Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jan 22nd, 2024

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

Meeting Minutes

The board approved minutes from their December 8, 2023 meeting, 5--0.

Citizen Warrant Articles

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says there are two citizen petitions up for discussion with the board this evening. The first involves allowing three-family homes everywhere, and the second involves rear yard setbacks in business districts

Three-family in R0, R1, R2

The three-family article is presented by JP Lewicke and Annie LaCourt.

(JP Lewicke) Mr. Lewicke says there were a lot of discussions during the public process for the MBTA Communities multifamily overlay, and one of the suggestions was to allow three-family homes by right throughout the town. Mr. Lewicke is discussing the article with Town Counsel, along with the associated voting threshold. The final article might allow three-family homes where they're not currently allowed, or both two-family and three-family. Mr. Lewicke says the goal is to address the regional and local housing shortages, while keeping the existing dimensional regulations in place.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says they've sent their warrant article language to Town Counsel and are waiting for his review.

(JP Lewicke) Mr. Lewicke says they're proposing changes to the use table for the R0, R1, and R2 zoning districts, along with small changes to the district definitions. He says they aren't planning to propose any changes to the dimensional regulations. Mr. Lewicke says they haven't finished drafting the main motion, but are looking for feedback on the general proposal. They're also wondering if three-family dwellings should be allowed by right in the R3 district, and how this might impact ADUs.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak asks if they're planning to keep the 2.5 story limit in the R0, R1, and R2 districts.

(JP Lewicke) Mr. Lewicke answers in the affirmative.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the warrant article language doesn't mention the R3 (three-family) district, and he suspects it may be out of scope of the warrant article as written. Mr. Revilak notes that the R3--R7 districts make up a very small portion of the town's land area, whereas R0, R1, and R2 are much bigger.

Mr. Revilak doesn't see any conflicts with the ADU provisions in the bylaw. ADUs are allowed in all residential and business districts, in conjunction with single- and two-family homes. He says that a property with a two-family home and an ADU wouldn't be able to convert the two-family to a three-family, and the owner of a three-family home couldn't add an ADU.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson notes that three-family homes are already allowed in the R3 district by special permit. He talked with a constituent earlier today who expressed concern that new homes would look like two- or three-family homes, rather than single-family homes. Mr. Benson says he'd have a hard time agreeing to allow three-family homes in more districts without site plan review, because were doing site plan review for multi-family housing developed under the MBTA Communities overly. He asks Mr. Lewicke and Ms. LaCourt to think about whether site plan review made sense.

Mr. Benson says that the MBTA Communities zoning was just passed, and three-family everywhere isn't what the ARB recommended. He wonders if it's too soon for this change, and whether we should wait and see how MBTA Communities plays out. Mr. Benson would like the proponents to think about how much property turnover there'd be in the next five years.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston would be interested in an analysis of the potential development. She supposes there's likely to be more conversions than new construction. She wonders if site plan review would be necessary when a builder isn't changing the building envelope. She'd also like to understand the effects on parking.

(JP Lewicke) Mr. Lewicke says they were planning to keep the requirement of one parking space per dwelling, along with the current parking and driveway regulations.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau understands that Mr. Lewicke and Ms. LaCourt are looking for three-family dwellings in the same shape and size as single-family, on the same lot size. In other words, they're advocating for smaller units. Mr. Lau asks if they've looked at the size of units that could be built.

(Annie LaCourt) Mr. LaCourt says a single-family home across the street from her was rebuilt, and the new home is about 5000 square feet, on a 6000 square foot lot. She thinks a home of that size could easily accommodate three dwellings.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that two means of egress are required when going from two- to three-family dwellings, or a sprinkler system. He asks Mr. Lewicke and Ms. LaCourt to think about how that changes cost parameters, and the resulting cost per square foot. If this goes to town meeting, he'd like the public to have an idea of what these buildings would look like.

(JP Lewicke) Mr. Lewicke believes they'll be able to respond to those different areas.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests being careful with layout, the number of bedrooms, and availability for families.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB) Ms. Zsembery has a question about intent: if Town Counsel decides that allowing both two- and three-family homes would require a two-thirds vote, would Mr. Lewicke and Ms. LaCourt proceed along those lines, or allow three-family only, in order to have a 50% voting threshold.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says they could get a greater variety of housing types if Town Counsel determines it's a majority vote. If Town Counsel decides that the inclusion of two-family homes raises the threshold to two-thirds, then they'd have to consider whether to go with three-family only, or take a step back.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she read the original proposal as allowing two- and three-family homes in single- and two-family districts. She thinks that skipping over two-family homes would be disingenuous.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt agrees that skipping over two-family homes would feel weird.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that precinct meetings will be important, and the more types of people that Mr. Lewicke and Ms. LaCourt can bring to the table, the better. She wants them to bring goodwill.

(JP Lewicke) Mr. Lewicke asks about venues for public meetings.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that work falls on the citizens who bring the petition.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to know which is assessed at a higher value: a 6000 square foot single-family home, or a 6000 square foot three-family home (2000 square feet/dwelling). He also agrees with Ms. Zsembery's remarks about allowing one- and three-family dwellings, but not two-family.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak concurs. He thinks that allowing two- and three-family dwellings makes more sense than just allowing three-family. He'd prefer a proposal to allow both two- and three-family dwellings, even if it meant a two-thirds vote.

Rear Setbacks in Business Districts

Andy Greenspon is before the board to discuss a potential warrant article regarding rear-yard setbacks in business districts.

(Andy Greenspon) Mr. Greenspon recalls a warrant article that was passed in the last town meeting, which established rear yard setbacks that varied by building height. A 20-foot setback is required for three stories, but going to four stories changes the setback requirement to 30 feet. Mr. Greenspon proposes changing this to 20 feet for the first three stories, with an addition 10 foot step back for the fourth story and above (i.e., the fourth story would have to be 30' from the property line while lower stories could be 20'). Mr. Greenspon says that a 30' step back requirement for all stories reduces the overall square footage of what could be built, and he feels that a step back at the fourth story would be more economically viable. He says that Somerville does something similar in their Mid-rise district.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees with Mr. Greenspon, and he thinks this approach would allow more commercial space on the ground floor. Mr. Lau says there are a number of things to evaluate with four-story buildings, like the need for an elevator. A fourth story might not make sense on a shallow lot with a 30 foot setback.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is supportive. She was thinking about Arlington's front step-back requirements and wondering if the upper stories would be squeezed.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks this proposal might require a change to the definition of setback. He says these buildings will come to the ARB for design review, and the ARB has the ability to adjust step back requirements.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is supportive. He's been reading a zoning code that requires step-backs on the rear of buildings rather than in the front, and he's warming up to the idea.

(Andy Greenspon) Mr. Greenspon acknowledges that the ARB can adjust setbacks, but he thinks it's good to have a baseline that works better financially. He says he can go with framing the requirement in terms of a step back or setback.

Redevelopment Board Warrant Articles

The board reviews language for the warrant articles they're planning to bring to town meeting.

Article 1 involved the definitions of "building, attached", and "building, detached". The board members are okay with the language proposed.

Article 2 involves an administrative correction to Section 5.4.2.A. Board members make a minor edit.

Article 3 involves an administrative change to Section 5.9.2. Board members are okay with this.

Article 4 involve the removal of Section 5.8, Inland Wetland District. Board members are okay with this one.

Article 5 involves height buffer areas. Mr. Benson provided several wordings for the warrant language, and the board opts for number three.

There's a motion to submit these warrant articles, as amended. Motion passes, 5--0.

Warrant Article Hearings

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker proposes a schedule for this spring's warrant article hearings. The proposal is

  • Feb 26th. ARB and ZBA articles.
  • Mar 4th. Citizen articles.
  • Mar 11th. Additional hearing for citizen articles, if needed.
  • Mar 18th. Affordable Housing overlay. Ms. Ricker suggests reserving town hall, as there may be a lot of interest in the article.
  • April 1st. Board deliberations and voting.
  • April 4th. Discussing a draft report to town meeting.
  • April 8th. Approving the report to town meeting.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board will need to discuss reduced height buffers on Feb 5th. She expresses concern about the Affordable Housing Overlay article, and the amount of public process it's had so far.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is concerned that this schedule won't give the board an opportunity to review project proposals.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board has done project hearings before warrant article hearings in the past.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wonders if the three-family proposal will draw a lot of people, and the town hall auditorium will be needed.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks there's merit in hearing the affordable housing overlay and three-family proposal the same night, in a larger venue.

Review of Draft Changes to Rules and Regulations

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that Mr. Benson drafted changes to Rule 20, Site Plan Review. We'll need to advertise a hearing in order to make the changes; tonight's agenda item is just for a discussion.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the current draft of Rule 20 is an amalgam of Ms. Ricker's initial draft, the CPTC handbook, other pieces of board rules and regulations, and Chapter 40A. Mr. Benson asks the board to consider whether the pre-meeting requirement should be optional for smaller projects, like 3--4 units. As part of the application, applicants will need a letter from the Affordable Housing Trust or Planning Department, regarding any affordable housing component. He says the timeline for Site Plan Review is similar to what the board current uses for Environmental Design Review.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has four suggestions. The first three are minor corrections, and the fourth is more substantive. Mr. Revilak notes that EDR permits are good for three years, not counting any time taken for appeals, and may be extended for good cause. He'd like to see similar consideration given to Site Plan Review.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston thinks the timelines to open the hearing and render a decision are too long, and potentially onerous.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests a change to 20.A, so that the zoning bylaw determines when site plan review is required. She thinks the board might want to use site plan review more robustly in the future. She'd also like to require documentation when applicants are using height bonuses.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks how the materials listed in 20.B will be submitted.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that the site plan review application could say what's required for submission.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery wonders if tying site plan review to the multi-family overlay hems the board in too much. She suggests the rule say something to the effect of "where identified in the bylaw". Ms. Zsembery asks a question about documentation for bonus provisions.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests putting documentation requirements in the site plan review application.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker asks if site plan approval will be by majority vote.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks a majority vote is appropriate for as-of-right projects.

(Eugene Benson) Mr Benson says there's a pending rules and regulations change to give staff more discretion in approving sign changes. Mr. Benson thinks that three- and four-unit dwellings should be exempt from the pre-application meeting.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker suggests making the pre-application meeting mandatory for projects with five or more dwellings.

Open Forum

There are no speakers for tonight's open forum.

New Business

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says she asked the developer of 882--892 Mass Ave to provide an updated set of renderings; these were included with this evening's board packet. She says the project's architect is looking at alternative products for the vents, but she hasn't received any samples yet.

The board discusses the rendering.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he received an email from a concerned citizen, who questioned whether the Executive Office of Housing and Liveable Communities (EOHLC) had approved the smaller units as affordable housing.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker believes the concerned citizen might have reached out to EOHLC before they received a copy of our regulatory agreement. She says the agreement is in the process of being signed.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston asks if the regulatory agreement contemplates the existing units.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker answers in the affirmative.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston would prefer that the affordable units be a range of sizes, but thinks the average size is acceptable.

Meeting adjourned.