Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jul 6th, 2020

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Meeting held via video-conference.

Docket 3602, 1207--1211 Mass Ave. This is a continued environmental design review hearing for the Hotel Lexington.

Mary Winstanley-O'Connor presents for the applicant. We've provided the additional renderings that the board requested, and have already stated their position on the step back. We are proposing 24 parking spaces on site, which is 48% of what's required; the board has the authority to grant parking reductions up to 75% of the required number of spaces. We have commitments for eleven off-site parking spaces for employees. We've submitted a new traffic impact study, where counts were taken on Feb 4th and Feb 5th. The study indicates minimal traffic impact from the hotel. Most hotel traffic will take place during checkin and checkout times, and during the evening. This will be outside of heavy commuting times. The study estimates one additional trip every three minutes. The select Board has approved a committee to study this area of Mass Ave (note: this committee was formed in response to a cycling fatality at the corner of Mass Ave and Appleton Street). Mr. Seltzer's shadow studies are not competent, and he has no qualifications to submit them to the board. The redevelopment board will have a say on the public access area. The public access area will be open a few times during the week; we don't want it to be a nuisance to neighbors. If there are underground tanks on the site, they'll be remediated according to state and federal law.

Eugene Benson asks if restaurant patrons will be able to park behind the hotel.

No, those spaces are valet parking, and reserved for hotel guests.

Mr. Benson asks if there will be tour bus parking.

Tour buses will likely have to park in Lexington. They'll be able to drop off passengers at the hotel carport. There will be no parking for tour buses.

Mr. Benson asks how the petitioners calculated GFA.

GFA was calculated based on measurements in the plans.

Mr. Benson asks if the petitioners can provide a grid drawing, and a written copy of their GFA calculations.

Petitioners agree to provide this in writing.

Mr. Benson moves to step backs. Town Counsel's memo mentions (side yard) set backs, but not (upper story) step backs. He asks the petitioners to provide a citation showing that the ARB can grant step back relief. The Clark street setback is required to be 20', which is the front yard setback in R2. Mr. Benson agrees that the ARB has authority to adjust this requirement.

There a discussion of how section 5.3.8(A) (Corner lots and Through lots) should apply.

Mr. Benson is not sure if the ARB is the right board to receive the easement. He'd like to check with Town Counsel on this matter.

Jenny Raitt says the easement will ultimately have to be accepted by the Select Board, and go before town meeting. This could be an agreement with restrictions. We could support the easement in our conditions, but it's not the ARB's decision to make.

David Watson shares Mr. Benson's concerns about step backs. He doesn't feel the applicants have made a compelling case for discretionary relief. He appreciates the new traffic study data, and suggests having it reviewed by the Transportation Advisory Committee. He appreciates that the data covers a wider area than the hotel itself, but notes that it doesn't consider the Lowell Street intersection. Temperatures were in the 20s during the days the counts were done. He's concerned that the number of cyclist and pedestrian trips might have been low, due to the cold weather. Mr. Watson doesn't understand the turn counts for Clark Street, and feels this is another reason for TAC to review the study.

Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor notes a section of the zoning bylaw that encourages automotive uses to be converted to non-automotive uses in the B4 district. (note: the B4 part of the project area is currently an auto repair shop).

Mr. Watson says he's having a difficult time visualizing the driveway slope. He asks some questions about a rendering showing how a garbage truck would back into the rear driveway.

James Doherty (the petitioner) says the area has a modest slope. The diagram is illustrative. We used a trash truck on belief that this was the largest vehicle that would have to back up behind the hotel.

There's more discussion about driveway elevation.

Mr. Watson's main concern is visibility around the driveway. He'd like to see more detail of the driveway entrance.

Andrew Bunnell asks how quickly the traffic study could be approved, even if it was just reviewed by the town's transportation planner.

Ms. Raitt thinks the study could be reviewed in time for the board's next meeting.

Rachel Zsembery concurs with Mr. Benson's and Mr. Watson's concerns; she's also concerned about the truck turn. She'd like to see further study, and asks if the town could post a no right turn sign on Clark street. Ms. Zsembery would like the applicants to provide written calculations for open space. She has a number of design comments, which she'll provide to the petitioners in writing. She appreciates the attention given to earlier design feedback and would prefer to see clapboard on the front of the building, as it's shown for the rear.

Ms. Raitt says the applicants dropped off a set of material samples at town hall. She thinks specification sheets for the materials would be helpful too.

Ms. Zsembery asks if the samples can be keyed to building elevation (to show where they're being used).

Kin Lau would like to see the elevations of adjacent buildings, around the street and across Mass Ave. He wants to get a sense of how the hotel will fit into the surrounding area. He thinks the recently submitted elevation drawings are better, and likes the white front siding better than the darker color. He suggests a grading change to the garage entrance, to even out the slope of the ramp.

Mr. Benson feels it's critical to get an independent look at the provided shadow studies.

Mr. Bunnell opens the hearing to public comment.

Adam Darlow (6 Clark street) is mostly concerned about parking. Also the slope getting in and out of the driveway. He's concerned about visibility and turning radius. He wonders if a right-turn prohibition on to Clark Street would be practical.

Don Seltzer (Irving Street) says the driveway slope is 8% now. He thinks the parking area will be a big problem. He states that buffer strips will make the driveway 10' wide, and that there won't be enough clearance for trucks.

Ben Rudick (Webcowett Road) is excited to see something that will expand the town's commercial base. Let's build a hotel.

Ann Leroyer thinks that TAC and others should look at the traffic study. Other development might be happening. This is becoming a hot neighborhood. There's no mention of children, the school, or the church in the traffic report. She asks if one handicapped space is enough. He thinks the hotel will impede traffic visibility, and would like trees.

Carl Wagner (Edgehill Road) thanks the board for a thorough review. He feels there are serious deficiencies in the application. He'd like to see the applicant work with the neighborhood. He thinks it's inappropriate for an elected town official (Mary Winstanley-O'Connor) to represent a petitioner in front of the ARB.

Tara Bradley says that the person stating support for the hotel lives in East Arlington. She asks if the hotel has plans for backup parking staff.

Mr. Dougherty doesn't see parking staff as more challenging than any other type of staff.

Barbara Thornton (Park Avenue) is excited about this application. She lives in the heights and has been watching the neighborhood go downhill. She hopes the hotel will help turn things around.

Aram Hollman (Whittemore Avenue) opposes the project. He's concerned about conflicts of interest. He thinks the space is too small and the building too large. And, the amount of parking is insufficient.

Andrea Dwyer would like to see more shadow studies. She's concerned about her property being affected by shadows. She'd also like to see more elevation studies.

Lisa Hines would like to see a longer public easement.

Marina Darlow is happy we're getting a commercial project. Her big concern is parking. She says the traffic study was based on commuting. People use public transit for commuting, but not when going to hotels. The property currently has vehicles with flat tires. She'd like more details about the construction process (time, duration, etc).

Jim Rocci appreciates what the board has done. He says we were promised a boutique hotel. He asks how provisions of the permit will be upheld.

Mr. Bunnell describes the means of enforcement.

Joanne Preston says the entire project should go before the transportation advisory committee. She believes that Ottoson school generates a tremendous amount of traffic, and that some of the students walk.

Steve Revilak (Sunnyside Ave) thinks this is a good commercial project. He supports it, and asks the board to continue working with the applicant.

Public comments closes.

The hearing will be continued to August 17th.

Mr. Benson asks if left turns will be permitted when exiting the drop-off area. If we don't have the expertise to evaluate shadow studies in DPCD, we should consider having an independent study done. Mr. Benson says he won't vote for this project unless the Clark street setbacks are addressed. He'd like 20', or a justification for less. He feels that upper-story step-backs have to be on both Mass ave and Clark street.

Mr. Doherty says the project has undergone numerous delays, and some are his team's fault. He says they've expended tens of thousands of dollars on this project, only to see the board change their mind on matters he thought were settled. The town needs to come to grips. The step-backs we're asking for are the same ones the board permitted for 117 Broadway. We could have done cookie-cutter apartments or condos, but we wanted to give the town a good commercial project. Mr. Doherty would like to be given consistent directions from meeting to meeting. If you don't want the hotel, please be honest. People are coming in as make-believe experts and trying to create issues where there aren't any. We may not be able to get everything done by August 17th, but we'll try.

Mr. Bunnell and Mr. Benson say they've got nothing against the hotel, but they need to work through the details and neighborhood concerns.

Docket 3625, 882--892 Mass Ave. This is a continued hearing for a mixed-use project at the corner of Mass Ave and Lockeland ave.

Robert Annesse presents for the applicant. We've benefited from comments made at the last meeting. We've met with Kin Lau several times and have a better proposal as a result. We're proposing to demolish a one-story commercial building, and build a mixed use building with 21 apartments and 1,300 square feet of retail/office space. It was clear that people wanted to have more of a commercial environment on Mass Ave. The entrance to the residential units is on Lockeland Ave. We've already spent $250k on soil remediation and expect to spend $1M more to clean up the contamination on the site. There's never been a taking by the town for the purpose of widening sidewalks in front of this property. We've moved the building back 2' to provide more space at the bus shelter, and have added a 5' parking buffer between the rear property line and the adjoining R2 zone. If we don't get relief on the upper-story step-back, then we won't be able to go through with this project. We will also need relief with respect to the setback on the R6 side of the property. The property currently has no usable open space. We'll have more than 20% landscaped open space, where the zoning bylaw requires 10%. We've talked with tenants and nothing has precipitated from that.

John Murphy (project designer?) says they want the project to be something the town can be proud of. Taking the top story all the way back would make those apartments uncomfortably small. The project will provide three affordable (subsidized) units. He appreciates Mr. Lau's feedback. The site's environmental issues were identified in 2013. We tried remediation, to the tune of a six-figure sum. The only alternative at this point is to remove soil from underneath the basement slab. It will cost approximately $1M to do that. Financial institutions are not comfortable with having all retail on the first floor. We're also looking into solar panels.

Aaron MacKay (Civil Engineer) says there are two parcels, totaling 14,031 square feet. The current building sticks over the property line on the Lockeland Avenue side. There's no pervious surface on the site; it's all pavement and buildings. There's little in the way of existing drainage infrastructure. This proposal meets the required yard setbacks. The south side will have a 5' buffer strip with a fence. We're planning 25 parking spaces where 25 are required. We'll add 2,083 square feet of pervious landscaping, but need a waiver for usable open space. We'll have 33 long-term bicycle parking spaces in the interior of the building.

Adam Wagner (Architect) says the building will get a full basement, which will provide lots of storage for tenants. Bike parking will be accessible via elevator. All residential units are one bedroom. We haven't fully engineered the mechanical systems, but we have given though to how they'll be screened on the roof. The roof is for mechanical access only. We've also tried to better blend with the surrounding buildings.

Mr. Bunnell asks if tenant discussions are ongoing.

Mr. Annesse says he's had conversations with John Leone regarding ACMi.

Mr. Bunnell asks how the commercial space has changed.

We've doubled the amount of commercial space, and given the building a stronger commercial identity. Devoting the entire first floor to commercial space would make this project financially unviable. Brokerage firms estimate that Arlington has 25,000 square feet of vacant retail space, and are aware that the commercial space across the street took a long time to rent. Lenders aren't counting income from commercial space right now, only residential.

Mr. Bunnell says that DPCD estimates it takes 18 months to fill commercial vacancies. He appreciates the applicant's responsiveness to earlier concerns.

Mr. Lau thought the applicants gave a great presentation. He understands the balancing act they're going through with financing. He appreciates the adjustments they've made, and agrees with their requests for relief. He suggests a few changes to the building exterior. He likes the small plazas in front of the retail spaces, and the fact that the building is right next to a bus stop.

Ms. Zsembery is disappointed with the quantity of commercial space being proposed. She feels that small retail spaces are difficult to lease, which is a problem with our existing retail spaces. She'd like to see a more articulated facade with room for sign boards above the commercial spaces. She'd like more commercial space on the first floor.

Mr. Watson agrees that there should be more commercial space on the first floor, though he understands the economic challenges involved. He feels that the proposed small retail spaces don't satisfy the intent of Arlington's mixed use bylaw. He thinks the building design isn't very appealing. He appreciates the bicycle parking but would like more details about the type of racks to be used. He appreciates the challenges involved with the site.

Mr. Watson asks if having all commercial on the first floor will make the project a no-go.

Yes. We proposed that configuration to several lenders and they all turned us down. We're open to having one large commercial space rather than two small ones. We have to spread out the $1M cost of environmental remediation.

Mr. Watson asks if it would be possible to run a food service out of the commercial space.

We'd need a grease trap and a hood exhaust to the roof. It could be done, but it's not baked into the design.

Mr. Lau asks if the board can grant relief somewhere else, to get a larger retail space.

We don't think we'd be able to fit more than one extra unit. Going up another story might work.

Ms. Raitt isn't sure if another story will be possible on this site, but that's something we can investigate. We could grant parking relief, but the applicant is reluctant to give up parking.

(Stepped away for a moment)

If we didn't have the cost of environmental remediation, there'd be no problem with making the entire first floor commercial.

Mr. Watson is struggling to figure out if this is an appropriate application of mixed-use. He notes that this is the second project in a row seeking relief from upper story step backs. He asks if the ARB is able to grant relief for usable open space.

Mr. Annesse says the usable open space issue would normally be addressed through a variance. He points out that our zoning bylaw gives the ARB jurisdiction over Mass Ave, and asks if it makes sense for them to have partial jurisdiction. He believes that MGL Chapter 40A section 9 gives the ARB authority to grant this relief, but the ARB has never used it. He asks the ARB to take a closer look at chapter 40A section 9.

Mr. Bunnell feels that the board should take a step back an review the state laws Mr. Annesse has cited.

Mr. Watson would like to find a way forward, but he's struggling with the amount of relief requested.

Mr. Benson has no problems with a small commercial space, since the applicant is willing to be flexible. He'd like to see them get to LEED silver and add at least one electric vehicle charging station. The ARB can grant relief on the Lockeland Ave setback, as long as you don't exceed the existing non-conformities. We don't have the ability to reduce the 4th story step-back; the bylaw ties our hands in that regard.

The board opens the hearing to public comment.

Ben Rudick is very sad to see Toroya go. He's speaking on behalf of Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors. It's great to see more housing being proposed on a main street, right next to a bus stop. Arlington has done a poor job of providing housing during the last 30--40 years, and he hopes this project gets done.

Christian Klein is glad to see the changes that have been made since the initial proposal. There's better parking, and bike parking. He likes the horizontal roof line formed by the neighboring buildings. He suggests considering vertical greenery in front. The commercial spaces are shallow, and it will be difficult for those tenants to get away from the windows. He encourages the applicants to consider making the commercial spaces be the full depth of the building. Perhaps consider ground source heat pumps, if feasible. Regarding usable open space, he asks if leveling the entire site allows preservation of an existing non-conformity.

Carl Wagner says that as a person who lives in this town, the building looks like it belongs in a city. It looks worse than the new building across the street. He thinks it doesn't support the neighborhood. He thinks that mixed use allows nasty urban environments, and the mixed use bylaws need to be revisited.

Don Seltzer says the parking lot and drive isle are undersized.

Aram Hollman says this is an inappropriate use of the B2 district. The bylaw wasn't intended for the conversion of commercial to residential space. This is not a good mix. Plans for the center apartment don't include a stove. The entire first floor must be commercial. Our commercial spaces are too small; we need larger ones. The applicants are trying to push the limits of what the ARB can do.

Barbara Thornton says she's getting a tremendous sense of deja vu. There was a tremendous amount of quibbling when the Seaport redevelopment was first proposed, and it stopped the project for years. Quibbling can blow up a project. She'd like to see 5--6 stories instead of four. Please make it happen.

Steve Revilak like the addition of more residential units along our main corridors, the addition of subsidized housing units, and the proximity to public transportation. He asks what the applicants will do if this proposal doesn't go forward (for any reason).

The property owner has to remediate the site. If this proposal doesn't work out, we won't be able to rebuild. At least not at the present time.

Pam Hallet refutes the idea that these are tiny units. The Housing Corporation of Arlington's major demand is for 1--2 bedroom apartments. Having that on a bus stop is perfect. She suggests doing a fifth floor, even if it's only a partial 5th floor. She thinks it's a great deal, and we need more affordable housing. She's very supportive.

Joanne Preston says that our finance committee chair said the biggest problem in Arlington is the low ratio of commercial to residential tax revenue. We don't have enough commercial space. A lot of people need housing because they can't pay their taxes. She doesn't support the small commercial space.

Hearing continued to July 20th.

Thorndike Place Comprehensive Permit. Jenny Raitt announces that the ZBA is having a hearing on the Thorndike Place comprehensive permit on July 14th. She asks for feedback, to include in a letter to the ZBA.

Mr. Benson wonders if we could ask for some affordable (subsidized) units at 70% AMI instead of 80%, since our inclusionary zoning bylaw requires 70%.

Ms. Zsembery wonders if the building could look less institutional.

Mr. Raitt asks Ms. Zsembery if she'd be able to write up more specific comments. Ms. Zsembery agrees to do this.

Mr. Lau asks about the 40B threshold.

Arlington currently has 5.2% subsidized housing; 40B's safe harbor threshold is 10%. 40B also has a 1.5% land threshold; the town went to court over that, and the court determined that we did not meet the 1.5% threshold.

Mr. Watson is happy with the transportation section in the draft letter. It would be nice if Thorndike place could comply with our bicycle parking bylaws.