Arlington Redevelopment Board - Apr 4th, 2022

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

Annual Town Meeting Zoning Warrant Articles

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery notes that the Redevelopment board requested feedback from the Select Board on several articles. The Select Board declined to provide comments.

(Note: The Board closed the public hearing on warrant articles at their last meeting. Tonight's meeting will be dedicated to deliberation and voting.)

Article 28 - Enhanced Business Districts

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt summarizes changes made to the main motion since the Article's hearing.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau is supportive. He would like the board to have some flexibility with the transparency requirements.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson suggests changing the title of the article. He's also got a question about facades and the meaning of the last sentence.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that "principal facade" is intended to refer to building facades that face main streets, like Mass Ave and Broadway.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Mr. Lynema notes that a corner lot can have storefronts on two streets.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the intent is to focus attention on Mass Ave and Broadway. These standards don't prevent the board from considering facades on other streets.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the article has evolved well, but we may have dropped the importance of street activation. He suggests a wording change to Section 5.5.2(B)(1).

(Melisa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis has a question about the applicability section.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak is supportive. He thinks it will help encourage attractive spaces as our commercial parcels are redeveloped.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is concerned that the transparency requirements could create a burden if the applicant was only changing uses.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau doesn't want to put an undue burden on applicants.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests a change to the applicability section.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is also concerned about creating an undue burden. For example, the case where a building might need significant structural changes to accommodate additional transparency.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is concerned about exempting changes in use. She thinks that major construction and renovation might not be that common.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says she'd be concerned about requiring significant construction work for a small permit. A sign change, for example.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the changed working allows for more consideration of use changes.

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 29 - Street Trees

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is supportive.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests a small edits. He thinks this will help mitigate heat islands and encourage pedestrian activity.

(Melisa Tintocalis) (I missed Ms. Tintocalis's comment)

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a question of wording. The main motion uses "public way", "right of way", and "public right of way" somewhat interchangeably. He wonders if we can be more consistent with the terminology.

He notes that there was a letter of opposition from someone that was concerned about Arlington's ability to maintain street trees in residential districts. Mr. Revilak acknowledges that tree maintenance has been a challenge for the town in the past. When he first moved to Arlington, there were a large number of trees that were cut into Y's around power lines. The town hired a full-time tree warden a few years ago, and he thinks we've gotten much better at tree maintenance.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is supportive. She thinks it will help with walkability, the pedestrian experience, and heat islands.

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 30 - Solar Energy Systems

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson comments on the addition of Section 6.4.4.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks a question about Sections 6.4.1 and 6.4.2(A).

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau notes that subjective requirements can create extra risk for developers. He'd like solar to be a bonus.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery supports the article, as meeting the town's climate goals.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson believes this article fits into the Net Zero Action Plan, and our responsibility to deal with climate change.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is supportive. She says that addressing climate change is something that needs to be done.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is supportive. He thinks it meets our goals of increasing the use of renewable energy sources and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

The board has some questions about the main motion. They vote to table the article, in the hope that someone from the Clean Energy Future Committee will be present later in the meeting.

Article 31 - Administrative Amendments

All of the board members express support for the Article.

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 32 - Zoning Board of Appeals Rules and Regulations

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is glad the ZBA chair brought this to the ARB's attention. He thinks it's the right thing to do.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is supportive.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is supportive.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak believes the ZBA is the only town board that has their rules and regulations partially codified in bylaws. He'd like to give them the ability to have their own rules and regulations, as other boards do.

The Board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 33 - Half Story

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is supportive.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the Director of Inspectional Services supported the article.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is supportive.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that the concept of half-story seems simple, but it deceivingly difficult to put into words. He's supportive.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is supportive.

Board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 34 - Porches

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 35 - Yard Encroachment

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 36 - Large Additions

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 37 - Unsafe Structures

The board expresses appreciation to the ZBA, for their collaboration in bringing these articles forwards.

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 38 - Two-family construction by Right in the R0, R1 Districts

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the petitioners were amenable to a limit on the square footage. He'd be in favor of that.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the petitioners would prefer not to have a limit.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's gotten a lot of emails about this article. He wants to be clear that is has nothing to do with affordable housing. He doesn't think it will encourage larger buildings than are being built today, or an increase in the intensity of parking. He notes that members of the public expressed concern over whether the town's infrastructure is set up to handle this, and he disagrees with those concerns. He says that we use water more efficiently today, through low flow faucets, toilets, and dishwashers. He's willing to move Article 38 forward to town meeting and let them decide.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson also acknowledges that Article 38 generated more email to the board than any other. There were many letters opposed, and in favor. He'd like to address some of the themes from the opposition. He thinks the statements about the town's infrastructure being unable to handle it are incorrect, and that water usage and wastewater flows have gone down over time. He notes there will be no loss in open space, because all of the dimensional regulations are staying the same. He doesn't think that two family homes will affect the value of nearby single-family homes. He notes that there are two-family and multi-plex homes in the single-family districts today, and he doesn't see where they've reduced the sale prices of single-family homes nearby.

Mr. Benson says that homes are being torn down and rebuilt today in the R0 and R1 districts. He's not persuaded by most of the arguments against this article. He would like to see new dwellings in two-family or duplex dwellings limited to 1850 square feet of heated living space each; that limit is based on the state definition of a starter home. He says we can't control prices, but believes we can make a dent in them with a size limit.

Mr. Benson said he asked the Police Chief how many Arlington Police officers live in town. She said that almost none do, because the prices are so high -- so, they live in the surrounding towns, where the prices are lower.

He'd like a requirement that the size limitation be written into a deed restriction. He thinks that support with a size limitation is the right thing to do.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks where the Housing Production Plan stands.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the Select Board tabled the vote at their last meeting, and that they haven't scheduled when a vote will be taken.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says she's interested in the policy, and thinks that it's innovative. She thinks the board may want to give pause to strategize better on housing policy. She thinks it's a good concept proposal, but it might be running a little ahead of the community. She says we talk about affordable housing; this article is about creating housing options, and not about creating affordable housing. With the MBTA zoning changes, maybe we can turn our efforts to forming more alliances to tie in these efforts. She hopes the Select Board will accept the housing production plan. She says that Arlington is primarily residential. She's concerned.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks there are two ways to look at Article 38 -- the policy side and the political side. The political discussion has been contentious and passionate, so he's going to spend a little more time that usual explaining his position. On the other hand, Mr. Revilak thinks policy side is much more straightforward.

Mr. Revilak understands that Ms. Lacourt proposed this article after seeing a number of smaller single family homes in her neighborhood replaced with much larger ones. From her perspective, buildings of that size should accommodate two families rather than one, and the per dwelling cost should be lower. Our older homes will be replaced at some point, and we're discussing what we'll be replaced with.

Over the last nine months, new single family sales that Mr. Revilak has seen listed in the Arlington Advocate have ranged from $1.7M to $2.6M. That's our current status quo. New half-duplexes have ranged from $1.1M to $1.7M. Mr. Revilak says this really the only cost aspect we're talking about: the difference between 1.1--1.7M vs 1.7--2.6M. The new half-duplexes aren't cheap by any stretch, but they're far less expensive than the new single families.

Mr. Revilak notes that during the first have of 2021, the median sale price of a single family home in Arlington was $960k. He received a brochure from a local realtor that put the average sale price for 2021 at slightly over one million dollars. Mr. Revilak says that's where we are now: buying a single-family home in Arlington, even a used one, will cost around a million dollars.

The prospect of getting new construction for just a little more than the cost of a used single-family is significant to him. Especially since new construction will be up to code, have tighter envelopes, and be more energy efficient than what was built 50, 75, or 100 years ago.

Mr. Revilak would like to end with a few words about climate change. He notes that a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by personal transportation, and that Arlington is close to numerous job centers. He believes that in order to reach net zero, we'll need to get comfortable with having more people living in the urban core, and that includes town's like Arlington. He believes that allowing people to live close to where they work and shop is important for reducing the amount of transportation-related GHGs.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees that it's an interesting proposal. She sees merit in taking the good work that was done for the housing production plan and looking at the strategies as components of connected policies. She thinks it might be possible to combine this with other options, and she'd like to see an interconnected policy change.

Ms. Zsembery says that the proponent sent her a FAQ sheet. She thinks there's a comprehensive education piece to this article, to dispel some of the unfounded statements that have been made about it. She'd hate to see this move forward without being successful. She says that last year's ADU article had quite a bit of research and documentation, which helped educate the board.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau said he'd be interested in a linkage fee, and having that money go into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. He thinks that setbacks and our existing regulations will limit the size of houses. He notes that new houses are bigger than ones which were built in the past, but there's a market for them.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he discussed linkage fees with an attorney last year. We don't have the ability to impose a linkage fee -- we'd need special legislation from the state for that.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that we'd need to pass a home rule petition and have it adopted by the legislature in order to impose linkage fees.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson expects larger lots to have larger homes. He sees the size limit as a way to get a type of housing that's no longer being built -- starter home sizes. He thinks this could be better as a package but is okay with proceeding without one.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks the size limit is practical.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks the proponent if she'd be comfortable with Mr. Benson's proposed size limit.

(Annie Lacourt) Ms. Lacourt says she'd be comfortable with the size limit.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he appreciates that.

The board discusses how to word Mr. Benson's proposal.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis doesn't think that a size limit will make make a useful impact on price. She thinks this needs more analysis and strategization. The idea of bringing this forward isn't sitting well with her. She's afraid of creating a storm by proceeding without an informative analysis. She's not inclined to support the article.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees that a size limit won't cause a steep decline in prices, but larger units are more expensive. While he agrees that it won't take a big bite out of the price, he does think it will take a little bite out.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says that even with the social arguments, we know that there has been discrimination. She'd like to do more with linkage fees.

(Annie Lacourt) Ms. Lacourt says she's concerned about the deed restriction, but what she really want to do is bring this to town meeting for a debate. She asks the board to let that proceed. Town meeting might want to send this back and have us work on it for another year. She says she's in this for the long haul.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to move forward and start the debate. He says we've been talking about this for a long time, and he'd like to move forward.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is also okay with moving forward. Moving forward means that we're asking Ms. Lacourt to do a lot of work. He thinks we need to put the idea out there, and thinks it will be a great education opportunity. Every year a few more homes get rebuilt, so he thinks this is a step in the right direction.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery wants it to be clear that Ms. Lacourt will be responsible for outreach and the presentation to town meeting.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Lau and Mr. Benson. He thinks the changes proposed in this article are preferable to the status quo.

Board votes favorable action, 3--2. Ms. Tintocalis and Ms. Zsembery voted in the negative.

Article 39 - Floor Area Ratio for mixed use

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is in favor. He thinks that increasing the FAR limit will help the business district, which needs a certain amount of density. He's glad the petitioner lowered the FAR limits from what they originally proposed.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson supports this. He says the board has talked about making this change, to encourage more development and affordable housing. The petitioner did it for us. He thinks this will be a win for the streetscape. He notes that other dimensional limitations like height and setback aren't changing.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is curious how this works with the analysis of uses. She says this article is coming on the heels of a permit for a self-storage facility, which is a low-value commercial use. She asks if there's been enough analysis.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks this article will further two of the mixed use goals listed in the master plan. He appreciates the petitioners willingness to adjust their proposal. He thinks the new proposal retains the distinction that's in the existing bylaw.

Mr. Revilak notes that Arlington adopted mixed-use zoning in 2016, as a recommendation from the master plan. He feels that the board and staff put their best foot forward with the dimensional regulations -- we just set the FAR limits to low. He thinks this will be a beneficial change.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees with Mr. Revilak. We put our best foot forward with the original regulations; this is an adjustment.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that the FAR change doesn't affect the height limits. He notes that the board has been interested in this change in the past.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says that Mass Ave is like Arlington's living room. She'd like to make sure that taller or bigger buildings are well designed. Other communities have architects on retainer to review building designs. She wonders if the board has done due diligence on this citizen petition.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks the board to consider a project in Boston. There's a lot more value there, and the developer is likely to hire a more expensive architect. Towns have less wiggle room, so developers tend to hire architects that are less experienced. He thinks this will give the board more leeway.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks this will create more opportunities to engage better architects, due to the scale of the buildings.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the height limit still depends on the district -- either five, four, or three stories -- and it only applies to mixed use. During his time on the board, he thinks the architects on the board have done a good job at sending applicants back to the drawing board. He hopes we can get funding to develop a new set of design guidelines.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that the Planning Department works with applicants before their projects get to the board.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak appreciates that this is a targeted change, affecting one dimensional regulation. He notes that there are still other regulations to control the size of buildings. He believes that a good number of business parcels are next to single-, and two-family districts which means they're subject to height buffer restrictions.

The board votes favorable action, 4--1. Ms. Tintocalis voted in the negative.

Article 40 - Business districts

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is on the fence. He thinks the board needs to look at the whole of Mass Ave, rather than just a section.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is torn. He notes that one property owner sent a letter of support and one or two sent letters of opposition. He'd be interested in looking at more of Mass Ave.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis appreciates the effort. She says that mixed use can be done horizontally; it doesn't all have to be done on one lot. She thinks we need to look more at form-based zoning and ways to get feasibility and quality. She thinks we'll need to talk more with property owners. Although this is in line with the Board's goals, she thinks we have to consider the message we're sending to town meeting.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that apartment buildings are allowed uses in the B districts; in fact, these are the only districts with parcels that are large enough to meet the minimum lot size requirements for an apartment. He thinks that the article makes complete sense from the standpoint of the zoning map, but he's concerned about the letters of opposition from the property owners.

Mr. Revilak notes that if the board takes on the task of de-fragmenting the business districts, we're likely to see the same concerns that were raised during the hearing of this article.

The board votes no action, 5--0.

Article 41 - Apartment Parking

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson proposes a small wording change. He thinks that a minimum of one parking space per apartment is okay.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau supports the article. He thinks that parking regulations have been a hindrance, because parcels on Mass Ave are so small.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis supports the article.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak was supportive, and cites two recommendations in the master plan that suggest revisiting parking minimums. He notes that the applicants for 1165R Mass Ave proposed one parking space per dwelling for their apartment building, and there was a significant amount of public discussion devoted to the topic. The applicants brought in their studies and utilization counts, which were handed over to the ZBA's peer review engineers. In the end, the ZBA felt comfortable with one space per dwelling. Mr. Revilak thinks there's been a fair amount of effort devoted to studying this issue.

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 42 - Open Space Uses

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is supportive.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that any open space use will still need approval from some body in town, like the Parks department or the Select Board. He suggests removing the phrase "non-profit or for profit".

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis suggests leaving the phrase in to be explicit that the provisions can apply to for-profit uses.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak sees this article as taking a set of temporary regulations that came out of the pandemic and making them permanent. He thinks the pandemic reminded everyone that it can be fun to do things outside.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is supportive.

The Board votes favorable action.

Article 43 - Map Amendment Requirements

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt explains how the main motion has changed since the public hearings.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks this provides necessary clarity.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks the main motion is clear.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees that the article provides a useful clarification.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is also supportive.

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Article 44 - Restaurant Uses

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that larger restaurants affect the surrounding neighborhood more. For example, larger restaurants have more impact from dumpsters. He thinks this might help to streamline the process, but he's not sure.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the bylaw has to draw a line somewhere, and he thinks that 2000 square feet works. He thinks this article needs more review, and a stronger justification for raising the 2000 square foot threshold.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is supportive. She doesn't see 4000 square feet as too large to allow by right.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that restaurants need to be approved by the Select Board and the Board of Health. He assumes that the Board of Health will still review things like dumpster placement, even when the restaurant is allowed by right.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the 4000 square foot threshold is too arbitrary. She'd like to see a better explanation for that number.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says that restaurants are already one of the most highly regulated uses we have.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks she could support this article.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the square foot threshold is arbitrary, and he doesn't believe the ARB has been an impediment to getting restaurants permitted. He's not convinced we need to change the current regulations.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis could see aligning the square footage requirements with retail.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak points out another change that the board hasn't discussed. Currently, restaurants under 2000 square feet aren't allowed in the B4 district at all; the current main motion will allow smaller ones by right in B4.

Mr. Revilak says that B4 is our "Vehicular Oriented District". The district definition says there are too many auto-oriented uses and it encourages a change in use when these businesses turn over. He feels that smaller restaurants would be perfectly reasonable other uses.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks the proponent if he'd be okay with a 3000 square foot threshold instead of 4000 square feet.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he'll reluctantly accept 3000 square feet. He still thinks that's an arbitrary number.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that 3000 square feet is better than 4000 square feet.

The Board votes favorable action, 4--1.

Article 45 - Appeals

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says she's discussed this article with town counsel, who had three concerns. First, it may be pre-empted by state law. Second, it's not consistent with the town manager act. Town counsel believes that parties that have issues with individual departments can already seek relief through the town manager. Third, an appeal under this article would create a complaint where the complainant disagrees with the building inspector's decision not to take legal action.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson said the petitioners contacted him and asked him to help them work on alternative; he did. Mr. Benson describes his discussion with town counsel about some of the other remedies available. The other remedies include going to the select board, or bringing a court case under nuisance law. Town Counsel didn't believe the ZBA had the authority to compel the building inspector to take someone to court.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks there's a course of appeals to the state building inspector. He thinks this would put too much of a burden on the zoning board.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis feels like this article would add a layer of litigation.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak believes there are already avenues for having the building inspector's decision reviewed. He's concerned about putting the town in a position where it's compelled to litigate.

(Missed a few remarks here).

The board votes no action, 5--0.

Article 30 - Solar Energy Systems

The board takes Article 30 from the table, and discusses a change in wording.

The board votes favorable action, 5--0.

Meeting Minutes

The board amends and approves minutes from their March 1, March 14, and March 21 meetings.

Open Forum

There are no speakers for tonight's open forum.

Meeting adjourned.