Developers of the project at 104 Main St. knocked a story off the project and widened the public walkway from Main Street to Pleasant Street, and received approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
On Wednesday night, O’Connor Capital Partners presented the revised version of the project that had been cut down from six floors in from the plans presented in June to five at the meeting in October.
Brett Buehrer, Senior Vice President at O’Connor, outlined the changes to the proposal. The number of rental units in the building have been cut by 11 to 137, and the number of townhouses will remain at five. The project will have 21 affordable units — 20 rental and one for sale. Designers added two more three-bedroom units for a total of nine.
While the stories dropped by a story, the total height dropped only 6 feet, said Ian Ramey, Principal at Copley Wolff Design Group.
“We increased the ground floor height up to 18 feet. We felt that was important for a successful retail space,” Ramey said. “We took the difference and split it to allow more height for ground floor, reducing overall height by 6 feet.”
The Public Pedestrian Path that links Main Street with Pleasant Street grew by about 24 percent, to over 10,000 sq. ft.
“There will be multiple seating opportunities on the pedestrian walk and it includes areas for art installations,” Buehrer said.
Opening onto the pedestrian walk will be three art gallery/office spaces, which are located where the lobby used to be.
“We created a larger lobby, which will have more of presence on Pleasant Street,” Buehrer said. “And the building will have one ramp internally in the garage instead of two external ramps.”
The height of the garage was increased to allow for box trucks to make deliveries to the retail spaces.
The gross square feet will drop from 154,533 to 136,330 sq. ft. The first floor commercial/retail space was increased from 6,197 sq. ft. to 6,946 sq. ft. The parking spaces was cut from 156 to 130 spaces in the garage (including four electrical vehicle charging stations) and surface parking spaces dropped from two to one. There will be 64 bicycle parking spaces, two fewer than before.
The building will still be designed to meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifiable standard, Buehrer added.
The project will be built on multiple parcels on Main Street, Pleasant Street and Cross Street. The row houses on Cross Street, which date back to the 19th century, will be preserved. The properties also include the building where the main Watertown Post Office is located. Conversations have begun with the USPS, Buehrer said, about the future of that location.
“The Post Office is considering relocating and coming back to the building when completed,” Buehrer said. “We’ve at least addressed the delivery process for them. They still have their process to go through, I cannot make any commitments for them, obviously, but we are in active dialog as late as this week about the Post Office and how we can accommodate them.”
O’Connor will make several contributions as mitigation for the project, Buehrer said. They will prepare a pedestrian safety and mobility study for Main Street, Cross Street and Whooley Way. In addition, developers will identify and make safety and mobility improvements along Main Street along the project frontage on Main Street as well as on Church Hill Lane.
Other mitigations include $75,000 to the transportation master plan studies for Watertown Square and Community Path, installing two illuminated signs at Galen Street, Nonantum Road and Watertown Street, $5,000 for the pedestrian and bicycle wayfinding program, $100,000 for the street lighting program, $3,500 for the Bluebike program for the station across the street at City Hall.
As with past meetings, the public comments were mixed about the project, with many supporting the project and the changes, and a few preferring more housing. Another group still thought the project was too big, and some said they wanted to see more affordable housing units.
Members of the Zoning Board said they appreciated the changes made by O’Connor, including Chair Melissa SantucciRozzi.
“I want to thank the development team and everyone here for their professionalism and really demonstrating that you listened to the comments from the board members and the public and I truly believe this is a better building and I think it better connects Pleasant Street and Main Street,” she said. “The way the garage interacts with the site is much better, in my opinion, the increased walkway, the increased seating availability, and the increase in height is really going make the distinction between the retail and the residential uses that are going to be provided for here.”
Zoning Board member Chris Heep noted the number of changes made by O’Connor.
“I wanted to express gratitude to the applicant for making all the changes he made,” Heep said. “That presentation gave an exhaustive list of changes all of which were responses to comments from the board and the public and I think overall has resulted in a much improved project.”
Zoning Board member David Ferris said he liked the changes made to the project, including to the walkway, and moving the location of the lobby. He added that “wouldn’t be opposed” to having the office/gallery space be used for a pop up retail site.
The Zoning Board voted unanimously to approve the project.