Arlington Redevelopment Board - Apr 3rd, 2023
Meeting held at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=1797&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda.
Report to 2023 Town Meeting
(Clair Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the report to town meeting includes all of the necessary elements. There's an explanation of the review process, followed by the articles, main motions, and recommended votes.
The board will discuss these one article at a time.
Article 26 (Industrial District Development Standards). The board has no further comment on Article 26.
Article 27 (Solar Bylaw in Industrial Districts). Mr. Benson raises a point of discussion: the main motion proposes to strike a bullet point under 5.6.2(D)(7) and Mr. Benson asks how projects not subject to environmental design review would be impacted. He suggests restoring the bullet, prefixed with the text "If not subject to environmental design review". The rest of the board agrees.
Article 28 (Building Inspector/Enforcement). There's no further discussion on Article 28.
Article 29 (Downtown business parking minimums). There's no further discussion on Article 29; just a note that all B5 parcels are within 1000 feet of a municipal parking lot.
Article 30 (One- and two-family usable open space). There are no further comments from the board.
Article 31 (Industrial district animal daycare use). There's no further comment on Article 31.
Article 32 (Affordable housing everywhere). There's no further comment on Article 32.
There's a motion to submit the report to town meeting, as amended. Motion passes, 4--0.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says she'll work with Ms. Lynema to create presentations for the ARB-sponsored articles. She's still waiting to hear whether introductory remarks will be pre-recorded, or delivered live.
Ms. Zsembery informs the board that she'll be traveling for the first few nights of town meeting. We'll need another board member to give the presentations, if they come up while she's away.
10 Sunnyside Ave
The Housing Corporation of Arlington filed a comprehensive permit application for their property at 10 Sunnyside Ave. The board will discuss the application, in order to provide feedback to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that the ZBA will hold hearings on this application, but they've requested input from us, and other town bodies.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the Housing Corporation of Arlington (HCA) is proposing affordable housing at the site of a former auto-body shop. This is a transit-rich location, and 43 units are proposed. Most of these will be targeted to households earning 60% of the area median income. Ms. Ricker says there's already been an inter-department review, including planning, town engineering, the DPW, and our first responders. HCA hopes to get construction underway around this time next year, and they're expecting a 14-month build process.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says it's great to see another project proposed for this site.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says it's a very interesting proposal and he's supportive. Mr. Lau believes there's a utility pole with a transformer along the street; he suggests relocating the pole if possible, as the transformer might be right outside one of the third-story windows. He says the street isn't well-lit at night, and thinks that additional lighting could be useful. He'd like it to be family-friendly and safe.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson thinks it's a good project. He notes that the parking requirements and waiver request in the application are incorrect. He thinks the required parking should be 43 spaces (one per dwelling) less 10% for providing affordable housing, for a total of 39 spaces. He notes the plans propose less bicycle parking than would ordinarily be required. He thinks some tenants will have kids and the kids will have bikes. Mr. Benson thinks that less car and more bike parking would be a better tradeoff. It's also unclear how the commercial/office space will be used.
(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says that HCA is interested in finding a way to make the office into a popup commercial space, or perhaps a business incubator. They don't have a tenant in mind, and are still looking at options.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson isn't opposed to retail space or a coffee shop, but he believes the space has to be large enough to be meaningful. He says the project has almost no open space, except for the second floor roof deck; the compensation is that it's a block away from the Alewife Brook Greenway. He couldn't tell whether they'd meet street tree planting requirements. Mr. Benson thinks the facade is very plain looking, and wonders if something could be done to make it look better.
(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak is happy to see that HCA plans to add a sidewalk in front of the property; he believes that will be a nice improvement. He also thinks the roof deck will be a good amenity for the residents.
Mr. Revilak lives on Sunnyside Ave. The back of his house is at elevation 3.5', and the water table is high enough that one can reach it with a post hole digger. That had him wondering what kind of stormwater BMPs HCA would propose for this project. The civil plans show the bottom of the BMPs at elevation 9.5' -- that might be far enough above the water table for it not to matter, but Mr. Revilak would like to note the height of the water table as a point for consideration.
Mr. Revilak also looked through the traffic impact report. Given the location's proximity to transit resources, he was expecting to see a mode split adjustment in the "build" scenario, but the report didn't include one. He'd like to note this as a possible point for ZBA discussion.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the massing is well-considered and breaks down the sale of the building along Sunnyside Ave, especially with the roof deck. She says the rear facade is challenging, with no articulation. She'd encourage HCA to include some articulation, or to vary the materials as they've done in the front. She likes that it's a light-colored building, and thought the overall use of color was interested. She thinks it would be nice to see more of that, and perhaps some complimentary elements. Ms. Zsembery suggests a little more of a cornice at the top, to add more of a shadow line.
Ms. Zsembery says the office space doesn't really present itself as a public space, and it's not well differentiated from the lobby entrance. She suggests identifying space for building identification, and perhaps for a sign band. She'd like to see different treatment for the commercial and residential parts. Ms. Zsembery thinks that not having a larger commercial space is a missed opportunity, because 600 square feet is hard to program. She thinks something larger -- perhaps 1000 square feet -- would be more viable.
Ms. Zsembery was trying to figure out what kind of material was proposed for the screening on the ground floor. She'd like the railing on the roof deck to reflect some of the horizontal and vertical elements of the facade, and thinks that chain link material is too industrial. She's not a fan of the material shown between the commercial space and the garage. She's like to understand that material more, or encourage HCA to consider a different screening elements.
Ms. Zsembery would also like to know more about the type of garage door they intend to use. There are different types of rolling doors; some are quiet while others are noisy.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that more color will help. He suggests 603 Concord Ave and 42 Bay State Road (both in Cambridge) as nice uses of color. He agrees with Ms. Zsembery, regarding the chain link material.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says there was a contaminant release on the site around 20 years ago, and this was reported to the DEP. He thinks it's worth bringing this to the attention of the ZBA, in case it requires remediation.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau believes the project's lender will require a contaminant study.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a comment about the facade around the garage. He'd like to see windows on the facade sections to the left and right of the garage door, or some kind of punched opening.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker asks the board how they'd feel about removing the commercial space from the first floor. She asks if it would be better as programmable space for residents; something like a computer room, for example.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that a programmable space for residents could be a valuable amenity, if there's not a way to get a more viable commercial space. She says it's a nice corner, and she'd be concerned if it were largely under-utilized.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes there's a community room on the second floor, which may be sufficient for the purpose Ms. Zsembery mentioned.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that community/amenity space is more useful when it's separated from the residential part of the building.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees that a larger commercial space would be better. He says there's a lot going on in that section of the ground floor, and it's not obvious how to enlarge it without a lot of re-work.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he'd been thinking about how the commercial space could be used.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that HCA was originally considering a mixed-use building, and having it go through Environmental Design Review. That may have been the motivation for what's proposed. Ms. Lynema says that HCA eventually decided to go through 40B, because our zoning was too restrictive.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says a small gym or fitness room might be useful. HCA needs to figure out what they can program in the space, and how that will work into their pro-forma. She thinks that HCA did a wonderful job with the commercial space in their 117 Broadway building.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks his colleagues which they'd prefer, if there was a tradeoff between enlarging the commercial space, and taking away some of the parking.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would favor more commercial space.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau also favors more commercial space.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he was just curious, but he agrees with Ms. Zsembery and Mr. Lau.
Outreach and Engagement for 2023 Special Town Meeting
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker notes that the board has deferred a number of business district zoning articles until a special town meeting in the fall. These include changing requirements for open space, adjusting rear yard setback requirements, step backs, the reduced height-buffer zone, requiring at least two stories, and so on. She asks how the board would like staff to handle communication and outreach.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau has a question. He notes that the select board handles requests for outdoor dining space. He asks if we could talk about introducing that as a zoning article, so that the opportunity to dine out isn't up to the Select Board.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that's an interesting comment. She says there's a messy line between what the ARB would like to be able to coordinate with applicants, and what the Select Board has the authority to permit. She'd like to review the design of these spaces. If there's an opportunity to work with the Select Board and transfer part of the review to them, that could be a good conversation.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says the question is whether the town wants these spaces. And if so, what kind do they want. He'd like to see them allowed by right, but with guidelines.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks this is worth raising with the Select Board. He doesn't think that that zoning extends to the public street. But it would be worthwhile to find a way to incentivize public space in front of properties, as we did with 190 Mass Ave. He thinks we should talk to the Select Board about how to make those public spaces more attractive.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says we have a project to establish design standards for the business district, and we could consider the public realm as part of that. She says design standards may give the board more flexibility.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that businesses are coming back and asking for outdoor dining space.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to have a broader discussion about curb management. The curb is an important part of the public realm, but we've come to treat it largely as a space to store cars. Mr. Revilak feels there are many other uses that could be incorporated into curb sides: dining, public amenity space, plantings, pick-up and drop-off zones for deliveries, and so on.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says the board can't permit on the public way. He as if there's something more we can do with public space.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks we should put this on our goal list, and look for places of opportunity.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker would like to go back to her original question. She says we had nine proposed articles related to the business districts. She asks how we could go about education and getting the word out.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says this is, in a way, the opposite of MBTA communities, where we're engaging with the public in order to bring suggestions to town meeting. He says that visuals would help, along with an economic analysis. In terms of outreach, it may help to start with members of the business community and the Chamber of Commerce.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery had an initial conversation with (Chamber of Commerce Director) Beth Locke, who was interested in learning more, and what the chamber could do in support.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to start with the landlords, and members of the business community. He thinks we'll get a better reception if the business community is on board.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks it's beneficial to start with businesses and real estate agents, since they're the people businesses often talk to first. He says that businesses often ask about density and foot traffic, and about how many people live in a given area. He says we could do some visuals showing what we're trying to get at -- livable streets. He acknowledges that renderings aren't cheap.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that a visualization of the possible is the foundation of having any of these things. She thinks it would be useful to go through the nine articles, and identify which ones need visualizations. Ms. Zsembery thinks the Arlington Heights Business District article will require visualizations, so that people understand the goal. The new business district should remove barriers, and we'll need to tell a story about how that works.
Ms. Zsembery recounts her breakout group in the MBTA communities public forum. A number of people had the impression that we have lots of vacant space, but a number of these spaces are unattractive and unmaintained. She says that isn't the same thing as a space that's being actively maintained for a new tenant.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks it will be challenging to fill the old post office space in the heights; it's very long and narrow.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the current map has parcel after parcel where the districts change, and that creates a lot of restrictions.
Ms. Zsembery asks about the budget for doing visualizations and economic analysis.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks it would be helpful to talk a block, and show the opportunities that new zoning would create.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks it worth going back to the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan, reviewing the work, and seeing what we could use. She thinks it would be good to pull in members of that community.
She suggests pinning down a narrative, talking to businesses and the Arlington Height group, and looking at what we can produce in terms of visuals.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests modeling the Tango block in Arlington Center, in addition to the Heights.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks it would be useful if the individual board members went through each of the nine articles, listed the visualizations they thought would be necessary (and why), and then sent their lists to Claire and Kelly for compilation.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that staff had started preparing some memos, when we though these articles might move forward in the spring.
There's no one from the public here to speak.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would like to talk about the board's meeting schedule during town meeting. She says we could meet here (27 Maple St.) or in the town hall annex, and then adjourn to town meeting. Once we have more information from the moderator about the order of articles and the consent agenda, we can have a better meeting plan. Ms. Zsembery says that she and a member of the Select Board may meet with the town moderator to suggest articles for the consent agenda.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema informs the board that they'll have two rules and regulations changes to review on April 24th.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests meeting in the town hall annex.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the Select Board is reviewing the ARB's feedback for Articles 14, 21, 22, and 23.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says she's discussed the Memorandum of Understanding (for articles 21, 22, and 23) with Sandy Pooler and Doug Heim. Ms. Ricker also says we may have a potential candidate to fill the vacancy on the board.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker recalls the last meeting, where we discussed how the board was operating without an urban renewal plan. She suggests the board could start looking at something like that, perhaps in the industrial district, or perhaps somewhere else. She shows a map of a large (100+ acre) urban renewal plan that was done in Lowell. Urban renewal plans provide an opportunity for parcel aggregation, though that might be a sensitive conversation in this town.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the Russel Common parking lot would have the most potential for an urban renewal plan.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that a member of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund board asked if he'd help work on their Affordable Housing Overlay proposal, and he agreed to do so.