gentrification

A Troubling Development, Part IV

There was an article in the Watertown TAB & Press on Friday about the proposed Watertown Grove development.  Apparently, there was a Planning Board meeting last Wednesday, the 13th, at which the vote on the project was put off to March 12th.  The TAB describes the project as “condos” a couple of times, and says it was originally to contain 180 units, while at the neighborhood meeting I attended, the Hanover representatives were at pains to stress that these would be apartments, not condos, though a few years after opening they might sell it to another company, which might convert them to condos; and the plans I saw called for 182 units.

According to the TAB that’s down to 174 now, which is a bit of an improvement, but it seems to me the difference in traffic impact between that and 182 units is going to be minimal; the building is still four stories tall, so it seems to me that this small reduction in size also does little to answer concerns about it blocking the light and the view.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is having a public hearing on the plans for the site on the 27th of this month, so I’ll try to make it to that.  I’ve been continuing to find it difficult to find much information on the whole process, so I think I should probably look into subscriptions to the paper editions of the TAB and the Daily News Tribune.

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A Troubling Development, Neighborhood Meeting Edition

The neighborhood meeting held by the Hanover Company to discuss their proposed new apartment building ended up being rescheduled for last night — something I wouldn’t have known if Mike at H2otown hadn’t put it on the calendar — and I was able to go and hear what they had to say.

For starters, I was very happy to see the turnout. The town councilor for this district, and one of the At-Large councilors, both came, as well as owners of local businesses, and a good number of residents. I’m not good at estimating groups of people, but if I had to guess I’d say there were 30-40 people there, if not somewhat more.

The Hanover representatives also, to their credit, had prepared a thorough presentation, and, I think, tried in earnest to make their case for why this development would be good for the area, and to answer our questions.

However, I’m not sold, and unless I badly misread the tone, I don’t think anyone else there was sold that night, either. They expect their building to add roughly ten percent to the volume of traffic on the neighborhood streets, which are already having traffic and parking problems. It will be four stories high —roughly twice the height of most of the buildings in the area. It will also be a single, huge building taking up effectively the entire 3.5 acre plot of land. There won’t be a driveway in front, only a ramp into the underground parking, which despite their assurances to the contrary I, along with a number of others at the meeting, am convinced will result in cars (and especially taxis) pulled over on the street out front with their hazard lights blinking, all the time.

People who live along Coolidge Hill Road are, rightly I think, quite concerned that having a four-story building just across the street from their two-story houses will mean suddenly they get much less sunlight than they used to; I have been planning to put in a garden in my backyard, and my neighbor across the backyard fence already has a well-established and quite impressive one — a sudden drop in sunlight could be a problem for these, not to mention the potential effect on our heating bills. I’m also worried about the long-term environmental impact of the project — they emphasized that their units will include Energy Star appliances, but I don’t recall the last time I went to a Sears and saw an appliance that didn’t have an Energy Star label on it. It seems to me that there’s little reason we shouldn’t expect them to provide the town with detailed estimates for long-term impact, and to incorporate measures to, as far as reasonable, balance or mitigate that impact.

Another person at the meeting mentioned a concern about the transiency of the residents, since they’ll be apartment dwellers, but I think while the worry is at base reasonable, it’s misdirected: I’m an apartment dweller, not a homeowner, because I can’t afford to buy a house here yet, but I’m trying to be involved in my community, I went to this meeting, etc.; what concerns me is that this building will have gorgeous, luxury apartments, a private underground garage, interior courtyards, presumably exercise facilities of some sort, and a “clubhouse” with double-height ceilings, and probably some kind of bar/lounge area and large-screen TV room, and its residents are going to be paying (what seems to me) a fortune in rent. I have trouble imagining that those kinds of people are likely to be the sort who’ll care about the neighborhood as such, and go to meetings like last night’s, even if they live in the building a long time, and so aren’t really “transient.” I was discussing this concern with a friend from out of town, and she wondered what might (feasibly) be done to encourage new residents in this building to become more locally engaged, and I don’t know the answer to that.

All that said, I realize I sound pretty negative about this project.  As I’ve mentioned before, I do think it’s a nice looking building, and I liked what they showed us of the overall landscaping of the project.  I’m sure it would be a nice place to live, but of course I won’t ever live there.  Realistically, of course I recognize that something is going to go in on the old Aggregate site, and it’s doing no good for us sitting empty; and whatever goes in there will worsen the traffic situation.  The long-term solution to traffic problems is out of any individual developer’s hands, because it needs a shift in local government’s priorities in favor of clean, safe, reliable, convenient and cheap public transportation, and a shift in the culture away from cars and toward buses, subways, bikes and walking.  All of that, naturally, is a long way off.  And I appreciate that Hanover is doing the right thing and coming before the neighborhood with this as a first step.  I just hope that, as the process continues, we in the community continue to have input, and can, potentially, extract some further concessions — at least a circular driveway in front, to prevent stopped cars on the street, for example — from them.

A Troubling Development, update

Well, due to the snowstorm, I didn’t make it to the “neighborhood meeting” about this proposed apartment building. However, for those who might be interested, I will note that Google Maps now has Street View in the Boston area, including on Grove Street here in Watertown. This here is the site where they’re planning to build their apartment building; if the photo doesn’t pop up, click the “Street View” button up top and drag the view around to look at the brick building, and you’ll have about the same angle as the artist’s rendition the Hanover Company is using to promote this plan. (In their portfolio, either use the thumbnails or the “select by property” link at the bottom to find “Watertown Grove”.)

I think it’s pretty clear that the building they want to build just doesn’t fit in the space they want to build it in.