LETTER: A Resident’s Comments on Proposed Rezoning of Watertown Square

To the Editor:

I’ve been impressed by Manager George Proakis’ initiative, effort and community involvement process for the Watertown Square Area Redesign. In terms of the streetscape, it’s terrific that the manager is trying to create a plan that insists that our Square is first and foremost the center of our community, not just an intersection to drive through as quickly as possible. It is in terms of zoning that the draft plans have led to more disagreement. Unlike some municipalities, we are choosing to obey the new MBTA Communities law and join in the region-wide attempt to increase the supply of housing by changing the zoning in the Square. The need for more housing units at lower rents and/or purchase prices is clear.

What to Expect at Next Watertown Square Meeting, Manager Will Also Discuss Zoning on Prior Day

The redesign of Watertown Square will be discussed on June 12. (Photo by City of Watertown)

The draft of the Watertown Square Area Plan will be discussed at a meeting on June 12, but prior to that City Manager George Proakis will delve into the topic of zoning during a live and interactive show on Watertown Cable. Watertown Square Meeting

The meeting focused on Watertown Square will take place on Wednesday, June 12 beginning at 6 p.m. It will take place at the Watertown Free Public Library in the Watertown Savings Bank Room. Present at the meeting will be both the City Council and the Planning Board, said City Council President Mark Sideris. He said it may be the first of multiple meetings on the Watertown Square Area Plan, which includes not only the redesign of the main intersection, but also where the City will allow housing to be built by right to meet the requirements of the MTBA Communities Law, as well as form-based zoning which will determine how future developments will look.

LETTER: Let’s Take More Time to Consider Watertown Housing Plan

By Linda ScottWatertown Resident

Lately, I’ve been attending public meetings, and I’ve been speaking with citizens about their thoughts and feelings about development plans in Watertown Square. The Watertown Square Plan and its Moving Parts:

As most of you know, in response to the State’s MBTA Communities Law, which requires Watertown to zone for 1701 new multifamily housing units, Watertown City Manager George Proakis and the Department of Community Development and Planning (DCDP) have been enthusiastically over-achieving. First, they proposed zoning for 6,320 new housing units instead of the State mandated 1701. They justified this momentous decision to more than triple the housing units by referring to a straw poll of 75 Watertown citizens and nonresidents who chose the 6,320 option. (See Democracy Dismantled One Poll and Survey at a Time, click here)

The choices that the City Manager and the DCDP gave the Watertown public for this vote:

6,320 housing units by right or

2,631 housing units by right

There was no option for 1,701 units – the number actually mandated by the MBTA zoning law.

LETTER: Resident Optimistic About Future of Watertown Square

When the conversation about Watertown Square began a couple years ago, I was not optimistic. How could this massive intersection filled with car traffic become a destination? While I was reminded of our wonderful library, our distance from the river, and a few small stores and great restaurants, I still could not imagine how this could be made into a unified square. Over time, the process for recreating Watertown Square has impressed me. We have had multiple ways to participate and give feedback.

See How to Take the Watertown Square Area Plan Survey Online, Deadline to Submit Input is April 13

The online survey about the Watertown Square Area Plan, including the plan to meet the MBTA Communities Act housing requirement, is now available. It will be open through Saturday, April 13. See the announcement from the City of Watertown below. Take the Watertown Square Area Plan Feedback Form from the Public Forum on April 4, 2024! The City of Watertown is excited to hear your feedback on the project at the link below!

OP-ED: Watertown Square Zoning Needs to Do More for Affordability

Just about everyone agrees on the need for more affordable housing in Watertown. It’s one of the biggest challenges faced by our neighbors today. Families can’t find space to grow, older residents can’t downsize, working- and middle-class families are being forced out. There isn’t enough housing overall — but, in particular, there isn’t nearly enough affordable housing. The Watertown Square redesign process offers an incredible opportunity to encourage more dedicated affordable homes in our city.

OP-ED: Watertown Square Plan — A Broader Perspective

By Linda ScottWatertown Resident

I was driving through Forest Hills recently and stopped to take a few pictures of new buildings. Here is the front of the property. As you can see, this yellow and gray building appears to be six stories. Also note that there are step backs and blocks of color to produce the “visual interest” that was mentioned at our meeting. Photo by Linda Scott

I drove up the small street in back of it, and here it borders a small one and two family neighborhood with a mix of one and two storied homes.

LETTER: Embrace the Opportunity to Revitalize Watertown Square

Watertown Square needs an overhaul. For the almost 50 years, I have lived here, Watertown Square has been in decline. There is the Library, the Farmer’s Market, festivals, and a succession of destination restaurants that hint at the town center it could be. But it needs more. 

To thrive as a commercial district, Watertown Square needs to fill its storefronts and spaces with a variety of businesses, services, and venues for all times of day at a scale that requires lots more people and foot traffic. The MBTA Communities Act has given us an opportunity to plan for more people at the same time we plan for a more vibrant, livable and walkable city center. 

I had the experience just a few years ago of knocking on doors all over Watertown for the Community Preservation Act. I heard over and over again that housing was the most pressing concern – even from those who seemed well housed. I know that most of the people with whom I had front door conversations are not going to make the WS meetings or find their way to the many portals for comments. But I feel a responsibility to speak up for them and to bring the depth and breadth of this need to the discussion. From my perspective planning for more housing, more pedestrians, bicycling, and transit and a better balance with cars and the natural environment are the keys to a Watertown Square rebirth. I have spoken up at public meetings over developments and city projects for decades. I have experienced being shut out and shut down. The Watertown Square planning process has been different. I have felt listened to and respected as I never have before. 

In turn, I have experienced a new appreciation for the many moving parts of any plan, the expertise that is being brought to bear and the difficult trade-offs and balances. There are lots of areas around design and balance to be discussed and debated, but let’s keep our eyes on the promising vision.