LETTER: Noise a Concern for Proposed Westside Project

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A rendering of the proposed life science project at former Cannistraro property on Pleasant Street, Rosedale Road, and Acton Street. (Courtesy of Broder)

By Linda Scott
Watertown Resident

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get!” This quote is often ascribed to Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland and it was brought to mind after I attended the Broder Developers Meeting (the old Cannistraro building), last night.

Watertown News will, I’m sure, have a very complete summary of this event.

Just a few personal takeaways:

Although it was outside in that awful heat and humidity and in a decent outside venue that was practically hidden from the street (one attendee got numerous texts from people who were trying to attend and couldn’t find the place, and another attendee stood out in the parking lot in an attempt to send people in the right direction), it was well attended. I counted over 50 people.
It lasted well past 8:00, in fact until after dark.

There were numerous questions on a variety of lab-related topics. But there was one overarching question that stood out in my mind: Given this kind of development is an inevitability, what are its potential harmful effects to the neighborhood and how can they be mitigated?

One abutter who stated she works in a lab, started us off with her concerns about bio safety levels and accidents. She said that people are not aware of how many accidents there are. She was concerned. She was told that labs were restricted to BioSafety Level 2 by the City of Watertown. (Again, not strictly true. Our Watertown BioSafety regulations continue to allow labs up to BSL-3 level. The labs who ask for special permits are required to stay at bio safety level 2. This is not codified into Watertown zoning, so that this “arrangement” since not in the zoning code, could change much more easily than if it were actually in the code).

As we were talking, a friend whose job it was to design specs for these kinds of devices for medical buildings (air handlers, chillers, ac units, etc.) pointed out to me that we were listening above the noise of the rooftop fans of another close by bio lab. One of the neighbors said that if his windows are open, he goes to sleep to that sound. He lives a block away.

After seeing the review that Broder did of their huge project, my friend said, “These people have no idea how much noise those fans are going to make.” He compared the drawings of the new Broder building to the one whose fans we were hearing…about 10 times the size… roughly ten times the noise.

He compared it to the complaint about the noise from rooftop fans at the Arranta lab in Watertown from across the river in Newton. He said that those fans are at least 100 yards away and mitigated by trees, and they are still heard.

An aside, one of the frequent suggestions last night by neighbors to reduce neighborhood noise caused by the lab was to set back the building (as much as 50 feet off of Acton Street) and to add more substantial trees. Setbacks are recommended as a noise reduction strategy.

My friend also said, The natural gas generators, probably situated in the basement, sized as big
as cars to back up the electric system, which are tested once a week, will shake this whole
neighborhood if they are not mitigated properly with isolation pads.

There was a resident who had walked over past an older industrial development. She asked the group if they would prefer to live with the dirt and oil from old industrial sites or some noise from new ones. Put in those terms, it’s a no-brainer.

Here’s the thing, though, let’s look through the recent scientific literature on noise pollution (one article’s title: “Noise Pollution: More Attention is Needed” (The National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information) January 2023 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9832265/

First paragraph:

“Noise pollution—defined as unwanted or disturbing sounds—receives far less attention than air or water pollution because it cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. Noise pollution is dangerous; it has negative long-term impacts on humans, marine life, and terrestrial life and hampers biodiversity. According to WHO estimates , at least 1 million healthy life-years (disability adjusted life-years, DALYs) are lost annually from traffic-related environmental noise alone in western Europe. In 1910, the Nobel Prize winner Robert Koch predicted that “One day man will have to fight noise as fiercely as cholera and pest.” It is time that the social and environmental
implications of noise pollution and its effect on public health receives more attention and becomes a priority before it becomes a planetary epidemic.”

Do I have an answer for this? Nope. Not even close to one. I just hope that we’re not making the same mistakes that our industrial ancestors made, switching out one strong industrial pollutant for another. And since this small neighborhood has at least one other lab in its future, what does this mean for its longterm health and welfare?

This neighborhood is designated by Watertown as an “environmental justice zone.” It’s diverse. The people make less money than other more affluent parts of the City, and they will be burdened with an unfair share of this environmental hazard. We have a newly minted “Human Rights Commission.” Step up, please, and at least take a look at what we’re doing here.

There’s another Broder meeting tonight, July 18th on zoom at 6:00. Don’t miss another opportunity to ask your questions and share your ideas! https://bit.ly/broder-community-mtg2

2 thoughts on “LETTER: Noise a Concern for Proposed Westside Project

  1. I’m sorry I missed this meeting. Looking at the rendering supplied here, I am reminded of the zoning petition that lost last week. If you look at the back of this building, there seems to be a high wall facing whoever those poor residents are on the other side of the street. Also, all the fans are located in the back of the building, closest to the residential neighborhood.

    One of the issues transition zones would address are problems like these. Why can’t the HVACs be on the commercial side of the development? Why can’t there be a step-back (as outlined in the design guidelines) on the residential side as well as the commercial street side? Neither of these things prohibits building on this site or limits the building—it just asks for a little more thoughtfulness as to how the buildings are situated and designed.

    Also, understand that a 50′ setback is nothing when you are dealing with 3-4 stories. I believe 50′ should be the minimum setback for developments facing residential neighborhoods. Then I’ll go even further and say, I believe we should add 25′ for every second story and up!

    It’s tough because people complained about the canyon effect when tall buildings went up directly on Pleasant. The Council’s economic planning group at the time had been careful to ask for setbacks on the river side, but didn’t think about the commercial side. They were not visual people. That’s been added now, but they are fighting any considerations for residential areas.

    My argument is that good architectural design should be able to please all constituents.

  2. Linda, your summary of the on-site Broder meeting on July 17 is right on. There was a great turnout from the neighborhood with many people standing outside the canopy area, and people from other areas attended too as they had concerns about us and areas near them.

    There were many comments questioning the safety of labs, how the noise levels will be from mechanicals, a statement regarding the vibrations from big generators, how the massing will affect their views, requests to push back the project from Acton St. with a bigger setback, concerns of shadow effects on some of the houses on Acton St., questions on traffic patterns and use of the parking garage and questions on loading areas and trucks. Let’s see what happens with the Zoom meeting on the 18th.

    Eric, the main speaker from Broder said they heard the concerns and want to work with the community to make this a project that serves the neighborhood well and they will review the issues raised and see what can be done to alleviate concerns. The ball is now in their court.

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