Arlington Redevelopment Board - Feb 28th, 2022
Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1539.
(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says that the board and Planning Department started talking about MBTA community requirements almost immediately after they were passed into law. At that time, we weren't aware of what the timeline for compliance would be. The board considered a warrant article for an MBTA district but voted no action; board members wanted to wait for the state to publish its guidance. DHCD released draft guidance in December. Since then, they've been making presentations to different communities, soliciting feedback, and trying to educate people on what the guidance entails. Arlington will likely have to comply in order to remain eligible for certain types of infrastructure grants. Tonight's presentation will be an initial discussion with the board. There will be additional discussions when we know more about what the final guidance looks like.
(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema has prepared a presentation with an overview of the legislation and the draft guidelines. She explains that communities need at least one district of reasonable size where multifamily housing is allowed by right. The district cannot have age restrictions, must permit a gross density of at least 15 dwellings/acre, and part of the district should be located with half a mile of a transit station.
For the purpose of the law, multi-family means that at least three dwellings/lot must be allowed by right, and the district must be at least 50 acres in size. Arlington has been designated a rapid transit community and our district must be zoned to a capacity of at least 5,115 dwellings. The capacity requirement doesn't mean "in addition to what's there now"; it's the total capacity of the district. Half of the district should be within half a mile from the transit station.
The next section of Ms. Lynema's presentation covers the state funding sources that we'd lose access to if Arlington failed to comply. Massworks is one of the funding sources we use. It provides grants for roadways, bike lanes, and other kinds of public infrastructure. Arlington is not currently a housing choice community, but if we meet those criteria, we'll gain access to those funds.
It's been several years since Arlington applied for Massworks funds, but we're currently applying for a grant to reconfigure the intersection of Mass Ave and Appleton Street. The average Massworks grant is $1.1M/project. Grants available under the Housing Choice Initiative are smaller.
The draft guidelines are based on reasonable size and capacity, and Arlington is currently not in compliance. We don't allow multi-family housing by right at all, and even a three-family home requires a special permit. We also don't have an existing district that meets the minimum capacity requirement.
Ms. Lynema provides the board with a timeline for compliance. The Select Board will be briefed on the requirements on May 2, 2022. The town needs to submit an action plan for compliance by March 31, 2023 and the action plan must be adopted by December 31, 2023.
Ms. Lynema says the members of the board are invited to submit comments to DHCD, and asks that copies be sent to planning staff as well. She plans to provide an update to the board when DHCD issues their final guidance.
The next section of Ms. Lynema's presentation provides several sketches of how the town might achieve compliance. The list of ideas includes:
- Allowing 3--4 family homes by right.
- Locating the district on or behind the Mass Ave corridor.
- Allowing multi-family housing by right in the higher density districts along the Mass Ave Corridor.
- Adopting a large 40R district, which was a recommendation from the Housing Production Plan.
- Allowing two ADUs per single-family home.
- The district could be located in three different areas of town: East Arlington, Arlington Heights, and possibly Arlington Center.
- The district could be located completely in East Arlington.
- We could also use an overlay district along the length of the Mass Ave Corridor -- perhaps 0.1 miles on each side of the street. This would be similar to what Arlington's business districts used to look like. It could be divided into sub-districts, allowing larger dwellings on the corridor, and stepping down further away.
Ms. Lynema asks if the board members have any questions or comments.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau would like to take a closer look at these options. He'd be interested in holding several forums, and meeting with residents, realtors, and brokers. He thinks Ms. Lynema's suggestions generally follow the master plan and existing zoning areas. This could also help with our housing shortage.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson agrees that there should be a public process. He's read the legislation and guidelines a few times. He believes that multi-family by special permit is prohibited, but the statue would allow for site plan review. He thinks we have to think about green space, the climate, and open space. These are all built up areas and the property owners will have to do something in order for them to change.
Mr. Benson has some concern about the size of buildings on Mass Ave, and feels they should be more than 3--4 units. He's surprised that DHCD considered the bus are in the heights a "bus station", but acknowledges that staff has confirmed this with the agency. Mr. Benson asks what Arlington would have to do to become a housing choice community.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says there are several requirements. One is to produce 300 dwellings in a five-year period. With the Housing Corporation of Arlington's downing square project, the comprehensive permit for 1165R Mass ave and some smaller projects, we're getting close to that number. She says we could get closer by allowing multi-family by right in some districts and reducing minimum parking requirements.
(Eugene Benson) Going back to the idea of allowing two ADUs in a single-family dwelling, Mr. Benson notes that one of this year's warrant articles proposes to allow two family homes by right in what are currently single-family districts. Our bylaw allows one ADU per dwelling in a two-family or duplex home, so that's potentially four dwellings/lot.
Mr. Benson would like to say something destabilizing next. He thinks the legislation is really important, but that DHCD's guidance is terrible and goes beyond what the legislation intended. He thinks it's not clear that DHCD has the right to impose the capacity requirements in the draft regulations. He thinks that municipalities that have traditionally worked to keep housing out should be required to do more. He hopes the town will submit comments stating that the guidance is bad and suggesting improvements.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery has a question about Mr. Benson's criticism of the capacity requirements.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says it has to do with their capacity calculation, and whether DHCD has the authority to ask communities to do what they're asking.
(Melisa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis feels that Massworks grants are too important to lose. She's seen those grants run as high as $3M/project, and didn't realize Arlington hadn't received one in the last five years. Ms. Tintocalis believes that mixed-use would be considered as meeting the requirements of the district. Further out, the structure of transit is different. She sees this more as an incentive for transit-oriented development, including businesses and commerce. She thinks that DHCD is genuinely looking for feedback.
(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak thinks this could be a real opportunity for Arlington. During the 20th century, the United States put a lot of emphasis on sprawl and automobile transport. We started to build things farther apart and that meant needing a car to get around. Automakers built lots of cars, and we built lots of roads, bridges, and interstate highways. Decades later, we have wicked bad traffic and way too much greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles.
Many of our strategies to reduce GHGs have focused on technical solutions: electric vehicles and air source heat pumps for example. Mr. Revilak agrees that the MBTA requirements are in the vein of transit oriented development, and a systemic solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, by allowing people to live closer to where they work, or closer to transit. He thinks that will facilitate a reduction in vehicle miles traveled.
Mr. Revilak thinks we should consider systemic solutions as well as technical ones. Taking the technical solutions off the table means, at best, that we'll have a more difficult time in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
That said, Mr. Revilak has some more specific comments on the district itself. If portions of the district are located in East Arlington, they'll likely be in an area that will be subject to sea level rise and storm surge flooding. He'd like to see a requirement that new buildings in that area are built above the base flood elevation, and that our height regulations won't get in the way of that. This is similar to the flood resilience measures the ZBWG has been discussing.
He'd like some portions of the district to allow six or more units by right; a scale that would trigger Arlington's inclusionary zoning bylaw. He'd be okay with making site plan review a requirement for projects of this scale.
In the spirit of transit-oriented development, Mr. Revilak hopes we could consider locating part of the district along the Minuteman Bikeway, which is a well-established transit route to Alewife Station.
He's also intrigued by the suggestion of putting part of the district in Arlington center, and wonders if we could consider areas with high bus ridership.
(Eugene Benson) (missed Mr. Benson's comment)
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he's got a question that's perhaps a little far out, but he'd like to ask it anyway. Is there any chance of bringing the Red Line back to Arlington?
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt believes the second phase of the Green Line Extension would be more likely. Bringing back the red line would probably require changes to the Minuteman Bikeway. Ms. Raitt says she gets asked this question a lot.
The chair opens the hearing to public comments.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer believes that what the legislation passed was simple: 15 units/acre within half a mile of a transit station, and easily accessible to transit. He says he's done an analysis of the Alewife area and calculated that it has 17 dwellings/acre on 62 acres. He believes that DHCD exceeded what the legislature passed by giving Arlington a minimum capacity of 5115 dwellings. Mr. Seltzer says he's submitted a detailed set of comments to the ARB, and ask if the board has any questions for him.
The board has no questions for Mr. Seltzer.
(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray asks if the 50 acres could be split across several districts.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema answers in the affirmative.
(Kristin Anderson) Ms. Anderson attended an MWRA meeting on Feb. 17th and heard that the MWRA sewer system in the Alewife area wasn't able to handle the capacity. She says there were 20 million gallons of CSO discharges last year, and that there are events where Deer Island's capacity is reached. Ms. Anderson believes the MWRA sewers can't handle the area's current needs and that climate change will exacerbate the problem. She wants Cambridge and Somerville to separate their sewer systems. She's not saying that we should stop development; she just wants to see the sewers separated.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson attended the MWRA meeting that Ms. Anderson summarized. He doesn't think that what's built in Arlington for the MBTA district will be an issue. The lack of sewer capacity comes from the combined systems, and the town might want to consider inflow and infiltration fees.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak recently asked the DPW director several questions about Arlington's sewer system and it's capacity. He noted that Arlington's population grew 8% between 2010 and 2020 and asked the DPW director if that put any strain on the system. He also asked if there was enough capacity to handle another 8% increase in population.
When responding, DPW Director Mike Rademacher pointed out that Arlington's population peaked in the 1970s, at between 53,000--54,000 residents. At that time, low-flow appliances were not in common use -- dishwashers, washing machines, low-flow toilets and the like. Even with the higher water usage, we had enough capacity in the sewer system. He felt there was enough capacity in the system to handle population growth.
Mr. Rademacher also told Mr. Revilak that the town's maintenance programs try to remove sources of infiltration into the sanitary sewers; doing this increases the capacity of the system.
Mr. Revilak commends Ms. Anderson for the work she's done to raise awareness of combined sewer overflows that discharge into Alewife Brook. He agrees that Somerville and Cambridge should separate their systems.
The ARB will receive updates from their appointees to the Envision Arlington Standing Committee and the Open Space Committee. Envision Arlington is first.
(Alex Bagnall, Envision Arlington Standing Committee) Mr. Bagnall has been with Envision Arlington for just over two years. He recently helped organize a panel discussion on affordable housing development, where the panelists talked about the challenges involved in building affordable housing, and approaches Arlington could consider. He also helped develop Envision Arlington's Civic Engagement Group. Mr. Bagnall says that Envision Arlington was originally called Vision 2020. It's a forward thinking group that was formed to help the town address future challenges. He'd like to see the group continue to think about future challenges, perhaps for the 2050 time frame.
(Jagat Adhiya, Envision Arlington Standing Committee) Mr. Adhiya joined Envision Arlington in June. There are various task groups and the Civic Engagement Group (CEG) is the most recent one. The CEG's goal is building inclusive civic engagement. He also tries to attend meetings of the Diversity Task Group; they're a very active and passionate group of people. There's now a full compliment of standing committee members. Envision is working on the 2022 town survey and the 2021 Survey report is in final review. Envision helps to organize Candidates night, which will be held on March 23rd this year. They're also co-sponsoring the Broadway Corridor Design Contest.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that Mr. Bagnall asked about a longer term vision for planning.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he didn't hear anything about growth of the town, and especially growing our business districts.
(Alex Bagnall) Mr. Bagnall says that Envision Arlington hasn't worked on economic development, but agrees that it would be an interesting long-range topic.
(Jagat Adhiya) Mr. Adhiya says there have been discussions about the town's three commercial districts, and how to make them more appealing.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the Arlington Tourism and Economic Development Committee (ATED) is being re-tooled, and there may be room for an ARB designee.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that the intention is to make ATED more comprehensive, and there have been talks about an Envision task group for economic development. At some point, Arlington will have to update it's master plan, and she thinks we should find a way to engage with Envision Arlington on that.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson said the town was just starting to work on Vision 2020 when he moved here, and he was a member of the standing committee for several years. He thinks it's a good place for people to get connected. Mr. Benson says that planning for 30 years in the future is a little like trying to read a crystal ball. He believes it will be interesting to think about what the metro area might look like in 30--40 years, and what Arlington's role will be.
(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis has no questions for Mr. Bagnall or Mr. Adhiya.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to give his own Envision Arlington anecdote. He remembers getting Envision Arlington's annual survey in the mail the first year he was living in Arlington. At that point in time we were looking at a budget override and the survey had several questions about what the town's budget priorities should be. He was blown away by this -- the town sending a survey to residents, and asking for their opinion on budget priorities. He'd never seen a community do that before.
Mr. Revilak notes that Envision Arlington was formed in the early 1990's, and was called Vision 2020 at the time. The groups goal was to think about what Arlington might look like in 2020. He likes Mr. Bagnall's idea for a Vision 2050, which is roughly the same time frame as the group's original charter.
Next, Wendy Richter will provide an update from the Open Space Committee.
(Wendy Richter, Open Space Committee) Ms. Richter has been the ARB's Open Space (OS) Committee liaison for several years. The committee has eleven members and a department liaison. They're tasked with preparing and monitoring the town's Open Space Plan. They're in the process of updating the OS plan, working in conjunction with Horsley-Witten. Goals of the open space plan include:
- Addressing climate change and sustainability
- Increasing public awareness and stewardship of our open space resources.
- Increasing regional management and planning
- Preserving, maintaining, and enhancing our open space resources.
- Acquiring and preserving valuable parcels (Ms. Richter thinks goal might be referring to the Mugar property).
The OS committee tracks projects like the Wellington Park improvements. They've also developed a set of maps to show the location of Arlington's pocket parks.
Ms. Richter says that Arlington has a limited amount of land, and that infill development should be balanced with maintaining our natural resources. That includes things like walking and biking connections, stormwater management, and spaces with seating, landscaping, and shade trees. She thinks the committee should review recent infill projects and the way the interact with natural resources. For example, the Brigham Square apartments include a natural retention area. She suggests the town could consider a way to establish payments to fund public open space improvements, and that natural features are important to development and important for livability.
Ms. Richter says that environmental justice is a new idea to her. For example, the fact that there tends to be less tree canopy in lower income areas. Hardscapes are another aspect of open space. For example, one could look at Mass Ave as a public space, and think about that in an urban design kind of way.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees that hardscapes and parklets are important public spaces.
(Eugene Benson (?)) Mr. Benson says that the state has an environmental justice map and Arlington has a few census blocks which are categorized that way. Think tree cover and heat island effects along parts of Mass Ave. He thinks access to parks is an important piece.
There is a concept of "biophillic cities". Mr. Benson suggests we could incorporate some of those standards into projects the board works with.
(Wendy Richter) Ms. Richter notes that the OS committee has an environmental justice map.
(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says there's a lot of value in the connections between cities and nature.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak also appreciated the mention of hardscapes. Arlington Center and Davis Square are two of the places he enjoys hanging out. Both are spaces in business districts where there's room for people to congregate, places to sit, and shade trees.
Mr. Revilak has been reading about the way that Paris is rethinking it's urban spaces, and he thinks they're doing really cool stuff. For example, taking areas that are predominantly roadways and turning them into urban forests, and just generally looking at ways to make the city more people-centric.
He's glad that the OS committee doesn't think strictly in terms of our public open space districts, and are looking at other areas of town, such as the business districts.
Approval of Meeting Minutes
The board amends and approves minutes from January 24th (5--0) and February 7th (5--0).
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming has a question for the board and planning department staff. He's submitted a warrant article that would rezone several residential parcels to business. He received a notice from the town, informing him about the proposed zoning change. Mr. Fleming found this surprising; although he lives near the area, he's not actually an abutter.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the town sends notices to abutters, and also sends a copy to the petitioner.
During the board's March 7th meeting, there will be a discussion about transitioning back to meeting in person.