Arlington Redevelopment Board - Dec 6th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

Approval of Minutes

The board amended and approved minutes from Nov 1, 2021, 4--0--1 (Mr. Lau abstained).

The board amended and approved minutes from Nov 15, 2021, 5--0.

Docket 3680 - 699 Massachusetts Ave

This is an application to install new signs at a Citizens Bank branch, located at 699 Mass Ave.

(Tracy Diehl, Representative for Citizens) Ms. Diehl says that Citizens is trying to keep the sign changes to a minimum, and they're proposing to add awnings to all of the bank's windows. This is part of a company-wide rebranding that involves sign and name changes at all locations. Citizens Bank will now be known as "Citizens".

Most of the work involves removal and replacement, or refacing existing signs. They're also changing the style of sign above the front entrance.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt informs the board that the bank has been in this location for a long time, and they're just changing signs. There are a large number of signs in the permit application. This application required environmental design review because some of the signs exceed the maximum area allowed in the bylaw. Signs S2 and S4 (canopy signs on the service island) are larger than allowed in the Business Sign District, and the monument sign on the roof is also a little too large.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks about the dimensions of the monument sign on the roof.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl says the sign panel is 25 square feet, but that doesn't include the time and temperature display, or the ornamental cap at the top.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau realizes that this is a pre-existing non-conforming sign.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks if the applicant has looked at the Planning Department's memo.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl says she's reviewed the memo, but not recently.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if sign S17 will be the same size as the old one. (This sign is a vinyl strip on the front door).

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl answers in the affirmative.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about sign S20, which is an ATM topper.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl says the ATM topper will be the same size as the existing one.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the awning height.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says the bylaw requires the bottom of awnings to be 8' above grade.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl says she doesn't have the precise measurement, but believes the awnings will be 10--12' above grade.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about sign S11, which involves re-skinning the existing awning over the front entrance, and adding a light bar above.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl says they plan to re-skin the awning, and keep the existing frame.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson points out that the service island signs exceed what's allowed by the bylaw. He believes that the Redevelopment Board needs to find that the changes are in the public interest in order to approve larger signs. He asks why the larger signs would be in the public interest.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl thinks the existing signs on the service island aren't very legible, and that a larger sign would be more visible to motorists driving by. She says that S2 and S4 (the service island canopy signs) are the same size for aesthetics. S2 faces Mass Ave, while S4 faces the parking lot.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the sign area was calculated by using two separate rectangles, one around the "daisy" and one around the word "Citizens".

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he has reservations about the larger sign.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl says the applicants could comply by using a smaller sign.

(Melisa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis thinks that S4 is redundant, given the amount of signage already on the bank. She asks if the bank will perform periodic maintenance on the signs and awnings.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl says the awning material is very durable and should last a long time. She believes that Citizens would be happy with a condition for periodic maintenance. She says the purpose of S4 is to guide people to the drive through island, which isn't attached to the bank building.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak has a question about the sight line requirements in the bylaw, which prohibit signs within a 25' triangle around the intersection of two streets. He asks if sign S11 (the front door sign) is within that triangle.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl explains why the sign won't obstruct visibility around the corner.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery asks about the light bar at the top of sign S11.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl says the light bar is designed to cast a low intensity light across the awning. The word "Citizens" is above the light bar, and won't be illuminated.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the light bar will be the same width as the awning.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl answers in the affirmative.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the bank is a historic building.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says it is, and the applicant will also have to appear before the Historical Commission.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's not sure about the awnings, but he'll leave that up to the Historical Commission.

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

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would like the applicant to reduce the size of S9 (a directional monument sign). She'd also like a condition that requires S11's light bar to be the same width as the awning. She asks board members how they feel about S2 and S4 (the service island canopy signs).

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson doesn't see anything in the public interest that would warrant the board to authorize larger signs. If they were smaller, he'd be okay.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau doesn't see the need for a wayfinding sign that faces the parking lot. He could see eliminating S4.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks that S2 well proportioned to the sign band. He agrees that S4 is redundant. He'd be okay with the size of S2 if the applicants were willing to remove S4.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would prefer to allow both S2 and S4, and have them made smaller.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says she'd like to see a visual of what the smaller S2 and S4 would look like. She asks why the applicants chose the size they did.

(Tracy Diehl) Ms. Diehl thinks that reducing the area of S2 and S4 by six square feet would mean using 12" high letters, making them less visible to motorists. She says that not all motorists are familiar with the areas they're driving through. She recalls a situation where she had to drive around an unfamiliar area looking for a bank, in order to pay her client's delinquent tax bill when applying for a permit.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would support offering relief for S2 in exchange for the removal of S4. She also thinks the sign is well-proportioned for the band. She suggests including a condition that gives the applicant the option to reduce the size of both S2 and S4; or, to keep S2 at the proposed size and remove S4.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is okay with Ms. Zsembery's proposal.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson points out that the lettering on the existing signs is smaller than what the applicant is proposing. He thinks smaller letters would be okay.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Lau

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis believes there's a trend of moving away from illuminated box signs to articulated letters. She's okay with Ms. Zsembery's proposal for S2 and S4.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the drive-up island will be included in the Historical Commission's review.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt assumes yes, since it's on the same property.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery summarizes the proposed conditions: reduce the size of S9; align S11 with the awning; make S2 and S4 smaller, or remove S4; and perform maintenance on the awnings every two years.

There's a motion to approve the permit, with the aforementioned conditions. Motion passes, 4--1 (Mr. Benson voted in the negative).

Continued preliminary discussion of zoning amendments

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says there are three citizen proponents who'll discuss warrant article proposals with the board. She'd like to hear the proponents one at a time, and take public comment during the open forum.

Two-family Housing

The first proposal comes from Annie LaCourt and Laura Wiener, who'd like to allow two-family and duplex dwellings by right in the R0 and R1 districts. (These uses are not currently allowed in R0 and R1).

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says that she and Ms. Wiener provided a draft to Ms. Raitt. The proposal is to allow two-family homes by right in the R0 and R1 districts. She believes this will increase housing production in a way that's compatible with the draft Housing Production Plan. She says there was a new 2800 square foot house built across the street from her; if that were a two-plex, there'd be two units with 1400 square feet each. Ms. LaCourt says there's a house down the street with less than 2000 square feet, which recently sold for $1.2M. New duplexes won't be capital-A affordable, but they will help to address the regional need for more housing.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener says that their proposal would allow additional housing units without an increase in physical density; she finds that aspect attractive. Neighborhoods will still feel the same as they do with by-right development. She says that Cambridge, California, and Minneapolis have all made similar zoning changes.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's not opposed overall, but he has questions related to accessory buildings. He asks if Ms. LaCourt and Ms. Wiener have given thought to detached garages or sheds.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt believes that the ADU article town meeting passed last spring covers most of that. She thinks this proposal is more familiar, but with less space per unit.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the two-family homes would have to meet all of the other dimensional regulations.

(?) There's an answer in the affirmative.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if a similar proposal came before the board a few years ago. He'd like to review the board's questions then, and recall why they chose not to support it.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt believes the board had a divided vote and recommended further study.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson recalls that the earlier applicants put together a slide presentation that showed numerous two-family homes in single-family districts.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the other board members are correct -- a similar warrant article was proposed around two years ago, and he was the one who presented it to the board. He recalls that there was a divided vote, and that some board members wanted to see performance standards for two-family homes built in R0 and R1. Things like EV charging stations and trees, if he remembers correctly.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis wonders if residential teardowns would increase, and how allowing two-family homes would affect parking. She thinks it's great that we're pulling in progressive ideas and trying to solve problems.

(Rachel Zsembery) (I missed Ms. Zsembery's comment)

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson recalls that he wanted there to be some design guidelines for the new two-family homes, so that they looked more like single family ones. He notes that the town has adopted a set of residential guidelines, and wonders if they could be made mandatory.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener says that the building footprints would have to stay the same, and they'd need to follow the same dimensional regulations. She'd like to look more at areas that have made similar changes, to see what happened there.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt lives in a 1600 square foot house on a 5000 square foot lot. When her family added a second story to the home, it was one of the largest houses in the area, but that's no longer the case. Ms. LaCourt says her neighborhood isn't the same as the one she moved into, and she's not sure that people think they have so much control over their surroundings. She says that a 1500 square foot house was worth $700--800k in 2020, but now they're worth over $1M. This proposal is about trying to create more options. Parking is a good question, and she and Ms. Wiener will look at that. She did speak with a developer, and he was in favor of the proposal. Ms. LaCourt would prefer not to bring something too complex to town meeting. An overlay district might be an alternative.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that single-family neighborhoods typically have families with kids. Two family neighborhoods might have a different feel.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak believes the housing market has changed in the last two years. We still have a shortage of homes in the region, and buyers have gotten more competitive. Earlier this year, the average sale price of a single-family home in Arlington was $960k.

Starter Homes

Barbara Thornton presents a proposal that's intended to encourage the production of starter homes -- smaller, less expensive dwellings.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says that land values are way up and lots of people want to move here. She believes our Zoning bylaw incentivizes the construction of McMansions. By "home", she means an individually-owned unit where the owner has a chance to build equity. She'd like to rethink dimensional regulations.

Ms. Thornton points to a few items in the draft housing production plan. 60% of our town is zoned for the lowest density, where detached single family homes are the only residential use allowed. Our local zoning doesn't allow much housing diversity, and anything with more than two dwellings requires a special permit. She'd rather see two 2000 square foot homes than a single 4000 square foot home.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau encourages Ms. Thornton to keep doing what she's doing, to think of more diverse and economical housing, and ways to provide residents with the ability to age in place. He thinks Arlington doesn't have enough housing with elevators, and that's a problem when people get too old to navigate stairs. Multi-floor living is harder when you get older. And, a person who's just graduated from college won't be able to afford a home here.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's been working with Ms. Thornton on this idea. The goal is to try getting smaller homes built. He doesn't think that Arlington can get to inexpensive homes, but we can try to get the prices down a little.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis thinks this is a creative way to create new housing options. She thinks the board should do what it can to make adjustments to housing. There's a larger social question here.

(Steve Revilak) In terms of what to focus on, Mr. Revilak suggests single-family attached homes and townhouses -- smaller dwellings that amortize the cost of land. He notes that most parcels in Arlington are developed and the housing stock is on the older side. We're a redeveloping community. Whatever changes we allow, they will happen slowly over time, and it may take years before it makes a difference.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks it's important to understand incremental impacts and how long it will take. Having projections is important.

Floor Area Ratios in Business Districts

Xavid Pretzer is considering a warrant article that would increase (and perhaps double) the allowable floor area ratio (FAR) for mixed use buildings in the B2--B5 districts.

(Xavid Pretzer) Mx. Pretzer notes that Arlington's zoning bylaw allows 4--5 story buildings but FAR limits make that very difficult, unless you've got a large parcel with either a big yard or a big parking lot. Increasing FAR would allow more housing along our transit corridors. Mx. Pretzer is still working out the details, but doubling the FAR (from 1.50 to 3.00) should allow new buildings that are closer to existing ones.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson acknowledges that the board has talked about wanting to increase FAR limits in the business districts. He thinks this is a really good idea. He says that everyone loves the Capital Square Building, but it couldn't be built today due to FAR limits. We'll need to figure out what a more appropriate FAR should be. That might be double the current limit, but it could be more.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees with Mr. Benson. He thinks that what Mx. Pretzer is trying to do is spot on. Not all areas along Mass Ave are B districts that could be built up, and it won't develop into a canyon. He encourages Mx. Pretzer to move this forward.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis thinks this idea aligns with ideas the ARB has discussed, and also with the Master Plan. She asks if Mx. Pretzer has worked with staff on the details.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak supports the idea. In terms of determining what an appropriate FAR should be, Mr. Revilak would find it helpful to have two lists. First, a list of buildings that are non-conforming because the FAR is too high. The Capital Square building is an obvious example, but he suspects there are others. Second, Mr. Revilak would like to see a list of single-story buildings in the B districts that exceed 50% of the allowed FAR -- meaning that FAR limits would prevent the addition of a second story.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that modeling will be important. This could be done with or without assistance from the Planning Department. She thinks it's important to look at the different factors and be able to visualize what the changes would look like.

Update from Planning Director

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt would like to summarize the Planning Department's memo, which includes several suggestions from the Zoning Bylaw Working Group. Some ideas are more likely to be for a special town meeting in the fall than for an annual town meeting in the spring. These include:

  • Business zoning, perhaps in a more comprehensive way than the board has discussed.
  • Reducing the number of uses that require a special permit.
  • Refining and clarifying the section of the bylaw that covers large residential additions.
  • Parking requirements for residential districts.
  • Standards for townhouses

Ms. Raitt notes that the Board's Dec 16th meeting will be devoted to a discussion of the housing production plan. The plan will be reviewed by both the Select Board and the Redevelopment Board. She says the Planning department is committed to getting the plan finalized before proposing any zoning amendments.

The department has completed several plans, including the Sustainable Transportation Plan, the Net Zero Action Plan, and the Fair Housing Action Plan. All of these have various zoning recommendations. Parking is tied to the Fair Housing Action Plan and Net Zero Action Plan.

Ms. Raitt says the DHCD expects to release draft guidance for MBTA communities later this month, and there will be a comment period where the board can submit feedback to the DHCD.

For the annual town meeting, we could proceed with articles dealing with large additions, multi-family parking, solar ready requirements, and allowing two-family homes by right. Other areas, like business district zoning in the commercial corridors would be deferred to a special town meeting in the fall of 2022 (assuming the Select Board agrees to authorize one).

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the zoning bylaw working group has discussed height minimums for the corridors. He questions the benefit of allowing new one-story buildings. With regard to special permit requirements, Mr. Benson believes that both residential and commercial uses should be looked at. He's more skeptical about scaling back special permit requirements for commercial uses.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks this plan will allow the board to focus on what it wants to do. He doesn't think the business districts have been well represented in zoning discussions.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks why Ms. Raitt didn't suggest addressing the business corridors during the annual town meeting -- is it a bandwidth issue?

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt believes it would be challenging to get a proposal together in time for the annual town meeting in the spring.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks the proposed timeline makes sense. He asks if DHCD will be issuing draft guidance, taking comments, and issuing final guidance at some point in the future.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that's how she expects the process to play out. Ms. Raitt says the board might be able to propose a business overlay to encourage active uses (rather than office uses or banks). The department might also be able to complete an article related to street trees. Draft language of the warrant articles would have to be ready by January.

(Steve Revilak) Although its somewhat outside of the Board's jurisdiction, Mr. Revilak would like to have a conversation about converting some of Arlington's on-street parking spaces to pedestrian use, or for planting street trees. He may bring this up the next time the ARB meets with the Select Board.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis has a question about having an overlay for active business uses.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt acknowledges that she used the term "overlay", but not in the context of an actual overlay district.

Central School

The board reviews a memorandum of understanding regarding the Comptroller's office renting space in the Community Center on Maple St.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there were two documents provided to the board. The first is a memorandum of understanding with the Comptroller's office. They'd like to rent space at the Community Center while the high school and DPW facility are under construction.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson think the wording is fine. He asks how rent will be determined.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt acknowledges that the document has placeholders for where the rent amounts will go. She needs to talk with the Comptroller and Finance office in order to figure out what the rent will be.

There's a motion to authorize execution of the MOU, once the rent amount has been negotiated with the Comptroller. Motion passes, 5--0.

ARB Meeting Schedule

Ms. Raitt has prepared a tentative meeting schedule for the first few months of 2022. Essentially, it's the first and third Monday of each month, but every Monday in April. She notes that the board may cancel meetings if there's nothing substantive on the agenda.

There's a motion to adopt the schedule; passes, 5--0.

Open Forum

There were three speakers for tonight's open forum.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton was glad to see the board's support for increasing FAR in the business districts. Regarding the two-family article, Mr. Newton says that a lot of two-family homes already exist in single family districts. He sees them as entry-level housing for young families. He says the town is going to change and we have a choice: large single-family homes or something else.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says he was confused by the DPCD memo about the zoning proposals. He thinks the memo should be transparent and say that the two-family by right proposal would apply to all single-family districts. He's not too concerned about it though, because he lives in a two-family district. Regarding Ms. Thornton's proposal, Mr. Loreti says he's not a royal and can't see what Ms. Thornton is talking about. He thinks it's clear she discussed her ideas with some board members, and believes those materials should be distributed. He thinks the business district FAR is in line with open space requirements.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming loves the FAR article. For the two-family article, Mr. Fleming says that businesses can't survive without customers, and allowing more two-family homes will create more customers for our businesses.

Meeting adjourned.