Arlington Redevelopment Board - Dec 18th, 2023

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Meeting held in the Community Center at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from

Approval of Meeting Minutes

The board approved minutes from their December 4, 2023 meeting, by a vote of 5--0.

Conservation Commission Proposed Warrant Articles

Town Environmental Planner David Morgan and Conservation Commission Member Chuck Tirone are before the board to present two zoning proposals.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the Conservation Commission is here to suggest two changes to the Zoning Bylaw: the removal of the inland wetland district, and the addition of parcels to the Open Space District. She says these proposals have been vetted by the Department of Planning and Community Development.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery suggests discussing the proposals one at a time, starting with the Inland Wetland District.

Inland Wetland District Removal

(David Morgan, Environmental Planner) Mr. Morgan says the Inland Wetland District has raised questions during project review. He believes the district was put on the books before the state's wetland protection act, and his principal concern is that it's outdated. Mr. Morgan checked with the ZBA, and they felt the section was duplicative with what the Conservation Commission does.

(Chuck Tirone, Conservation Commission) Mr. Tirone says the Conservation Commission unanimously voted to support this recommendation at their December 7th meeting. He says the Conservation Commission is capable of managing wetlands.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau is supportive. Mr. Lau asks if no-name brook is within the Conservation Commission's jurisdiction, and if their jurisdictional area is shown somewhere on a map.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone says the Conservation Commission has been working to get their jurisdictional areas incorporated into the town's GIS maps.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he doesn't want to see any more cases where someone adds an addition and then has to take it down, because they didn't realize they needed a permit from the Conservation Commission.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone says the building department is usually the first place that people go, and they check jurisdictional areas when reviewing building permits.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston says this seems to make sense. She asks if there are areas that would become unprotected if the Inland Wetland District were removed.

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan says "yes and no". The definition of the district is ambiguous, and not formal, and there could be areas removed if the definition was interpreted in the broadest sense possible. If the section were retained and corrected, he'd like to see the district definition align with the Conservation Commissions jurisdiction.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says the Inland Wetland District covers 200' from perennial streams. He asks what the Conservation Commission's jurisdiction is.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone says the Conservation Commission has jurisdiction 200' from perennial streams, and 100' from intermittent streams.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if Section 5.8 has been used to send cases to the Conservation Commission for review.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone says that would be a question for the building inspector.

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan isn't aware of any cases where that's happened.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes the Zoning Bylaw also has a Flood Plain Overlay District. He asks why the Conservation Commission isn't proposing to remove that.

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan says that the Flood Plain Overlay District is a requirement for parts of FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program. He says that FEMA is considering changes to their program, and may recommend new zoning language as part of that.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak says that Arlington recodified the Zoning Bylaw in 2017 and 2018. During that time, there was an effort to tease apart the Inland Wetland and Floodplain Overlay Districts -- parts that overlapped with Conservation Commission review were removed, and parts that dealt with land use were left in. Mr. Revilak doesn't think the use-related parts of the Inland Wetland District aren't adding much, and he'd support removing the overlay.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she's made a note to follow up with the building inspector, regarding how often the Inland Wetland District triggers review by the Conservation Commission.

Open Space District Rezoning

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan says there are 68 parcels where he's identified open space as the principal use, and suggests adding them to the open space district. He says these include cemeteries, parks, and playgrounds. He notes that that the Open Space District has numerous use regulations. The list of parcels mostly came from the Open Space and Recreation Plan, with a few added in. Mr. Morgan says it would benefit the town to know what it has, and to improve efficiencies. The list includes 18 conservation parcels, 15 recreational parcels, 4 privately-held properties, some parcels with cultural or historic resources, and four cemeteries. The Parks and Recreation and Open Space committees supported this change; the Cemetery Committee has questions and Mr. Morgan will continue to engage with them.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if there's a map.

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan answers in the affirmative.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to see a map of these properties, with the existing Open Space District overlaid on top.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he has issues with some of the privately-owned parcels. One of them belongs to the Medford Boating Club; rezoning their property means that nothing could be done with it if the club closes. He'd like to take out privately-owned open space, or work out arrangements that would make them open to the public.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston says that Mr. Lau makes an important distinction between public and private open space. She says it's important to clarify intended uses.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the Open Space district's definition doesn't mention privately-owned land. He says there are some parcels in the list where the primary use is a house, rather than open space. The Jason Russell house is one example, and the Medford Boat Club is another.

Mr. Benson says that many municipalities zoned their cemeteries residential as a result of where they wanted the cemeteries to be -- in residential areas, rather than business or industrial ones. He looked at zoning in other communities and most of them put cemeteries in residential districts, or occasionally a cemetery district. Very few zone them as open space.

The board can legally ask to rezone private property without the owner's permission, but he thinks it would be good to ask the owners. Open space zoning takes away economic value, and that could be considered a taking. Conservation restrictions can expire or be lifted, and he's concerned this may raise spot-zoning issues.

Regarding cultural and historic sites, Mr. Benson says that some communities have areas that are zoned as government-administered space, and he that's that may be a better designation.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone says the Conservation Commission tries to do conservation easements in perpetuity.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that's a good direction.

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan thinks the open space district's definition could be clarified, regarding who has jurisdiction over the properties.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that Arlington's zoning map is parcel based; each parcel has one district, so all of the district boundaries fall on parcel boundaries. He thinks that's a useful approach. Mr. Revilak looked at the ArcGIS map referenced in Mr. Morgan's memo, and to him it looks like the boundaries on school properties and in the Multi-use district aren't on parcel lines. He says that's not a deal-breaker though.

Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Benson regarding historic properties. He doesn't believe that open space is the primary use of those parcels.

The map proposes to re-zone several school playgrounds and athletic fields as open space. Mr. Revilak asks if this has been discussed with the school board or school district.

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan answers in the negative.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says there was a demographic turnover in East Arlington a few years ago; older families moved out, and younger families moved in. This led the school district to add six classrooms to the Thompson School and four to the Hardy. He says this could happen with other elementary schools, but zoning the areas around the school buildings as open space would prohibit such additions.

Mr. Revilak is reluctant to include Planned Unit Development district parcels. Some of that land is undergoing permitting as Thorndike Place, and there will be negotiations about the disposition of the land that's not being developed. Mr. Revilak says he'd prefer to wait until that dust settles before proposing map changes there.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board has been trying to take a forward-looking approach to zoning, rather than the "zone as what's there" approach that's been used in the past. She'd like to consider the future use of these properties.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he has questions about how the property assessments of these parcels might change.

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan says the proposal doesn't include the entire Medford Boat Club property, only the part next to the dam.

The chair opens the floor to public comment.

(Barry Jaspin) Regarding the removal of the Inland Wetland District, Mr. Jaspin thinks it would be useful to understand how this would change the total area of wetland protections. He thinks it would be useful to have a list of what's under the Conservation Commission's jurisdiction and what isn't.

(Grant Cook) Mr. Cook says that the land owned by the Winchester Country Club could be put towards a better disposition than open space, if the country club were to close. He says that sort of change might be hard to roll back once it's locked in.

There are no more comments from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if this is a request for the board to take on these articles, or support them.

(David Morgan) Mr. Morgan says he'd like the board to support them.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she's heard support for moving forward with the removal of the Inland Wetland District, but the Open Space changes may need more work.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau isn't sure we'll have time to either of those proposals this year. He'd like to focus on the business districts.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the board can take on the Inland Wetlands District. The open space changes will require more work.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston agrees with the chair.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with taking on the Inland Wetlands District. He watched the Conservation Commission, and believes they are excellent at protecting wetlands. We'd just be removing a creaky old part of the bylaw. Mr. Benson says there are too many open questions about the open space district. He says it's a worthwhile project, and wonders if someone from the board can work with the Conservation Commission and staff, to bring a proposal next year.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak supports going forward with the Inland Wetland District, and he agrees that there are a lot of details to work out regarding the open space proposal.

Zoning Board of Appeals Proposed Articles

ZBA Chair Christian Klein is before the board to discuss a set of zoning changes that they recommend. These include: the definitions of attached and detached building, a provision to use the average front yard setback rather than the required one, the Inland Wetland and Flood Plain Overlay districts, changing a bulleted list to an enumerated one, off-street parking requirements, and setback requirements for ADUs.

Mr. Klein says the ZBA deals with sections of the zoning code that the ARB often doesn't, and the ZBA is asking the ARB to consider several changes.

Ms. Zsembery suggests discussing these one at a time.

Mr. Klein speaks to the first item in his list, which are the definitions of "attached building" and "detached building". As written, there's a gap, so that a building can be neither attached nor detached. He says there's also ambiguity over what constitutes "detached". For example, it's not clear from the definitions if two buildings connected by a ramp or breeze-way would be considered detached.

Mr. Revilak would support changing one of the definitions, so that it was the negation of the other. Mr. Klein says the ZBA reviewed the bylaw, and found that "detached" was used more than "attached". Mr. Benson and Mr. Lau think we should think about the outcomes we want to achieve, and change the bylaw with an eye towards meeting those outcomes.

The second item is section 5.3.10 of the zoning bylaw, which allows someone to build to the average front setback, even if that's less than the required setback for the district. Mr. Klein notes that this provision only applies to vacant lots (i.e., to complete demolitions), and he asks if the provision should also apply to renovations, like extending a front wall forward.

Mr. Lau suggests checking with Inspectional services, to see how they've been interpreting that section. Ms. Korman-Houston says the provision doesn't seem to be very useful. Mr. Revilak says the bylaw makes a strong statement about not wanting to let non-conformities continue in perpetuity, but this section is clearly about allowing a non-conformity to continue. Mr. Benson asks if Section 5.3.10 should be removed altogether.

The board decides this issue warrants further discussion, once we understand how Inspectional services has been interpreting that section of the bylaw.

The third issue is sections 5.7 and 5.8 which cover the Inland Wetlands District and Flood Plain Overlay District. These were discussed earlier in the evening.

The fourth issue involves section 5.9.2. The section contains a bulleted list; Mr. Klein suggests changing this to an enumerated list, so individual items are easier to cite. The ARB is supportive of making this change.

The fifth item involves parking requirements in Section 6.1.10.A and 6.1.11.B. Mr. Klein says these sections are difficult to understand and enforce.

Mr. Revilak recalls working with these sections when he was a member of the ZBA. He agrees that they're difficult to understand and interpret, and would benefit from a rewrite. Ms. Korman-Houston and Mr. Lau would like to take a comprehensive look at our bylaw's parking policies. The board generally agrees with the idea of taking a comprehensive look, though doing so will take time.

The sixth and final item involves setbacks for accessory dwelling units, in Section 5.9.2. The bylaw requires a special permit when a detached ADU is to be located within 6' of the property line. Mr. Klein says it's not clear if someone could build a new ADU at that distance, without converting an existing garage.

Mr. Benson suggests the ZBA put their interpretation of that section into their rules and regulations. The board and Mr. Klein discuss several scenarios, such as building a new garage and converting it to an ADU at a later point in time; and, building a new garage with an ADU on the second floor. Ms. Zsembery would like to have further discussions with the Director of Inspectional Services and the ZBA; Mr. Benson offers to sit in on the conversation and help craft the language.

For the spring town meeting, the board plans to move forward with the definitions of attached and detached dwelling, numbering the bulleted list in Section 5.9.2, average setbacks in Section 5.3.10, and ADU setbacks. Parking (Sections 6.1.10 and 6.1.11) will be deferred until next year.

Green Streets Arlington Parking Lot Proposal

This is a proposal for parking lot standards, presented by Susan Stamps and Alan Jones of Green Streets Arlington.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says this idea was first proposed during the MBTA Communities discussion, and Green Streets Arlington is back to request a change to the underlying zoning. The idea is to require shade trees in parking lots. She thinks the writers of Arlington's zoning bylaw weren't concerned about heat islands. She hopes to protect the town from heat. The idea is to use trees for shade and stormwater mitigation. Ms. Stamps says that solar panels are also okay, as long as there are trees around.

Ms. Stamps says that Green Street's proposal is based on something from Greenburgh, New York. She says that some communities require trees based on the number of parking spaces, but her group is more concerned with providing shade. She suggests a requirement for 50% shade coverage within 15 years.

(Alan Jones) Mr. Jones says there are similar parking regulations for the industrial district.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that the Zoning Bylaw defines a use called "Ground-Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Installation", and that use is only allowed in the industrial districts. He suggests the board might want to consider allowing this use more broadly.

Mr. Revilak asks why 50% coverage is the right number.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says they chose 50% because it's used elsewhere.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks how one would determine coverage based on a tree plan.

(Alan Jones) Mr. Jones says it's not a perfect calculation. One will have to take the density of leaves into consideration, and the amount of shade will vary according to the position of the sun.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks what would make a parking lot "reconstructed".

(Alan Jones) Mr. Jones says that repaving would constitute reconstruction, but top-coating would not.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if Ms. Stamps an Mr. Jones have gotten input from the Tree Warden.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says the Tree Warden was enthusiastic.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the case of contaminated soil, where the surface of the parking lot might be acting as a cap to contain the contamination. He says that thought needs to be given to the exceptions, where this requirement shouldn't apply. Mr. Benson says that parking lots that come before the board tend to be tight, and he'd like to get an idea of the space reduction. He thinks we'd also need to have a conversation with the Building Inspectors, to see if the proposal is consistent with their enforcement responsibilities. Mr. Benson asks for more information about the stormwater management aspects.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says she was thinking of raingardens with trees and other plantings, as well as the grading of the parking lot.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he'd like to get some feedback from Inspectional Services, and have some idea about how many fewer parking spaces there'd be. He'd also like to see exemptions for contaminated properties.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston says the goal is valuable, but there are implementation details to work out, like the location of trees and how that affects their ability to mature. She wants trees that are going to survive. Ms. Korman-Houston also has some concerns about financial feasibility. She thinks that a mix of solar and trees could be a good option.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says this is a good proposal, but for a town that's not Arlington. Parking lots here tend to be small, and Ms. Zsembery hasn't seen a project with a median strip in the parking lot. She thinks this will create an added burden for very modest gains. Ms. Zsembery says that developers have been willing to work with the board on planting and parking plans; that's an opportunity to work together. We ask a lot of small lots, like space for parking, moving vans, and trash removal. She'd like to work with the Tree Warden when larger lots come up.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees with Ms. Zsembery. He'd like to see an increase in the tree canopy, but isn't sure that parking lots are the way to go. Mr. Lau agrees that the parking lots the board sees don't have a lot of space, and open surface parking lots are fairly rare. He says there was a case where a developer ended up blasting ledge away for parking spaces. He thinks it would be better to work with the town, and invest in tree planting where there are street parking spaces now. Mr. Lau notes that LEED standards prefer plants that don't require irrigation. He doesn't think this is very appropriate for the town, because we don't have the space.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes a provision in Section 6.1.11.D(6), which has planting standards for lots of 25 parking spaces or more. He thinks the board could build in additional regulations there.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery wonders if this is a solution in search of a problem.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he doesn't want ominous regulations. He'd prefer to keep things simpler.

(Alan Jones) Mr. Jones says he expects larger structures to be built under the MBTA Communities zoning, and that people like trees in parking lots. He thinks this could be addressed when parking lots are re-done.

The chair opens the floor to public comment. There is none.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that she and Mr. Lau don't support the current proposal, and that Mr. Benson would support a stripped-down version. She says the board can work with Green Streets Arlington on language and the regulations.

(Taking a break, in order to give my hand a rest)

Open Forum

There are no speakers for tonight's open forum.

New Business

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau notes a project where the owner was required to plan a tree; they planted one and it died. He asks if staff can follow-up with the owner.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says her office can follow up.

Meeting adjourned.