By Clyde Younger
Watertown Resident & Candidate for City Council President
I prefix my comments by saying, without any hesitation, the Planning Department must be re organized. It is my firm belief the Department is misleading the citizens of Watertown. The change must begin at the top. I am not saying the Assistant City Manager/Director of Planning and Development should be fired; however, the Buck ends with this position. My recommendation is he should be laterally transferred into a different position within the administration.
The proposal to eliminate congestion and calm traffic, add new branding, along with existing established businesses, is something we can all support. However, it is not being negative to question a part of what is being proposed for the Square. That is, the consideration or feasibility of placing a Gables or Elan size building at the MBTA Watertown Yard at 20 Watertown Street and adjacent Watertown Square properties. (The Watertown Yard is 3.02 acres.)
Our Planners, representing us, should argue that we have met our quota with the new additions by the Arsenal and North Beacon Streets Multi-Family Units. The existing Law gives us this flexibility and options. Instead, the Planners are pushing for new construction without any discussion with the Community that there are options available in meeting the requirement of the New Law.
Consequently, it is no accident that the recent map drawn of Watertown Square, by the Planning Department practically engulfs a third of the land area of the city. Accepting or approving the map will bring future harm to the City. I assume the Planning Department has provided the Council the number of 24 Acres of Buildable Land within the City according to the State; thus 1,710 units.
Where would they find 24 acres of buildable land. And, if so, what would be the height of buildings to meet the perceived requirement of the MBTA LAW by our Planners. The MBTA Communities Zoning Law says that MBTA Communities must allow at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multifamily housing is permitted “As of Right”; however, also stated is a minimum of 15 Multi-Families per Acre. Before moving ahead with any planned “As of Right” Zoning, the Department must state unequivocally that there is no other way of complying other than New Development, existing is taboo.
It cannot be overstated that the loss of control granted by the City to a Developer to “Zone As Of Right” would unleash future development of buildings five stories or higher in the Center of our City. It is time for the Planners to respect the defining features and feel of our neighborhoods starting in the Square. The Planning Department must acknowledge the rich history of Watertown in all future development.
We know and support growth when it is done in a rational and practical manner. Watertown is not a Big City. Thus, planning must be undertaken deliberate. There are recognizable unmet needs and interests of the community. It is also important to listen to current businesses in the Square and throughout the city. Watertown is not a big City.
Admittedly, there is a need for affordable housing; however, the new law does not address this issue, nor the effect of density based on this incongruous MBTA Law. Unfortunately, our Planners cannot tell you what is their level of density planned for Watertown Square or the entire City.
Our Planners state the added downtown housing of 1,710 helps local business; for example, they would have the capability of walking to the businesses. Has anyone asked, what increase in the customer count can be expected.
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