Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jul 1st, 2024

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

Docket 3798 - 821 Massachusetts Ave

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery describes the procedure for tonight's hearing. Staff and the applicant will make presentations, the board will ask questions of the applicant, public comment will be taken, and then the board will have further discussion.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says this is an application from Noyes realty. They intend to demolish the building at 821 Mass Ave and replace it with a mixed-use building. She says they'll be seeking some relief from parking lot buffer requirements. She notes that the zoning bylaw encourages B4 district parcels to transition to non-automotive uses, including mixed-use.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor, Attorney for the Applicant) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor tells the board she'll be taking over this case from Robert Annese. She also represented CVS during their special permit hearings in 2009. She says the applicants always intended to redevelop the portion of the property where the Atwood House stands. She believes this project complies with the intent of the Master Plan, and with the dimensional requirements in the zoning bylaw.

(Andres Rojas, Architect) Mr. Rojas says they're proposing a mixed-use building with approximately 16,800 square feet, including the basement. The first floor commercial space will accommodate one or two offices, for about 2,400 feet combined. The stairway at the rear of the building will provide access to all three residential units. All residential and commercial units will have basement storage, and each residential unit will have a roof deck.

Mr. Rojas says the building was designed to respect the courtyard of the church, with regard to massing and height. He developed a planting list with the Tree Warden and got feedback from a certified arborist. The building will be 36 feet tall, and they're planning to use aluminum cladding panels on the exterior.

The building will incorporate a number of sustainability measures, including LED lights, a cool roof, solar ready, and a variety of cooling strategies. He says they're also look at methods for waste reduction and improving stormwater management on the site.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that a number of materials were missing from the submission, including a lighting plan, a LEED checklist, a stormwater management plan, renderings of the building and the surrounding context, and material samples.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau is glad to see this project back in front of the board. He thinks the current building has been an eyesore for some time, and asks the applicant why they're only building three stories.

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says they're trying to be respectful of the church, and not overshadow its courtyard.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas believes that in the context of the CVS and Church, a tree story building would be less impactful.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests doing shadow studies for a three- and five-story building, to see what the difference is. He's interested in getting more housing, and perhaps an inclusionary unit.

Mr. Lau has some thoughts about the front facade. He asks the applicants to consider relocating the front residential lobby, so that it's not in the center of the building. He'd like to see more space given to the offices, and more flexibility in how that space can be used. He'd like to encourage street activation.

Behind the building, Mr. Lau suggests shifting the parking spaces, in order to provide more of a yard. He'd also like to see renderings that show the surrounding buildings in context.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas notes that the building needs two stairwells, in order to provide two means of egress.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks which units will be accessible.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says there isn't an accessibility requirement for a three-unit building. If the building were to grow, then they'd need an accessible unit.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston has how far this building will be from the church.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas doesn't have that information, but can provide it to the board in the future. He doesn't know how far the church is located from the property line.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston would like to see more dimensions given on the plans. She asks if the residential units will be rentals or condominiums.

(Geoff Noyes, Applicant) Mr. Noyes says they'll be rentals.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston notes the application says the roof will be solar-ready, which may not be accordance with our bylaws. She thinks the applicants need to provide a solar assessment, to show that 50% rooftop solar isn't feasible. She asks where the bike parking will be located.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says that all of the bike parking will be located outside the building.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston asks why they're planning offices for the commercial space.

(Geoff Noyes) Mr. Noyes says it's because of the lease with CVS. There's a prohibition on having retail or a restaurant on the property.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the applicants had a particular type of office in mind.

(?) One of the applicants answers in the negative.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston would like to see a stormwater management plan. She asks if the fire department has seen the proposed plans.

(Geoff Noyes) Mr. Noyes says the fire department hasn't seen them yet.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston encourages the applicants to show their plans to the fire department.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson would like to talk about the things that were not included in the application submission. The applicants need to provide solar on 50% of the roof, unless an assessment shows that this is infeasible. The board will need a LEED checklist and photographs of the surrounding context. Mr. Benson says he'd like to see a copy of the CVS lease for four reasons: (1) to see the restrictions on retail, (2) to verify the lease lines, (3) to see if there are easements in the back, and (4) to see of there are easements or rights of way elsewhere on the property.

Mr. Benson believes the applicants have calculated the bike parking requirements incorrectly. He believes they'll need one long-term and three short-term spaces. He says it's preferable to provide the short-term spaces in front of the building, and notes that spaces inside can't require the bike to be lifted or carried down stairs.

Mr. Benson says there is an open space requirement for this project, which should be reflected in the dimensional worksheet. Mr. Benson would also like to see the applicant's calculations of FAR and GFA.

Mr. Benson asks how the residential units will be accessed.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says that all three units can be accessed through the rear of the building. Units one and two can also be accessed through the stairs at the front.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to see some information about the rental market for office space. He's also gotten a lot of email about the scotch pine next to the house; he asks if the applicants have gotten an opinion about the tree's health.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas talked to the Tree Warden, who felt the tree was not in great health. He thinks that a year-round shade tree isn't great for the site. He's also received a letter from the Tree Warden supporting the planting plan.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says she received the Tree Warden's letter this afternoon, and it wasn't included in the Board's packet.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to have the health of the tree assessed. He's seen the tree and observed a lot of brown foliage. He says the tree casts absolutely no shade on Mass Ave. He asks if it's possible to pull the building back, in order to preserve the tree.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says he was trying to keep the facade lines consistent with the CVS.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak agrees with staff's suggestion to have a walkway leading from the front to the rear of the building. He suggests having the walkway on the west side, so it will be accessible from the mudroom on the first floor.

Mr. Revilak says that Arlington's Zoning Bylaw makes a distinction between long-term and short-term bicycle parking spaces, and that long-term spaces have to be covered and secured. He suggests reviewing these requirements, in Section 6.1.12.

Mr. Revilak agrees that there is a requirement for 50% solar on the roof, though he appreciates the intent of the roof decks.

Mr. Revilak asks if the ten parking spaces are the ten existing ones.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says they are the existing spaces, but with some reconfiguration. The group of four was shifted slightly, to provide an accessible parking spot.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he's concerned that ten parking spaces is over-parked for this set of uses, and asks the applicants to consider providing fewer spaces.

Mr. Revilak asks where the applicants had envisioned signage for the commercial spaces. He says the drawings don't indicate a sign band, and he asks if they were contemplating window signs.

(?) One of the applicants answers in the affirmative.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like the plans to indicate where the building mechanics will set, along with the location of any vents. She thinks that window signs can be difficult to see under some circumstances, like glare, and asks the applicants to think about a blade sign or similar. She'd also like to see details about the building numbers. She asks the applicants to think about the quality of exterior finishes, as the building will sit between a stone church, and a CVS which is nicely finished.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says they can look at traditional materials for the exterior finish.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the building will use the existing trash enclosure that's on the property.

(Geoff Noyes) Mr. Noyes says the building will have its own trash enclosure.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that trash enclosure needs to be indicated on the plans. She'd also like to look at the street trees, to make sure the shade tree planting requirements are met for the entire site.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to see railing details for the roof patio. He'd also like to see the mechanical areas, and how they'd be screened.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she sees two areas for board discussion, after we've heard public comment. These are the front setback, and rear parking.

The chair opens the hearing for public comment.

(John Rodgers, Gray Street) Mr. Rodgers has been a member of the church for 49 years, and he commends the applicants for proposing a three-story building. He's concerned about the buffer between the property and the church, and asks if there will be a barrier between the building and the church property. He thinks the building will fit in nicely.

(Susan Stamps, Grafton St.) Ms. Stamps says that the Tree Committee looked at the building plans, and felt it would be great to save the scotch pine. She suggests moving the building to the left. She asks what will happen with storm water if the tree is removed. Ms. Stamps says it would be nice to have large shade trees planted as street trees. She says the town has tree construction guidelines and says they should be followed.

(Wynelle Evans, Orchard Place) Ms. Evans says she'd love to see the building pushed backed. She says that we need to have more trees. She also says that redevelopment of the Atwood house will require an amendment to the 2009 special permit for CVS.

(Aram Hollman, Whittemore St) Mr. Hollman says that an earlier plan for the property had seven units, and that Arlington needs more affordable housing. The thinks that these units will not be affordable, and that Arlington needs more affordable housing.

(Marina Popova, Ridge St) Ms. Popova wants to speak to the hundred year old tree. She asks "how many hundred year old trees are there in Arlington?". She says the tree is a piece of history and believes the tree can be saved. She says the 2020 plan preserved the tree. She thinks the tree can be used as a masterpiece of design. She says she created a petition to save the tree, and approximately 300 people have signed it.

(Cheryl) Cheryl says that she's a townie and that her mom is a townie. Cheryl worked at Brandeis and appreciated that chapels never overshadowed each other. She thinks the tree could be made part of the community, if it can't be saved. She says the tree needs to be given back to the community, and that she hasn't heard anything about electric charging stations for cars.

(Karen, Brattle St) Karen says she'd concerned about the cutting down of seven trees. She says that Arlington is seeing more and more development, and that replanting will take decades. She thinks the historic appeal of Arlington is disappearing, and she'd rather live next to a tree than a commercial space.

(Anton, Mass Ave) Anton supports the project -- the more housing the better. He asks if the building will have gas or electric heat. He'd prefer to see electric heat.

There are no further comments from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to follow up with some questions that she heard from the public. She asks about fencing between the church and the property.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says the front portion of the side facing the church doesn't have a fence. He says they plan to add plantings, but not a fence in front.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks about pushing the building back.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says they're limited by the lease line with CVS, which is where the group of four parking spaces is.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if they plan to use gas or electric heat.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas says he'll have to get back to the board on that.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board will have a discussion about an EV charging station. Ms. Zsembery would like the board to discuss the option of moving the building back. She's personally comfortable with where it's sited.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's interested in knowing more about the tree's health. He says there's no sense in moving the building if the tree isn't in good shape.

(Andres Rojas) Mr. Rojas wants to clarify that the lease line is at the rear of the four parking spaces, rather than at the front.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the tree might not survive the site excavation, even if the building is moved.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak visited the site yesterday afternoon. As far as the tree goes, he noticed a lot of dead branches, and a thinning, browning canopy. He says the tree doesn't cast any shade on the public realm or the parking lot. From his layperson's point of view, it looks like a sick tree. He'd prefer to have the building closer to the street.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston would prefer to have the building close to the street.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau strongly feels that the building should come up to the front of the property line. If someone really wants the tree, they can come and take it. Mr. Lau notes that Mr. Noyes repeatedly offered to sell the Atwood house for $1, to anyone who was willing to take it off the property, and he hasn't seen any takers for that offer. He doesn't want to sacrifice activating the streetscape for this.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would like the board to discuss parking.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is concerned that ten spaces is too much; he thinks this will encourage private vehicle use, along with traffic and emissions. He'd like the applicants to consider providing less parking, and converting some of the spaces into a landscaped area.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would like to review the list of things that the applicant should provide for their next hearing. These include:

  • Required submittal materials that have not been submitted yet
  • A shadow study of a 3 vs 5 story building
  • The distance between the building and the church
  • A solar assessment.
  • More detail on the plans for the office tenant.
  • Excerpts of the CVS lease
  • A review of bike parking
  • Calculations for open space.
  • Calculations for FAR and GFA.
  • Plans for a walkway from the front to the rear of the building
  • The letter from the tree warden
  • Plans for a public shade tree every 25' for the length of the property
  • Location of mechanical units and trash
  • Location of signage for the office tenants
  • Location of an EV charging station
  • Railing details for the roof decks
  • Consideration of expanding the commercial facade.

The board votes 5--0 in favor of continuing the hearing to September 23rd. Ms. Ricker asks that new materials be provided to staff by September 9th.

Open Forum

(Marina Popova, Ridge St) Ms. Popova asks "why not move the building to the left, closer to CVS?". She thinks the tree could provide a welcoming space.

New Business

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the town received the final ruling from the Attorney General, and our MBTA Communities multi-family district has been accepted. She says the clerk still needs to run legal ads to this effect.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she's been working with the Select Board Chair to find a date for a joint meeting, and they've proposed September 16th. She says the Select Board would like an update on vacant storefronts.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the town manager's office recently released the Public Annual Financial Report for FY 2024. It's a four-page fiscal summary that compares Arlington to twelve similar communities on a variety of metrics. One of these metrics is new growth; Arlington's new growth was 0.8%. Mr. Revilak says that puts Arlington in last place for new growth, for the fifth year in a row.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson recalls that (Town Environmental Planner) David Morgan came before the board several months ago, with suggestions for updating our open space regulations. Mr. Benson says he's started to meet with Mr. Morgan about open space regs.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests that Mr. Benson and Mr. Morgan have a look at Cambridge's Cool Factor. He says it's a set of performance standards for open space, designed to mitigate heat island effects.

Meeting adjourned.