Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jul 11th, 2022
Meeting held in the town hall auditorium. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1656.
Docket 3704 - 18--20 Belknap Street
This docket involves the conversion of a non-conforming six-family dwelling into a four-family.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery opens with an outline of the hearing process. Staff will provide a summary, followed by a presentation from the applicant. Afterwards, board members will ask questions, and the public will be able to ask questions and provide comments.
(Kelly Lynema, Acting Planning Director) Ms. Lynema wishes to start by addressing written questions that were sent by members of the community. First, why is this hearing coming before the ARB? Arlington has two special permit granting authorities -- the ARB and the ZBA -- and this parcel falls under the ARB's jurisdiction because it abuts the Minuteman Bikeway. The special permit is for a residential renovation.
Ms. Lynema says the building was built in 1910. It predates our zoning and has prior non-conforming rights. The house was originally constructed as a four family, but sometime between 1967 and 1980 it was converted to a six-family without a building permit. The current owners would like to return it to the original non-conforming use. Ms. Lynema says the applicant is seeking relief from the FAR limits; in the R2 district "other permitted use" is allowed a maximum FAR of 0.35. Because this is a prior non-conformity, the question for the ARB is whether to allow an increase in the non-conformity. Another issue is the half-story. From the plan submitted, staff was unable to determine whether it complied with our definition of half-story. There are modest changes to yard setbacks and the applicant is prepared to introduce usable open space. Ms. Lynema notes the board received a letter that there was usable open space in front of the building. That letter is incorrect, there was no usable open space in front.
(Dan Bornstein, Attorney for the applicant) Mr. Bornstein says that a small portion of the property abuts the Minuteman Bikeway. There's a steep elevation drop in the rear, and the bikeway is about ten or twelve feet lower than the rest of the property. There's not practical access to the bikeway.
For decades this has been an illegal six-family apartment, and the applicants were substantially into their renovations when they were told they needed a special permit. Mr. Bornstein notes that he sent a letter to the board earlier this afternoon, reserving his client's rights. Mr. Bornstein hand-delivers two letters of support to the board.
The proposed renovations would make the FAR larger than it was before, and Mr. Bornstein notes that this district doesn't deal with four-family homes. Regarding the half story, the applicants aren't asking for relief; they intend to comply with the bylaw.
(Chris Manley, Applicant) Mr. Manley would like to make several points. First, they tried to follow the rules. He says they contacted the Inspectional Services Department and sought guidance before drawing plans. They were issued a building permit for these plans, and they tried to work collaboratively with the building department.
Mr. Manley says their intention was to follow the process, and they relied on the judgment of the building inspector. He says the project is designed to be an enhancement to the public good. He believes the six-unit building with a crumbling foundation was not beneficial to the public good. He notes that the staff memo provided a table of gross areas to lot areas for several properties, and this one is right in the middle. Massing is about what the observer experiences, and he thinks this conforms to the neighborhood.
Mr. Manley says they've added usable open space, got rid of a lot of the asphalt on the property, razed the old garage, and replaced the foundation. He believes the public good will be felt by the entire neighborhood. Pre-renovation, almost the entire rear of the property was paved with asphalt. He says there's a massive financial hardship here, and he's just asking to build what was originally permitted.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says he liked the project. He suggests putting a curb or landscaping around the green area, to ensure that it's not paved over in the future. He thinks the applicants are doing a betterment to the neighborhood, and he's willing to take their word on the half story. He says the ARB has latitude to grant some relief for the floor area ration.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson has a question about the half story. He wasn't able to figure out whether the proposed half story met our standards.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she was in touch with the building inspector, who felt that the revised plans comply with the standards for half stories, but he wasn't sure about the overall height. She wouldn't agree to approve this if it doesn't comply.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson has a question about how the floor area ratio was calculated. The dimensional worksheet shows no gross floor area in the basement, and he asks what the basement was like.
(Chris Manley) Mr. Manley says it was an unfinished mechanical area.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that our ZBL specifically includes basement areas in gross floor area, which is described in section 5.3.22 of the bylaw. He believes the basement area needs to be added. He thinks the application has under-counted GFA, and he'd like to see that resolved. He notes there are areas of foundation in front of the basement windows, and asks if those are in the front setback.
(Chris Manley) Mr. Manley says they are in the front setback.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the board needs to see calculations showing how far they go into the setback. He also believes this building should be classified as an apartment rather than a townhouse; that will require 1.5 long term bicycle parking spaces per unit, and one short term bicycle parking space for the building.
Regarding the automobile parking in the back, Mr. Benson notes that it has to be set back from the lot lines, and needs to be screened. Mr. Benson says he walks along the bike path each day. He saw the home being built, though it's not visible from the path during the summer.
(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis understands that the applicant is under financial hardship, but she thinks the board will have some flexibility. Overall, it's a good enhancement and an investment in the neighborhood. She's like to ensure that the open space is not paved over in the future, and asks where the additional gross floor area is coming from.
(Chris Manley) Mr. Manley says they extended the building by five feet in the front, and five feet in the rear.
(Melisa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis asks why the applicant is before us now.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says it was determined that the building permit was issued in error. The docket was originally designated to go before the ZBA, but they realized the property abuts the Minuteman Bikeway, which puts it in the ARB's jurisdiction.
(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak wishes to echo Mr. Benson's comments about gross floor area. Our bylaw explicitly includes the area in residential basements and cellars, regardless of whether or not the space is finished. If there is not gross floor area in the basement, Mr. Revilak would like to understand why.
Mr. Revilak says that usable open space non-conformities are very common in Arlington. The typical example is a homeowner that wants to add a dormer to a property that has no usable open space. The precedent is to ask the applicant to demonstrate that there was no usable open space beforehand and no usable open space afterwards, meaning no change to the degree of non-conformity. Here, the applicants actually adding open space and reducing the non-conformity, but the board needs to see documentation supporting this. Mr. Revilak suggests taking the plot plan on sheet A-03 and adding dimensions to the open space and yard setbacks.
Regarding the third story, Mr. Revilak says there are two main requirements for a half-story. First, no more than 50% of the floor area can have a height of 7' or more, measured from the floor to the underside of the rafters. Second, the roof pitch needs to be at least 2:12. Mr. Revilak asks the applicant if they can provide a floor plan of the third story, showing the area that's 7' or more; that will allow the board to compare that area with the GFA of the floor below. The board also needs a diagram showing the pitch of each roof surface, which the applicants have provided. He says the 5:12 pitch in the middle is fine, but the 1:12 pitch at the edges is an issue. Mr. Revilak says these regulations were added to ensure that half stories don't look like full third floors, and he thinks this one does.
Finally, Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Benson's comments about the need for a vegetated buffer around the parking spaces.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks about the building height.
(?) The applicants state that the building is 33' feet high.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson has a question about the rendering in the plans. He says the building looks different than the rendering.
(Chris Manley) Mr. Manley said they moved the location of the doors leading to the third floor balcony. With respect to the rendering, the applicants realized that a portion of that building would have gone into the setbacks, and they changed the design to correct that.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Laura Tracy) Ms. Tracy is a town meeting member, and she's concerned about the precedent this might set. She's all for more density but is concerned that the special permit offers to much play. She's upset that the building permit was granted, and it's now a burden for the developer. She'd like to see things built to specification.
(Austin Brown) Mr. Brown owns 10 Belknap Street. He looked at our bylaw's definition of half-story and wasn't sure if the 2:12 slope applied to the roof overall, or to each individual surface.
(Ann Ellinger) Ms. Ellinger says there's been so much misunderstanding in the neighborhood about this project, but communication has gotten better during the last few days. She didn't want the construction to stop, and says it's not the developer's fault their original plan was approved.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery understands that this is a difficult situation. Sometimes building permits are issued in error, but she believes that design professionals are still responsible for meeting the regulations.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says the ARB is charged with helping to encourage development activity that's in line with our Master Plan. So, one of the board's powers is the ability to grant relief on some requirements. For example, the board can grant relief in exchange for more affordable housing units.
(Brian ? (missed the last name)) Brian says that when a house is redeveloped, there are ways of making it blend in more. He thinks that putting a fence around the property has the effect of pushing the property boundary forward.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that the question before the board is whether this is more detrimental to the neighborhood than what was there before.
(Brian) Brian says the house that was there before was in really rough shape.
There's no further public comment.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery wants to summarize what she's heard the other board members ask for: plans showing the usable open space and half-story (to document compliance), adding some sort of perimeter around the usable open space, revised GFA calculations, and screening around the parking area.
(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says she was thinking about fencing. She wonders if there's a way to use landscaping to divide the property, rather than using a fence.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a question about long term bike parking. In an apartment building, long term bike storage is usually located in a common area, but there are no common areas in this building. Each unit is firewalled from the others, with a separate means of access. He asks where Mr. Benson envisioned the long term storage.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks it could go in the basement areas.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the building will be sprinklered.
(Dan Bornstein) Mr. Bornstein answers in the affirmative.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says the ARB's charge is to deliver good development, and he hopes the board can view this application in that light.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks this type of case is unusual for the ARB. She believes we need to align with the regulations and look at whether the new building creates a betterment.
(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis notes that relief the ARB offers is supposed to be for the public good.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he's been struggling with how to interpret the FAR requirement in the bylaw. The maximum FAR of 0.35 is applicable to any "other permitted structure", and he's not sure how to interpret the word "permitted". One interpretation would be "anything given a building permit", and the maximum FAR would be applicable here. Another interpretation would be "any other structure permitted by this bylaw", which means the regulation would apply to new structures, but not to pre-existing non-conforming ones. Mr. Revilak thinks the latter interpretation is in line with the way our bylaw treats usable open space non-conformities.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the board only needs to decide whether the increase in the non-conformity would be more detrimental to the neighborhood. He doesn't think the board should grant more leeway than that.
(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis wonders how many properties abut the Minuteman bikeway, where the ARB would have more latitude to suggest improvements.
The board votes to continue the hearing to July 25th, 5--0.
The board discusses potential dates for our fall retreat. This should happen after the new Planning Director has been hired, and had some time to acclimate. The board agrees on September 24th or 25th, with October 15th or 16th as backup dates.
No one addresses the board during tonight's open forum.