Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jun 5th, 2023
Meeting held in the Community Center at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=1845&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda.
Docket - 3752 Calyx Peak 251 Summer Street
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery informs the board that the applicant asked to have their hearing continued June 26th. We'll open the hearing tonight, then vote on a continuance.
(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says she's spoken with the proponents, and there was a mutual agreement to postpone.
(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak has a question about the jurisdictional division between the Select Board and the Redevelopment Board. He asks if the Select Board has approved the dispensary as a use, and if the ARB will consider the non-use aspects of the application.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the Select Board is responsible for negotiating the Host Community Agreement, which involves the location and the applicant's ability to seek a special permit from the ARB. She says the ARB's job is to ensure that the design is appropriate for the neighborhood.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the ARB won't adjudicate use in this case, only design and planning.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says we still have to consider whether the applicant meets the EDR requirements in Section 3, and the special regulations for marijuana establishments in Section 8.3.
There's a motion to continue the hearing to June 26th at 7:30 pm. Motion passes, 4--0.
MBTA Communities Update
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the MBTA Communities working group is meeting to review materials provided by Utile. They received over 1000 responses to the survey about priorities for where to cite the districts. These responses were given to Utile, who worked on translating them into a map. There have been a few iterations of the map, and we received the fourth one this afternoon. This version is based on a higher average density than three-family homes, and is broadly divided into three areas: East Arlington, Arlington Center, and Arlington Heights. Utile also provided capacity calculations for these maps.
Ms. Ricker says she's asked Utile to provide lot area and massing studies for six- and twelve-unit apartment buildings. The working group will see the new map tomorrow night, and there will be a public forum at 7:30 pm on June 8th. The new map is really a corridor design that extends the full length of Mass Ave, but stays out of the business and industrial districts. The working group will present the survey results on Thursday, and we're planning to have group charettes with maps. The next iteration will focus on what's in the districts.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says he met with the School Superintendent, the Building Inspector, a priest, a member of the School Committee, and the Police Chief to talk about the MBTA Communities requirements. He felt they had some good questions. They thought the district would entirely be in East Arlington. They also had questions about height, and when the building would happen. Mr. Lau explained that the effects come about over the long term; zoning shapes where a community goes over the next 25--50 years.
One of the school department's main concerns is attracting and hiring teachers and staff. This is a concern for the Police Department too. Mr. Lau asked if the additional housing would create a problem for the schools, and was told that it wouldn't. The School Superintendent believes we're nearing our enrollment peak, and she expects the student population to decline afterwards. Having the district spread out (as opposed to being all in one place) gives the schools more flexibility to adjust buffer zones for elementary schools. The new housing would be behind the business zones, and new residents will help support these businesses.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks whether the new multi-family homes directly abut the business districts, or if they're set back a parcel or two.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that some abut and some are set back.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says most of the proposed district is set back 1--2 properties from the parcels that have frontage on Mass Ave. She says the working group has been looking at the town's zoning map from the 1940s, and this proposal has some similarities.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if he and Ms. Zsembery can attend Thursday night's public forum.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker will check with Town Counsel on how to facilitate that, without violating open meeting laws.
Both Mr. Benson and Ms. Zsembery would like to attend, for the purpose of observing.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks which maps will be shown on Thursday.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says they'll probably show the latest iteration, but could show earlier versions for comparison.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the V1 map offers a nice contrast. He recently discovered that there's a historic district right around the corner from his house. He suggests taking properties on the national historic register into consideration. He doesn't believe the ARB ever told the committee what kind of work product we'd like to receive, or if the board was interested in getting one proposal, vs two or three different options.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says the committee has been reaching out to the public, and is planning an ongoing outreach process. He'd like to see what the town and residents are concerned with. He says the working group has been meeting every week.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to see one or two alternatives, along with having details to flesh out.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's been advocating for massing studies, along with studies of what we can reasonably expect to put on lots of 5000, 10,000, and 15,000 square feet. Once we have these, he'd like to plug them in to our sketch-up model of Mass Ave.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he's spent a lot of time analyzing survey results. There were over 2200 comments, which were coded to identify the ideas and preferences people were expressing, as well as whether they were being expressed in a positive or negative way. Once the coding is done, one can aggregate and see various themes emerge. An interesting one is the idea of expanding the business districts. Of the comments that mentioned this, there was an even split of respondents that wanted to make the districts bigger, and ones that felt the districts shouldn't be expanded until they were improved, and the vacant spaces filled.
Sustainable practices and commercial vitality were the two themes that got the most support. However, specific strategies that would work in these directions received less support.
Mr. Revilak says the next phase will likely focus on choices we can make. For example, allowing 6+ unit apartments in order to trigger inclusionary zoning, or allowing multi-family housing with 12,000 or more square feet, in order to trigger passive house standards in the enhanced stretch code.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the board will need to have a conversation about affordable housing which happens outside of the special permit process. The bylaw is written in a way that assumes a special permit for that number of units. He'd like to sort that out sooner rather than later, and offers to work with Ms. Ricker and Town Counsel to resolve the question.
ARB Meeting Schedule Review
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker suggests meeting twice per month, and presents a list of dates for the board's consideration. She suggests starting public hearings for the fall town meeting sometime around August 28th.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the date has been set for the special town meeting.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says there isn't a date yet, but it might be around the third week in October.
There's back and fourth about individual dates, and holidays to consider. Once a date has been set for the special town meeting, we'll need to work backwards and figure out when to start warrant article hearings.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says she'll present a revised list of dates on June 26th, and the board can vote on them that evening.
ARB Fall Town Meeting Warrant Article Discussion
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker recalls that we looked at a series of changes to the B district. She wanted to go through these to see what articles the board wanted to move forward with in the fall. She thinks that most are far enough along to be ready by then.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees that the first six articles are fairly far along, and they address some of the challenges that have come up when properties are redeveloped. She notes that three of the articles were brought to the annual town meeting and passed. Ms. Zsembery is thinking of holding the Arlington Heights Business District (AHBD) articles until next spring. She thinks the AHBD articles are important, and is concerned that we might not have the bandwidth to do them and multi-family zoning for MBTA Communities (aka, "Section 3A") at the same time.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees. He's told people that the board is planning to bring a business district proposal forward for the heights, so he doesn't want to simply leave that proposal. But he understands the concern about bandwidth.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests making a commitment to pushing forward with the AHBD articles in the spring.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is on the same fence as Mr. Lau. He's concerned about staff's capacity right now, but he's also concerned about the possibility that the Section 3A zoning might overlap with parcels in Arlington Heights that we'd like to change from residential to commercial. He'd like to make sure the AHBD and Section 3A zoning fit together. He thinks we'll need to amend a few things in the zoning bylaw for Section 3A, like the requirements for shade trees.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with Ms. Zsembery about bringing the first six zoning articles forward, and making a commitment to doing AHBD at the next annual town meeting. He'd like to do more work on the AHBD map. Mr. Revilak points out that the areas west of Drake Road are a patchwork of B1, R5, and B4 and he'd like to have a discussion about including those in the district. He notes that Lexington's Village Overlay district is right on the other side of the town line, and he'd like to see a connection between that and the AHBD.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests removing single- and two-family homes as an allowed use in the business districts, which is something the board has talked about doing.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery recalls the board had also discussed removing the special permit requirement for having boarders in the R districts.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says she recently attended an Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) meeting. They're interested in bringing an affordable housing overlay proposal to the special town meeting. They've procured pro-bono legal assistance to help with the effort.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wonders about the dynamic of bringing two different overlay districts to the same town meeting. He also has questions about zoning changes, and how they'd affect the different districts.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the AHTF's chair had invited him to participate in this effort. Our first meeting with counsel is this Friday.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps is here on behalf of the tree committee. She says the Tree Committee would be excited if EDR criteria could be applied to all building projects in town. She thinks the EDR guidelines are wonderful and would like to see everyone doing construction in town follow them. She wonders if they could be made into general requirements. She'd like feedback on whether EDR could be applied to all new construction.
(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans thinks aesthetics are critical to community acceptance. She says her street is included in the MBTA Section 3A map, and asks how much time will be spent visiting each and every block and street proposed for the district.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's walked up and down Mass Ave in order to visit every commercial parcel on that corridor. He thinks there's a conscious effort to visit these areas.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he's bicycled through every street on the prior iteration of the map. He hasn't done so for the latest iteration, because we're just seeing for the first time tonight.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker would like to say a few words about site plan review. She says that while Section 3A allows site plan review, it cannot be a discretionary process like a special permit. Site plan review is the evaluation of a by-right proposal, and the reviewing board can't put unreasonable binding conditions on a project. Technically, Arlington does not have a planning board, and the town will have to decide who has site plan review authority.
These reviews can be done in the context of public meetings, or they can be purely administrative. The review can consider things like landscaping, screening, circulation and access, lighting, stormwater management, architectural style, wastewater, and refuse disposal. In order to do site plan review, we'll need a published document that explains what we're looking for. She asks the board if there's a scale of project that would be suitable for administrative review. She says that site plan review can make projects more contextual and a better fit for the community.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks what happens if the applicant doesn't want to follow suggestions.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker thinks that developers want people to be happy with the projects they build. Conditions written into zoning apply during this process.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks there is a size of project that requires site plan review, but he's concerned about having people build smaller projects, where only administrative review is required. He thinks the ARB is equipped to cover all of the areas Ms. Ricker mentioned earlier, with the exception of stormwater and wastewater.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has been looking at Lexington's process for site plan review. They make a distinction between major site plan review, which is done in the context of a public meeting, and minor site plan review, which is done administratively. The list of things they consider is similar to what Ms. Ricker listed earlier. He believes that site plan review could be a useful tool.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker believes we should establish a site plan review process at the same time we bring Section 3A zoning to town meeting.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says her department has been interviewing candidates for the Economic Development Coordinator position, and are in the process of making an offer. They've also posted the open Assistant Director position.