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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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