Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jun 26th, 2023
Meeting held in the Community Center at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=1855&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda.
Docket 3752 - Calyx Peak, 251 Summer Street
(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says her department received a request to postpone the hearing until August, so the applicant is requesting a continuance until August 28th.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery asks how this fits in with the timing of warrant article hearings for the special town meeting.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker believes that warrant article hearings will start the same night.
Motion to continue passes, 4--0.
Review Meeting Minutes
The board reviews and approves minutes from March 13, March 27, April 24, and May 1. Each set of minutes was approved by a 4--0 vote.
Review Meeting Schedule
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that the October meeting dates will be subject to the special town meeting schedule.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks if any of these dates will be devoted to ARB outreach for MBTA Communities.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the schedule doesn't include any outreach dates, but they could be added.
Motion to adopt the schedule passes, 4--0.
MOU for Former ARB Properties
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker tells the board that the draft MOU came from the Town Manager and Town Counsel. She also received a set of suggested changes from Mr. Benson.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson describes the changes he's proposing. He removed references to the civic block in Section 1, rewrote Section 2, left Section 3 mostly as-is, and made some minor changes to Section 4. He says the MOU gives the board the ability to review and provide advice, but it doesn't give us veto power over the Town Manager's decisions.
Motion to approve the MOU passes, 4--0.
MBTA Communities Discussion
Several members of the MBTA Communities working group are here tonight, to have a working discussion with the ARB. (Note that ARB members Kin Lau and Steve Revilak are also on the MBTA Communities working group.)
(Claire Ricker) Mr. Ricker tells the ARB that the MBTA Communities Working Group asked for a meeting with the board. She displays the latest revision of the map, which includes a new multi-family district along the Broadway corridor. During the June 8th public forum, a number of people asked why Broadway wasn't included, and Utile verified that the addition of this district won't produce a non-compliant map.
For capacity estimates, Utile provided two scenarios: one where density is capped at 30 dwellings/acre, and another where there's no cap. The capacity calculations assume four stories, a 0' front setback, a 10' side setback, a 20' rear setback, and one parking space per dwelling. Ms. Ricker says the working group was concerned that zoning to allow three-family homes wouldn't result in meaningful production.
Estimated district capacity is 3,158 dwellings with a 30 dwelling/acre cap, and 7,879 dwellings without a density cap.
(Sanjay Newton, MBTA-WG Chair) Mr. Newton asks if Utile could include current unit counts in future projections of this type. He'd like to understand the difference between capacity and what's there now.
(Vince Baudoin, MBTA-WG) Mr. Baudoin asks the ARB to share their impressions of the June 8th forum.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says he roamed around and visited several tables. He thought the event was well-structured and well-run. He has some concerns about the questions used for the table exercises. Mr. Benson disagrees with the statement that three-unit homes aren't cost effective, citing a three-family home that was built near Capitol Square a few years ago. He says these homes are expensive, but they're doable. He says one of the questions talked about incentives for height, but didn't explain how hard it is to determine what the proper incentives are.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery heard some creative ideas around distributing parcels on secondary corridors. She felt that people were generally in favor of allowing more multi-family housing, and the question was really about how to do it. She also appreciated the desire to preserve existing commercial properties.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says he feels like things are moving in the right direction. But we'll need to refine details, like adding Broadway.
(Mette Aamodt, MBTA-WG) Ms. Aamodt wants to articulate how important, and how big an opportunity this is. It's the biggest zoning change since our down-zoning in the 1970s. She notes that Arlington has a lot of initiatives, and at least ten different plans. Section 3A is not housing as usual, because the state has given us a mandate. They've also given us a good tool: multi-family zoning changes can be adopted with a simple majority at town meeting. Ms. Aamodt says that Lexington produced a very ambitious plan. She thinks that we can too, provided we all work together. One issue that we get stuck on is Mass Ave. There's support for more density on Mass Ave, and she thinks we can do this. She suggests rolling other initiatives into the MBTA Communities effort, like the Arlington Heights Business District, and the Central Business district. She'd like to see us clarify what's available for Section 3A and mixed use. She suggests allowing neighborhood office uses (aka, B1 district uses) on certain secondary roads in R1 and R2. That would allow the current B1 to be rezoned as B3, or for multi-family use. She thinks that B1's definition of low density and low activity no longer fits with the town vision for Mass Ave. Ms. Aamodt thinks the current map is under-cooked, and that we can do more if we work together.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks the board members to give their impressions about the map.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the map is a corridor approach, and similar to the zoning map we had before the 1970s down-zoning. He likes that aspect.
Mr. Revilak has mixed feelings whether to include parcels on Mass Ave. Revising our business district zoning has been on the to-do list since 2015, and it's the first recommendation of the Economic Development Chapter of our Master Plan. Mr. Revilak doesn't want to be critical, but he does want to acknowledge that we've made little progress in the last eight years. We have a working map for the Arlington Heights business district, and he thinks it would make sense to omit those parcels from a Section 3A multi-family district. He's less sure about other areas of town, where we don't have concrete plans, and haven't made commitments to working on them.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says the working group has been trying to maintain the viability of Arlington's commercial spaces. He sees options for doing different densities in different areas. He'd like designated commercial zones and areas for future commercial growth. Mr. Lau thinks we're getting there, but these plans will take time to develop.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with the addition of a Broadway district. He suggests thinking about a form-based code with transects; maybe 4--5 stories on Mass Ave, and lower heights behind. He's looked at several of Mass Ave's residential lots. There are seven-story apartment buildings, so maybe four stories is too small. He thinks we'll have to eventually look at individual parcels for context, but that we could allow multi-family in all of the R zones on Mass Ave. Mr. Benson thinks that small buildings on Mass Ave, like the B1 zones, were the result of the 1970s. He thinks that offices will have to be kept separate.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery likes the idea of doing the Arlington Heights Business District at the same time as Section 3A, but DPCD doesn't have the staff capacity for that right now. She'd rather see the B1 parcels redistricted to other B districts, rather than using them for residential. She is in favor of including R districts with Mass Ave frontage in the multi-family district.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says the districts don't have to be set in stone; they can change over time.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would prefer not to change districts, and then change them again a short time later. She thinks that might be too stressful for property owners.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks Mass Ave can have residential-only areas. It would be better to look at specific parcels.
(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin thinks we aren't necessarily thinking of the multi-family district as only housing. He's not cynical about mixed use, and he thinks we can encourage it through incentives.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that Lexington's Section 3A zoning includes a district called "VO" for "Village Overlay". It allows three stories of multi-family by right, but you can go up to five stories by adding ground floor commercial. Mr. Revilak thinks that the bonus of more than one floor is key. A number of applicants have told the ARB that commercial space is less profitable, and lenders are hesitant to finance it. On the other hand, residential is profitable, there's demand for it, and lenders are more willing to finance. The two-story bonus effectively says "if you add ground floor commercial (which you may not want to do), we'll let you add another story of residential (which you do want to do)". It's really a 33% residential density bonus.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he likes the idea of trying that in an R zone, but the board may want to do other things to fix up B1. He hopes we can get a unanimous vote for town meeting.
(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt says she wanted to include the Arlington Heights Business district because there's already a plan for it. She doesn't see continuous commercial along the entire length of Mass Ave as being economically viable. She'd like to see us carve out some residential areas, and concentrate the business districts. The desire to participate in the fossil fuel pilot program gives us a compressed timeline.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that part of this meeting is to hear each other ideas. She says we'll need to do visuals so that town meeting understands what the changes will look like.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he hopes that some R areas aren't covered by the multi-family districts. He'd like to provide some room for the commercial districts to grow. Many of our commercial parcels are very small, and that's something that needs to be addressed.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says he's hearing "don't fill in the swiss cheese".
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is okay with that.
(Rebecca Gruber, MBTA-WG) Ms. Gruber says she's never considered all off Mass Ave to be a business district. She'd like a clarification on what the board views as business districts.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks the challenging part is having three balls in the air -- Section 3A, Arlington Heights, and the other business districts -- and figuring out how to stitch them together. He thinks there are some general guidelines we can follow. Our zoning map has some isolated, lonely business districts, and we should give them the space to have friends. Some districts are very narrow and crowded, and we should give them elbow room by going back a parcel or two. Finally, there are places where business districts are broken up by small sections of residential, and we should provide opportunities to stitch them back together.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton asks if the board has thought about site plan review and design guidelines. He thinks we can expect to get some inclusionary units through the multi-family zoning.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks we'll need to update the residential design guidelines.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that Lexington might be going overboard on their design review process for multi-family.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks we can have different types of site plan review. Some things could be approved administratively, but others might warrant a public meeting. Different types of review for different scales of projects.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the ARB is going to be doing any outreach, separate from the MBTA Working Group is doing.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says we'll need to figure out public engagement activities.
(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans wants to echo the idea of not killing three family zoning. She says those buildings are a vehicle for home ownership and immigrants. They adhere to Section 3A guidelines to build in scale and aesthetics. Ms. Evans says that Lexington is very different from Arlington, and she thinks we shouldn't model them. She says that several residents have done the work to create maps, and she doesn't see those maps being discussed. Ms. Evans notes that we have residential design guidelines and a set of design standards from 2015. She asks if the 2015 standards will apply.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the 2015 design standards are advisory, just like the residential design guidelines.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps wants to bring up something that the town's environmental planner did in May: an urban ecology framework. This effort identified gaps in our plans and suggested best practices. She asks if site plan review could be a way to work in an urban ecology framework, and suggests giving the environmental planner a subcommittee to pursue those details.
(Kristin Anderson) Mr. Anderson thanks the board for supporting business districts. At a previous meeting she heard Mr. Benson mention fifteen-minute neighborhoods, and has become enthralled with the idea. We could have walkable access to a variety of different businesses, which could reduce our reliance on single occupancy vehicles. Ms. Anderson hopes we'll get some housing that's permanently affordable.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says there are many sections of the zoning bylaw that are activated by environmental design review. He thinks we'll need to go through the bylaw to see which of those standards should be applicable to site plan review.
(Brian McBride) Mr. McBride says the Open Space committee sent a letter to the board. He thinks that open space deserves the same level of consideration that being given to commercial. He says that people move to Arlington because it's a green, sleepy town with open space. He's concerned about buildings with zero setbacks. He thinks we need small parks, and he's not hearing that yet. He says we also need to think about habitat and community connections. He'd like open space added to the planning considerations.
(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman asks "Given a plot of land, what is the cheapest cost to build a unit of housing?". He thinks there's no consideration being given to affordable housing, and he thinks that Arlington will turn into a golden gated ghetto.
There are no more comments from the public.
The MBTA Communities Working Group will have their next meeting tomorrow night. The ARB has two more meeting scheduled before June 28th. There's discussion about when the two groups should have a joint meeting. We settle on July 24th as the next joint meeting date.