After weeks of bitter debate, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said Monday night that he wants his fellow Watertown City Council members to revisit the controversial zoning change pertaining to nonrelatives living together in residential neighborhoods.
On Monday night. Mr. Graham instructed city staff to review the city zoning language changed by the Watertown City Council after a Thompson Boulevard homeowner, Deborah A. Cavallario, complained that her neighbor was living with his fiancee and two friends in a single-family home in a Residential A district.
The zoning change led to a torrent of criticism from people who think city leaders are trying to regulate lifestyles and living arrangements. Opponents insisted it would not be enforceable.
On Monday night, council members Jeffrey M. Smith and Joseph M. Butler Jr. vehemently defended their vote, contending that the media blew the issue out of proportion.
But Mr. Graham told council members that they should revisit the issue because it has divided the community and the city needs to get past it.
He asked city staff to put together the changes next month and for the city’s Planning Board to start working on it in May.
“That would provide a cooling-off period,” he said, adding that “people would then not feel boxed in” with their positions.
Both Mr. Smith and Mr. Butler blamed the Times for causing the confusion in an attempt to sell newspapers. Mr. Smith argued that it was “misleading and not true” that the change would prohibit roommates from living in single-family homes in Residential A districts.
And Mr. Butler said he “regretted” how the issue has divided the community. In the end, they were just trying to “do the right thing.” The two have said they were just trying to protect Residential A districts from boarding and rooming houses.
The mayor told the audience that he is appalled at the public “abuse” that Mrs. Cavallario has received since the controversy erupted, adding that she has been the victim of harsh language. The abuse “is not just phone calls of pizza and Chinese food getting delivered to her home,” he said.
Mrs. Cavallario, 259 Thompson Blvd., objected to her neighbor’s living arrangement because her neighborhood, zoned Residential A, has only single-family houses. She had complained about the number of vehicles parked on Travis W. Hartman’s property.
The mayor also reiterated he was against the zoning change from the beginning because he thought that it would not change the situation between the two neighbors or other similar situations in the city.
To get through the controversy, the mayor instructed staff to look at re-establishing the sentence that council members removed that allowed “no more than four transient roomers” and applied to “accessory uses in residential districts.” As a result of the change, no transient roomers are allowed to live in Residential A.
In addition to putting that language back in the city’s zoning, Mr. Graham also suggested looking at another section pertaining to the definition of family. He proposed keeping language that would allow “any number of individuals living together as a single housekeeping unit.” But he suggested removing the following language: “to distinguish it from a club, fraternity, or boardinghouse, not more than four members of a family shall be other than blood relatives.”
After the meeting, Mr. Graham said he suggested eliminating that language after having Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, talk to state housing officials about the issue.
Mr. Mix found that the state officials determined that language “was flawed,” and “just not up to today’s standards,” Mr. Graham said.