Arlington Redevelopment Board - Aug 17th, 2020

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Docket 3602, 1207--1211 Mass Ave. Continued hearing for the proposed Hotel Lexington.

Mary Winstanley O'Connor presents on behalf of the petitioner. Her connection drops just as she begins opening remarks.

After waiting several minutes, the board moves to approve minutes from earlier meetings.

After several more minutes, Ms. Winstanley O'Connor rejoins the meeting.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) The hotel proposal included 675 square feet of public access space, but there are outstanding questions of what that access would look like. If the board requires 7 day/week, 24 hour/day public access, then her client is not interested in the FAR bonus. They'd prefer to trim square feet from the building, and have included a plan to illustrate what that might look like. Ms. Winstanley O'Connor points out that a smaller building would reduce property and hotel tax revenue to the town.

The step back on Clark street is now 7.5', though Ms. Winstanley O'Connor tells the board they have authority to provide relief in this area.

The corner lot setback is 7.9', which matches the setback of the adjoining property on Clark Street.

The planning department performed a shadow study of the proposed hotel. Their findings matched the shadow study performed by Lincoln Architects, and submitted by the petitioners.

There will be 24 valet parking spaces in the garage, plus 11 additional off-site spaces for employees. They expect the hotel to generate traffic during check-in and check-out hours, which are outside of peak traffic times.

Ms. Winstanley O'Connor believes that when town meeting passed the mixed use bylaw, they realized that business patrons would have to park on the street. They expect restaurant patrons to utilize off-street parking. She states that the ARB can only deny permits when a use would create undue traffic congestion, or unduly impair public safety. She believes the hotel will not create such conditions.

Ms. Winstanley O'Connor believes it was inappropriate for the Disability Commission to request a delay in the board's decision. The building inspector is responsible for ensuring the hotel complies with HCA laws. She concludes by asking the board to be equitable and fair in its decision making process.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery tells Ms. Winstanley O'Connor that her client has been very responsive to the board's requests. This project has come a long way. She thinks that a sidewalk along the pull-in circle is a good idea. She agrees with the assessment of the Mass Ave and Appleton Street intersection given in Ms. Winstanley O'Connor's memo. That intersection has traffic issues, but they're existing issues, and separate from the hotel. Ms. Zsembery says the architectural plans don't include specifications for the exterior finishes, and it's difficult to determine the actual color based on the drawings. She believes that exterior finishes could be reviewed and approved separately.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the petitioners dropped off a set of samples at her office. Exterior finishes could be handled in the order of conditions.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery states that concerns about ADA compliance within the interior of the building do not fall under the jurisdiction of the board.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau appreciates the inclusion of site elevations and the additional side renderings. They made it easier for him to visualize how the building would sit within the surrounding neighborhood. He agrees that HCA compliance is not within the board's purview. He asks if the planter on the corner of the lot could be chamfered, to allow more room on the sidewalk.

(Greg Macintosh, Architect) Mr. Macintosh says the planter change is a small adjustment, and will be easy to do. He asks that the chamfer be included in the order of conditions.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau liked the alternate plan, which included a roof garden. He asks the petitioner to talk more about that.

(Jim Doherty, Petitioner) Mr. Dougherty says that his team have spent a tremendous amount of money on design work, and have made a large number of changes. He agrees that the changes have made it a better project. The roof garden (which would be created by removing several rooms from the 4th floor) comes down to the public access easement. If we can't arrive a satisfactory plan for providing public access to the easement, we'd prefer to eliminate the easement and reduce the building's floor-area ratio. Mr. Dougherty would prefer to have the full 50 units; he's reluctant to go with a smaller number.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests removing fewer units from the forth floor and having a smaller roof garden. He thinks it would be a nice place for guests to congregate, have coffee, etc. But, he doesn't want to impose a condition that will prevent the economics from working out.

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Doherty is willing to compromise. The alternate plan would remove 700 square feet of floor area. He'd like to see the board take a vote tonight.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says the issue is restrictions on public access to the space. If the board wants the public to have 24/7 access, then we're not interested.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks some restrictions are reasonable. He thinks that removing 1--2 units would make a nice rooftop space.

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Dougherty says he's rather fold tent on the FAR bonus negotiations, rather than drag them out.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks where the hotel staff will park.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says they've contracted with other property owners to provide eleven parking spaces. They've provided documentation to the board showing this.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the length of the largest truck that can pull into the rear parking area.

(Rick Salvo, Engineer) Mr. Salvo says 38'.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks how that figure was derived.

(Rick Salvo) Mr. Salvo says it's a standard length for a garbage truck. He doesn't believe a larger vehicle would be needed to empty the dumpster behind the hotel.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks for the project's LEED certification level.

(Greg Macintosh) Mr. Macintosh says the project will meet the Massachusetts Conservation Code and the International Conservation Code (note: I got the impression these might be different standards than LEED).

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Doherty says the project will achieve LEED silver. From a financial and public relations standpoint, we'll want to make the building as energy efficient as it's economically feasible to do.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the sidewalk on the side of the building. He'd like to know if it will require steps, and if so, how will wheelchair access be provided.

The public sidewalk will remain as it is, with a 2% cross-slope, preserving the current grade. The lot is sloped, so the left side of the building will require a step to transition from the hotel property to the public sidewalk.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks Mr. Doherty what he thinks would be acceptable terms for access to the public easement.

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Doherty would prefer not to specify specific times and days. He suggests making the space available two days/week for programmed events.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks how the space will be used the rest of the time.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says that no one will necessarily be using the space between programmed times. People might go there while waiting to get in to the restaurant. She asks who'd be responsible for scheduling reservations.

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Doherty was thinking of having the space be available for a period of several hours. Perhaps 8am to 6--7pm. The patio would be available for guests when not used by the town.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson isn't sure how to make this work.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson understands that Mr. Doherty doesn't want unrestricted public access, but he believes the easement should be open to the public. For example, someone should be able to sit there and relax for a while. He agrees that group activities should be scheduled. He's not sure who would handle the scheduling, but believes it should be someone on the town side.

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Doherty is happy to have that stated as a condition. He assumes that non-compliance (on the Hotel's part) would constitute a violation of the special permit conditions.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks a question about sight-lines for vehicles. (note: I think Mr. Watson was asking about vehicles pulling out of Clark street)

(Rick Salvo) Mr. Salvo says the sidewalk is 11' wide, and the hotel will be set back 23' from the street. He feels that will provide adequate sight-lines.

There's further discussion about the driveway on Clark Street and grading.

The Clark street driveway will have a 9% grade. That should allow a valet driver to see what's on the street or sidewalk. For comparison, 8.3% is the maximum grade for a wheelchair ramp; 9% is only slightly steeper.

The Mass Ave driveway will have a 3.8% grade. The east side of the turning circle is sightly lower, and will be slightly steeper than the west side.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if cars pulling out of the driveway onto Clark Street will be able to see pedestrians.

(Rick Salvo) Mr. Salvo thinks that a 9% grade will not obscure pedestrians.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau has a question about the public sidewalk on Clark Street. He asks why the drawings show tactile detection pads.

The tactile pads were added in response to comments from the Transportation Advisory Committee. One typically doesn't use them with these types of driveways.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if there's a change in grade.

(Rick Salvo) Mr. Salvo says there's no change in grade. The pads are to alert pedestrians that there's a driveway. However, the pads can be removed, if the board so desires.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson would like to talk about traffic issues. He strongly disagrees with the petitioner's memo regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety. He thinks that most of the safety issues at this intersection involve pedestrians and cyclists.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says the town is already addressing safety issues at this interesting (note: they're referring to the intersection of Mass Ave and Appleton Street).

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Doherty says that his son rode a bike for 6000 miles during his freshman year in college, to benefit kids with disabilities. Another rider in this effort, on a different route, was hit by a tractor trailer and killed. Mr. Doherty says that bicycle safety is an important issue for him and his family. He believes that Mr. Watson may have misinterpreted Ms. Winstanley O'Connor's comments regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety, and he apologizes for that.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks where hotel guests will park if the valet lot is full. He's interested in addressing the issue in the order of conditions.

(Andrew Bunnell) Mr. Bunnell would like the petitioner to submit a parking plan, to be approved before an occupancy permit is issued.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson likes the idea of a small rooftop garden. He thinks it will be a nice green space, and will reduce the building's massing.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says she has a draft set of conditions, which includes several items the board has been talking about.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he drives through this area all the time. There are traffic cones along the median line on Mass Ave, and left turns are prohibited onto Appleton. Police officers are stationed at the intersection to enforce the left turn prohibition. He believes the town is already taking steps to address the safety issues at this intersection.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Ann LeRoyer, 12 Pierce Street) Ms. LeRoyer believes there are many unresolved concerns with this proposal. She hopes the business is successful, and that the hotel will be a good neighbor. She hopes the board can understand the skepticism from the neighborhood, especially when it comes to traffic, parking, and safety. She says the hotel will change the residential character of her neighborhood. She says the ARB met with the petitioner, but the petitioner never met with residents of the neighborhood. She feels like the board missed the reports from the Transportation Advisory Committee and Disability Commission. She asks the petitioner to be more sensitive to neighborhood concerns, like Julia Mirak was.

(Darcy Devney, Thorndike Street) Ms. Devney says the project's mission is lacking and unclear with respect to disability requirements. Some people with disabilities drive modified cars, and valets will be unfamiliar with them. She asks why ADA rooms aren't shown on the architect's plans. She says the turn in needs to be large enough to accommodate a van with a wheelchair ramp. Elevator must be large enough to fit a wheelchair and a guide dog. She states that twelve of Arlington's public school buildings have issues with ADA non-compliance. She'll send a list of concerns to the building inspector, and urges that these issues be dealt with sooner rather than later. She asks the petitioner not to scapegoat the disability commission.

(Don Seltzer, Irving Street) Mr. Seltzer has provided the board with written comments. He believes there are serious deficiencies in this proposal. The hotel is too big, too tall for the neighborhood, and doesn't qualify for a FAR bonus. He believes the front circular driveway is a disaster, and it will be impossible for sedans to pull into it. He believes the proponents have ignored state laws regarding disability access and loading zones. He believes the tax revenue estimates are highly inflated, and that the zoning bylaw doesn't allow a hotel in the B2 district portion of the property.

(Michael Sandler) Mr. Sandler said he only heard the word "neighborhood" three times during the first 90 minutes of this hearing. We will be affected. The building will change the look and feel of the neighborhood. He says it's not a boutique hotel, and it's not clear whether this project obeys the bounds of the zoning bylaw. He says we have bylaws for a reason. He asks if the board members have driven by the site. He thinks the proposal is disrespectful.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming thinks the hotel looks pretty good, and the current site is an eyesore. He thinks there's nothing wrong with the design aesthetics.

(Ivana) Ivana is concerned as an abutter. She thinks the parking lot is too tight and the hotel will create traffic congestion. She says there are lots of kids in the neighborhood. She says the design decisions were purely motivated by profit. Her husband just finished building a deck, and they'd like to continue to have open space.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says it's important to remember that the applicant doesn't own the property. The town put the property out to bid, and the petitioner was the only bidder. He says the petitioner is asking for too much relief. He says the hotel is too large, and that it's not a Hyatt or Mariott. He's disappointed that the board is bargaining with developers. He asks the board to say yes to commercial projects, but not this one. He thinks the hotel is illegal and immoral, and that people should vote the Select Board out. He asks the board to say no to this proposal.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman urges the ARB to reject this project. He believes its the wrong use and the wrong place. There's too much slope on the property, and too little parking. He thinks Ms. Winstanley O'Connor has made too many demands, and that the ARB is abusing the Environmental Design Review process. Mr. Hollman wants an ARB that sets standards, not one that grants exemptions.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says this is the first ARB meeting that he's attended. The discussions with the proponent were interesting, and the board raised a number of interesting questions. Massachusetts Avenue and Broadway allow more development. We should do more development on our corridors, like Brookline does. It's very quiet if you go a block outside of Brookline's corridors because the buildings absorb the sound. Without development we'll continue to need budget overrides, and no one is in favor of budget overrides.

(Joann Preston) Ms. Preston thinks that the Ottoson middle school was not given any consideration. There are no students there right now; normally there are 900 students and 200 faculty and staff. That's important. People won't be coming and going randomly. Safety for students and cyclists must be taken into consideration. She doesn't think there will be adequate visibility around the hotel. She asks what will happen to fourteen year olds who are riding bicycles down Clark Street. She asks why the Ottoson middle school hasn't been brought up. She's glad to see that the petitioner is getting frustrated.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak wishes to speak as a bicycle commuter. Pandemics aside, he rides up and down the length of Mass Ave twice a day, five days a week, twelve months a year. He's not concerned about the hotel creating traffic safety issues for cyclists. Mr. Revilak agrees that the intersection of Mass Ave and Appleton Street is dangerous; the danger comes from vehicles traveling west on Mass Ave, and making left turns at speed onto Appleton Street. Traffic to and from the hotel will not exhibit this pattern. Vehicles going to and from the hotel will travel straight on Mass Ave, and that doesn't pose a safety issue.

(Paul Raia) Mr. Raia says that handicapped van parking is required, even if the hotel uses valet parking. He thinks the roads (?) are too small, and won't allow a standard wheelchair. He believes the ARB needs to see handicapped room specifications before taking a vote. Arlington made a commitment to the World Health Organization to be an age-friendly community. He doesn't feel that elders will benefit from the hotel, and asks the ARB to hold off on taking a vote.

Public comment closes.

(Andrew Bunnell) Mr. Bunnell says that disability access will be a condition of the special permit, and points out that such provisions are enforced by the building inspector. He asks if Ms. Winstanley O'Connor or Mr. Dougherty could address the question about parking for a van.

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Doherty says that the hotel will be built in compliance with ADA requirements.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says the building inspector will not issue a certificate of occupancy if the hotel is not in compliance.

(Andrew Bunnell) Mr. Bunnell believes this is a better project, and it's taken a year to get to this point. The remaining issues involve enforcement. We will rely on the petitioner to be a good neighbor. It's important to recognize the delineation between two neighborhoods: the commercial strip along Mass Ave and the residential area behind it. It's important to earn trust. Mr. Bunnell think that Mr. Jamieson's comments about Brookline are worth heeding.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the building height and fourth floor are the main issues. She'd like to get clarity on those aspects of the project.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says the board needs to choose between two options.

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Doherty prefers the original proposal (50 rooms), rather than the second (roof garden, reduced fourth floor, and fewer rooms).

There's more discussion about the rooftop deck and the public access space.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's got around 15 special permit conditions to discuss. Perhaps they can be voted on individually. He can't figure out how the public access space will work, and who will be in charge of it. He'd prefer no public access space, and fewer rooms on the fourth floor.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau doesn't fully agree with Mr. Benson. There are currently eight rooms on the fourth floor. He suggests taking two away and having a smaller roof garden. He thinks that 48 rooms are okay.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees that 48 rooms are better than 50.

(Jim Doherty) Mr. Dougherty says that the proposal for 50 rooms will meet FAR requirements, if the board grants the easement. We'd need less of a FAR bonus if we took two units away. We'd like to see this hotel provide an audience for Arlington's historic sites, like the Schwamb mill.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that 48 units plus a 200 square foot public space would be okay. He doesn't see the public easement being used very often.

(Gene Benson) Mr. Benson is okay with this proposal, but he'd like the public access space to be available for more than two days/week, for non-organized events.

The board works on a set of conditions. These include:

  • Valet parking for overnight guests
  • No right turns onto Clark Street
  • A complete TDM plan
  • The owner shall be responsible for replacing or repairing sidewalks adjacent to the property.
  • An MOU for the public access space shall be filed with the select board.
  • The hotel must be ADA compliant.
  • The back corner of the building will have a 5.7' setback on Clark street. The plans show sufficient sight lines at the corners.
  • There shall be a sidewalk connection on the east side of the Mass Ave sidewalk.
  • Chamfer the planting bed at the corner of Mass Ave and Clark Street.
  • No tour buses are allowed on Clark street.
  • Service trucks using the rear driveway shall not be greater than 38' in length.

Board approves the permit, 5--0. I believe they approved 48 rooms, with a roof garden.

Docket 3631, 473 Mass Ave. This hearing involved a sign permit for Acitron Cocina Mexicana. I didn't take notes during this hearing.

Memorable quote: "That's a big-ass sign you got".

Discussion: Comprehensive Permit Application at 1165R Massachusetts Avenue. The board discusses the Mirak Family's proposal for a 40B project (affordable housing project) at 1165R Mass Ave. This site is located within one of the town's industrial districts.

The select board will provide comments to MassHousing regarding the 40B proposal; they've not been filed yet. The ARB could voice support or provide comments -- if the board chooses to do so. These would be submitted with the town's other comments.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson is disappointed to lose a property where commercial development could happen.

Mr. Bunnell and Ms. Zsembery agree.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks we need 40B projects and the affordable housing they provide. But we need balanced development too. He asks why Arlington can't attract commercial development. We should be asking ourselves this question.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor is representing the Mirak family on this project. The Mirak family has owned the property for 100 years, and they will own the 40B development when it's complete. They considered several options for this site, and found residential to be the best one. Workbar will remain on the site, and they view this as a mixed-use project.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau sees this as a missed opportunity.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the 40B could be a good project for some other part of town. He asks if there might be a live/work component.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says this was an economic decision. The Miraks have been good stewards and very philanthropic towards the town.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks it would be great to have the amenity space be a potential commercial property.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt will draft a comment letter and provide it to the board for review. The board would have the option of discussing the letter at a future meeting.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks if the board should say something about transportation.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt points out that the project will go before the ZBA, and that the board will have additional opportunities for input.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson is concerned about the transit impacts.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks whether the town will meet a safe-harbor threshold if this project goes through.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says no. But the conversation about commercial development is important.

Citizens Open Forum. Members of the public are given three minutes to speak.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman says he moved to Arlington the weekend the Legacy Apartments were announced. He says the Miraks will do whatever is most profitable. He says the 40B affordable housing project is a camel sticking its nose under the tent, and that the board should be worried about it.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer notes that the building inspector will be responsible for enforcing ADA requirements in the 1207--1211 Mass Ave Hotel. He asks which individual in inspectional services will be responsible for this. He's like to know if the head of inspectional services will play an active role.

Mr. Bunnell says this is a question for the building inspectors.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to say a few words about commercial development in the town. 5.6% of Arlington's land is zoned for commercial and industrial uses. As a policy document, our zoning map says that Arlington shall not be a job center, and only allows enough commercial uses to provide local amenities. He appreciates the board's desire to encourage more commercial development and expand the commercial tax base, but this really comes down to dollars and square feet. More commercial will mean allowing more intensive uses in areas where commercial is allowed, or finding ways to allow commercial development in areas where it's not currently allowed. Were Arlington to lose its entire commercial tax base (not likely -- we'd always have at least a pharmacy, a supermarket, and a couple of restaurants) then residential taxes would go up by around 6%. That's smaller than the tax increase Arlington voted for last year, in order to fund the new high school.