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Watertown arena deficits compared to golf course’s projected operations

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The Watertown Municipal Arena has continued to lose money ever since the renovated facility re-opened in 2016, with an operating loss that exceeded $450,000 last year.

City Comptroller James E. Mills acknowledged that the arena — home of hockey organizations, concerts and figure skating shows — will never make money.

In the past seven years, the city ice rink has lost more than $2.4 million.

That doesn’t include the annual debt that the city pays on the cost of renovating the ice rink, City Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero pointed out.

Last year, the city paid $600,000 on the 25-year bond it owes, she said. With the operating losses, that totals about $1 million for the year.

The city also uses its occupancy hotel tax that it gets every year to help pay down on the arena’s debt. Since 2017, the city has applied $1.3 million of its bed tax money to pay toward the facility’s debt.

After a series of costly change orders, the arena renovations ended up costing $10.8 million, with the city still owing about $8 million on the project. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilwoman Ruggiero brought up the amount of money that the arena loses to make a point about the recent purchase of the Watertown Golf Club for $3.4 million from owner Michael E. Lundy.

With the negative publicity surrounding the purchase golf course, Councilwoman Ruggiero thought “it was interesting to point out” how much the arena has been in the black since its opening seven years ago.

She’s been criticized for voting for the golf club purchase because of its cost.

In comparing the $1 million deficit for the arena, the golf course is projected to be $286,000 in the hole for the first two seasons that the city will run it.

“That’s probably three times the amount of the golf course,” she said.

The arena deficit also will be about twice as much than it’s going to cost to run the golf course and operate three pools in the city, she added.

While she believes that the arena was a worthwhile project that provides popular programs for city residents, she said it often costs money to offer those kinds of amenities to city residents.

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Council approves Watertown’s first new zoning laws since 1959

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The city has its first new zoning laws since 1959.

The City Council on Tuesday night approved the new zoning document, completing 2 1/2 years of work and the first time that Watertown’s zoning laws have been overhauled since they were written more than six decades ago.

But much of the 40-minute discussion focused on allowing duplexes throughout the city. It’s a change from the previous zoning document.

Mayor Jeffrey Smith doesn’t see the change as an issue during “the next year or five years but 10 years and 20 years.” He predicts that people will build new homes in nearby communities because they want to live in single-family neighborhoods.

But Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, said duplexes already exist throughout the city.

“There aren’t a lot of true single-family neighborhoods,” he said.

Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero pointed out that if a homeowner wants to create a duplex, the home would have to be 4,000 square feet or larger. It’s not likely to happen often because of that, she said.

The mayor and Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo Pierce voted against approving the zoning rewrite, without the councilwoman commenting why.

Before the vote, six people spoke during a public hearing on the zoning rewrite. Three of the people who supported the new zoning changes were members of a steering committee who worked on it. Thompson Boulevard resident Venkat Chebolu said he opposed the duplex issue, citing it would impact his home’s property values.

The new zoning laws will not allow buildings with three or more apartments in areas where there are now only single-family homes. The rewrite cuts three residential districts, A, B and C, to one. The city worked on the blueprint for the future for more than two years, holding open houses to explain the plan to the public, discussing it with City Council and publicizing it in local news outlets.

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