LETTER: Attend the Community Meeting on Manley Way, Proposed to be One of Many Bio Labs Around Watertown

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A rendering of the building at 10-30 Manley Way proposed to be redeveloped into lab/R&D/non-nuisance manufacturing space. (The Seyon Group)

This letter is about 10-30 Manley Way, but humor me, please, while I get there.

With at least 25 bio lab buildings and more on the way in a four square mile area, (Alexandria hasn’t even begun the massive transformation of the Watertown Mall yet). 

Here’s a list of just Alexandria’s current holdings in Watertown:  

I hear they have their eyes on more Watertown land. Alexandriatown … how does that sound to you?  

This is a case of being careful about what you wish for.  We have about 70 labs in these buildings so far. There’s plenty of unused lab space without converting one more inch into labs … just my opinion, but it seems to be shared by others. 

To give you an example of the enormity of these projects (besides the in-your-face street presentation of them … hello, Galen Street), there’s a permit meeting for a Coolidge Street lab this month to approve a 7,000 gallon oil tank on the roof of a parking garage that will hold 497 cars. This space will also hold a large gas generator. Not unheard of, I’ve been told by experts on these things, but I have friends over there. It’s close quarters, and I worry.

This building on Manley Way does, in fact, have a lot of abutters … at least 500 of them at Watertown Mews and Repton Circle. I’ve been assured that they’ve been sent abutter notices, but that isn’t always what gets anyone’s attention, especially the day after Labor Day.

This site, according to current regulations, I’m told, didn’t even need a community meeting. I want to thank the City for responding to public concerns for the number and size of bio labs in Watertown already, and scheduling this one. A topic for another day: maybe those regulations need tweaking so that all Watertown buildings in this situation (older and being converted) need public input. 

But here’s how this affects us all. This property also abuts Walkers Pond, the open space that Watertown just bought for over $11 million with our taxpayer dollars. I would think that it would be pretty important for us, as residents, who are being told that their vegetable gardens are what’s attracting the rats (pay no attention to the how many thousands of acres of newly torn up Watertown land disturbs their nests), to make sure that this building conversion is done correctly. That our new (and rare) peaceful spot in Watertown isn’t assaulted by rooftop mechanicals that disturb migrating birds and permeated by the sounds of huge trucks, coming and going at all hours.

10-30 Manley Way. It’s on Zoom tonight. Be there, please. (Meeting link).

Linda Scott
Watertown Resident

Send your letter to the editor to watertownmanews@gmail.com

14 thoughts on “LETTER: Attend the Community Meeting on Manley Way, Proposed to be One of Many Bio Labs Around Watertown

  1. If 95,000 SF of space located near MBTA bus lines, the river bike path, and convenient to shopping is going to be rehabbed, why aren’t the developers considering housing?! We have more than enough empty lab space.

    • It is extremely complicated and costly to convert an commercial/industrial building into housing units (in those cases it is usually cheaper to just knock it down and start from scratch). Renovating it into a lab is much more practical and takes less time and money.

      • One of the condo buildings on Pleasant Street was built as a lab and while brand new was converted to condos. Labs are more expensive to build than housing.

      • Really? It’s often been done all over the country. Go down to Fort Point some time for example.

        If you said that there are higher profits to be made in developing lab buildings, I’d believe that.

        • You are not factoring in the cost of having to wait (probably over a year or 2) to have that entire site re-zone to residential.

          This was not a lab, it was essentially a warehouse. It had the old launch park and a gymnastics school, i dont think there is more than 2 windows on the entire building.

  2. Watertown is putting all of its eggs in one biotech/ life sciences basket. Some have no tenants yet and there is no guarantee they they will be filled to capacity. We need to diversify and we are in desperate need of housing.

    The property being discussed here is a prime area for homes, convenient to grocery stores, playgrounds, and already has a shuttle bus for added convenience. Homes, apartments, condos will not result in dangerous threats to the environment, while the proposed conversion may.

    Rat traps were mentioned at tonight’s meeting. If they are poison traps that will certainly have a terrible effect on our other wildlife, upsetting the balance of nature.

    When is enough enough? People over profits!

  3. How many biotech lab/office buildings represent “too many” and how is that supposed to be measured? There is no objective measurement, obviously. These comments suggest fear and discomfort, which are emotional reactions. Emotions are never a good reason to make any decision.

    Residents who lack knowledge about the biotech/biopharma industry shouldn’t waste time worrying about empty buildings. The developers spending their own money to build them know that the industry runs in cycles spanning years, not months; Watertown is an attractive location vs. other towns further west; rents can be flexible to attract tenants; and the industry will continue to grow as it creates new medicines from new technologies.

    Also, I see naive comments suggesting that a commercial real estate developer which specializes in lab/office buildings should all of a sudden adopt an entirely different business model and develop residential housing instead. Each business model requires a distinct, deep expertise and comes with different risks which impact its attractiveness to investors. One can’t just switch back and forth and hope to succeed in either.

  4. The current biotech/pharm/lab space vacancy rate in Watertown is slightly above 30%. This falls in line with Waltham and Lexington also ranging between %20-%28. So yes….some of these spaces will sit empty (especially as boston, seaport, allston/brighton bring more lab space online). Developers gonna build what developers gonna build.

  5. I’m just curious…what zone are Mews and Repton in? They’re right next door. The MBTA law might make rezoning here more quick and expeditious.

  6. As far as the impossibility of switching business models, the Broder project on Acton Street is that company’s first, and very ambitious, foray into building biotech space. Up until now, they’ve done a lot of high end hotels and living spaces. They seem to feel confident that they can make the switch.

  7. As the developer of this building doesn’t seem to be locked into only labs, I found that quite encouraging. Their team mentioned possible tenants of robotics, tech and light manufacturing companies.

    I would like to see more diverse jobs in Watertown and this location might be able to offer this as an option. I also am pleased that it’s only a two-story height and they don’t plan to increase the height. We do need businesses in our city to help offset the taxes for residents.

    If we can solve some of the issues raised at the Zoom meeting by about 50 residents, this might be a different welcome business plan for our community.

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