Arlington Redevelopment Board - Mar 25th, 2019

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The ARB held hearings on five warrant articles this evening.

  • Article 15: Accessory Dwelling Units
  • Article 16: Affordable Housing Requirements
  • Article 23: Publication of Supporting Documentation - Zoning Board of Appeals
  • Article 24: Definition of Story, Half
  • Article 25: Driveway Slope

Jenny Raitt introduces the warrant articles. Article 15 is intended to help us develop a range of housing types. Accessory dwelling units must be self-contained inside a primary unit. They cannot be sold independently of the primary unit, and renters cannot sublet them. Two different groups provided two different recommendations for this article. The Residential Study Group recommended no action, while the Housing Plan Implementation Committee recommended adoption, with the allowance of detached ADUs.

Steve Revilak summarizes the background of article 16. Article 16 was inspired by two things. The first was a comment that Chairman Bunnell made at an ARB meeting several months ago: namely, that the proposed multi-family changes could allow development that would trigger the inclusionary provisions of our zoning bylaw. The second was a discussion he had with a friend, about Somerville's inclusionary zoning.

Somerville's IZ laws consist of three parts. First, there's the percentage of affordable units required. This percentage increases with the size of the project. Larger projects require a higher percentage of affordable units. That's what Mr. Revilak originally proposed for article 16.

Second, there's a density bonus. In larger projects (that produce more affordable units), developers will get a reduction in lot area per dwelling unit. Basically, this allows them to put more units on a lot of a given size. This is part of making the economics work out.

Third, there are affordability tiers. Somerville divided the city into income brackets (based on percentages of the area median income), and counted the number of housing units available to each income bracket. That allowed the city to tailor requirements to where the need is. For example, a project might be required to produce five affordable units: two from tier one, two from tier two, and one from tier three.

In short, Somerville's IZ law has some nice features, and he wanted to bring some of those elements to Arlington.

Now, the ARB had a discussion about the multifamily articles on Feb 25th, and a few board members expressed opinions that the multifamily articles would be better off as density bonuses for producing more affordable housing. The planning directors took this seriously, and started to explore the possibility of doing so, by turning the multifamily changes into bonus provisions in Article 16.

Mr. Revilak first learned of this on Feb 27th, when the directors presented the idea to the Zoning Bylaw working group. He thought the idea was worth pursuing, and agreed to collaborate with them.

The end result of that collaboration is what's before you tonight. The original proposal for article 16 is still there: adding a 20% affordability requirement for projects of 20 units or more. But the proposed multifamily changes are now density bonuses. Obviously, this will change the multi-family articles. For example, the article on townhouses will basically be reduced to changing the word "townhouse" to the words "townhouse structure".

At this point, Mr. Revilak turns things back over to Jenny Raitt.

Article 23 would require the ZBA to publish supporting documentation. The ZBA plans to start using Novus Agenda, so it's likely that no action is required for this article.

Articles 24 and 25 were submitted by a citizen petitioner, on behalf of the Residential Study Group. Article 24 proposes to change our definition of a half-story to match state building codes. Article 25 proposes a change to the requirements for driveway slope.

The board opens the hearing to public comment.

(Liz Pyle). Ms. Pyle states that Inspectional Services and the Fire Chief had concerns about the ADU proposal. The head of inspectional services felt this bylaw would be impossible to enforce as written. Ms. Pyle is concerned that ADUs would be used for Air BnB rentals.

Ms. Pyle states that the ceiling height article was endorsed by inspectional services. Regarding the driveway slope article, the goal is to prevent driveways that slope down steeply where they meet the street, which reduces visibility.

(Patricia Worden). Ms. Worden states that Article 15 is not ready for prime-time, and should only be allowed if the accessory units are affordable. She states that inspectional services believes that the article is unenforceable. She states that town meeting has rejected ADUs in the past, and that it's unfair for the ARB to keep bringing this zombie back. Ms. Worden believes we're becoming a magnet for developers, exploiters, and real estate agents. She states that the housing plan implementation committee is full of housing activists, and that the housing production plan was never approved by town meeting. She believes that people in single-family districts need to be protected, and that article 15 will turn single-family districts into two-family districts. She states that we don't want Air BnB, short-term rentals, or constantly changing neighbors. She asks how the town will deal with code regulations and 5000 more dwelling units. She states that there are no studies about ADUs, and it's perfectly legal for people to add secondary units to their existing homes, as long as they don't include a kitchen. Ms. Worden believes there's no need for this article. She asks "what is truth", and says it's impossible to deal with the torrent of information and disinformation coming from the planning department.

(Beth Eliott). Ms. Eliott supports article 15, and believes that ADUs are a low-cost way to provide more affordability. ADUs are not equivalent to two-family homes. She states that the only way to get racial diversity in town is by increasing economic diversity. She states that it's easy to throw around the specter of Air BnB, but this bylaw requires owner-occupied primary units, which means that home owners will be on the front lines. Ms. Eliott also likes the 20% affordability requirement in Article 16, and thinks the density bonuses are an elegant compromise.

(Shana Cleveland). Ms. Cleveland is surprised at the level of fear and anger in these meetings, and she's surprised at the criticism of the process behind the master plan. Ms. Cleveland researched how the master plan was developed, and states that it was done entirely be residents, selectmen, and town meeting. The town goals that formed the basis for the master plan were good, and a lot of public input went into the process. Ms. Cleveland has been working on climate and energy issue for the last ten years, and feels that our entire state is having an affordability and inequality crisis. These proposals are about getting at the inequality. The government should do more to promote affordable housing, but they no longer do; that job is left to developers. She hopes people will look at the master plan and recognize that not all of the bad things that could possibly happen will happen. Please remember that we are part of a community, and don't demonize the community. We have the opportunity to address a crisis that's causing severe stress.

(John Worden). Mr. Worden wants to speak to articles 15 and 16. He states that Article 15 is a zombie that keeps coming back from the dead. He believes that accessory apartments are just like two-family homes, and that people who want an ADU should just get a two-family home. Mr. Worden states that ADUs must be affordable. He states that the HPIC voted to support this article, but refused to put in a requirement for affordability. If this article goes forward, Mr. Worden will move to make an amendment that would require the ADUs to be affordable. He has numerous other criteria: the house envelope must be as it existed on Feb 14, 2019, when this article was first advertised, and a requirement that leases must be for a minimum of one year. He'd like new owners to apply for an ADU permit if the property is resold. He believes that employees of the town need the ability to conduct inspections on 24 hours notice, and that subletting should be prohibited. He tells a story of an Air BnB owner in California that attacked their guests, and is concerned the same thing will happen here.

Regarding article 16, Mr. Worden believes the warrant article was extremely vague. He suggests requiring more affordable units, but believes the new motion amounts to bribing developers to build affordable housing. He thinks the original proposal was good, and that the new version isn't necessary.

(Janice Brodman). Mr. Brodman feels that by and large, we have the same objectives, but disagree about how to get there. She states that these articles will not get us where we want to go, and people have differing opinions on how to get there. She states that we have radically different views and will never come to consensus. Mr. Brodman states that she owns a two-family home and hasn't raised the rent in over eight years. She states that developers will make money from these changes. She believes that the articles are not ready for approval, and that we need more time to deal with division, and to gather feedback.

(Steve Revilak). Mr. Revilak thanks Ms. Pyle for explaining the motivation for the driveway slope article. He states that new sloped driveways he's seen have a shallow downward slope near the street which would appear to improve visibility, rather than a steep slope that reduces it. He's asks for this to be taken into consideration. Regarding Article 15, Mr. Revilak states that two homeowners on his block rented rooms, and one had a near ADU in the basement. The rentals were generally long term -- at least for a couple of months. Sometimes the tenants had cars, and sometimes they didn't. Mr. Revilak suspects there's a lot of room rental happening already, and that Article 15 could provide some structure for it.

(Pam Hallet). Ms. Hallet favors ADUs. Ms. Hallet states that elders come into HCA every week because their building is being converted to condominiums and they need someplace to live. She also knows of elders who rent rooms in their houses -- that rental income is how they survive. She asks that we don't prevent people from living here by preventing them from having an income stream. Ms. Hallet is definitely in favor of Article 16. State states that HCA cannot create enough affordable units to meet all of the town's needs. There isn't enough state and federal funding to produce enough affordable housing for Arlington.

(Martin Hermans). Mr. Hermans things that article 15 shouldn't be approved, because it would create two-family homes. He believes that article 16 shouldn't be approved because the town is too dense.

(Ben Rudick). Mr. Rudick thinks of affordability often. He has a young son, and is concerned whether his son will be able to afford to live here. Mr. Rudick is in favor of articles 15 and 16. He states that the lack of additional housing will cause prices to rise rapidly. Regarding article 16, Mr. Rudick works as an investment analysis for a building firm, which does projects overseas but not in Arlington. He notes that affordable housing comes at the expense of market rate units; they make market rate units more expensive. He states that developers buy land the way everyone else does -- the properties are generally well-marketed, and they have to put in a bid. We'll typically come up with scenarios for what we want to build, and then calculate a land budget. Every additional inclusionary unit causes the market-rate units to be more expensive; the proposal isn't cost-free.

(Joanne Preston). Ms. Preston notes that that Housing Plan Implementation Committee voted in favor of article 15, while the Residential Study Group voted against it. The RSG was concerned about ADUs creating two-family homes. She describes an RSG meeting where inspectional services reported on horrific living conditions in two illegal apartments. The building inspector said he has no legal right to investigate these units. She states that the fire chief expressed concern that people could die in these units. Regarding elder care, 50--60 years ago, we though that extended families all lived together. That's no longer true. Women participate in the labor force, which means there's no one to stay home and take care of seniors. Seniors go to assisted living instead. She believes it's dangerous for seniors to rent to strangers, especially in their own home. Regarding Article 16, Ms. Preston states that Arlington does not need more rental housing. She believes there are 200--300 apartments available for rent on any given day, but they're too expensive for the people to live here. She believes that there are too many loopholes that allow developers to build five units instead of six, and that the inclusionary requirement is too easy to evade. She thinks we have to close the loopholes first.

(Susan McCabe). Ms. McCabe states that she loves Arlington and what she's seeing tonight. As a town meeting member, she feels a bit overwhelmed. She loves the idea of exploring housing options, but is concerned that the ADU article isn't quite ready. But she thinks it's a brilliant idea.

(Kate Casa). Ms. Casa supports articles 15 and 16. She sees article 15 as an opportunity to provide small flexible units in existing housing. She supports article 15 because she believes we have lots of illegal apartments. Ms. Casa likes the affordability proposal in article 16. She states that lots of people attend committee meetings, and that one committee isn't better or worse than another.

(Beatrice Taylor). Ms. Taylor supports article 16. She feels that inclusionary requirements are worthwhile, even if they make market rate units more expensive. She feels it would be worthwhile to spend more time talking about article 15, because two related committees disagree on the article. She expresses concern that article 15 could lead to more teardowns, because developers will see more value in single-family homes. She states that we need all kinds of housing, and cites MAPC's study which recommends the production of 435,000 units by 2040.

(John Nyberg). Mr. Nyberg is a member of the residential study group and the housing plan implementation committee. He's also a landlord, a realtor, and an uncle. Mr. Nyberg things it's more important to be progressive, rather than regressive. We always hear about extremes where horrible things happen. The Housing Plan Implementation Committee looked at 6--10 communities that allow ADUs, like Lexington and Newton. Newton had ten ADU applications the first year, and five during the second year. If we don't embrace change, we will be left behind. We should be open to what younger generations want, even if it's different than what we've been used to. He challenges people to come up with solutions, and to think out of the box.

(Brian McBride). Mr. McBride is concerned about the proposals for increased housing. He thinks we should design around being a town, the kind of town we want to live in.

(Jennifer Susse). Ms. Susse would like to see more discussion about what would happen if nothing were done. She just finished doing an analysis on fourteen years of kindergarten classes. We used to have 9--10% of kids getting free or reduced lunch, and now we have more like 5--5.5%. Fewer lower-income families can afford to live here. More teachers are commuting from farther away, and this is creating a lot of stress for them. Ten or fifteen years ago, more of our teachers could afford to live in town. Doing nothing will not give us the Arlington we want.

(Aram Hollman). Mr. Hollman stopped going to master plan meetings because he felt they were too pro-forma. He suggests that people look at new buildings that have gone up in Cambridge along Route 2 and on Cambridge Park Drive. Mr. Hollman states that we are part of that market, and that nothing done here can affect market prices. Mr. Hollman is cautiously in favor of ADUs but is concerned about the cost to create these units -- $50,000--200,000/each. He believes we should think about ways to get the cost of housing down, and to reduce the rate at which taxes are increasing. Mr. Hollman is opposed to using density bonuses to building more affordable units, and believes developers are making plenty of money. He thinks we should figure out what kind of housing we want and how to build it. He asks people to engage in a mental exercise: suppose Arlington was prohibited from producing any market rate housing until we reached 10% affordable units. How would we do it? He believes we shouldn't use affordable housing as an excuse to give away the store to developers.

(Peter Bloom). Mr. Bloom recognizes the impossible job that the redevelopment board is trying to do. Our zoning map is hard to follow, and most people aren't well-versed in it. By contrast, we have lots of material on the Whittemore Park redevelopment proposal. Mr. Bloom is concerned about the potential for breeding cynicism from people who didn't know about the process. He asks if any zoning material has been put in the display cases in the lobby of town hall. (No; the display cases are being used for something else right now.) He would like to see the process be delayed, and made more accessible to the public.

(Christian Klein). Mr. Klein likes the idea of using incentives for affordable units in Article 16. Regarding article 15, Mr. Klein states that most two-family dwellings on his street are condominiums rather than actual two-family homes. We do about fifty condo conversions/year in Arlington, and only a small portion of town is available for two family homes. He believes that ADUs in R0 and R1 will help democratize affordable housing; because affordable housing isn't accessible in the R0 and R1 districts.

Regarding five-unit buildings, Mr. Klein points out that we have no subdivision regulations, and this lack of regulation prevents some parts of our ZBL from working as intended.

Regarding article 24, Mr. Klein notes that we have 2.5 story zoning. The problem is that the difference between 7' and 7'~3" allows one to technically comply with the definition of half-story by having a very slight roof slope. He would like to see a slope requirement, but believes this is a good start.

(Steve McKenna). Mr. McKenna states that zoning is technical and strategic, and comments the ARB for their work. For Article 15, Mr. McKenna asks the board to look at opportunities. Lifestyles are changing and we have older residents. He suggests having a transition period where ADUs go from housing in-laws, to being affordable housing, to being market rate units. Mr. McKenna feels that article 16 is critical for a lot of opportunities, and that bonus provisions will help create more affordable units. One unit of affordable housing is important to the family that needs it.

Mr. McKenna supports article 24. For article 25, he notes that our 2017 changes to driveway slope have reduced the number of drive-unders. However, we may need more input from the town engineer and building inspector's office on the precise wording.

Finally, it's critical that we allow these changes for families, lifestyle, and businesses. We won't have 3000 new dwelling units overnight. It's more likely that we'll create 200--300 over the next few years. We also need to look at our retail space, because what we have is functionally obsolete.

(Leanne Rodd). Ms. Rodd wants to speak to the economic development portion of the Master plan. There are two things we like: transparency, and the ability to participate in public processes. The town needs more co-working space. The Master plan recommends development of high-value mixed-use properties. She supports the density changes.

(Don Seltzer). Mr. Seltzer was critical of the shadow studies done by our consultants, so he did his own shadow studies for five sites in Arlington and provided this information to the Board. Mr. Seltzer has two questions for the board: are you happy with the materials provided by MAPC, and are you confident that you have enough information?

(Ben Rudick). Mr. Rudick asks the board to be careful about the cliff effect at affordability tiers. He suggests doing a cost analysis for different numbers of units. Such an analysis will show the areas that aren't technically viable.

(John Nyberg). Mr. Nyberg responds to Ms. Preston's earlier remarks, about the number of apartments available for rent in Arlington. He checked MLS earlier today, and there were only 36 units available for rent. Mr. Nyberg states that he's not sure where the 200--300 unit figure comes from.