Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jun 10th, 2024

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Meeting held at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from

Review Meeting Minutes

The board approved minutes from their May 20, 2024 meeting, 3--0--2. (Mr. Lau and Ms. Korman-Houston abstained, as they were not present that evening).

Docket 3798 - 821 Massachusetts Avenue

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says this docket involves redevelopment of the Atwood House. The applicant was originally scheduled to appear tonight, but asked to postpone. They discovered that their lease with CVS doesn't allow them to put retail that close to the pharmacy. Ms. Ricker says the applicants are planning to do office space instead, but will need time to update their plans. She says they'd like to postpone until July 1.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks if the applicants are still contemplating a mixed-use project.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker answers in the affirmative.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says the applicants filed an old version of the Environmental Design Review application. He'd like to see them submit the correct application, with enough time for the board to review it in advance of the hearing. He also notes a mistake in the wording of the agenda item for this docket.

The board votes to continue the hearing to July 1st. The agenda item for that evening will indicate that it's a full hearing under EDR, and not limited to the exterior of the structure.

Discussion of 1207-1211 Massachusetts Avenue

This item involves a discussion between the Board and James Doherty, who was granted a special permit to build a mixed-use building (hotel plus restaurant) and 1207--1211 Mass Ave.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the board last met with Mr. Doherty on November 23, 2023 and had requested another meeting in six months for an update. She says that Mr. Doherty has provided letters of support for both the Mass Ave/Appleton intersection improvements, and for the hotel.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says that he's gone back and forth with bankers, hotel operators, and so on during the last six months. He's also engaged with a number of construction professionals. Things aren't there yet, but Mr. Doherty says the hotel is still his first preference. He says he's looking at three different options.

Option one is the current proposal for a hotel and restaurant. The hotel operators would like to see the mix of rooms flushed out, along with larger common areas and a fitness room. He's also gotten some push-back on the 3200 square foot restaurant.

Mr. Doherty says he's been approached by a few people about option two, which would be residential mixed use, with a restaurant or retail. He hasn't pursued this option.

Option three would involve standalone uses on each parcel. 1207 Mass Ave is about one-third of the combined parcel area, and comes with a mixed-use restriction.

Mr. Doherty hopes to have more give and take with staff members, and that input from the board would also be helpful. He'd like to return by December, ready to move forward.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks if Mr. Doherty was hearing that the 3200 square foot restaurant was too large, or too small.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says it was too small.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston asks who Mr. Doherty has been talking with.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says the hotel is too small for a big chain, so he's talking with regional operators. A land-lease situation would be ideal.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Mr. Korman-Houston asks if Mr. Doherty has considered a hybrid of options one and two. A hotel with some condominium units, for example.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says that option two would involve a floor of condos.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston asks if Mr. Doherty is suggesting that it would be easier to step away, rather than going with what was approved.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says it would become a new special permit hearing at some point. He says the approved building is around 3.5 stories and he's trying to find the alternative that's most tenable for all of the parties involved. Everything on the rear and Clark street sides would stay as-is, but the front would come out. This would allow a larger lobby and restaurant, but he'd keep the driveway where it is. Extending the front would allow for some larger hotel rooms. Mr. Doherty says he's gotten feedback that the building is too small. This is a proposal he's planning to vet, but he doesn't plan to propose making the building taller.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston says it's been a few years since this project was approved and the financial situation is more challenging today. She asks Mr. Doherty how he's feeling.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says that carrying costs aren't an issue; he's mostly looking for investors. He thinks there may be an opportunity to work with MassDevelopment, and he'd love to see that kind of involvement.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston says she'd be interested in hearing what happens if Mr. Doherty does pursue MassDevelopment.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau thinks this may be moving away from a permit extension, because some of the options include programming changes. He thinks those kinds of changes might require a new special permit.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty doesn't want to re-open the whole thing, but does want to be honest about where we are. He'd still like to do the permitted hotel, if that's economically viable. Some partners are saying that they need a few changes to get to yes.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's very supportive of the project, but he's not sure how to move this forward.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to give Mr. Doherty some guidance on the range of modifications we can make to a special permit.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks when the permit expires.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says the permit expires in December 2025.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak asks Mr. Doherty to elaborate on his earlier comment about room sizes.

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says his partners were looking for some larger rooms, that were family-sized.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks Mr. Doherty to explain what he meant earlier, by an "engineering change".

(James Doherty) Mr. Doherty says he was referring to changes in the configuration of the building.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that changing from a hotel to something else would probably involve a new special permit, but changing the building might just require an amendment. He doesn't like the idea of having one or two board members working directly with Mr. Doherty; he'd prefer that any changes be discussed with the full board.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery appreciates Mr. Doherty for meeting tonight. She suggests he work with staff as a pre-cursor to future meetings with the board. Although 1--2 members could work with Mr. Doherty directly, she thinks he'd get better feedback from the board as a whole. She'd also like to get an opinion from Town Counsel on the parameters for modifying a special permit. She thinks the board can get this information to Mr. Doherty by the end of July.

The board votes to request another meeting on December 2nd, or the next earliest date when Mr. Doherty is ready to continue the discussion.

Open Forum

No one wishes to speak at tonight's open forum.

New Business

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the ARB needs to select its representative for the AMPUp advisory committee. That item wasn't placed on the agenda for tonight. Ms. Ricker suggests that interested board members attend the AMPUp advisory committee meeting on Thursday.

Mr. Revilak and Mr. Benson plan to attend the meeting on Thursday.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests the board take a formal vote at next week's meeting.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's been talking to MBTA Development Liaison Greg Thompson, about the possibility of using air rights over the bus turnaround in Arlington Heights. He thinks there might be an interest in an RFP for a join redevelopment. Perhaps with some inclusionary units, retail on the ground floor, and lower parking minimums.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak likes Mr. Lau's idea. He's curious about the MBTA's needs for bus storage, and would like to investigate the possibility of getting a connection between Mass Ave and the Minuteman bikeway. He'd be interested in talking with the MBTA about an air rights deal.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says the MBTA did a good join development project in Quincy, but that was a much larger space.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston thinks the idea is worth exploring. She thinks the Lt. Governor might be a good point of contact.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks how things are going with the heights rezoning.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the bus turnaround ties in with that; the challenge has been figuring out who to talk to at the MBTA. She says there is a mural planned for the building, and that the MBTA's transit oriented development group has been looking at larger air rights deals. They may be willing to do a smaller one.

There's discussion as to whether board members have an appetite for exploring the option of re-zoning this parcel, and perhaps giving a significant parking reduction. Board members are generally okay with that.

Meeting adjourned.