Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jan 3rd, 2022

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Meeting conducted via remote participation. Materials were available from

Docket 3665 - 645 Mass Ave

This is a continued hearing, where the applicant has proposed a bank branch at the site of a former restaurant.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery informs the board that the applicants have asked to continue the hearing until January 24th.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt adds that the applicants needed more time to get their revisions together.

There are no questions from the board.

Motion to continue passes, 5--0.

The board takes a break, because our next hearing was advertised for 20:15; this hearing was shorter than expected.

Docket 3520 - 117 Broadway

The applicant is Arlington EATS. They've leased space in the ground floor of a mixed use building at 117 Broadway, and are seeking a sign permit.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says this is a sign permit for the Housing Corporation of Arlington's new mixed-use building. The building has 5000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Arlington EATS is the first tenant, so there are no existing signs. They need a special permit because Arlington EATS is asking for larger window signs than are normally allowed by the bylaw. There are three window signs: A, B, and C. B and C are solid vinyl window signs on the Broadway and Everett Street sides of the building. A is a perforated vinyl sign on the corner entrance. They're intended to screen equipment and provide privacy for patrons. Ms. Lynema says the wall sign by the entrance was resized to accommodate standards in the bylaw (it's limited to 60% of the width of the architectural element it's attached to). The images on the vinyl signs were purchased from Getty images.

(Andi Doane, Arlington EATS) Ms. Doane says they're trying to create something attractive to screen the back side of refrigerators. They'd also like to provide privacy for shoppers. Ms. Doane says that admitting that one has to come to a food pantry is a barrier for people. There will be blinds above window signs B and C. Sign A (at the entrance) will just be vinyl. The entrance window is curved, which would make it difficult to hang blinds.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks if one of the window signs extends into the lobby for the apartments.

(Michelle ?, 96pt) Michelle says the windows are part of Arlington EATS space, and aren't part of the housing.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if sign A will allow light to come out of the space. He's concerned about seeing a dark corner on the building at night.

(Michelle) Michelle says the sign is perforated vinyl. From the outside, you'd see a graphic during the day, and light at night. It would be similar to a bus wrapper. She believes the vinyl for this sign is 65% perforated.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks the applicants if they feel that's enough screening.

(Michelle) Michelle answers in the affirmative. She says 3M recommended this particular material for their application.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says that Arlington EATS is a great organization. He asks what's behind the windows to the right of the wall sign.

(Andi Doane) Ms. Doane says that's office space.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the glass on the front door.

(Andi Doane) Ms. Doane says the glass is staying as-is.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the vinyl will be applied to the inside or outside of the window.

(Michelle) Michelle says it will be applied to the inside.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the vinyl will fade.

(Michelle) Michelle isn't sure. She says the material has a warranty, and 3M specifically recommended it for their application.

(Melisa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis asks if the awnings are part of this permit request.

(?) The awnings are already part of the building, and not part of this permit request.

(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if there's any concern about the food pantry being mistaken for a corner store.

(Andi Doane) Ms. Doane wants the entrance to feel welcoming. If someone walks in from the street and doesn't need the service of a food pantry, perhaps they'd be interested in donating or volunteering.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak doesn't have any questions at this point. Given the two sign proposals, he favors #2 because it looks more three-dimensional.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the wall sign is lit or unlit. Could it be lit?

(Andi Doane) Ms. Doane says the sign is unlit. They chose a bright white background for visibility. They don't have the ability to run electric wires through the wall.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery said she'd support adding lighting to the wall sign, if there was a desire to do so in the future. She also prefers sign option #2.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if there will be a building number on the Broadway side.

(Andi Doane) Ms. Doane says there's already a street number on the corner.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if there's been any consideration given to sidewalk activity.

(Andi Doane) Ms. Doane thinks that's a great suggestion; they haven't considered it, though.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis suggests having bistro seats or planters; something to draw people in.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt notes that the application includes two sign options, and the applicant has offered to do either one.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment. There is none.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery believes she's heard consistent support from the board. She asks if board members have a preference for option one or option two.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau prefers option two.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis agrees.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson also agrees.

There's a motion to approve the application, with the amended wall sign dimensions. Passes, 5--0.

Zoning Amendments

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt tells the board that James Fleming has requested time to discuss additional ideas for zoning amendments. She also informs the board that they'll be discussing warrant article language during their Jan 24th meeting, and the language will be delivered to board members beforehand.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming would like to talk about the ZBL section that covers use regulations for business districts. He sees several problems. For examples, there are two classifications for eating and drinking establishments: ones under 2000 square feet are allowed by right while ones over 2000 square feet require a special permit. He doesn't think that 2000 square feet is a lot of space, and this seems like one more thing getting in the way of having new restaurants in town. He was thinking about doing away with the 2000 foot threshold, or perhaps raising it.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks Mr. Fleming if he knows of any examples where the 2000 square foot threshold prevented a restaurant from opening.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming answer in the negative.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the board considers a number of things when reviewing a special permit for a restaurant. Circulation and traffic, for example.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is thinking of a 2000 square foot restaurant. By the time you take away space for the kitchen and circulation, you'll have maybe 1200--1300 square feet for dining. He asks how many people could fit in that amount of space.

(Mike Ciampa, Director of Inspectional Services) Mr. Ciampa believes it might be 40--50.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that 2000 square feet is okay for a new restaurant. The larger spaces are ones to grow into.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis agrees with the intention of Mr. Fleming's proposal. She'd like to hear something from (Economic Development Coordinator) Ali Carter, and thinks the special permit requirement could be a barrier.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says she doesn't have an immediate response to Ms. Tintocalis's question; she'd have to get back to her.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak generally agrees with Ms. Tintocalis. He could see how the special permit requirement could be a barrier, but he'd like to get some input from the town's Economic Development Coordinator.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to understand more about the constraints of opening a new restaurant.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming asks about the costs associated with a special permit.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says there's a time factor. The permit has to be advertised for two weeks before the hearing date. Assuming the hearing goes well and the board approves, there's additional time to write and file the decision. After the decision is filed with the Town Clerk, the applicant has to wait another 20 days to see if there are any appeals. In the best possible case, it's about a two-month delay, and longer if the applicant has to come before the board several times.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis understands why one might want special permit requirements for restaurants with larger seat counts, so there's an opportunity to review things like parking. She points out that there are additional expenses like legal representation, and the uncertainty of whether the permit will be approved. She thinks that might cause a business owner to look elsewhere.

(Kin Lau) M. Lau says that larger restaurants have a bigger impact on the community. When a special permit is required, a builder will usually assume that getting the permit takes just as long as the construction. He says that our zoning bylaw encourages smaller restaurants, not larger ones.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he used to run some small non-profits. Special permits take more time, but he thinks an applicant generally has an idea of what's needed. He'd be surprised if they were a deterrent.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he spoke with someone who opened a business in Arlington, though not a restaurant. The first time through the special permit process was hard for them.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt agrees there are hurdles to opening businesses, and there's a lot more to that than zoning. She thinks it usually takes a year to go through the entire process.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks this is a case where performance standards might be preferable to special permits. Come up with a list of requirements -- if the applicant does everything on the list, they'll get their permit. He thinks standards are easier to reason about, and would remove some of uncertainty.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming has a second proposal he'd like to discuss with the board. He's interested in having a few more businesses around the area where he lives. He's considering an article that would change four parcels from residential to business, in order to make the business district bigger. These parcels are in the area where Melrose Street intersects Mass Ave. There are a handful of residential parcels sandwiched between a B3 and a B2 district; those are the ones he's proposing to change.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks Mr. Fleming if he's trying to make the business district larger and more continuous.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that's the basic idea. He'd like to propose changing a larger area. However, our bylaw requires a proponent to send registered letters to every owner that abuts a map change, and the mailing would be expensive. He's interested in Melrose Street because that's where he lives.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau expresses concern that adjacent property values might decline.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson acknowledges that the board has said the business zones on Mass Ave are a crazy quilt. Rezoning these few parcels would make it slightly less crazy. He advises Mr. Fleming to talk with the property owners, and suggests the owners would be getting a gift from the town. He thinks it's a good idea, though the parcels might stay as-is for a long time.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks Mr. Fleming if he's talked with the property owners.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he's sent messages to them, but hasn't heard back. He notes that he'll have to send registered letters as part of filing the warrant article.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis thinks that engaging property owners is the first thing to do. She thinks the intent aligns well with the Master Plan, and it would be great to get the property owners on board.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak wants to make sure he understands the general proposal -- change the zoning district of four parcels, to create the possibility for commercial development in the future.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming answers in the affirmative.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak also encourages Mr. Fleming to try to get the support of the property owners. If the property owners were to speak favorably at town meeting, then there's a better chance the article would pass. On the other hand, if they speak in opposition, then there's a better chance the article will fail.

Mr. Revilak has a follow up to Mr. Benson's remark about property values. He notes that the entire area around Mass Ave was zoned as a business district, and town meeting voted to take that away in the 1970's. He's not opposed to giving back something the town had previously taken away.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if there are any procedural considerations that Mr. Fleming should be aware of.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the zoning bylaw spells out the procedure for changing the zoning map. The town has only re-zoned one parcel since she's been Director of the Department of Planning and Community Development, which was for the DPW yard renovations. Ms. Raitt says she can't offer Mr. Fleming any legal advice beyond what he's already gotten from Town Counsel. She suggests that Mr. Fleming learn something about the history of these parcels.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming asks if he has to show proof of notice when filing the warrant article.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt will have to follow up with Mr. Fleming on the answer to that question. She suggests that Mr. Fleming might use the DPW rezoning article as a template.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests talking with the property owners and abutters.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says she's aware of a previous citizen petition to change the zoning map, and that it failed due to lack of outreach. She wants to stress the importance of reaching out to the property owners and abutters.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery appreciates the idea.

Open Forum

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer has a request related to the housing production plan. He asks if there's a list of 40B properties on the town website.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the 2016 housing production plan has an appendix that lists the subsidized housing inventory.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer thinks it would be helpful if this list were directly available from the town website.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there is a standalone list on the affordable housing page of the town website. She'll follow up with Mr. Seltzer.

(Note: the affordable housing page is

Meeting adjourned.