Arlington Redevelopment Board - Mar 1st, 2021
Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1283. These notes cover a subset of agenda items.
Docket 3647 - 10 Sunnyside Avenue
The petitioner, Column Health, would like to construct a mixed-use building at 10 Sunnyside Ave.
(Robert Annese, Attorney for the petitioner) Mr. Annese says this is a blighted site, which was formerly a garage. A previous application sought to build 21 condominiums on the site; this application proposes to add five condos and convert the existing garage to office space. A five story building will hold the condominiums and parking, and the petitioners propose to add a greenhouse to the top of the garage. If approved, this project will transform a blighted area.
(Will Chalfant, Architect) Mr. Chalfant says the project involves two buildings connected by a bridge. He says it's kind of an industrial area and there's not much of a streetscape. There will be a few surface parking spaces in the rear and 18 spaces in the garage. They plan to use car stackers in the garage, and the building will be staffed with someone who can operate them. There will be a bike room with bike racks, and they'll eliminate a lot of impervious surface.
There will be five large condos, for Column Health's executive team. Each unit will have outdoor balcony space. There will be a total of 6,000 square feet of outdoor space on four floor of balconies and the green roof. They're planning an energy efficient building with a LEED Gold rating. There will be a large solar array and geothermal heat pumps. They plan to add a sidewalk in front of the property and plant street trees; currently the front of the property is one continuous curb cut. The new building will be constructed with concrete and steel.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks if the garage is enclosed.
(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says yes.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks about garage ventilation.
(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says he's planning mechanical ventilation, which will vent out to the side or rear of the building.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau isn't sure if side ventilation will work, because of how close the building is to the adjacent property. He thinks they'll have to vent on the roof.
Mr. Lau asks if the head house can be a lighter color, or less massive.
(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says the building's elevator is a consideration. He says he can look at different colors, and possibly moving the head house away from the edge of the building.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the fourth floor balconies are encroaching on the abutting property.
(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says he'll have to double check. If the balconies are encroaching, he'll pull them in.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says it's a very handsome building.
(David Watson, ARB) Mr. Watson says it's an interesting project. He asks about the purpose of the greenhouse.
(Colin, Column Health) Colin says he's got his eyes on vegetables and a few trees. They'd like to produce food, and have an area where the executive team can go to relax.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks if this could be constructed without using the mixed-use bylaw.
(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese believes they have to use the mixed-use bylaw. He says the mixed-use bylaw also gives the board more flexibility.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks if they have a plan B, in case the board determines that these are two different structures rather than mixed use.
(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese reads the bylaw definition of mixed-use. Because the buildings are attached, he feels they should be treated as a single building.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson doesn't think that's so clear. He'd also like to talk about upper-story step backs; the bylaw requires step backs, but the plans don't have one.
(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says he wanted to maximize the square footage, and used the balconies to reduce massing.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says the zoning bylaw requires an upper-story step back. He asks about the vertical car stackers, and why they're proposing three spaces in back of the building.
(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says they'll have one extra parking space. He thinks the parking arrangements will be okay, since the people who'll be living here will also be working here.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks about usable open space, the possibility of turning some of the parking spaces into open space, and doing a transportation demand management program.
(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says they could do that.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says these are nice units, but the old proposal for this site would have had less expensive ones.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson likes the fact that they're planning a LEED Gold building. He says the FAR limit in B4 is 1.0, not 1.5.
(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says he'll request relief from that requirement if they need to. He believes the board has the ability to grant such relief.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's like a chart showing the open space calculations. He asks if there will be electric vehicle charging stations.
(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says that energy codes will require EV charging stations.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes the height buffer requirements in section 5.3.19 and says a shadow study would be useful.
(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says they can do a shadow study.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wants to ensure that the building won't cast shadows on the Michael St. homes with solar panels. He says that planting and landscaping plans would help. They'll need a signage plan, and the DPW should review their stormwater management plan. He's leaning the same way that Mr. Watson is with respect to whether the building is mixed use; he sees it as two structures. He also says it will require a step-back on the fourth floor.
(Melissa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis says it's a great design. She asks how the live/work arrangement will work.
(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says that Column Health is a longstanding business in town, and they're trying to remain in town. He says the live/work arrangements may not be in perpetuity; they could change in the future.
(?, Column Health) Another Column Health executive says they started their business on Mass Ave but have outgrown the space. He says this building is designed for the leadership team.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks to see a detail of the connecting part of the building. Staff zooms in to that section of the plans.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Leah Broder) Ms. Broder appreciates the work and commitment to sustainable principles. She thinks it could transform the area. Regarding mixed-use, Ms. Broder asks the board to consider what the intent is. She's concerned that a future applicant might propose an bigger building for the site.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says they know how the building is intended to be used. A change in use will have to come back to the board.
(Don Seltzer) Originally, Mr. Seltzer thought this was an excellent use, but then he saw the plans. He says there are lots of problems. He says it's not mixed use, and that usable open space and gross floor area are miscalculated. He says the building needs an upper-story step back, and that circulation and parking is a disaster. He says the drive isle is too narrow, and asks where the loading space is. He says the solar panels are located in the worst possible location.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees that the site is currently blighted. He says this section of Sunnyside ave contains a lot of pavement and a lot of parking lots. He's glad to see something that will break up the parking lots and pavement.
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says the area is covered in concrete, and it's almost a wasteland. He things it's a big improvement over what's there. He suggests reducing the number of parking spaces.
There's no further public comment.
Hearing continued until March 15th.
Warrant Article Hearings
The ARB conducted hearings for eight warrant articles:
- Article 39 - Clarification of Definition of Mixed use
- Article 40 - Conversion of Commercial to Residential
- Article 34 - Marijuana uses
- Article 28 - Affordable housing requirements
- Article 29 - Apartment Conversion
- Article 30 - Gross Floor Area
- Article 31 - Prohibited uses
- Article 32 - Other districts dimensional and density regulations
Articles 39 and 40 were submitted by citizen petitioners, while the others came from the planning department and ARB. I've taken notes on the first two hearings. (The other articles are largely administrative, or changes to comply with state law.)
Article 39 - Clarification of Definition of Mixed Use
The article proposes to change the definition of mixed use, so that only those uses allowed as individual uses in a district can be used in mixed-use buildings.
(Christopher Loreti, Petitioner) Mr. Loreti says he wants to correct misinformation that's been going around about his article. He offered a similar amendment to the mixed use article in 2016. During town meeting, ARB members said they'd only allow permitted uses. The idea that the ARB has flexibility here contradicts their own remarks. Mr. Loreti says that environmental design review does not allow the ARB to pick and choose uses, and no one has cited case law saying that use requirements can be waived. If the ARB thinks other uses are desirable, they can submit a warrant article to change the use table.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau has no questions.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson doesn't see any ambiguity in the bylaw, and feels the board has acted appropriately. He thinks Mr. Loreti's article is overly broad. He also thinks it's bad form to put substantive requirements in a definition, and suggests moving those to section 5.2 if Mr. Loreti wants to bring the article forward.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson concurs with Mr. Benson. He says there are already constraints on mixed use, where certain uses are disallowed in specific districts. He thinks that kind of restriction would be okay.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery also concurs. She thinks environmental design review is oriented to permitting projects that are appropriate to the district.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden asks if someone can summon Mr. Bunnell, from where ever he is, to come back and tell the board what he said during town meeting. He says we got a lot of assurances back in 2016, but now people want to take a different position.
(Note: Andrew Bunnell is a former chair of the Arlington Redevelopment Board)
(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman supports article 39, because he'd like to limit housing in mixed use. He'd like to limit mixed use to retail and commercial, with only a few residential units
(Brian McBride) Mr. McBride is concerned about outsized development and out-of-scale housing. He asks the board to manage development appropriately.
(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner wants to give the perspective of a town meeting member. He says town meeting passed mixed use because it wanted to provide accessory apartments. But somewhere along the line, those reasons have been lost. Article 39 brings mixed use back to its original meaning.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak was a town meeting member in 2016; he voted in favor of the mixed use article, and against the amendment that Mr. Loreti proposed at the time. He voted this way because every mixed use proposal would be subject to environmental design review and the associated public hearing process. Mixed use doesn't happen by right; every project gets a hearing. He likes the mixed use projects that have been permitted, and hopes there are more of them in the future.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says this article should be easy for the ARB to support. In 2016 mixed use was unambiguously limited to the uses permitted in individual districts. Another speaker said that the ZBL are guidelines, and we'll see how town meeting response to that. He thinks mixed use that allows any two uses is diametrically opposed to the bylaw, and that a vote of no action will cause loss of credibility to the board.
Article 40 - Conversion of Commercial to Residential
Article 40 would restrict the conversion of commercial space to residential in mixed use buildings. Changes to residential would only be allowed if the new residential units meet the definition of "affordable" in Section 2 of the bylaw.
(John Worden, Petitioner) Mr. Worden says that the existing bylaw presently allows the conversion of commercial to residential in mixed use buildings. If property owners create more residential units, they should be affordable. Mr. Worden says there's a lot of lip service made to affordable housing. He claims that a new building on Summer street has eleven residential units, one commercial unit, and only one of the residential units is affordable. He says this illustrates the folly of mixed use and is an abuse of inclusionary zoning.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees that we need affordable housing. He says that affordable housing gets built in one of two ways: the public sector (including non-profits like the Housing Corporation of Arlington), and the private sector (through inclusionary zoning). He disagrees that affordable housing is the only kind of housing Arlington needs. He thinks we need a broad range of housing types, including workforce housing.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees. He's spent most of his adult life as an advocate for affordable housing, and he understands the realities of building it. He thinks Mr. Worden's proposal would calcify development in some bad ways. He says that one cannot simply convert commercial to residential in mixed use buildings, because that would violate the conditions of the special permit. He says this doesn't serve the goal of affordable housing, and makes progress on affordable housing more difficult.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson agrees with his colleagues. He says the board would be happy to hear more about the economics behind how this would work, if Mr. Worden has that information.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says the goal of affordable housing is to help people. She thinks we need more small-a and capital-A affordable housing, and more housing options.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees with her colleagues.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber asks why requiring more affordable housing makes it harder to build.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that too high a requirement makes it financially unfeasible.
(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says the article is reasonable. In 2019 town meeting said no to density. He says there's a danger of having commercial uses become accessory and that we need less expensive housing.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says there are two general reasons why people propose affordable housing regulations. The first is to encourage the production of low or moderate income housing. The second is to discourage the production of any new housing at all, affordable or otherwise. Mr. Revilak thinks Article 40 falls into the latter category. Income restricted units are usually sold or rented at a loss, and an affordable housing requirement that doesn't consider the economics is just a barrier.
Mr. Revilak wants to put Article 40 in a historical context. Our zoning bylaw dates from 1975 when Arlington was concerned about preventing population growth, and in particular, preventing the construction of new apartments. On the commercial side, our business districts were carved into tiny pieces that are difficult to improve and redevelop. The anti-growth policies of the 1970s are preventing Arlington from benefiting from the economic booms that Boston, Cambridge, and now Somerville are experiencing. He sees Article 40 as an effort to continue 1970s era anti-growth policies.
(Matt Owen) Mr. Owen echoes what the board members have said. To much affordable housing requirements will just inhibit development. He thinks we need both affordable and market rate housing.
(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray says she doesn't understand Mr. Revilak's comment. She says that conversion to residential in an existing building doesn't involve new construction, because the building is already built. She doesn't see how there'd be additional costs involved. She says that we need specific measures if we're serious about having more affordable housing, and she's disturbed that builders don't build more of it. She thinks Mr. Worden's article is reasonable.
(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says new construction shouldn't be used as a baseline cost. You can't compare costs of new construction to costs of old buildings.
(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman favors article 40. He says that workforce housing is nowhere near adequate, and that workforce housing is not affordable. As an Arlington resident, he wants to see more commercial space. He thinks Article 40 will just prevent the redevelopment board from creating more second-class housing. He thinks that commercial to residential should only be allowed when the residential units are affordable.
There's no further public comment.
(Stopped taking notes at this point.)