Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jan 27th, 2020

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Docket 3602, 1207--1211 Mass Ave. The applicant is James Doherty. He's represented by attorney Mary Winstanley-O'Connor. Greg Macintosh is the architect.

Mr. Macintosh presents the updated proposal. The current plan involves a change to the curb cuts. The existing site has two curb cuts, which will be moved to create a drop-off area. They've also relocated the dumpster.

The building exterior was changed to brick and stone cladding, to look more like the surrounding buildings. The lower level will use limestone. Other sections will use red brick and a light mortar.

Short term bicycle parking will be in front of the building, on the eastern side of the lot. Indoor bicycle storage will be located close to the elevator. The number of indoor bicycle parking spaces is larger than the previous iteration.

All front paving will be pervious, to prevent runoff.

The planting plan includes a tree perimeter along the rear edge of the property. There will be a rain garden in the back of the building.

There will be 22 hotel rooms on the first two floors. These are intended for longer stays.

The parking garage ramp will have a 1:20 slope.

The applicants provided shadow studies for existing and proposed conditions. The existing trees cast nearly as much shadow as the proposed building. Two abutters have solar arrays, but neither of them will be affected by the shadows.

Erin Zwirko responds to several points raised in a correspondence from Don Seltzer. She says the project is being treated as non-residential, not residential. Ms. Zwirko would like to receive a plot plan with contours. She notes that driveway slope requirements apply to the R0--R3 districts; there are no slope requirements here. Usable Open Space requirements are computed from the residential portion of a mixed use project, and there is no residential component here. Ms. Zwirko states that the use is mixed use, which is allowed in B2 and B4.

Ms. Zwirko states that the submitter should provide a certified plot plan with contour lines, and a full accounting of FAR and GFA calculations.

Kin Lau agrees that the board needs to see a plan with topographical markings. He's fine with the Clark Street setback, but wants to see setback measurements for the adjacent buildings. Mr. Lau thinks the plan meets upper story setback requirements because the first floor is already set back. He appreciates the two street-level renderings, and likes the view coming from Lexington. He likes the relocation of the trash area. He'd like a topological drawing that shows garage height and grading.

Mr. Macintosh states that all surface water and drainage will be handled on site. Mr. Lau would like to see this on a drawing.

David Watson liked the way the drop off area was moved out of the street and onto the property, as well as the changes to bicycle parking. He understands that on-site parking will be handled by valets, and thinks that makes sense for a constrained area. Mr. Watson is concerned that guests won't use the valet service, and he asks the applicant to encourage guests to use the valet.

Mr. Watson is disappointed at the lack of detailed traffic analysis. This is a complex intersection, especially during peak hours. He has some concerns about the upper story step back. He understands the proponents argument, but isn't sure the bylaw allows them to interpret the requirements in that way.

Mr. Dohery states that 117 Broadway (a project previously approved by the board) has identical upper story step backs.

Mr. Watson is concerned about having a project that straddles two districts. He doesn't know if the B4 regulations would cover the joined lot, or if the use would be considered "mixed use" (which is allowed in both B2 and B4). Ms. Zwirko will ask town counsel to write a formal opinion on the use question.

Eugene Benson agrees with the critiques that Ms. Raitt stated in her memo of Jan 21st. He asks where restaurant patrons will park. Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor replies "probably not in the parking lot". Mr. Benson would like to see this documented.

Mr. Doherty states that 40% of the Porter Square Hotel's guests arrive via ride share. He doesn't expect every hotel guest to have a car. The hotel will have tandem spaces, available only through a valet service.

Mr. Benson asks where the staff will park. Mr. Doherty says he's working on a parking agreement with Sunrise living. He's also looking at other parking sources nearby, and working on a transportation demand management plan.

Mr. Benson asks about the maximum number of hotel staff. Mr. Doherty says there will be at least two employees working 24x7. The restaurant will have 6--10 staff, depending on the day of the week. There will be an additional 3--4 staff for house cleaning. This facility won't have a lot of employees, like an office building would.

Mr. Benson thinks the sidewalk and drop off area look good. He asks how wide the sidewalk is. The sidewalk is 5' wide, and the drop-off is compliant with DOT standards.

Mr. Benson understands the shadows will hit one of the abutting buildings with a solar panel installation. Mr. Macintosh says that the shadows will reach that building, but not the side where the solar panels are mounted.

Mr. Benson can't find anywhere in the bylaw that allows the ARB to interpret the upper story step-back requirement like the applicant wishes them to. He understands their rationale but the board needs to be consistent with the bylaw.

Rachel Zsembery feels the changes made to the Clark Street side of the building are all positive. She thinks the second and third story projections in the front are out of scale with the rear. She suggests variation in the materials, or simply making the front more like the rear.

Ms. Zsembery asks about the louvers. Mr. Macintosh says that the Louvre's in the drawings are preliminary. They're considering different materials, and the design may change when the mechanical units are specified.

Ms. Zsembery suggests a different window arrangement on the rear of the building. Mr. Macintosh says the rear windows were chosen to provide natural light, but he can look at different arrangements.

Ms. Zsembery isn't sure that it makes sense to put signage on the Clark Street side of the building. She suggests moving the sign to the front.

Mr. Watson appreciates the shadow studies, and the applicants efforts to take topography into account.

Mr. Lau asks about the name of the hotel -- why is called the Hotel Lexington? Mr. Doherty says the name was inspired by a hotel in New York.

Andrew Bunnell thanks the applicants for their work, but acknowledges that there's still more work to do. That said, he opens the meeting to public comment.

(Ann LeRoyer) Ms. LeRoyer would like a clarification about the B2 zoning. She states that hotels are not allowed in the B2 district, and that the hotel doesn't fit into the neighborhood. She asks about traffic from the liquor store that's proposed for the next block. She's like to see a rendering of the Pierce Street side of the building, and thinks it looks like six stories from the rear. She's concerned that they'll have to cut down trees during the construction.

(Carol McDonald) Ms. McDonald says she can't turn left onto Appleton street because of school traffic. Glare makes it hard to see cars coming.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak recalls the meeting that the ARB and Select Board held two weeks go. During the public comment period, numerous people pointed out that Arlington's commercial tax base is very small -- 5.6%. If I understood their remarks correctly, several of them expressed hope that we could expand the commercial tax base in the future. There are numerous reasons why our commercial tax base is so small, mainly because Arlington doesn't exactly have a history of welcoming commercial development with open arms. We don't make it easy to build here.

I think this is a nice project, and the street renderings look really good. I hope we can work out the details. I'm sure that Mr. Doherty has a plan B, in case the hotel doesn't work out. These B districts allow one- and two-family homes by right. If the hotel isn't approved, I wouldn't be surprised to see these properties turn into a pair of single- or two-family homes. It would not be the first time such a thing has happened. The point I'm trying to make: good commercial projects don't come along very often in Arlington. If we turn this one down, there's not likely to be another one waiting in line behind it.

(?) The speaker lives on Piece street and thinks a six-story building would be visceral to the neighborhood. Clark street has lots of cut through traffic. How will pickup for laundry and trash work? I expect it will be disruptive. She expects the neighborhood will turn into a parking lot and become dangerous.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says he's speaking on behalf of Arlington Residents for Responsible Development, who've reviewed the hotel plans. He points out this is a corner lot, and disagrees with the proposed setbacks. He disagrees with the applicant's interpretation of upper story set-backs. He states that nothing in this proposal addresses usable open space requirements. He believes the floor area ratio is too high, and bonus provisions don't apply to a lot of this size. He disagrees with the applicant's calculation of driveway slope.

(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti claims that a key document is missing from the application: the table of dimensional information. He believes the applicants measurements are wrong. He suggest that a hotel is a residential use, and must therefore meet residential open space requirements. He asserts that a hotel cannot be part of a mixed use building on this site, because one of the properties is in B2. He encourages the board to get an opinion from outside counsel, because if they approve it, their decision is likely to be appealed.

(Eileen Park) Ms. Park says that parking is a very big issue. She'd like to see the rear elevation of the building. Cars drive really fast on Clark St, and the loading area will block cars. She says the applicant must consider the safety of the neighborhood, and that a traffic study is required. She deals with traffic every day, and middle schoolers who cross the street without looking. She believes that construction will back up traffic.

(Jordan Kass) Mr. Kass think that the traffic is a town problem, and not the developer's problem. People are allowed to park on the street. If you don't want people parking on your street, that's a town issue, and not the developer's. As long as there's enough parking for hotel guests, he's okay.

(Nels Fry) Mr. Fry lives on Academy street. He'd love to have the hotel in his neighborhood, if Arlington Heights doesn't want it. This hotel looks like many of the boxes going up in the area, but perhaps that's because our zoning is so restrictive. He suggests green walls (that's green, as in plants). Couldn't we put something like this in Arlington center? Or perhaps we could incorporate some amenities for the neighborhood, like a space for kids or a bicycle repair station.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner feels that give and take is important for the neighborhood, and that any changes should be positive. He says that commercial development is good, and the proposed parking is inappropriate for the hotel. He claims the hotel is not legal to build, and feels the town should re-evaluate mixed use. He claims that the applicant will save $100k in fees.

(Kristen Anderson) Ms. Anderson rides a bicycle to work. She avoids Downing square because it's a difficult intersection. She asks the board to consider adding a traffic signal, and makes several suggestions for the sidewalk in front of the hotel.

(JoAnne Preston) Ms. Preston wants to talk about trees. She believes the site drawings don't look like the actual site. She claims that construction will pave over part of the tree strip, and there won't be enough room for tree beds. She states that trees are the best way to remove atmospheric carbon, and believes that the tree warden should be consulted.

(?) The speaker asks what time the restaurant will be open and what kind of restaurant will it be. She asks how long construction will take.

Mr. Doherty says it will be an upscale restaurant, but he hasn't identified a specific tenant. The hours of operation will be set by the Select Board. He says he's not looking to run a night club. As for construction, if everything goes well, it could take less than a year, but it really depends on when the work starts. The outside will be done first, then the inside.

(Jack Hoffman) I'm exited to see something we can walk and bike to. I'm for anything that generates foot traffic.

(Mike Riley) Mr. Riley asks if there will be rodent remediation, and a traffic study. He says that there's lots of junk in the auto repair station's lot, and asks who's responsible for it.

Mr. Bunnell summarizes materials that the applicant needs to provide: an employee TDM plan, copies of off-street parking agreements, and a traffic study. Mr. Bunnell realizes the applicant cannot fix the traffic problems in this area, but the board would like to understand the impact.

Mr. Benson asks about handicapped access and curb cuts. Ms. Zsembery says the board needs a detailed assessment of how this project meets zoning requirements.

Hearing continued to March 16th.

Next, the board votes on whether to waive the special permit fee. The fee waiver was part of the Select Board's RFP, but it's the ARB's decision on whether to waive. The fee amount is $2600 (I believe this is actually half of the permit fee, but I could be mistaken). The Select Board offered the waiver to encourage prospective buyers, and it's part of the purchase and sale agreement. The applicant has already paid 50% of the fee.

Mr. Watson has a problem with the lack of process behind the fee waiver. In particular, that the select board made this offer without consulting the ARB first. He doesn't support the fee reduction.

Mr. Lau wants to clarify that the waiver is for the special permit filing fee, and nothing else. Yes, that's the case.

Mr. Benson says that a better process would have been better, but that's in the past now. The town's RFP waived part of the special permit fees for advantageous buyers, and we have the option of approving that waiver. Ms. Zsembery agrees.

Board votes 4--1 to waive 50% of the special permit filing fee (David Watson dissents).

Docket 3610, Apothca, 1386 Mass Ave. This permit involves a marijuana retail establishment, and a medical marijuana treatment center in a B3 district. The hearing is continued from an earlier date. My notes in this section are a bit sketchy.

The establishment's sign will be a back-lit laser sign, which covers less than 25% of the window area. There will be a rideshare space for customer drop-off and pick-up.

Mr. Watson appreciates the idea of a rideshare drop-off space. He asks what will happen if a driver stops in the middle of Mass Ave. The applicant says their web site will have a map showing the drop-off location, and they'll encourage patrons to use it. Mr. Watson asks the applicant to come back to the planning department if the drop-off location is a problem, so they can discuss additional directional signs.

The exterior trim will be a walnut color, similar to what's already there.

Bicycle storage will be inside the building, along with a gender-neutral bathroom.

The applicants are planning to reconstruct and regrade the parking lot, along with adding a raingarden. This should mitigate stormwater runoff.

The applicant expects approximately 62 trips on a Saturday. Most patrons pre-order, so pick up is usually quick. They have plans to handle traffic peaks. They expect high traffic on certain days, like April 20th.

The applicant gave a tour of the facility to the Arlington Police Department on Jan 9th. The applicant provided a summary of their memorandum of understanding with the police department.

Mr. Benson isn't clear how traffic figures from a Brookline marijuana retailer apply to this project. The applicant provided these as comparative numbers. They expect a lot of business the first day and during the first week. They'll coordinate with APD regarding traffic control.

Ms. Raitt reads a list of special conditions, which include: special rules for marijuana waste removal (to be separate from ordinary waste removal), having the drainage plan reviewed by the town engineer, the applicant being responsible for extra police details (if necessary), applicant ensuring there is no traffic queuing in the public way, and finally, a more thorough vetting of the TDM plan.

Board approves permit, 5--0.

Warrant Articles. The board reviews a set of zoning warrant article proposals, which originated from DPCD. They're basically small corrections. These are the same articles that the Zoning Bylaw working group reviewed on January 22nd. The board moves forward with the proposed articles.

Citizen Petitions. The board asked two citizen petitioners, Barbara Thornton and Steve Revilak, to appear this evening, to describe their articles to the board. Ms. Thornton goes first.

Ms. Thornton has three zoning articles. The first would allows ADUs. It's different than last year's proposal. 100 Massachusetts communities have ADU bylaws on their books, and she's taken pieces from several of them. She's spoken with the building inspector and fire chief, and is trying to get in touch with people at the state level.

The second article would allow affordable housing on non-conforming lots, basically by reducing the minimum lot size if the housing is affordable.

Don Seltzer says he collaborated with Ms. Thornton on this article, but the wording has changed, and he no longer supports it. Ms. Thornton offers to speak with Mr. Seltzer regarding the wording he objects to.

The third article would sponsor a design competition. The goal is to have architects and planners design something, but not restricted to what our zoning allows. The goal is to bring new ideas to the table.

Mr. Lau asks if the competition would require funding. Ms. Thornton says she might have to make the article a resolution.

Steve Revilak goes next. His article is based on an earlier correspondence to the board. It proposes to rename the terms "Open Space", "Usable Open Space" and "Landscaped Open Space". Mr. Revilak believes that people have their own notion of what "Open Space" means, and those notions are very different from the definitions in our bylaw. The goal is to find terms that better fit the definitions. His article doesn't specify new names for the terms, so there's room for further discussion there.

Mr. Watson appreciates Mr. Revilak's efforts to clarify a commonly misunderstood portion of our zoning bylaw. However, he's not sure that a warrant article that proposes to rename terms will be sufficient.

Open Forum. Chris Loretti believes that Ms. Thornton's non-conforming lot article is unnecessary; Chapter 40B already provides a way to develop affordable housing on non-conforming lots.

Mr. Loretti thinks Mr. Revilak's article is dangerous. He believes it would allow anyone to propose a new definition for open space.

JoAnne Preston has an issue with the wording in Ms. Thornton's ADU article. She tries to discuss this with the Board. Mr. Bunnell points out that Ms. Thornton's article did not originate with the ARB. He advises Ms. Preston to take the matter up with Ms. Thornton.