Arlington Redevelopment Board - Mar 27th, 2019

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Tonight, the ARB debated and voted on each of the zoning articles before town meeting.

Article 16: Affordable Housing Requirements. Mr. Bunnell wished to discuss article 16 first, as that would set the tone for the other articles. He invited me to sit in the front row to answer questions.

Mr. Bunnell asked me to describe what article 16 does. I summarized it with these points:

  • The article requires 15% affordable units for projects of six units or more. This provision is part of our current zoning bylaw.
  • The article requires 20% affordable units for projects of 20 units or more. This is a new provision.
  • Projects of six or more units that provide only the required number of affordable units would not be eligible for any density bonuses.
  • Projects of six or more units that provide more than the required number of affordable units would be eligible for density bonuses, as outlined in a new addition to section 8.2.4.
  • Smaller projects -- four or five units -- would be eligible for density bonuses. The goal here is to allow more smaller apartments and townhouses, and fill the need for people who may not want a single-family home, or may not be able to afford one.

Mr. Bunnell notes that the article encourages inclusionary units, along with smaller infill development.

Mr. Lau and Mr. Benson discuss the "+1" requirement for density bonuses. Mr. Lau is concerned that the additional IZ units will raise the cost of market rate units; this leaves out the middle area between affordable and market rate. Mr. Benson would like to look at diversifying the income levels, but believes this could be handled next year.

Mr. Watson notes the price pressure we're currently under. Mr. Lau is concerned about exasperating that price pressure. He likes the idea of more affordable housing, but doesn't want to lose sight of the need for workforce units.

Mr. Watson asks if Article 16 provides a structure the ARB can work with. Mr. Lau is willing to go along with the article, on the condition that we look at this issue next year, and try to make it more equitable.

Mr. Bunnell thinks we could move the article to town meeting with a recommendation to have the zoning bylaw working group look at housing diversity and the need for middle-income housing.

Ms. Raitt notes that project proposals will come to the board for review. That will give us the opportunity to address IZ, and try to pair development with grants.

Mr. Benson is concerned about mixed use in the B districts, if we allow the side setback to be zero. He suggests a side setback of zero when the project abuts a business district, or ten feet when it abuts a residential district. Ms. Zwirko thinks this could be handled with a footnote in the table. Mr. Watson would like the side setback to be 10', with a footnote stating that zero feet is permissible when abutting a business district.

Mr. Benson disagrees with the option of having landscaped open space on rooftops. He thinks rooftops should be reserved for solar panels. But, he could live with counting balconies towards usable open space. Mr. Lau agrees, to a point. He'd like the board to have some discretion, depending on the project, particularly projects on small lots. For example, having a smaller open space requirement in back of a building could allow a building to be moved back on the lot, so there's more open space out front. A project like 10 Sunnyside ave would benefit from that.

There's general agreement for striking the provision that allows open space on roofs, so we can put it back on the street. The board believes that more flexibility with setbacks could be beneficial, but that's outside the scope of this article. It's another thing to come back to next year. Mr. Watson things having open space at the street level is important, particularly for preserving the feel of the town.

Mr. Bunnell believes that a lot of the usable open space around apartment buildings isn't very functional. It's really just there to meet the letter of the law. He notes the board can ask for specific types of landscaping during the EDR process.

Mr. Watson is okay with the proposal, as long as other board members are. In the future, he'd like to revisit the discussion of how we allocate open space.

Mr. Benson asks about the change to upper-story step backs. He wonders if we can require a third-story step back on a three-story building. Mr. Lau thinks this creates a contradiction, where the step back would be required at three-stories in some cases, and four-stories in others. Other board members feel that a step back is not necessary for a three-story building.

Mr. Watson asks about the provision that requires the step back only on street facing sides of the building. Should there be step backs, say, on the side abutting a residential property?

Mr. Lau notes that the building would already have a rear yard requirement, and the abutting property would have a side yard requirement.

Mr. Watson asks if massing on the rear of the building is something the board should consider. Mr. Lau notes that we already have height buffer requirements when a commercial building abuts a residential district.

Ms. Raitt states that the board would consider these things during an EDR hearing, as they fall under the criteria for EDR review. Ms. Zwirko states that lower heights are a requirement, unless the ARB approves the higher ones. Mr. Watson agrees that EDR can address this issue.

Mr. Benson would like to discuss off-street parking. He asks if apartment buildings are considered multi-family housing. Ms. Zwirko states that they are. Mr. Benson would like to include mixed use in this provision.

Mr. Benson has issues with the current parking proposals. He's concerned that reducing the number of parking spaces will limit the kinds of tenants the building could have. He can't agree to one space per unit, regardless of the unit type. Instead, he proposes the following: one space for a single-bedroom or efficiency unit, 1.25 spaces for a two-bedroom apartment, and 1.5 spaces for a two-bedroom apartment.

Mr. Bunnell agrees with Mr. Benson's proposal. He notes that the board can reduce parking requirements in appropriate circumstances. For example, when the property owner has instituted a TDM program.

Mr. Watson thinks the ARB needs to have a larger discussion around parking, but that's outside the scope of this warrant article.

Earlier, Mr. Benson had asked that article 16 be applicable to any R district, rather than being limited to R4--R7. Ms. Raitt believes this would complicate things, as the planning department hasn't prepared any dimensional requirements for R0--R3. Mr. Benson is willing to withdraw that request, as long as multi-family developments in all B districts are eligible for the bonuses.

The board believes they're in a good place with article 16. They'd like to table the vote until later in the meeting, after they discuss the other residential articles.

Article 6: Density and Dimensional Requirements for Multi-family uses Ms. Zwirko states that the tables in section 5.4 need a note, referring the reader to density bonuses in section 8.2.4(C). Mr. Benson suggests the wording be "Also see 8.2.4(C)".

The board votes favorable action. With article 16, article 6 becomes just a footnote.

Article 7: Density and Dimensional Requirements for Mixed Use The board votes favorable action.

Article 8: Open space requirements for multi-family uses and mixed uses. This article consists of a footnote change. The board votes favorable action.

Article 9: Townhouses. With article 16, the substantial change is in section 5.3.14(A). Mr. Lau asks where such a townhouse would be built. He looked on a map, and didn't see any place where a 100' townhouse could be built. Mr. Bunnell states that one would have to aggregate lots in order to build a 100' long townhouse. Mr. Benson is okay with moving this forward, in the event there's ever an opportunity to aggregate lots. Ms. Raitt doesn't think this would be feasible in R4, but it could be feasible in some of the B districts. The board votes favorable action.

Article 10: Upper Story Building Step Backs. The board votes no action, as these provisions were absorbed by article 16.

Article 11: Reduced Height Buffer Areas. Ms. Raitt refers the board to a build-out analysis from MAPC. This analysis shows how height buffers effectively cut an entire story off the building. Article 11 still provides a buffer, but not so much as to eliminate an entire story.

Ms. Zwirko states that B districts along Mass Ave are generally only one story deep. An R2 next to a typical B district would still cause the loss of a floor.

Mr. Lau would support the current proposal, if the buffers were measured from the nearest point on the abutting building, rather than from the property line. He'd like to see a compromise distance.

Mr. Watson thinks the MAPC's shadow studies were unconvincing, but he's not sure what the right numbers are.

Mr. Bunnell likes the idea of reducing the buffers, but doesn't fully understand the impacts of doing so. Especially with the variety of buildings in town. Mr. Benson suggests the board doesn't have enough information to move this forward.

Mr. Lau reiterates his desire to have buffers measured from the abutting building, rather than from the property line. Ms. Raitt states that may not be in scope of this particular article.

Mr. Benson suggests wording the requirement something to the effect of "one cannot add more than one hour of shadow to an adjacent property, at any time of the year". Ms. Zwirko believes it would be hard for an applicant to demonstrate compliance with that requirement.

Ms. Raitt suggests making this a discretionary requirement. The existing requirements would form a baseline, but the board could reduce them if an applicant provided shadow studies showing minimal impact.

Mr. Lau asks if we should have a requirement covering glare. He's seen cases where glare from a glass building melted vinyl siding on an adjacent property. The board decides to go with "shadow or glare impact".

Mr. Bunnell reiterates the proposal. We'll keep the existing buffer requirements, with the option to reduce them when an applicant shows the effect of shadows and glare would be negligible.

Ms. Raitt believes that the board needs to specify the amount of reduction available. Mr. Watson and Mr. Lau think the reduction should be whatever amount the applicant can prove.

Mr. Watson asks if what's proposed changes what can be done by right. The answer is no. Mr. Bunnell states that we'll leave changes to the point of measurement until next year.

Board votes favorable action.

Article 12: Corner Lot Requirements. Mr. Benson would feel comfortable with the article if the corner lot was adjacent to a B district rather than an R district. Mr. Lau notes that adjacent R districts will already have setbacks.

There's discussion about R and B districts on corner lots vs. R and B districts on non-corner lots.

The ARB votes no action on article 12.

Article 13: Apartment Building Parking Requirements. The board votes no action, as the changes are now incorporated into article 16 as bonus provisions.

Article 14: Parking Reduction Applicability. This amendment makes parking reductions applicable to R7. R7 was inadvertently omitted when these changes were first proposed.

The board votes favorable action on Article 14.

Article 16: Affordable Housing Requirements. Having reviewed the residential articles, the board takes Article 16 from the table.

The board votes favorable action on article 16, as amended.

Article 15: Accessory Dwelling Units. Mr. Lau asks if ADUs would be allowed only by special permit. Yes.

Mr. Lau asks if the size of an ADU is limited to 750 square feet. Yes, that is the limit.

Mr. Lau asks what happens when a house containing an ADU is sold. The ADU is an integral part of the house, and it cannot be sold separately. The new owner will have to submit an affidavit stating that the building is owner-occupied. If the building is sold and will not be owner-occupied, then the new owner will have to remove the ADU.

Ms. Raitt states that we cannot restrict ADU occupancy to family members. Doing so would violate fair housing laws.

A board member asks if an ADU could be built in a brand new building. No. The building would have to be constructed without an ADU, and the ADU added later. Mr. Lau believes that adding an ADU would cost $20,000--30,000 and only a small number of homeowners would do this.

Mr. Bunnell believes that making such units legal by special permit gives tools for enforcement. We'd know where the ADUs were located, and they'd have to meet building codes.

Mr. Watson asks about ADUs that might already exist. Ms. Raitt states that we'd have a one-year amnesty period for these units to be brought into compliance.

Mr. Benson suggests adding language saying that a building cannot be expanded in size. Mr. Bunnell disagrees. Under currently bylaws, a homeowner can add an addition to house a family member. He believes that option should be available, even if the addition is an ADU. Ms. Raitt says there's an exception to accommodate this.

Mr. Watson asks if someone could add an addition, and then turn that addition into an ADU. Mr. Benson would like to prevent this. He prefers to introduce the bylaw in a limited fashion, and the look at whatever issues come up during the permitting process. He anticipates a small number of permits.

Mr. Watson verifies that we're talking about adding ADUs to building envelopes that existed as of Feb 14, 2019.

Mr. Benson asks what would happen if someone built up, adding a floor to accommodate an ADU. The new story would still be within the building envelope.

Mr. Lau suggests saying "building volume" rather than "building envelope".

Mr. Benson asks about the requirement that the owner spend a certain amount of time living at home. What if they travel a lot?

Mr. Bunnell suggests requiring that the property be the owner's primary residence. That means they'd have to live there six months and one day out of the year.

There's a question about inspections for compliance. The building inspector already has the right to inspect a building for code violations, and they can obtain an administrative warrant to do so, if necessary.

Mr. Bunnell asks about rent restrictions. Mr. Benson thinks that would be very hard to enforce. For example, suppose the owner lived in the ADU and rented out the main building. In that case, the rent should be higher than if the owner lived in the main building and rented out the ADU.

The board votes favorable action, as amended.

Article 17: Signs. Mr. Watson asks about the outcome of signs in commercial blocks. Ms. Zwirko says we've removed the limit of one temporary sign per building; each tenant will be allowed a temporary sign.

Mr. Benson notes that there isn't a definition of "permanent sign". He's not sure how to define it, and wasn't able to find a good definition.

Mr. Benson asks why there isn't a time limit for A-frame signs. Ms. Zwirko states that A-frame signs are typically brought in and out each day. They move around, whereas a fixed sign does not.

The board votes favorable action on Article 17.

Articles 18--19: Floodplain District & Inland Wetland District. Mr. Bunnell states that the articles have already been reviewed by the conservation commission, and that they seem well-drafted.

Ms. Zwirko states that the missing sentence from Article 18 was restored. This was an editing mistake, made during recodification.

The board votes favorable action on articles 18 and 19.

Article 20: Review of Religious and Educational Uses. Ms. Zwirko reports that Town Counsel suggested wording changes, that would allow the ARB to review these uses, but without requiring a special permit.

Mr. Benson suggests adding the phrase "purpose of this Bylaw" after the phrase "goals of the Master Plan".

The board tables Article 20 until their next meeting. They'd like to get further advice from Town Counsel.

Article 21: Bicycle Parking. Ms. Zwirko states that the motion still recognizes a difference between long-term and short-term parking spaces. The motion would require 1.5 bicycle parking spaces per apartment. It also requires that bikes not be carried or lifted. Occupants will be allowed to store bicycles in dwelling units, but they cannot be required to do so. Finally, the motion give the special permit granting authority discretion to reduce the number of spaces provided.

Mr. Benson suggests a wording change.

The board votes favorable action, as amended.

Article 22: Correcting Citation Errors. The date clarifications were removed from the article. Now, there are only corrected citations.

The board votes favorable action on Article 22.

Article 23: Publication of Supporting Documentation -- Zoning Board of Appeals. The petitioner withdrew the article.

The board votes no action on Article 23.

Article 24: Definition of Story, Half. This amendment would bring the ZBL definition of half-story into compliance with the state definition of half-story.

Mr. Benson suggests incorporating the slope requirement, which Christian Klein suggested during the warrant article hearings. Ms. Zwirko states that the article was narrowly written, and we wouldn't be able to add that language.

Mr. Benson wishes that the Residential Study Group would allow the ARB to review their article language before submission.

The board votes favorable action on Article 24.

Article 25: Driveway Slope. The board would like to change the language a little. Ms. Zwirko states that the article was worded very narrowly, so we don't have the opportunity to change it. Mr. Benson feels that the wording in the current bylaw is clearer. Mr. Watson believes there are other ways to address the safety concerns raised in this article, but we can't do them within the scope of how it's written.

The board votes no action on Article 25.

Meeting adjourned, with Article 20 tabled until next Monday.