Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jan 8th, 2024

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

Organizational Meeting

The board selects Rachel Zsembery to serve as chair, and Kin Lau to serve as vice chair for the coming year.

882-892 Mass Ave

The board asked members of the development team for 882--892 Mass Ave to join them this evening, to discuss deviations from approved plans. The board is joined by John Murphy, development consultant for the project.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery identifies several items where building differs from plans approved for the special permit, including exterior colors and dryer vents on the Mass Ave side of the building.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says she's spoken with the architect and Mr. Murphy regarding the aluminum on the storefront, the white accent trim, and the vents on Mass Ave. The white accent trim will be repainted. The aluminum trim around the storefront can be painted in better weather. Ms. Ricker says the applicants offered to paint the vents to match the surrounding trim. She's also provided the board with a memo from (Town Manager) Jim Feeney regarding affordable units within the building.

(John Murphy, Development Consultant) Mr. Murphy says they have a tenant for the commercial space, whom they'll assist when the tenant is ready to put up a sign. Repainting of the white trim is underway; they have a lift on the Lockeland Ave side of the building, and are repainting as weather permits. Mr. Murphy says the storefront can't be repainted until the temperature stays above 50 degrees. Regarding the affordable housing, Mr. Murphy says that none of the apartments are over 700 square feet, and the location of the dryer vents wasn't planned out at the time of the special permit. Mr. Murphy says the building is all electric and they needed interior wall space for vents that DEP permitted -- there's a lot going on inside the wall cavities. That's why they decided on Mass Ave for the vent location.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau thanks Mr. Murphy for acknowledging the color issues. He thinks it's preferable to transition colors on the inside of corners, rather than the outside. He'd like the applicants to use paint that won't speckle or peel off. Mr. Lau asks to be sent a copy of the most recent architectural renderings, so he can mark them up. Mr. Lau asks if the louvers are dryer and bathroom vents.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy answers in the affirmative.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau requests that the applicants use different vent louvers. He suggests that they order some samples, and bring them to the board.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston asks Mr. Murphy what happened with the affordable units. Regarding the appropriateness of their size and location, Ms. Korman-Houston asks why the selected locations are appropriate, and how we got here.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson believes the affordable units weren't labeled at the time the special permit was approved, but the permit conditions required them to be disbursed throughout the buildings.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy says that no one seemed to know about the requirement for a minimum of 700 square feet. He says the current units are spread across floors and locations.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Mr. Korman-Houston says she'd prefer the affordable units to be a range of sizes, rather than all the same size.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy says that none of the affordable units are the smallest size, and none of them are the largest. He says that one of the affordable unit locations was chosen by a tenant.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that one of the special permit requirements was to work with the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) in satisfying the affordable housing requirements. He asks about the interaction with DPCD.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy says that DPCD recommended several agencies to handle the affordable housing aspects, and they hired one of them.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston asks which agency it was.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy says it was MCO Housing Services.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak was happy to see that the affordable units will be floating. He's read deed restrictions where specific units were designated as affordable. The restrictions typically have a provision that the affordable units be monitored for compliance, and that non-compliant units be brought back into compliance within a year. That basically means that a tenant has to earn less money or move. Floating means that the non-compliant unit can become market rate without the tenant having to move, and a new affordable unit chosen.

Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Lau regarding the vent louvers. He's seen some that are flat with a low profile, and thinks that design might look less obtrusive.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that it may be necessary to build a chase inside the units, if we can't find something less objectionable than the existing vents. She says the vents detract from the overall look of the facade, and aren't acceptable for the Mass Ave side of the building. Ms. Zsembery says that painting the vents will not be an acceptable solution.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy asks how the plans got to this point. He says they were approved by the building inspector, and reviewed by several town departments.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the vents are a significant visual element that wasn't approved by the board. She says that deviations from plans need to be approved by the board.

Ms. Zsembery lists a set of follow-up actions. These include circulating the most recent architectural renderings for mark up, and a future meeting to review vent louvers.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy says it would be helpful if the board could make suggestions about their preferences. Either models of louvers, or buildings where the vents are acceptable.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the applicants can provide a sketch-up model of their building, so it could be integrated with the town's model of Mass Ave.

Citizen Warrant Articles

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the board will hear from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund about an affordable housing overlay, along with two articles from James Fleming.

Affordable Housing Overlay

(Karen Kelleher, Affordable Housing Trust Fund) Ms. Kelleher says this is a proposal from a citizen working group, and she has a presentation to explain it.

In Arlington, there are 712 units of public housing, 146 units of Section 8 housing, 150 units owned by the Housing Corporation of Arlington (HCA), and 142 affordable units from other sources, like 40B and inclusionary zoning. According to the most recent subsidized housing inventory, Arlington has approximately 20,400 dwelling units and 1299 affordable units, about 6.37%. This puts us at around 741 units short of 40B's 10% threshold.

Ms. Kelleher says the Affordable Housing Trust Fund created a five-year action plan, which included a recommendation to develop a more predictable permitting path for affordable housing development. She says that affordable housing is a math problem; it's housing for people who cannot afford market rates, and by definition, the market will never build it.

There are two ways to subsidize affordable units. One can get developers to pay for them via tools like inclusionary zoning and 40B, or leverage state and federal subsidies. Ms. Kelleher says that inclusionary zoning typically produces 1--2 units/year, and state and federal subsidies have only been used three times in Arlington. HCA's Downing Square project used state and federal funds. 4% of that project was paid for with town subsidies, 83% came from state and federal subsidies, and the remainder was financed with a mortgage.

Members of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund held a roundtable with developers, and talked to them about what could make Arlington more attractive. The developers said they need parcels that are large enough to build 30--40 units, funding, a predictable permitting process, and community alignment.

Ms. Kelleher says the affordable housing overlay proposal would create an overlay district across the entire town. A high percentage of units would be deed restricted, with some market rate to allow income mixing. There would also be a transparent path to permitting. State and federal subsidies only become available at around 30--40 units (or more), which likely means lots sizes of 20,000 square feet and up; there are many of these in the residential, business, and industrial districts. The overlay would allow additional height, relative to the underlying districts. Ms. Kelleher says the group was thinking of a requirement that 70% or more of the units be affordable to households earning 60% of the area median income or less. The overlay would allow an additional two stories, and setbacks would be driven by the underlying zoning. They'd suggest a parking requirement of 0.5 spaces/dwelling, which is in line with HCA's parking utilization. The overlay might include a requirement for one or more floors of commercial in the business and industrial districts.

Ms. Kelleher says the group would like to bring this to town meeting in the spring. They're planning to hold two public forums, and do outreach at precinct meetings.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau things that 24--32 units is the minimum size for getting state and federal funding. He asks about minimum lot sizes for those developments.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak believes the minimum is around 20,000 square feet. He arrived at that by using a model that was similar to the compliance model for MBTA communities.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher says the group has a map that identifies these parcels.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that pursuit of state and federal subsidies is a worthwhile goal.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston suggests stepping back from the requirement to have ground floor commercial. You generally can't assume revenue from those spaces in affordable housing developments. She suggests consideration of community spaces that are open to the broader public. She asks about interplay between the overlay and 40B.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher says the concept is to have as-of-right development with a design review process.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston says she'd like to see something about the permitting process.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson understands there'd be a 0.5 space/unit requirement for residential, and but he heard no parking requirement for commercial. He asks why there'd be no parking requirement for commercial uses.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher says the business districts have better transit service.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that a half-space parking requirement may be okay for affordable housing, but he's not sure if the overlay makes sense in the industrial districts. He's like to understand where the larger parcels are. He suggests putting the overlay on larger parcels, rather than making it town-wide. He also thinks there needs to be some kind of project review. Mr. Benson is concerned that two public meetings won't be enough, and he'd like to see flood zones omitted from the overlay.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has five comments, mainly to address remarks and questions made by his fellow board members.

First, the land are threshold for 40B wasn't part of the group's thinking. While the residential districts contain things like schools and playgrounds, the group assumed that affordable housing would not be built there.

Second, the group envisioned the affordable housing overlay as an alternative path to 40B, similar to the way it was done in Cambridge. The overlay would be a by-right process where things like dimensional regulations and parking requirements are not subject to negotiation. Applicants that couldn't meet those requirements would need to go the 40B route and request waivers. Mr. Revilak says that Cambridge put over 300 units in the development pipeline the first year their affordable housing overlay was in effect, and it produced meaningful results there.

Third, the group felt the ARB would want some sort of commercial space requirement in the business districts, and we wanted the definition of "commercial" to include things like community service organizations, which would be eligible for funding sources like LITHC.

Fourth, is flood zones. Mr. Revilak believes the board should consider adding freeboard requirements in the flood zones, and allowing buildings to be elevated. He was a member of the ZBA during the permitting for Thorndike Place, and the first floor elevation of those buildings will be above what Cambridge has projected as the flood elevation for a 100-year sea level rise/storm surge event in 2070.

Finally, we've been able to look at feedback that came out of the public process for MBTA Communities zoning. One of the criticims people gave was "MBTA Communities isn't about affordable housing", which is true. Mr. Revilak sees the affordable housing overlay as being responsive to that concern.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she couldn't support a zero parking requirement until Arlington allows on-street parking overnight, and that ground floor commercial is very important in the business districts. She says the question of town-wide or overlay for specific parcels needs examination, and that balance is really important. She says the board needs to understand the permitting process, and wants spaces that are well-built and fit into the surrounding context. She also wants to make sure there's enough time for outreach.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the timeline doesn't give the ARB much opportunity to review the main motion.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher says the group will review, with an eye towards balance.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he'd prefer to see a parcel map sooner rather than later.

Home Occupations

James Fleming is before the board to discuss a warrant article related to home occupations.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that home-based businesses were routine in the past. He shows excerpts from an early 20th century town directory, listing numerous residents who were engaged in home occupations like carpentry and dress making. He says that starting a new business in a commercial space is risky if you don't know how the venture will pan out. Allowing more types of home occupations would allow experimentation at home, without having to sign a multi-year lease. Mr. Fleming looked at what other towns allow, and developed a model by taking pieces from these other communities.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin asks the board to consider thinking about how businesses are born. There was a lot of working from home during the pandemic. He says it's less risky to start a business as a home occupation, rather than as a business in an office.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak believes the definition of home occupation is outdated, and doesn't contemplate remote work and telecommuting. He's in favor of a modernization.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson doesn't think that the zoning bylaw prohibits working from home. He says that people are allowed to run a business from their home, as long as they're in a business district. He thinks the rules for home occupations can be updated.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston agrees that the code needs updating. She says that traffic is another concern, and that home daycares often have more than ten vehicle trips per day. She thinks regulations on car trips would be hard to pin down.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks there's a need to focus on what kind of businesses are allowed and what kind are not. He asks if this definition would allow someone to run a body shop out of their garage?

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says there are two ways to address that question: having a list of what's allowed, or having a list of what's disallowed.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks this is a problem that co-working spaces are meant to solve. She thinks it's important to demonstrate a need.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says that Mr. Benson put a bookend on what's allowed. He thinks there's room between professional service, and someone who sees ten clients per day. Mr. Baudoin says that allowing more home occupations creates a chance for more economic activity than we see now.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks how this would affect taxes and insurance.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would be in favor of tweaking the definition of home occupation, to clarify what is and isn't allowed. He says there are lots of things that can't be done in someone's home, like commercial baking.

Single Family Attached

Mr. Fleming presents an idea for allowing single-family attached homes. He says they're like duplex condos, but have a property line that runs through a party wall. Mr. Revilak lives in such a dwelling. He says it's a different ownership model, but is unlikely to change the kind of housing that's built. Overall, the board seems unconvinced that this would be a meaningful change.

Schedule for Warrant Article Hearings

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the board packet included additional materials for the open space rezoning article. There is a list of town-owned parcels that were suggested for rezoning.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery believes there's a need to work through several decision trees.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson offers to work with (Environmental Planner) David Morgan to refine the list. He thinks that some parcels are appropriate for inclusion in the open space district, and some are not. Mr. Benson thinks the parcels without article 97 designation are the ones most likely to be rezoned.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker gives a list of potential ARB-sponsored articles for town meeting. These include

  • Removing Section 5.8
  • Changes to height buffers in 5.3.19
  • Section 5.3.10
  • Changes to the definitions of attached and detached dwellings
  • Changing a bulleted list to a numbered one in Section 5.9.2
  • Clarifying ADU setbacks in Section 5.9.2

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he had a discussion with (ZBA Chair) Christian Klein, and (Director of Inspectional Services) Mike Ciampa and they agreed on how to change the definitions of attached and detached dwelling.

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein says they worked out a change in the language. Attached dwellings are those with a wall or rooftop in common. Detached dwellings are ones that are not attached.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson doesn't believe that Section 5.3.10 needs to be changed. Mr. Ciampa says that a lot becomes vacant once the building and foundation are removed.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker gives a potential outline for the warrant article hearing schedule.

  • Jan 26. Warrant closes
  • March 4. Earliest date to start warrant article hearings.
  • March 18. Potential second date for warrant article hearings.

The board will also need a night to deliberate and vote, and a night to approve the report to town meeting.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the board will also need a night for changes to rules and regulations.

Arlington Heights Business District

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker has put together a rough outline for public engagement, where the Heights Business District changes will come before town meeting in 2025. She'll do a segment on this during the next DPCD update on ACMi. She'll also meet with the Arlington Heights Business Association on January 18th.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks this provides a good framework, and that it's important for us to take the time to do outreach. She suggests including several groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the Arlington Heights Community Association (perhaps tabling at their spring event), members of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan Committee, and the MBTA (regarding the bus turnaround, and improving connectivity to the Minuteman Bikeway).

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests adding dates to review draft language.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks what role the board will play during the summer of 2024. He'd like the board to be given regular updates, along with opportunities to provide feedback. He also suggests having an outreach budget, including funds for town-wide mailings.

Open Forum

(Vince Baudoin) Regarding the plans to update zoning in the Arlington Heights Business District, Mr. Baudoin would like to the the board do something similar in Arlington Center and East Arlington.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board is planning to address the business districts one at a time, with Arlington Heights being the first.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps is here to speak on behalf of Green Streets Arlington, and and their warrant article proposal for parking lots. They've been working to scale back their proposal, so that it only applied to larger parking lots. They're thinking along the lines of an amendment to Section 6.1.11.D(6), which applies to parking lots with more than 25 spaces. They're considering a requirement for trees, solar panels, or shade structures. She says these steps are necessary because of climate change, and she hopes the board will help them with the development of this article.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to consider a large parking lot, like the one in front of Walgreens on Mass Ave. He asks what would trigger the new requirements.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says that milling down and repaving would trigger the new requirements.

New Business

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has been reading material about Boston's new Square and Streets zoning, which is a step in updating the city's zoning code. He thought a few aspects were interesting. One was the way the code addressed unenclosed outdoor space on private property. It uses the term "open space" for areas that were generally accessible to the public, and "amenity space" for areas that aren't. Amenity space would include things like back yards, roof decks, and patios. Another is the way Square and Streets focuses on active uses, which is something the board discussed as part of MBTA Communities zoning. They have a whole use table section devoted to active uses.

Meeting adjourned.