Arlington Redevelopment Board - Aug 30th, 2021
Meeting conducted via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1396. These notes cover a subset of agenda items.
Docket 3662 - 29 Mill Street
The applicant wishes to install a sign for their business, Great Sky Solar.
(Jason Parillo) Mr. Parillo is here on behalf of Bluebird Graphics, who are doing the signage. They're seeking approval for a sign. They've proposed a wall sign rather than a freestanding one because of the short front yard, and a tree.
(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt informs the board that this is a non-conforming sign, and the applicants are asking for excess area. She believes it will not be detrimental to the neighborhood or district.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau has no questions.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson notes that application shows the size as 21 square feet and the planning department memo shows eighteen. He asks why they can't reduce the size of the sign.
(Jason Parillo) Mr. Parillo is concerned that the letters would be too difficult to read if the sign were smaller.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is okay with the sign's location, but he's not sure a larger sign is in the public interest.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery asks how the area of irregularly shaped signs is supposed to be measured. (The proposed sign is basically a half circle on top of rectangle.)
(Melissa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis asks when the sign would be illuminated, and if it will be solar powered.
(David Bridge, Great Sky Solar) Mr. Bridge says he'd like to apply for a solar permit, but they are renting the building. The sign will be LED illuminated. He says they don't want a flashy bright sign.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the 18 square feet cited in the planning department memo represents the area of the irregular shape.
(Arlington's sign bylaw says you have to measure the irregular area, and not its bounding box. The applicant's 21 square foot figure represented the bounding box.)
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thanks Ms. Raitt for the clarification.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says the staff memo refers to an existing non-conforming sign, and he claims there is none. He believes that a lighted sign is not appropriate. If the board approves this sign, it should restrict the hours of illumination to the hours when the business is open. He thinks the sign could be lower on the wall, and asks if the building will be used for warehousing or just as an office.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board will keep to the question of the sign, because that is the subject of the special permit application.
There are no further comments from the public.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau has no issues with the sign. He thinks it's reasonable. Mr. Lau asks about the hours of illumination.
(David Bridge) Mr. Bridge says they'd like to keep the sign on until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening. The building will be office space for their executive team; the company's warehouse is in Woburn.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson has no further questions.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is comfortable with the proposal. She suggests the board might condition the hours of illumination.
(Jenny Raitt) On the subject of illumination, Ms. Raitt refers the board to section 6.2.4(c).
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson points out that the bylaw prohibits illumination between midnight at 6:00 AM. He suggests a condition that the sign be dark between the hours of 9:00 pm and 6:00 am. He'd also like a condition that the sign be no larger than 20 square feet.
There's discussion about whether to impose a condition on the size of the sign. 20 square feet is the limit in the bylaw, but they're approving plans for a sign that's smaller.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is also in favor of the proposal.
The board votes to approve the application, 4--0.
Docket 3665, 645 Mass Ave
The applicant is Chase bank. They'd like to establish a bank branch at 645 Mass Ave, which was formerly a restaurant called Not Your Average Joes. They need a special permit for the use (a bank with more than 2,000 square feet), and for their signage.
(Marc Sides, Chase) Mr. Sides is here to represent JPMC before the board. This site was previously occupied by a restaurant called Not Your Average Joes. Chase would like to develop a 4,141 square foot bank branch; banks larger than 2,000 square feet require a special permit. He says they're also looking for relief from bicycle and automobile parking requirements.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt would prefer to see the applicant comply with the town's bicycle parking requirements. The applicant has requested changes to the facade, namely, removing the awnings that were installed by Not Your Average Joes. She'd also like to see the applicants address the accessibility challenges with the space. The change of use is up to the board. She thinks the interface with the street is cold and suggests public art or more windows.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if Chase will be renting the basement, in addition to the first floor.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says that access to the basement will be controlled by Chase, due to egress issues.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is concerned about the lack of long-term bicycle parking. He asks if Chase plans to keep the existing windows or change them.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says the goal is to replace the single-glazed windows with insulated ones.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks the window mullions don't look very commercial. He suggests doing something more like what they've proposed for the east side of the building.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says they can make the windows consistent.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau doesn't like the blade sign. He suggests rotating it 90 degrees and moving it into the sign band.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides is okay with this.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the ATM machine can be relocated, in order to provide accessible access.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says that entrance is shared with the tenant on the second floor. There's not enough room for an accessible ramp, without impinging on the sidewalk or parking lot.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with Mr. Lau's comments on signage, and Ms. Raitt's comments about long term bicycle parking. He thinks there has to be a way to make the back door handicapped accessible. He also questions whether a bank is essential or desirable in this location.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says the bank is interested in having a presence in Arlington Center, and this space is available.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if Mr. Sides can speak to the marketing decision for having a branch in Arlington center.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says it's a great community. He believes the bank can host community events, such as talks about financial management. As for the size of the space, the landlord may not be willing to subdivide.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks what kind of market share they're trying to service.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says he doesn't represent Chase's financial planners, and isn't able to answer that question.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is concerned about an excess of use.
(There are several banks along this stretch of Massachusetts Avenue).
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks about the type of window glazing.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says they're planning to use clear glazing.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the bank would be amenable to having an awning and street seating.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says he can take these questions back to his client. He believes they want something different than awnings. They may be open to the request for seating, because this is an upscale community.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt wants to clarify that the restaurant's bench was in the town's right of way. She also believes they had planters in front.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti notes that there are numerous banks along Mass Ave, and suggests that another one would be detrimental. The B5 business district is a finite resource; allowing another bank means that commercial space won't be available for some other use.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer asks if the business will be just a bank, or something beyond that, like financial management. Will it be closing at 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening, and how many employees will there be?
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak understands that it typically takes 18 months to fill a commercial vacancy in Arlington. Not Your Average Joes closed fairly recently, so he was expecting this space to stay vacant until sometime in 2023. The fact that we have an opportunity to fill it in 2021 is astonishing.
Mr. Revilak understands that there are a number of banks along this area of Mass Ave. One of the board's criteria is that the "use not cause an excess of the use, which would be detrimental". He's not clear how many financial institutions it takes to constitute "detrimental". For comparison, the prior use was a restaurant and there are also a bunch of restaurants along this stretch of Mass Ave.
Mr. Revilak thinks there's nothing wrong with another bank. It's a very clean design. He asks the board to grant the requested parking waiver, require long-term bicycle parking in accordance with the bylaw, and approve the permit.
(Colleen Cunningham) Ms. Cunningham says this is a high foot traffic area, and she believes it's a better location for a restaurant. She'd prefer to see local businesses rather than national banks.
There are no further comments.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau appreciates the desire for a restaurant, and acknowledges that the empty space used to be a restaurant. He's concerned that if we start kicking businesses out, we won't have any. Another bank means more choice, and better service.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks Arlington should welcome Chase, but in an area where there aren't so many banks. He thinks the applicants need to explain why this won't cause an excess of use. It would be okay if a bank was previously there. He doesn't know if or when a restaurant will come in. He agrees with the comments about accessibility and the request for parking relief, but is leaning towards saying the proposal doesn't meet EDR requirements for this location.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis agrees with Mr. Benson, regarding the change in use. She says it's not just the number of banks, it's also their proximity to one another. She doesn't believe it enhances walkability or a mix of uses. If the bank goes in, it will be there for at least ten years. Lexington has 13 financial services in their town center, and they're trying to figure out how to stop them from coming in.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if this will be a financial institution or more of an investment center.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides says it will be a bank and not a financial planning office.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks what hours they'll be open.
(Marc Sides) Mr. Sides expects 8:30 am - 5:00 pm Monday through Friday, and 9:00 - noon on Saturday.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that two of the four members are opposed, which means the application would not be approved. She asks Mr. Benson and Ms. Tintocalis if hearing from a bank representative might change their mind.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says probably not.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is aligned with Mr. Lau in not wanting to turn away a strong business that's willing to invest in the center. She asks what arbitrary number of banks is too many. She asks the board how they'd like to proceed: vote or wait for more information.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks someone from the bank could come in to answer the boards question. Perhaps there's data on the number of banks and how that's dealt with.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is encouraged by his colleague's remarks. We can't say we want this and that without doing something to help make it happen. He doesn't think a national bank would try to open an branch in an area with so many other banks if it didn't make sense. It's important to encourage growth along Mass Ave. It feels wrong to say we want businesses to invest, and then turn them away.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if anyone has spoken to the property owner.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the planning department has tried, but unsuccessfully.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis wants to know if there's been interest from any other tenants. She'd like to enhance comprehensive vitality and the bigger goals for what we want in the center.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that Ali Carter (Economic Development Coordinator within the Planning Department) is actively engaged when properties turn over. Ms. Raitt mentions other parts of (Zoning Bylaw) section 3.4 that the board should consider when making their decision.
There's back and fourth about how the board should apply sections 3.3 and 3.4.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would like the applicant to consider comments on signage, street amenities and seating, accessibility, bicycle parking, and the windows along Mass Ave.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the new board member will be able to vote on this hearing, if they are seated in time.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says no, the new board member will not be able to vote.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery goes over the list of items to address at the next hearing, and when to schedule it.
Hearing continued to September 13th.
Docket 3348 - 833 Mass Ave
There's a long backstory to this docket. It started in 2009, as the special permit for a CVS pharmacy. There's a large old house (the "Atwood House") next to the CVS, and it was also covered by the 2009 permit. The house has been dilapidated and boarded up for years. In July, the owners started removing siding and windows without obtaining the permits required to do so, and that's why they're back here tonight.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt opens with a history of the docket, and sections of the 2009 decision that apply to the Atwood house. At that point in time, the Atwood house was categorized as a professional building. One of the conditions required the applicant to maintain the property and bring a future proposal to the board. The 2009 decision also prohibited demolition for two years.
It's been over a decade and the property has deteriorated. In 2019, the ARB asked the applicant to apply for a demolition permit (which was never done), and to file an EDR permit for redevelopment. Or, to come back with a renovation plan.
The applicant started doing remediation for asbestos. They filed paperwork with the state for remediation, but did not obtain a building permit. Inspectional Services and the Department of Planning and Community Development sent a letter to the owner citing violations, and imposing fines. The owner has paid the fines. The Historical Commission Ordered the building to be wrapped in Tyvek and for the owners to install a security system. The Historical Commission will meet again on September 7th, but this begs the question of what the board expects to happen with the property.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to hear from the owners, regarding what happened and what they were planning to do.
(Robert Annese, Attorney for the owner) Mr. Annese will not object to anything in Ms. Raitt's summary. He says there was a miscommunication with the contractor. In 2019, Geoff Noyes (the property owner) was unable to find a contractor to apply for the demolition permit. Then COVID hit. The new contractor didn't realize the Historical Commission needed to approve the demolition; he thought the Health Department needed to approve, and the asbestos had to be removed first. His client concluded that they could not renovate the building. The Historical Commission asked to have the building wrapped, and we've done that. We have to bring the building back to where it was; that will cost around $150,000, and we're prepared to do that. They want to continue to pursue the demo application and come back to the board. We'll pay a price for that, for the exterior repairs. We want to come up with a proposal that makes sense for the town, and for Mr. Noyes.
(Kin Lau) Since the intent is to demolish the building, Mr. Lau thinks the money lost is a waste. He asks if the board can accept them not restoring the exterior, and donating money to the housing trust fund.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that's not within the board's jurisdiction, noting that the Historical Commission also has jurisdiction over the property.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks this is a lose/lose situation. It would be nice if we could get a win out of it.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the 2009 special permit required the house to remain in its location, and for the applicant to make efforts to preserve it. The latter part wasn't done. They've compounded the problem created by violating conditions of the 2009 permit. He asks what the board can do.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt has tried to talk with the property owner. There's also the issue of public trust in the applicant. The board could revoke the special permit for the CVS. The board can discuss other possibilities too.
(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says the intent is to go before the Historical Commission for a demo application. They have an architect ready to get involved. He agrees that this situation has gone on for too long. Regarding the CVS and revoking the special permit, there are legal issues that we don't want to open up. For example, Chapter 40A section 7, which prohibits the forced removal of a structure six years after a building permit has been issued.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks it would be helpful to have this docket on the agenda once a month. The building has fallen into disrepair, it might have been saved if it were maintained. He suggests the applicants could come up with a proposal that saves two sides, then re-do the interior and build out the back. The building is too far gone because it was allowed to get too far gone.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there is a demolition delay, which is under the purview of the Historical Commission. She suspects the demolition delay won't kick in until the exterior is restored.
(Joann Robinson, Historical Commission Chair) Ms. Robinson says she can't speak to the timing; the commission will make that decision. She says they'll consider a two-year demolition delay.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis would like to know what the property owner plans to do with the property.
(Geoff Noyes, Property Owner) Mr. Noyes says that his plans haven't changed. He says there was no malicious intent; the goal was simply to remove asbestos. He'd like to develop a mixed use building on the site, and make it a viable and functional space for residents and employers.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt notes that schematic plans were presented to the board, prior to the pandemic.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks about the implications of revoking the special permit.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that would be more challenging, for the reasons that Mr. Annese raised.
(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor represented CVS in 2009. She doesn't believe the board can revoke the special permit. She says CVS is also concerned about the condition of the property, and she alerted CVS when she heard about the Historical Commission meeting. They've put the landlord on notice. They want to see something done, and may take action against the landlord if nothing is done.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says the Historical Commission has jurisdiction over the historical aspects of the property. Regarding the $150,000 to restore the building's exterior, this reminds Mr. Worden of the kid who killed his mom and dad, and asked the court for mercy because he was an orphan. In 2019, there was a proposal to move the house forward and build behind it. Mr. Worden says he spoke with Mr. Annese after one of the hearings and Mr. Annese said "the Atwood House will not be demolished". He says he doesn't know what to believe, and questions if Mr. Annese can be believed.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak points out that the board is a redevelopment authority, with the power to carry out urban renewal plans. He asks if the board could declare this a blighted sight, and address it with an urban renewal plan.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says there have been twelve inches of rain since the siding was stripped off in July. The 2009 special permit says something about the credibility of the owner. The permit called for landscaping, and that never happened. He thinks the board should consider the lack of landscaping when considering what was said this evening.
There's no further comment from the public.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is interested in hearing what other board members think about monitoring and oversight. Regular check-ins could help us to move forward.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks the Historical Commission's decision will be a key factor in determining how to move forward.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to see the owner come back in the short term, but that may not make sense if there's a two year demolition delay. He asks Mr. Annese to consider preserving part of the building, since they have to put the exterior back.
Hearing continued to September 27th.
Housing Plan Update
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the updated housing production plan will include a proposal for how to enhance inclusionary zoning.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the effort hasn't gotten to goals and strategies yet.
Business Development Updates
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to know what storefronts are currently empty, and talk about why they are empty. He'd like to talk with some real estate brokers, to see what they're doing and what they're running into.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there's a vacancy list on the Economic Development page of the town website. Her department can put together some stats on vacancies. Allie Carter will the provide the Select Board with an economic development update in October.
Approval of Minutes
The board approves minutes from their June 7th and June 21st meetings.
No one wishes to speak during tonight's open forum.