Westside residents did not like the revised plans presented Thursday night by the developers of the proposed Waltham Street apartment complex, despite shrinking it by about 30 percent, but town officials said they should think about what they want on the piece of land across from Gore Place.
Streets in the area are already clogged with traffic, residents said, and they worry about that problem increasing. In addition, those gathered in Town Hall said they worry about what happens down the road should the company managing the complex sell to another group that lets the place fall apart.
Wood Partners, the development firm, presented a revised plan, with 155 units, rather than the 222 or 211 in .
Seven of the units would be townhouses, replacing one of the three apartment buildings, said Kevin Malley of Wood Partners. Those buildings will be four stories, instead of five, because the ground floor parking area would be removed.
Traffic from 155 apartments and town houses would hurt the neighborhood feel, said resident Joe Musolino
“Everyone looks out for everyone. We have a great neighborhood, now,” Musolino said. “If this goes in, it will change the character of the neighborhood.”
Some asked why the land could not just stay the way it is, partly wooded and grassy, and partly covered with a parking lot for the former Raytheon facility.
Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said the land was bought by LIG in 2008 for about $1 million an acre, and they will want to get a return on their investment. Wood Partners would buy the land to build the apartment complex, if it received approval from the Planning Board.
Resident Marc Duby said he would rather see single-family homes on the site.
Piccirilli said he does not think the developer would make enough by putting up single-family homes to make it worthwhile. In addition, he said the town would rather see a complex with one-bedroom and studio apartments than single-family homes, which would attract families with children.
“The tax bill of the average home (in Watertown) is about $5,000, but the cost of educating a student is about $13,000,” Piccirilli said. Therefore, single-family homes would put more pressure on the town budget than apartments, he added.
If the board denies approval, it does not mean the land will be left as is, said Steve Magoon, director of Economic Development and Planning.
“Let’s say we say no. What’s behind it, what comes next?” Magoon said. “Is likely to lead to a 40B proposal which we don’t have the ability to say no to.”
A Chapter 40B proposal is allowed under state law, and is sometimes called the anti-snob law. It allows developers to put in large multi-unit housing projects with 25 percent of the units going to lower-income renters or buyers.
Developers could not start right away, Magoon said, but after 12 months they could start the 40B process.
The developers could also appeal a no vote by the Planning Board in state Land Court, Magoon said.
Getting a Better Deal
Some residents said they would like to ask for more mitigation – improvements provided by the developer not directly on the project site, but they also want time to come to an agreement among the neighbors.
More than one neighbor said the outrage is not totally with the developers of the Waltham Street proposal, but with all the development on the Westside of town. Some developments include Repton Place, which is half built out, the , , which used to be Dirty Dan’s auto shop, along with two projects planned in Waltham near the Watertown line, including a .
“You are the last of a long line of developers to come into town,” resident Sarah Curi said to Malley. “You may need to give us more. What can you do to help us?”
Residents may not have much more time. The project is on the agenda of Wednesday’s Planning Board meeting.
Wood Partners already proposes cleaning up the shores of Walker Pond, half of which is on the property. A path system around the pond and other parts of the site is planned, and extending a walking path from the end of Stanley Avenue to Pleasant Street is another part of the proposal.
Speed tables – raised areas of the road designed to slow traffic – and other ways to slow traffic have been proposed, along with making the intersection of Waltham and Bridge streets a four-way stop.
Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she believes that intersection needs to have a traffic light, to deal with traffic from the Waltham Street project and other developments.
The project last came before the Planning Board in December, and has been delayed twice. Neighbors said they would like to have a little more time to digest the new proposal and come up with ideas of their own.
Magoon told those at the meeting that he doubts the size of the project will be reduced any more.
“(Wood Partners) spent three months revising and I think they felt they were making significant reductions they needed to get to the finish line,” Magoon said. “My feeling is they are at about the bottom level in terms of the number of units that they are willing to go.”