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

This letter was published in the Watertown News, May 10, 2024

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

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