The Watertown Planning Board unanimously granted conditional approval last night for a Boston-based developer to build an assisted living center in Watertown Square, despite concerns about parking and project scale from some neighboring residents and businesses.
Developers from Weston Associates will raze the New England Fuel Institute structure at the intersection of Summer Street and Spring Street to construct an L-shaped, five-story building called Watertown Square Assisted Living.
The new building would have 90 one-bedroom and studio units, street level retail space, and 48 basement parking spots.
Construction is slated to begin this summer, and will take about a year and a half, said David MacKay, a representative from Weston Associates.
After meeting with planning officials six weeks ago, developers said they have adjusted the building to meet public concerns, such as setting the façade back two feet to minimize shadows, reducing the rooftop cooling tower height, and adding trees without interfering with power lines.
Developers said the assisted living center would create 60 jobs, boost tax revenue, and meet a growing need for assisted home care.
They said that the elderly age group is growing 77 percent over the next 25 years, and that the local area has more than 45,000 potential caregivers and 15,000 seniors that might be interested in the living space.
Developers said the living center would provide quiet neighbors, and said traffic would not be affected because few of the elderly residents would drive, while visitors and employees would travel at staggered intervals.
However, some abutting neighbors complained about the project.
Dr. Iman Mack, a dentist who owns a practice on Summer Street, said she has already suffered the loss of 10 street parking spots for her patients when it was repaved last year.
Mack also said she worried that with only 48 parking spots for employees, residents, and their families, any surplus visitors would occupy street spots that her patients usually use.
“There are only 45 parking spaces for 90 residents and 60 employees, plus retail space – where will the overflow go?” Mack said. “They will circle around the neighborhood, and possibly park in illegal spots. Some spaces [under the building] should be allocated to local businesses.”
Other neighbors gave mixed reviews to the project. Susan Muller, who lives on nearby Maude Terrace, said the block currently features much sunlight, which would change once the five-story building is erected.
However, Muller said she was impressed with the response time and accommodations made by planning officials and development representatives.
“We feel the developers and Planning Board made significant changes to set back the floors, and also fix the lack of landscape,” Muller said. “There has been a very good response, and you’re doing everything you could do.”
Mack also said her office, which currently has much sunlight, would suffer once the building is constructed.
“The five-story building is much larger [than the current one], and there will be a shadow,” Mack said. “I would lose the sunlight coming into my office right now.”
Timothy McGoldrick, a Watertown attorney representing the Fraternal Order of Eagles at 44 Mount Auburn St., said the group did not oppose the new building, but were concerned that construction activities would detriment businesses that rent property from the Eagles at 44 through 54 Mount Auburn St., such as S and A Smoke Shop and Watertown House of Pizza.
McGoldrick also said the Eagles worried that construction would hinder the nearby parking lot the organization owns, and that underground digging might cause basement flooding.
“My client is not opposed, but please do consider those concerns going forward,” McGoldrick said.
Zoning Board member David Ferris also said he felt uncomfortable setting such an urban streetscape as a precedent for development in Watertown Square.
“I think it would be so dreary for the walk, seeing five story buildings and not having many trees,” Ferris said.
However, Ferris, who said he has worked in architecture, also said the project had its benefits.
“I think the exterior is setting a nice example as to what we could have in Watertown Square with materials and proportions,” Ferris said.
Town Council Vice President Steve Corbett also testified that he supported the building, citing it as beneficial for the town and Watertown Square’s revitalization.
“The use is a very necessary one – it’s important not just for society but for Watertown, and is a great benefit for many families down the road,” Corbett said, mentioning that his own mother recently entered independent living and would need assisted living next.
“This is a good location, the size of the building is consistent with zoning, and I would like to see more redevelopment,” Corbett said.
Developers said they are already planning to build the new residence in an eco-friendly fashion, with recyclable building materials, low-flush plumbing fixtures, highly insulated walls and doors, a recycling program during construction and living, and a green roof.
They also plan to include a floor for residents with Alzheimer’s disease, an entertainment room, and a rooftop terrace with landscaped shrubbery.
Caregivers will be available around the clock to provide assistance for residents, and three meals per day will be served. A nurse will be available for 12 hours each day, and a wellness center on the first floor will help those feeling ill.
Developers said they would not offer any affordable units, since the caregiving model did not apply to usual subsidized residential units.
At the request of the board, developers said they did not know if they could legally offer preference to Watertown residents, but that they would investigate the matter.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org