Arlington Redevelopment Board - Apr 24th, 2023

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\section{4/24/2023 - Arlington Redevelopment Board}

Meeting held in the first floor conference room of the town hall annex. Materials were available from

ARB Rules and Regulations

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema walks the board through a redlined draft of the proposed changes to the rules and regulations. She also explains the different voting thresholds required for multi-family housing, under Chapter 40A Section 9.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson suggested adding a pair of standards, regarding when the board could waive permitting fees.

There's a motion to adopt the new rules and regulations; motion passes, 4--0.

Economic Development and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce

In this item, the Board will meet with Beth Locke, Executive Director of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says the ARB wanted to meet with the Chamber's Executive Director regarding a set of warrant articles that the board is considering for a special town meeting in the fall. These articles are intended to support economic development and the needs of the business community.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the board was provided with several documents in preparation for this meeting: a memo from staff regarding the proposed zoning amendments, the economic development section of the Master Plan, the Koff Report, and the Arts and Culture plan. She notes that the Department of Planning and Community Development is still in need of an Economic Development Coordinator.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks Ms. Locke if she'd like to make any opening remarks. Ms. Zsembery would like to see projects that prioritize business.

(Beth Locke, Chamber of Commerce) Ms. Locke says that one of her biggest concerns is avoiding a net loss of first floor retail space. She says the commercial vacancy rate in town isn't as low as people think. Many of the available spaces aren't appealing to tenants, though a lot of businesses are looking at Arlington. Restaurants and bars are looking for good-sized spaces, like the one Common Ground used to have. She says some prospective tenants were looking to do a deal for a pub-style restaurant, but weren't able to find a quality space. She's like to see the town have more appealing commercial spaces.

Other major issues include building maintenance and the quality of signage, including signage that stays around after a business closes and the tenant leaves.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says he's been wondering how the Board and Chamber can work together. He says that a few of the landlords own their properties outright, and for them, doing nothing is less risky than investing. He says the Atwood house was one of the first properties in this category. The owner is waiting for their demolition delay to run out, then possibly planning a startup or incubator space.

(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke says that's in line with her earlier comment about signage. She'd like to see landlords take care of their storefronts. The vacant storefront registry has been helpful, but it's not very demanding of landlords.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests that the ARB and Chamber could jointly ask the Select Board to do more enforcement against the owners of derelict properties.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that when (former Economic Development Coordinator) Allie Carter was here, the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan group and Inspectional Services put together a plan for reaching out to property owners in the heights. One owner used this as an opportunity to repaint the exterior of their property, and several others followed. The end result was an area with more curb appeal.

(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke says the Chamber has done some of this in the center. Having incentives could be a positive.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that the effort in the Heights started with a walking tour. She wonders if other groups could do walking tours in other parts of town.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests that the DPW be part of this. Things like sidewalks, curb cuts, street lights, and planters all play a role.

(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke says she was in Wellesley last Friday, and took pictures of some signs that were posted in an empty storefront. The signs said their planning board was looking for feedback about the streetscape. This was a little step, but part of a more comprehensive streetscape plan.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that a discussion of the proposed bylaws could be incorporated into the walking tour.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak has a longer arc kind of question. He says that Arlington re-wrote it's zoning laws in the 1970's. Prior to that, we had business districts that ran the length of Mass Ave and Broadway -- 100 to 150' deep on either side of the street. There were also two business districts: one for the center, and one for everywhere else.

Mr. Revilak says that when the bylaws were re-written, there were two significant changes to the business districts. First, a large portion of the business districts were removed from the map. The business districts also allowed residential uses too, and generally speaking, any parcel with a residential use became a residential district. That severely limits any opportunity for having on a business on those parcels in the future.

Second, the two business districts were turned into six. As a side effect, we have sections of town where a specific type of business (like a hotel) is allowed on one half of the block but not the other.

Given that much of our business districts were removed from the map, Mr. Revilak asks if what's left is too small. He also asks if today's patchwork quilt of districts makes it hard for entrepreneurs who want to start a business in town.

(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke says she mostly works with existing business owners, and suggests that a commercial real estate agent might be able to provide better answers to Mr. Revilak's questions. She thinks the size of the districts might be okay if we had the right kinds of spaces, but we don't. Ms. Locke says that one of the property owners has a fair amount of turnover, but tends to be good at filling vacant spaces.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that both the Master Plan and Koff report show a lot of retail leakage -- we're sending a lot of business to other towns. He hopes we can capture some of that in the future.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that Arlington was a dry town when he moved here. It's a wet town now, but he still sees challenges in attracting some types of restaurants. Mr. Lau says that the old Tango space was nearly filled, but the tenant walked away, partly because of Arlington's limit of two drinks without food.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks that town meeting has a general hesitancy about making changes in business districts. For example, the first substantive article we'll talk about tonight involves self-serve gasoline. There's a gas station on Broadway that's having a difficult time time finding people to pump gas. Last year, they filed a warrant article, asking town meeting to allow them to do self serve, and town meeting turned them down. They're back again this year with a different proposal, and we'll see how it goes.

Mr. Revilak sees this as a disconnect. A lot of people say they support Arlington businesses, and want more businesses in town; but when the businesses ask for something, we say ``no.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to do more with the Chamber, to understand the impact of town policies.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the Chamber's members talk about things like traffic, parking, and public transportation.

(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke says it's mostly parking, but not lately. What's she's heard is nothing bad, but more anecdotal. She tends to hear more about foot traffic than automobile traffic.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's heard that Arlington doesn't have enough foot traffic, or enough housing density to support many businesses. He says that walking and foot traffic come up with some frequency.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she hopes we can schedule walking tours after town meeting. She says the board is looking at a new business district for the heights. She'd like to talk more about that, and solicit feedback from the Chamber of Commerce.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's interested in hearing how the Chamber's members feel about the multi-family zoning requirements for MBTA communities.

New Business

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that the three zoning articles on the town meeting consent agenda were held back. Article 14 (committee to study new growth) was also held.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that the ``affordable housing everywhere article was pulled. That article had a no action recommendation, and he assumes the person who pulled it will file a substitute motion. He asks if the board should meet before those articles come up, in order to discuss whatever amendments and substitute motions are put forward.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema notes that the board has a meeting scheduled for Monday, and there's nothing on the agenda yet. She suggests that could be a suitable time to discuss amendments.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks about progress on the MOU, regarding the "transfer of property" articles.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says it's in progress.

Meeting adjourned.