LETTER: Resident Enthusiastic About Changes That Will Help Watertown Square Thrive

Print More

When I think of all the ways that Watertown has shaped my life and family, I think about how fortunate my son is to have lived his entire life here. And for as long as we’ve called Watertown our home, the Square has been a cornerstone of our lives. From weekly trips to sing and dance with friends and neighbors at the library to long walks (and scooterings) around the Charles River, I’ve spent endless hours in the square. 

I have also been fortunate to be able to attend every one of the public presentations on the Watertown Square redesign, and I am deeply optimistic for the proposed changes. I’m encouraged by the passion with which the city staff are working to make Watertown’s beating heart stronger and healthier for the next generation. The decisions we make in the coming months will determine what sort of city my son will inherit.

The plans to simplify the main intersection have understandably taken up much of the effort so far. I have full confidence in the chosen design. The new road layout will help make Watertown Square a place to visit, not just a speedbump on the way from the Pike to Cambridge.

As we finalize the rezoning plans, it’s crucial that we continue to dream big. This new zoning plan should aim to give our core business district the support and freedom it needs to grow organically. To meet that goal, there are still several key opportunities for improvement. 

First, we should expand by-right development throughout the entire study area. The city intends to develop a Form-Based building code — which provides parameters of acceptable development. We should trust in that work rather than forcing development to go through additional hurdles of getting a discretionary permit. This is especially true for the less dense space at the edges of the study area. These lots are where small-scale developers would be able to do crucial work in helping our city grow gently and organically. We must not force them to run a special permitting gauntlet that favors larger, well-connected developers. 

Second, we need to think long and hard about how we can support affordable development. There are many affordable housing developers whose motivation is to meet the needs of our residents, current and future, but who are blocked because our zoning restrictions can only be overcome at great expense. We should provide a clear path that allows affordable housing developers the opportunity to bring their plans to fruition with the absolute minimum of red-tape. City leaders should also find creative ways to offer affordable development a leg up over the for-profit development that will be competing for the same sites. 

Finally, I believe that we should drastically reduce — or even eliminate — parking minimums for the Central Business District. Rather than saddle housing with the cost of parking infrastructure, the city should develop their municipal parking assets in a way that supports everyone more efficiently and equitably.

Watertown Square is a tremendous blessing to this city. It deserves every chance to thrive and grow. I’m grateful to those who have made it what it is today, and whose investments made so many cherished memories possible. Now it’s our turn to make investments in the future, so that, decades from now, other families will look back at our own stewardship with gratitude. We have the privilege of influencing the trajectory of the Square’s inevitable changes, and how we will grow our community. I for one can’t wait to welcome my wonderful new neighbors.

Jesse Porch
Watertown Resident

19 thoughts on “LETTER: Resident Enthusiastic About Changes That Will Help Watertown Square Thrive

  1. Wow, another great letter! Thank you for writing this. Sometimes it is hard to remain hopeful when the paper has letters against the amazing redesign and against complying with the MBTA Communities law. The social media posts are even more troublesome because of the pejorative names and ugly speech. Such writers think that if they complain often and loudly enough, then they will get results. The same writers think that if they don’t get their desired results, then process is flawed or fixed. In their minds, persons who oppose their stance, the city manager, the consultants and the council have it in for them. They offer no solutions because clearly they are not serious about the issue.
    If the housing situation is not improved upon then it will hurt me, you and everyone else. I agree immensely with this passage: “As we finalize the rezoning plans, it’s crucial that we continue to dream big. This new zoning plan should aim to give our core business district the support and freedom it needs to grow organically. To meet that goal, there are still several key opportunities for improvement.” There are opportunities for improvement and you do a great job of listing them out. You have thought about this a lot. I need to think some more about the parking but I do understand why someone may support it. I am really glad someone like you is attending these meeting and thinking about solutions. I and my husband work so many hours just to save up for a house, which probably will not be in Watertown. I do hope the council reads your letter. It offers ideas that deserve a lot of consideration.

  2. Excellent points and well said. Thank you! I’d only add that as we thoughtfully build and develop here, we need to insist that surrounding communities in metro-West and the entire metro-Boston region also build and comply with the latest regulations. More density in Watertown Square will create a vibrant, dynamic and beautiful place to life in and near. I look forward to walking, biking and driving (I do all 3!) to and around the new resources we’re building here.

    That said, keeping rents and property prices down requires much more supply. We’re doing our part here in Watertown in a thoughtful, inclusive and wonderful way but the surrounding communities aren’t. I’m tired of communities like Milton dragging their feet. I want to see much more density and development in Wellesley, Weston, Concord, etc. especially around their commuter rail stations. The entire real-estate ecosystem is connected. Can’t find a place to live in one place, you look (and drive up prices) somewhere else. You first look nearby or, increasingly in MA, out of state.

    • To set the record straight, I have not seen a single comment on this site objecting to the construction of new housing. The disagreement is about the amount. Or, have I missed something?

      • Yup, not opposed to new development but oversight is super important and to ‘trust’ a developer(or anyone) without some (reasonable) oversight is just asking for lack of quality, IMO. Still waiting to see a plan for 1701 along with the other proposals. I would also like to have in the plan the projected amount of new residents in that area given N number of units with M number of parking. (which would also indicate how many more cars, I believe there is a proposal for 1/2 car spot per unit so every other unit gets a car spot?). The documentation :https://watertownsquareimprovements.com/s/0404-Public-Meeting-Handouts2024_0404_FINAL.pdf Only shows the one option which is 3,133 units. I believe if I’m reading this if 5+(ie 6floors) is with 1st floor being mixed use? Or is this actually 7 floors?! I personally am not a fan many tall buildings as it takes away from the feel of the town and creates many more shadows/less view lines. It is also not clear how affordable the housing will be outside of possibly the 15% that the town has for certain size developments(12% I believe for smaller ones?). Watertown has created many new units in the past decade(especially compared to neighboring town:>) most of which are not affordable. I do like having better roadways/crosswalks(very much needed) and some new development is good. The question is how much and how high really, this is the sticking point which is where a referendum would be great. Give us choices and we can choose which is right for Watertown.

        • Maybe you should have attending the meetings earlier where they said 1701 was the minimum, but they were going try for something above the minium. And no one objected then, not a single perosn, and there were persons there who were clearly there to make sure the process was mired down. Also, many created unit is not enough. Some exprerts, (I tend to trust experts otherwise you fall for charlatans and megmillion preachers) say that the total add may have be 8-10k units to signigicantly bring down the rents/prices. I know we are not getting anywhere near but if the experts re at 8k and you are sitting at 1701, you are not moving the needle in anywat. If you were at 3k units then I’d say youare pushing it a little. So if you are moving the needle then what is the point of see documents for 1701 units. Unless, you are just about compliance. Finally, you do realize not everyone has this aversion to height. That can’t be true in a city of 35k plus. Also 5 stories or 6 stories is not that hight given that the buildings on whites ave are higher, the chucrch across the street from the park is almost 10 stories and the flagople in the center of the square has to be over 10. Ther eis a thing called perspective. The height being asked for fits within the current scene, it’s not overhwelming. No on is building the effiefel tower here. And the sq is only one part, the rest of town has very small buildings. ANd finally the business district should have the talelest buildings. Like if we build up the sq then we don’t have to build up elsewhere. So why not make the impact here and be done. or is there another reason for slowing down the process other than to stop it? It really sucks, just when we get some psotive and thoughtfull letters, all this negative, let’s do nothing stuff keeps popping up. As I said before, n the meantinme nothing is getting Built!

      • Clyde and his group spent nearly a year trying to stop housing from being created on Main St. They tried to completely derail the project at ever turn, and even tried to get the entire area designated a historic district so that nothing new could be built.

        There is a very loud contingent on this site that is very against new housing (they have recently changed their tune after losing constantly for 18 months) Now they just say they want “thoughtful design” and “impact studies” which means they want to nitpick every single ascetic choice and burden developers with red tape.

        • Could you show us a few references for the “very loud contingent that is against very against new housing” but “recently changed their tune…” I’ve been scouring this site and can’t find that tune changing anywhere.

          • You can go read the numerous articles and comments from Linda Scott, Joe L, Clyde, Rita C, and a number of other members of the community. The change in tune is mainly from trying to completely stop new housing in the downtown area to doing the absolute minimum to meet the MBTA law requirements and to do so as slowly as humanly possible.

            Clyde started his push when the main street project was first announced. He tried to stop it by gather local support for the crowne diner that had recently been taken over on a month to month lease that was going to get shut down. Then Linda wrote a number of articles about the petition to get the downtown rezoned as an historical district. In both of these initiatives it became clear their was no overall support from the community to block this development. (even after a length piece on how one of the building was one of the many rental units of a prominent Watertown resident.) But regardless it was clear the goal was no new housing in the downtown area.

            Now that that battle has been lost, the focus has been make sure Watertown does the absolute minimum required by the MBTA law. (that is the tune I am talking about) The group whines that the countless public meeting and polls aren’t enough and are rigged against them. Any choice they don’t like is an assault on our democracy. (which I find funny since the persons making those comments are literal socialist/communist that frown on private development and push constantly for co-op housing and funneling more and more tax dollars to housing projects)

        • I don’t understand why you continually attack or blame Mr. Younger and his “Group” for having very different views from yourself and others. I don’t make the connection of them constantly losing for 18 months, when in fact a better project was produced with public input and everyone except Mr. G Pyle, was rather pleased with the finished design. In regards to “very loud contingent”, I see a lot more comments from your side of the fence, would that mean you’re not satisfied with how a democracy works or would you care to just get your way all the time? Being one of the largest property owners, with a large tax bill, doesn’t care for the Veteran living down the street from you for having opposing views and you’d just rather run him out of Town, for fighting for your freedom of speech, the small businesses in the Square that you don’t like, the fact of having to drive up Mt Auburn St to drop off your kids at the Hosmer School contributing to the residents problem of getting out of their driveways to go to work, where does it end for your anger? Now you want to give builders the right to build what they want, how they want, Hint, they’re not all going to be riding bikes or walking so I’d get ready for more vehicles especially on your street, wondering, where does it end!

          • Outside of your rambling mess of a comment,(I doubt I have any impact on the Marine down the street in anyway that would make him run out of town, and yes I hate looking at the massage places that advertise sex online on my way to Hosmer and I am fine with how democracy works. )

            I am interested in one point you made. What is your argument on how any of the proposed changes to Watertown Sq will increase the traffic on Riverside and or the south section of Irving st. I have asked others who made the same claim how they see that happening and have yet to get a clear response. Please enlighten me as I am genuinely interested.

          • Unfortunately, Eric York is not wrong about somethings. I do not know about everyone he lists but there are individuals that he listed who have demonstrated such behaviors in this paper, online and at meetings – the smear article last week really went too far. Also, the fact that the building across from the library had to be reviewed by the historical commission in such a long-drawn out manner is a gross overreach. If I remember correctly, the store front attached to the building was from 1910. My grandmother was born in 1934. I don’t see that time period as historical, nor significant.

        • Dear Eric,

          I do not have a group. I have a point of view. I thought I would provide you a frame of reference as to who I am. I know some think I have certain thoughts, biases or whatever that is against progress. My belief is if one is against progress or improvements in a community they should stay out of politics.
          I didn’t grow up in Watertown, nor the East Coast. I grew up in Denver, Colorado, a large city in comparison to Watertown. Graduating from college, I was recruited by two agencies i.e., the Navy, looking for prospective Black Officers and the Center For Disease Control (CDC).
          Suffice it to say, I was completely surprised by their interest; not only because I was not a student that excelled, but also my work experiences were limited to being a Paper Boy, Bus Boy and finally a Custodian. The Custodian Job was in order to have a few dollars to help pay for college. My wife Mary bore the full financial responsibility of supporting me and Mike in my final Senior Year of College; otherwise, I would have never graduated.
          Upon graduation I was offered a job opportunity with two U.S governmental agencies. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Navy who were recruiting to increase their minority officers. Weighing the two job options I chose the position with CDC. My choice was solely based on the fact that CDC’s salary was higher than the pay of a Navy Officer. On the other hand, it was disconcerting to me because my starting salary was more than my Dad’s, who had worked as a Dining Car Waiter with the Union Pacific Railroad for over twenty-five years.
          My first assignment was in Los Angeles, California in their Sexual Transmitted Disease Program. I found L.A.’s demographic population to be more segregated than Denver’s. However, when my parents bought a new home in Denver the first time, I ever heard anything about White Flight occurred. At any rate, I was transferred from L.A. to Albuquerque within 14 months. We were in L.A. when the Watts Riot broke out and although living miles away from Watts the National Guard patrolled our area.
          We lived in Albuquerque for two years before I was informed either my supervisor or I had to be transferred in order to gain a promotion.
          I opened my eligibility to other CDC programs. A representative of the Tuberculosis Control Program interviewed and approved my hiring. I was informed that they had two openings; Hawaii and Boston.
          I chose Hawaii; I was informed their priority is Boston. I was sent to Boston. At home, (out West) we always said Easterners were very cold and uncaring in their feelings toward their fellow man. New Englanders, in particular, were considered snobby along with the characteristics of Easterners which made them worse.
          I arrived in Boston and found it to be the filthiest city I had ever seen. I called my Dad and told him I was considering resigning from the Public Health Service and returning home to Denver.
          There were factors that influenced me to stay.
          I stayed at the Essex Hotel across from South Station. People talked about the Combat Zone so curious I decided to go see what it was all about. It was around nine o’clock pm in August and there was two young Black Boys with a Shoe Shine Stand. I wondered why they were out so late but decided to let them shine my shoes. Sitting in their chair and looking around I became reconciled to the fact that this is much different than I was used to.
          Somehow, I contacted Dick McBride, a Realtor in Cambridge, and a Watertown resident. He had a house available for rent in Watertown. He said the owner was in a nursing home and chose to rent the house. Dick McBride’s family still lives in Watertown.
          I found Watertown most unusual from the other places I have lived. There was no Welcome Wagon that reached out to us, instead the neighbors welcomed us to be a part of their community. I did not see any sign of “there goes the neighborhood” or White Flight. I wondered how could I have been so wrong about New Englanders.
          Albuquerque did not provide Kindergarten so we sent Michael to a private school. In Boston, I worked in the South End Health Center’s Tuberculosis Control Program under Boston City Hospital. The rented house was a couple of blocks from the Browne Elementary School. Mike started the First Grade there. People in the clinic, especially one woman whom later we called my New England Mother took me under their care helping me to adjust to the area even; the best way to get to and from Boston. I told them that Mike was attending the Browne School. Everyone said what a great school it is and Mary and I would be very pleased with the school. A month or so later I found out they were speaking about Brown and Nichols.
          However, we found the Browne School to be an excellent school for providing the educational preparation for our son. Overall, the curriculum surpassed the one I received in elementary school. Mary was from Pueblo, Colorado and I have never asked her.
          Watertown offered simple things in life such as not having to worry if you forgot to lock your front door. This aspect of life was something I had not experienced since I was very young child. In Denver I never saw outside of school our School Teachers, Police Officers or Fire Fighters DPW Employees and other administrative personnel and elected officials.
          One period in time, we were fortunate to have a Policeman who walked the streets. They would always stop and chat with us kids for a while. We gained an appreciation and respect for police work through this officer.
          I did not find Watertown a quaint New England Town; however, it had its own trappings quiet yet close to the city and ease of transportation. I have not expected everything to remain the same as it was when I first arrived. However, I am biased in the sense I would like to slow down the unaffordability of Watertown. I gladly support any projects designed to enable those who have grown up here and strangers who seek upward mobility. The same opportunity the Town gave my family. This is no longer an option. I could not afford to move into Watertown today even given the nice salary the Feds gave me.
          Furthermore, the residents of the Town of Belmont, have always been considered to be more affluent than Watertown’s residents. Recently a renter had to move to Belmont to rent after the Watertown landlord raised their rent. How many others are there?
          Speaking of my initial impression of Boston, my attitude changed by the manner in which Redevelopment (Urban Renewal) of Boston was carried out under Mayor Collins. The city became cleaner and measurably improved the well-being of the community. I am not alluding to the West End or other development mentioned before I arrived. I did hear the development in the West End caused considerable displacement.
          In closing, thus far my viewpoint of Watertown’s development is it is causing accelerated economic inequality, displacement of locals, threat to local businesses and the introduction of community conflicts.
          Why are we not open to our Planning Staff to present different approaches, options or is it too far-fetched these days. It appears we are more polarized than thought. Shouldn’t we remember that there is also Urban Blight. Urban Blight can manifest itself in many forms and doesn’t have to be something tangible you can touch.

  3. Endorsing Mr. York’s comment – For over a year, I’ve witnessed the communication tactics of the loud group which claims to be “for new housing,” just not “that” new housing. I saw as they fought tooth and nail against the 104 Main St. project at public meetings. I simply don’t believe they’re being honest with all the trivial objections they raise. If you bat down one, they come back with another one, it’s like whack-a-mole. Their true goal seems to be to keep Watertown as it is, and they’ll keep finding reasons to oppose change. For example, Ms. Coyne’s comment above suggests that we should place a higher importance on “the feel of the town” and avoiding “shadows/less view lines” than on addressing the HOUSING EMERGENCY that we have in Watertown and the state overall.

    • I have started to come to the same conclusion. I was hoping that it wasn’t so but it does seem, by their behaviors, they want to keep the status quo and will overreach to do so. The tactics are rather disturbing. I just don’t know who has all the time to ask for these meetings, attend all these meeting and then write very long articles about these meetings that don’t even begin to address the issue or provide solutions. As Teddy Korkoros suggested, let’s meet in the middle with 3,331 units. It is a start in the right direction. Starting below that is an insult to everyone who needs housing or reasonable prices and rents.

  4. I agree that it’s time for the city to have a serious conversation about eliminating parking minimums for the central business district. Doing so would create flexibility for housing projects to appeal to people without cars, therefore creating the opportunity to add units without expanding the footprint or height of a project.

    NPR did a story earlier this year on other cities that have successfully implemented this type of initiative: https://www.npr.org/2024/01/02/1221366173/u-s-cities-drop-parking-space-minimums-development.

  5. “You can go read the numerous articles and comments from Linda Scott, Joe L, Clyde, Rita C, and a number of other members of the community.”

    Just to be clear, I am very happy with the proposal to zone for, by-right, 6320 units, without the collar. I am quite disappointed with the proposal zone for 3133 units, which I suspect will be the final draft since the poll/survey results from the three public meetings (November 28-29, February 29 and April 4) merely average out to a 60-40 for more units than the minimum, but toward the middle path.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *