Grove Street parking lot plans approved by Watertown Zoning Board

By Laura Paine Wicked Local Watertown Posted Feb 24, 2011 @ 06:10 PM

WATERTOWN — Zoning officials put their unanimous support behind turning a vacant Grove Street site into a private parking lot for Mount Auburn Hospital employees over the next decade. On Wednesday, members of the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a plan that would transform the parcel owned by Mount Auburn Cemetery in a 364-space parking lot, despite residents concerns about additional traffic and how that will affect their quality of life. Connie Brown now lives on Windsor Avenue but said she grew up on Coolidge Hill Road. She was thrilled when she heard Mount Auburn Cemetery bought the Grove Street parcel until she realized what they were going to do with it. “Now I'm not so thrilled,” Brown said. “Having grown up on that street I was embarrassed to grow up in that part of town, to be near the dump and to literally be on the others of the tracks. Slowly things improved to the point where one could feel proud about saying they were from East Watertown. With this project I feel like we are taking a step back.” Planning Board members unanimously approved the proposal in January. The Grove Street property, between the vacant Schick house and WiTricity at 149 Grove St., would be leased to Mount Auburn Hospital for 10 years to provide 364 private parking spaces for their employees. This would include eight handicap accessible spaces and 25 spots for bicycles under the bus shelters. Zoning Board member Melissa Santucci said that the 10-year period is appealing to her. "It allows the opportunity to pursue development of the right type and not biting at something for financial reasons," Santucci said. "Hopefully in 10 years we will be looking at something very attractive and viable." Planning Director Steve Magoon said the lot would be taxed at a commercial rate. The gated lot would be open from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on weekdays, allowing for a consolidation of shuttle routes and offsite parking lots. It would free up approximately 96 public parking spaces in town. On Wednesday, zoning officials note that neighborhood traffic would be minimally impacted because of hospital shifts that bring employees in and out before peak traffic hours. The private lot would be closed on weekends. "I don't think we can reach for the moon at this point," Zoning Board Chairman Harry Vlachos said. “I think it would not be right for us to turn this down. It's a more benign use. There is going to be traffic, but with provisions of no overnight and weekend parking, I think we should approve it." Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he wishes a higher quality building would be put in the space, but considering Mount Auburn Cemetery has said they have been talking with the Department of Public Works about setting aside space for a town recycling center and working with residents to create a community garden, he thinks it is a good in-kind deal. "I think what has been offered, I feel based on the nonprofit organization that the cemetery is, that it's a good deal and I'm satisfied with it," Piccirilli said. "We will see the transition and it will take a long time, but over 25 years you will see Grove Street completely transformed. These things take time and money. The town is committed in the long run." William York, the lawyer representing Mount Auburn Cemetery, said the future goal would be to turn the space where greenhouses were recently approved on Grove Street into an additional front door to the cemetery and in 15 years, they would like to build a Chapel to have a “beautiful presence” on the street. "This is one place in town where we talk about master planning that there is an ability to do that," York said. "They are not only looking to preserve most of the landscaping that is there, it will be incorporated on the street and be and opportunity to beautify the street and complement the horticulture building and the green house that are going across."

The proposal will go before the licensing board before the plan can be put into action because it is a parking lot with more than 50 spaces. Copyright 2011 Watertown TAB & Press. Some rights reserved

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