINST it. If only we could discuss new ideas without those old worn out labels. “Many” are just looking for a little more thoughtfulness and consideration for the people who live nearby.

    And I take issue with whoever spouts the old wisdom, “they should have known the zoning when they bought their property.” Pretty hard to see into the future and see what zoning amendments future developers will ask for (and inevitably receive).

  4. Arsenal Yards is a stunning success, it’s beautiful and it attracts visitors from all over who spend money there. I’m sure that, during construction, it had some negative affects on neighbors and that is regrettable. But from a city-wide perspective, anyone who opposed it has been shown to be wrong. These NIMBYs are the voices we’re supposed to be listening to?

    • It’s not that simple. I agree that Arsenal yards is better than the Arsenal Mall previously in this space, but I would be hard pressed to agree that it is a stunning success. The traffic and pedestrian flow is problematic and though there are a couple of nice new additions, this development has not changed our Watertown experience in any way. The developers could have done so much better if they had really worked with the community, the people who really know the space.

  5. Hi Johnny,

    I think you just proved my point. Getting 600 signatures is a lot. This does not mean that the approximately 29,000 plus people we didn’t have time (and energy) to approach do not share our views. It simply means that they were not asked.

    In contrast, one of the people collecting signatures for the FAR petitiion who is a mathematician called me with two observations:

    1. People he spoke with were extremely angry with how development was being handled in Watertown.
    2. 92% of the people he approached signed the petition.

    I wouldn’t dream of saying 92% of all Watertown residents agree with our petitions, but there are thousands out there who do, considering that we got signatures from all over the City! It just gives you a window into how important an issue this is to a whole lot of people all over the city and how frustrated and angry people are.
    The most common comments we heard:
    They (the City government) don’t listen to citizens anymore.
    They only listen to the developers.

    My take: Until processes are clear and consistent and there’s transparency in government dealings, and people are actually listened to, you will continue to have very large groups of upset residents…not a good thing!

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