Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jan 25th, 2021
Meeting held via remote participation. Meeting materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1258.
Amendments to Board Rules and Regulations
The board considers a set of changes to its rules and regulations.
(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Mr. Raitt says there was only one written public comment submitted with respect to the board's proposed rule changes. It's from Christopher Loreti, and it's included in the board's meeting packet.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks if the changes are confined to section 10.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says yes. All of the changes are in section 10, and involve the timing and posting of board materials.
There are no comments from Board members Katie Levine Einstein, Kin Lau, or David Watson.
The chair opens public comment for this item.
(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti suggests that the board regulations regulations should include a rule that prohibits ex-parte communications. He believes they're unethical. He believes that the board is lax about requiring models, and that models should be required by default. He asks if the board is still interested in doing environmental design review (EDR). He claims the board isn't going a thorough job with EDR, and suggests there may be a future warrant article that shifts this responsibility to the ZBA.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that none of the board meetings have violated the rules in section 16, and she takes issue with Mr. Loreti's statements. She disagrees with Mr. Loreti's opinion that models should be required by default.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau takes issue with Mr. Loreti's remarks. He says he's individually met with project applicants, but only after agreeing to do so during a public hearing with the applicant. He says the goal is to get better projects for the town.
(Christopher Loreti) Mr. Loreti doesn't like the idea of individual board members consulting with project applicants outside of public meetings.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that any time an individual board members meets with an applicant for consultation, those meetings are recognized by the board during a public hearing.
(Stuart Brorson) Mr. Brorson believes that Mr. Loreti's request is reasonable.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer asks the board if they've considered public impact. He'd like hearing materials to be made available sooner. He'd also like to be able to submit visuals closer to the hearing date.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says there's nothing improper about an individual board member meeting with an applicant. Sometimes the board asks applicants to do so. He says these meetings don't fit the definition of an ex-parte communication. Mr. Benson takes exception to the idea that the board doesn't take EDR seriously. He believes there should be latitude for submitting visuals late. He suggests a wording change to allow for late submissions, due to extenuating circumstances.
(David Watson, ARB) Mr. Watson recognizes that there are challenges with respect to the amount of time available for reviewing materials. He believes the rule changes are an improvement, and the board can continue to make refinements.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that visual materials could be incorporated into written comments. He thinks that would be just as effective.
Ms. Levine Einstein and Mr. Lau suggest leaving the proposed language as is. Mr. Benson withdraws his amendment.
Rule changes adopted, 5--0.
Zoning Bylaw amendments to be submitted by the Redevelopment Board for 2021 Annual Town Meeting
This item involves zoning articles that the town may want to submit.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that she and Erin Zwirko have started the drafting process, and have spoken with town counsel about the warrant article submission.
(Erin Zwirko, Planning Department) The first article is a change to Affordable housing regulations. It would change the two-year anti-phasing provision to three years.
Another article would add a definition for apartment conversions. Apartment conversion is a listed use in the use tables, but the bylaw doesn't define what an apartment conversion is.
Another article would clarify that usable open space and landscaped open space requirements are based on a percentage of gross floor area.
(David Watson, ARB) Mr. Watson asks if there will be any changes to the way that gross floor area is calculated.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says no.
Another article will be a clarification around prohibited uses. It would explicitly state that any use not denoted "Y" or "SP" is prohibited.
Another article would add a legend to one of the dimensional and density tables. One table lacks the legend that appears on the other tables.
Another article would remove gendered references from the zoning bylaw, and change "Board of Selectmen" to "Select Board".
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson would like the board to submit another administrative correction. Section 3.3.4(A) has a cross reference to section 7, but that cross reference should refer to section 5.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko continues with the list of articles.
The next article involves marijuana uses. The state has promulgated regulations about marijuana retail. The state regulations include a category called "marijuana delivery retailer", and our bylaw doesn't cover this use. She says that a marijuana delivery retailer is an establishment that delivers marijuana products, but is not open to the public.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if this change would add a new zoning district.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says no. This would be a new use, allowed in districts where manufacturing is allowed.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if this affects the multi-use and open space districts.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says there'd be changes to the table that lists uses in the Open Space, Industrial, PUD, and multi-use districts. They're all listed in the same table, but only the industrial district is affected.
The next article involves the industrial district zoning that was presented to the board a few meetings ago.
Another article would ask town meeting to adopt the current zoning map. It's good practice to do this periodically, and town meeting hasn't adopted the zoning map since the 1990s.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if there will be changes to the map.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says no. Town meeting would simply be asked to adopt the map, including all changes made since the last adoption.
Ms. Zwirko says that Chris Loreti plans to resubmit an article that was deferred from the 2020 annual town meeting. Pasi Miettinen also has an article related to energy efficient homes.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery recalls the board's meeting with Mr. Miettinen, and Mr. Lau's questions about that article proposal. She asks if Mr. Lau's questions have been answered.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he attended a meeting with the clean energy futures committee, and he's all set now.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says there will be an article related to MBTA communities. This comes out of the economic development bill that was recently passed by the state legislature, and signed by the governor. It requires MBTA communities to provide for a district that allows multi-family housing by right, within 1/2 mile of transit stations. For Arlington, this is a half-mile radius around the Alewife T station. The planning department suggests allowing multi-family by right in the B2A and B4 districts. PUD, R2, and B1 are the other districts located within a half-mile of Alewife station.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the law requires towns to adopt a district of reasonable size. There are B2A and B4 districts within a half-mile radius of Alewife station. In addition to allowing multi-family by right, the district also needs to allow density at the rate of 15 units/acre. The PUD district is the Mugar family parcel, where a 40B project is under review. There is only one PUD district in town. Allowing multi-family by right in the R2 district would open all R2 districts to this use.
Ms. Raitt says these requirements will become effective 90 days after the governor signed the legislation into law. Municipalities must comply in order to be eligible for MassWorks funds. Arlington is planning to apply for a MassWorks grant to improve the intersection at Mass Ave and Appleton Street.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if Alewife is the only traffic hub we need to consider. He asks if our bus station (in the heights) would be considered a hub.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says we have bus stops, but not bus stations.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau feels like there's not much time to study this requirement.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt agrees. This warrant article is a placeholder, so the planning department can do more research.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson appreciates the need to move this article along. He has a concern with allowing multi-family by right. Arlington's inclusionary zoning applies to developments with six or more units, and all of these require a special permit. He asks if there's any possibility of missing opportunities to create inclusionary units. If necessary, there should be something in the warrant article that would allow us to require inclusionary zoning outside of the special permit process.
Mr. Benson points out that Arlington's zoning-bylaw defines multi-family housing as buildings with four units or more. The new definition in the state law defines multi-family housing as three or more units. He thinks we could meet the state requirements by allowing three-family by right, and that wouldn't affect inclusionary zoning.
Mr. Benson thinks the requirement applies to a half-mile around Alewife station, and that we're not required to extend it throughout the entire town. He suggests using an overlay district in that half-mile radius, where three-family homes could be allowed by right. The district is already zoned for two-family homes.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that it's not as simple as allowing three-family homes by right. The law also requires the district to support 15 units/acre. She says this might require amendments to section 3.4 and 8.2. She thinks section 8.2 needs to be relevant.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says that three-family homes have a 2500 square foot lot area per dwelling unit requirement in any district where they're allowed. That means you need a 7,500 square foot lot in order to build a three-family home. We don't have enough 7,500 square foot lots to achieve a density of 15 units/acre.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that an overlay district could encapsulate other regulations. (i.e., the overlay could specify different dimensional regulations in addition to different use regulations).
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that amending the underlying district is an option. These requirements are new, and her department is still trying to figure them out. She thinks the overlay concept is a good point.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to look at this from homeowners and developers points of view. The intent is to allow more housing, and he doesn't want to hamstring that.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the article can be broad enough to leave room for additional study and consideration in the main motion. She'd like to get input from realtors and contractors.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says that we can't make the zoning change if we don't put an article forward, and we'll lose the ability to apply for MassWorks grants if we don't make the zoning change. Therefore, we need something on the warrant, but we don't have much time to study the issue. He asks if references to the B2A and B4 district can be removed from the article, so the board has more options when crafting the main motion. He asks if there's a reason why we couldn't apply the multi-family requirement to the PUD district.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the proposed article is currently a placeholder, and there's no reason to leave anything out. She says the planning department could prepare different articles, but believes that there should be a list of districts in the warrant article.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests the article could say "districts within a half-mile of Alewife stations", rather than giving a district list. He thinks the article also needs to reference sections 3.4 and 8.2. He suggests it would be worth having a conversation with town counsel. Sections 4 and 5 may need to be referenced too.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says that section 6 includes off-street parking and signs. She thinks we may not need to reference that.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to have parking within the scope of the article. He thinks the board should talk about reducing parking requirements, since the area is so close to the Alewife T station.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the article will need more conversation and analysis.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery senses the board would like to explore an overlay district. She'd like to see a second article filed, if the overlay can't fit into the current article proposal.
(Katie Levine Einstein, ARB) Ms. Levine Einstein would like to make sure that as we iterate, we make it easy to build housing. That's the spirit of the state law.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the intersection of Mass Ave and Appleton street is very important, and she'd like to make sure the town is able to apply for MassWorks grants.
The board opens the hearing to public comment.
(Stuart Brorson) Regarding the MBTA communities article, Mr. Brorson likes what Ms. Raitt and Ms. Zwirko had done. He likes the idea of allowing multi-family housing by right in the B2A and B4 districts. He says that the master plan encourages development on Massachusetts Ave, and that replacing crappy building on Mass Ave would be good.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says the board wants to look at the best way to comply with the changes to 40A, and how to constrain the changes. He says this isn't a discussion about all of R2.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says he appreciates the difficulty in dealing with the state mandate. He says the B2A districts are mostly large pharmacies and a Stop and Shop. He asks the board to consider what would happen if these properties became residential.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak likes the idea of an overlay district. He's a big fan of triple-deckers, and would welcome having more of them in Arlington. Mr. Revilak asks the board to consider the section of our bylaw that deals with non-conformities. Many of the parcels near the Alewife T station are small, and don't meet the vested rights provision in chapter 40A -- 5000 square feet and 50 feet of frontage. If we create an overlay to allow allow multi-family housing in this area, we'll need to ensure that non-conforming lots aren't an obstacle.
(Note: during my comments, I made reference to section 8.2 of the zoning bylaw; I misspoke. I had intended to reference Section 8.1, which deals with non-conforming uses and structures).
(Pasi Miettinen) Mr. Miettinen is supportive. He thinks this will help Arlington meet its energy efficiency goals.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that an overlay district would make it easier to take small lots into account. He expects some challenges in crafting the right language.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt asks if the warrant article about energy efficient homes should be filed by the ARB or by Pasi Miettinen, the citizen petitioner.
(Pasi Miettinen) Mr. Miettinen would prefer to have the ARB file the article.
The ARB is supportive of filing the article on their own.
Proposed Citizen Petition Zoning Warrant Article
James Fleming plans to file a zoning article that would reduce or eliminate parking minimums in the town of Arlington. This purpose of this hearing is to allow Mr. Fleming to present his article to the board, and receive feedback.
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says the purpose of his article is to reduce or remove minimum parking requirements from the zoning bylaw. He believes this will benefit new businesses that would otherwise have difficulty complying with parking requirements, and could reduce rents in new residential construction.
Mr. Fleming says it's hard to create a good set of parking minimums. For example, two restaurants can have completely different sets of parking needs. Fixed parking regulations don't adapt to changes in transit, such as the increased interest in cycling. Parking minimums make it hard to build nice pedestrian environments. Finally, more off-street parking tends to encourage more automobile traffic.
Mr. Fleming would have preferred to eliminate parking minimums altogether, but realizes that may be too much of a stretch. He's thinking of something along the lines of the recent parking reductions to the B3 and B5 districts.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that Mr. Fleming approached her by email. He was interested in feedback, and getting a sense of the board's feelings.
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he's also interested in hearing reasons why he should put this article forward, and what might be possible to pass at town meeting.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau finds the article interesting, and would tentatively support it. He asks if the proposal involves more than reducing or eliminating minimum parking requirements.
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he's just interested in reducing or eliminating parking requirements.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if that might allow a builder to have more open space on a property.
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming say yes, a builder would have that option.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau acknowledges that there's a cost to parking. He's generally supportive of the idea.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he talked to Mr. Fleming over the phone. Mr. Benson likes the idea of extending parking reductions to other districts. He'd have a problem with going to zero, but he'd support reductions.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says he had an email correspondence with Mr. Fleming. He'd like to continue this conversation. He says the board is generally flexible with granting parking reductions, and there wasn't much push back from town meeting on the proposal to reduce parking requirements in the B3 and B5 districts. He's not sure the board should do such a bold proposal. People (in Massachusetts?) averaged just under 1.5 vehicles/household from 1990--2015. Since then nearly 50% of households have gone to having one car or less. He'd like to talk about parking maximums, to avoid requiring more parking than is appropriate.
(Katherine Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein likes the proposal, and the idea of parking maximums. She says the politics of parking are changing. Lots of communities are getting rid of cars, and the idea is becoming more mainstream.
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he thought about parking maximums. He's not proposing that now, because he thought it would be too much a change for one town meeting.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that parking maximums are at the cutting edge of policy ideas. We might bring that forward in a year, but not now. He'd like to see whether the T restores transit service when the pandemic is over. He recognizes that there are some disadvantages to parking maximums, like the ability to accommodate visitors. He says the board would need to think this through.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks maximums are a great idea, but that should be a separate proposal. He thinks that incremental steps are the way to go, and a parking reduction would be a great incremental step.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that this is Mr. Fleming's article and not the board's. The intention is that Mr. Fleming would file it.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that extending the B3, B5 reductions would be an achievable win.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson thinks that town meeting has been comfortable with incremental changes to parking regulations. He says that Mr. Fleming could propose something big to spark discussion, or something that has a good chance of passing.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if Mr. Fleming would want the board to vote favorable action vs no action.
(missed a bit here).
The chair opens this item to public comment.
(Stuart Brorson) Mr. Brorson thinks this is a wonderful idea, and that Mr. Fleming should run with it. He suggests that Mr. Fleming contact a group called Walking in Arlington, and asks that discussion of the ADU article be tabled.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that accessory dwelling units are not on the agenda for tonight's meeting. The board received on letter regarding ADUs, but they're not on the agenda.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak likes the proposal for a parking reduction. He'd like to offer a historical perspective, and has a specific request for Mr. Fleming.
On the historical side, Arlington rewrote the town's zoning laws in the 1970s. At that time, there was a desire to limit the amount of population growth. They did this by changing the district definitions to match how the built environment looked at the time. A small apartment building became part of a low-density apartment district; a large apartment building became part of a high-density apartment district; an area that was predominantly two-family homes would became two-family district, and so on. It seems like the idea was to allow housing that had already been built, but no more. The strategy worked. The town's population didn't grow, and it even declined in subsequent years.
Mr. Revilak says he's been to many permitting hearings, and has observed that traffic is often a topic of concern, especially for larger projects. Everyone is concerned about traffic. Nobody likes traffic. So we are always talking about traffic.
If one can use zoning to control population growth by limiting the opportunity to construct new housing, then one could use zoning to control traffic growth, by limiting the amount of space devoted to off street parking.
Mr. Revilak hopes that Mr. Fleming would consider looking at parking requirements for apartments. Mr. Revilak lives in a two-bedroom half duplex, and our zoning bylaw requires one parking space. Compare this with a two-bedroom apartment, which requires 1.5 parking spaces. Mr. Revilak sees this as a historic bias that tries to discourage denser and less expensive forms of housing, like apartment buildings.
(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton thinks Mr. Fleming's article will be a great vehicle for discussion. She looks forward to seeing it at town meeting.
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming thanks the board, and says this has been helpful.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt describes the process for submitting a warrant article, having a hearing, and the need to draft a main motion.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests that Mr. Fleming work with Ms. Raitt and Ms. Zwirko on crafting a main motion.
Approval of Meeting Minutes
The board discusses and adopts minutes from their October 5th meeting.
Members of the board and planning department discuss the schedule for warrant article submissions, hearings, and town meeting.
(Kin Lau) At a future meeting, Mr. Lau would like the board to review the list of projects they've approved, and see what the status of each project is. He'd like to know if they're getting built or not.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the planning department would need to do due diligence on projects that have not moved forward.
The chair opens the Open Forum portion of the meeting. No members of the public wish to speak.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery points out that this is Ms. Levine Einstein's last night with the board.
(Katie Levine Einstein) Ms. Einstein expresses her gratitude to the other board members.