Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jan 10th, 2018

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This was the second evening of ARB hearings on the Arlington Zoning Bylaw recodification.

DPDC director Jenny Raitt and ARB chair Andrew Bunnell give opening remarks, and open the floor to public comments.

(Steve Revilak). I provide an outline of the 1975 recodification, for comparison with the current process.

  • The ARB held four precinct meetings in Feb and March of 1975, to solicit feedback.
  • Substantial parts of the 1975 ZBL were written after those meetings: the table of uses, the table of dimensional and density regulations, and the section on signs. The ARB and planning department also worked on several issues that were controversial at the time: small lots, swimming pools, the definition of family, RV parking, and carnivals.
  • The ARB voted out their main motion on Aug 11, 1975.
  • The proposed recodification was first advertised on Aug 28, 1975.
  • The ARB held three days of public hearings, from Sept 15 - 17th of 1975.
  • Special town meeting began on Oct 6th, 1975.

I point out that, in 1975, the ARB voted their recommendation weeks before scheduling a public hearing. I told the ARB that I was glad "vote first and take questions later" was no longer the default approach to changing our zoning bylaws.

I noted that, in 1975, there were 2.5 weeks between the first advertisement of the ZBL and the ARB public hearings, and three weeks between the ARB hearings and special town meetings. That was a more compressed schedule than the current recodification.

I point out that approximately 80 pages have been added to the ZBL in the past 40 years; it was much shorter when passed. With that degree of piecemeal editing, it's no surprise the bylaw has become disorganized and unwieldy; and I cite several examples of where the bylaw lacks internal inconsistency.

I claim that the ZBL has to state our land use laws, but that it also has to be a tool for information retrieval. No architect or designer wants to read a mountain of text, only to find that 90% of it doesn't apply to their project. I hoped that misters Strunk and White would take less offense with the recodified bylaw.

(John Worden). Mr. Worden states that he was around for the 1975 recodification, and yes it was rushed. Back in those days, we printed everything in the newspapers and everyone knew exactly what they were getting. He tells the board that they have a choice, just like Moses at the foot of the mountain. He urges the board to vote down the recodification.

There are no more public comments; the ARB closes the comment period and begins to deliberate.

Gene: This has been a wonderful example of crowd-sourcing feedback. I'm torn about how to vote, because the staff has done a lot of work.

Kin: Thanks to Jenny Raitt and the Zoning Recodification Group. I'm disappointed with RKG, and the town having to pick up where they left off. I believe the goal was to avoid substantive changes, and the parties involved had good will. I haven't had a chance to digest everything in the written comments from the citizen's group.

David: I've seen this process firsthand for an entire year, and I think the working group members did far more work than they anticipated. Especially in the area of creating guidance documents, which were originally within RKG's scope. I thank the citizens group for their detailed comments, but I don't feel like I've had enough time to digest them. I'd like to wait on a vote.

Andy West: We've come a long way, and we're very close to the finish line. The master plan process has been excellently done. This is a way to give ourselves a platform for addressing substantive issues later. This is step one. I'd like to make sure we've dotted all the i's, but I don't want the process to lose momentum.

Andrew Bunnell: I've agonized over this. The working group has gone above and beyond. Things were done in the open, and not behind a set of closed doors, during a blizzard in 1978. Recodification is long overdue, and it will help us with major steps, like tackling our outdated housing stock and empty storefronts. I'm comfortable with accepting this work, but I am concerned about clerical issues, and sections that our consultant missed. I'd feel comfortable voting. Perfection is the enemy, and zoning is hard.

The next regularly schedule ARB meeting is Jan 22nd. We could continue the hearing then.

Andrew: Can we get the changes made in 10 days, or do we need to wait six weeks?

There's a resident who wants to speak, and Mr. Bunnell re-opens the meeting to public comment.

(Ted Paluzza). Anyone in this room tonight has an agenda. You guys have spent a lot of time on this, but there's no way that a 500-page document is going to bring people out. The recodification should be heard at a special town meeting; don't make it part of the regular town meeting. If 200 people show up for the special town meeting, only 25 will have actually read it. Suggestions will never end, and it will never be perfect. Nothing magical will come from waiting for a special town meeting. Stick with the special town meeting.

David: It's possible that we could fix up the typos between now and the 22nd. Regardless, there will still be debate over interpretation. I'm not thrilled that two of the neighborhood meetings are scheduled to take place before Jan 22nd. I'd like the final document to be available before the neighborhood meetings start.

Gene: Would we be able to have the working group address the citizen group's comments between now and the 22nd?

Jenny: I think so.

Kin: I think we'll need all the changes made by Jan 19th, so the ARB has time to examine them. I also feel that the recodification deserves a special town meeting.

Andy: I'd like to keep the momentum going.

Jenny: We can get a corrected document to the board by next week. This will be the hearing draft, with corrections as tracked changes.

Jenny invites members of the citizens group (or anyone else) to meet with her, to discuss changes.

Gene: If we're not ready on Jan 22nd, can we submit this as a warrant article for Special Town meeting.

Yes, we can do that.

Andrew Bunnell: I also feel that the recodification should be heard at a special town meeting, where it's the sole focus.

A member of the public would like to speak. Comment period re-opens.

(Wynelle Evans). The citizen group comments were based on the Dec 15th draft. I'm concerned that we won't have enough time to review changes made for Jan 22nd.

Gene: If we can work with a change-tracked document, that will be easier to understand.

Hearing continued to the next ARB meeting, on Jan 22nd.