Arlington Redevelopment Board - Mar 4th, 2019

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The ARB held public hearing on five warrant articles this evening.

Article 17: Sign Regulations. Rodger Eastman of LWC gives a presentation to the board. The master plan audit noted issues with the town's sign regulations, and these issues weren't addressed during last year's zoning recodification. Consistency with case law (e.g., Reed v. Gilbert) was a big priority for this effort. We wanted a bylaw that was both easy to use and easy to administer. We began with an audit of the current bylaws, performed an analysis, held stakeholder interviews, and developed a set of recommendations. After that groundwork was done, we began work on the draft.

Mr. Eastman gives a summary of the Reed decision. Clyde Reed was a pastor who used temporary signs to direct people to church services, and ran afoul of Gilbert, AZ's sign bylaws. He sued the town, and the case made its way to the supreme court. The supreme court sided with Reed, ruling that content-based regulations were a violation of the first amendment. Sign regulations must be based on time, place, and manner; they cannot be based on content.

Mr. Eastman describes how the proposed sign bylaw is organized, and offers to answer questions from the board.

David Watson acknowledged the zoning bylaw working group's efforts on the sign bylaw. He's got a number of questions, the first of which deals with message substitution. What's the interplay between 6.2.1(D) and 6.2.2(A)(1), particularly in regard to when a sign permit is required?

Mr. Eastman says the intent is to allows substitution of a commercial message with a non-commercial message (or vice versa) without a permit. However, a permit is required to substitute a commercial message for a different commercial message. Mr. Watson would like to see this reworded, so that intent is clearer.

Mr. Watson suggests a rewording to the Review and Approval section.

Eugene Benson would like to see standards for when a sign permit goes before the ARB.

Mr. Watson suggests adding a cross reference to the section on duration of permits for A-frame signs.

Mr. Watson asks about the restrictions involving the number of temporary signs on a commercial block. He's concerned that this could be too restrictive if several businesses turn over at the same time.

Mr. Eastman states that this is a tricky issue to address. That provision was motivated by strip malls. Commercial properties on Mass Ave are likely to have wall banner signs, and this is a more generic banner regulation.

Mr. Benson suggests a limit of one temporary banner per business. Mr. Watson would like each business to have the ability to have a temporary banner sign.

Mr. Watson asks if 6.2.3(B)(5) would apply to inflatable holiday decorations. Mr. Eastman believes not, but it really comes down to enforcement. Erin Zwirko doesn't believe the provision would apply to holiday decorations, because they're decorations rather than signs.

Town Counsel Doug Heim feels that this issue illustrates the challenges of a post-Reid world. There's not a lot of clarity around whether a decoration is a symbol or a sign.

Mr. Watson asks if a citizen could ask for enforcement against a holiday display. Mr. Heim acknowledges that could happen, but he'd rather not have a specific exemption for holiday displays.

Mr. Benson asks about a mechanical Frosty the Snowman that tips its hat. Mr. Heim doesn't believe that inflatable snowmen fit into any of the prohibited categories.

Mr. Watson asks about signs for businesses that are no longer in business, but might have cultural or historic significance. For example, the Citgo sign in Kenmore square. Is there a way to take these into account? Mr. Eastman believes we could make reference to landmark designations.

Kin Lau asks if the sign bylaw would apply to murals. Mr. Eastman states that the proposed bylaw is neutral on the subject of murals.

Mr. Heim states that non-commercial messages are subject to strict scrutiny, but historical signs could be documented by the historical commission.

Mr. Watson asks if holiday lighting in the form of laser displays would be prohibited. Mr. Heim would have to think about it. Mr. Eastman says the intent is to cover commercial displays.

The board opens the hearing to public comment.

Chris Loretti asks if billboards will be prohibited. Yes, the language covering billboards was taken from the existing town bylaws.

Mr. Loretti asks about LED signs. Mr. Eastman states that the new bylaw will prohibit electronic message centers, but it will allow single-color LED signs.

Mr. Loretti believes the bylaw will create a new type of sign called a portable sign, which can exist in perpetuity. He doesn't believe these should be allowed. Likewise for signs put up by landscapers.

Mr. Loretti thinks the four-foot passage around temporary signs is too small.

Bob Radocia asks who's in charge of sign bylaw enforcement. That's the building inspector's job.

Mr. Radocia asks if window signs are covered somewhere. They are. He's also concerned that the town could end up "looking like an alley in Chelsea". I don't know what that's about.

Article 18: Floodplain District. Jenny Raitt introduces the article. During recodification, we identified a number of inconsistencies in the Floodplain Districts section of the ZBL. It's inconsistent with both the town wetlands bylaws and Conservation Commission regulations. Although we're making corrections, this does not have any effect on the Conservation Commission's review process.

Ms. Raitt reads a letter from Nathaniel Stevens, Chair of the Conservation Commission. I think the crux of the letter was that the zoning doesn't affect the wetlands bylaws, and the Conservation Commission is neutral on the topic of zoning.

David Watson brings up a piece of written feedback that I provided via the zoning recodification working group. Section 5.7.5(C) appears to be missing some text. Mr. Watson asks me to address the board and elaborate. I'd noticed that the wording changed abruptly, and compared that section with its counterpart from the pre-recodified ZBL. It looks like we left out a paragraph. DPCP staff will examine further.

There's no more public comment on Article 18.

Article 19: Inland Wetland District. Mr. Benson believes these changes are appropriate, but suggests adding a definition of perennial brooks and streams.

The board opens the hearing to public comment.

Resident Beth Melofchik asks if there's been a redefinition of wetlands. Mr. Benson doesn't believe so. He feels it's important to make a distinction between perennial brooks and streams and their non-perennial counterparts. A non-perennial stream is one that might run periodically -- perhaps a few days out of the year -- and a perennial one runs all of the time. Non-perennial streams don't warrant the same degree of protection that perennial ones do.

Beth Melofchik asks if any of the changes were made to accommodate redevelopment of Mill Brook. The answer was no.

There's no more public comment on Article 19.

Article 20: Review of Religious and Educational Uses. Jenny Raitt explains that Article 20 deals with the Dover amendment. The goal is to clarify review the process for religious, non-profit, and educational uses. There will be two steps to the review process: the first done by the building inspector, and the second done by DPCD (as an administrative review).

Mr. Heim explains the meaning of the term reasonable regulations. A municipality can regulate things like building bulk, height, or the amount of parking required. A municipality cannot use dimensional regulations to frustrate the religious or educational use.

Our bylaw suggests that some of these uses require a special permit. In reality, they do not.

Mr. Benson suggests that 3.5.1 should mention the ZBL's purpose statement.

Mr. Benson asks a question about 3.5.2(B). He wonders if the second review should be done by the Redevelopment Board, rather than DPCD staff.

Mr. Watson asks how the board would perform a review, given that there wouldn't be a special permit involved.

Mr. Heim believes that would be closer to site plan review, which is different than our EDRs.

Ms. Zwirko looked at how neighboring communities treat these uses. All allow them by right, although Cambridge has an overlay district for universities.

Mr. Benson steers the discussion back to his original question: should there be a board review or a staff review?

Mr. Heim believes the board could perform a site plan review, within the very narrow scope allowed by MGL Ch 40A Sec 3.

Andrew Bunnell likes the idea of site plan review with abutter notifications.

There additional back and fourth between members of the board.

Ms. Raitt feels that board review would complicate the process. We'd send abutter notifications, but we wouldn't be able to hold a public hearing (because there wouldn't be a special permit). To facilitate board review, we might need to amend section 3.4, to indicate a new type of review process.

Mr. Heim says we'd need to ensure that a new review process was not a special permit hearing by another name.

Mr. Benson thinks one of the tradeoffs is having the board act as an appellate body vs acting as a venue for public input. Under the proposed changes, an applicant could appeal to the board if they disagreed with the building inspector or DPCD. If the board were to do a review and the applicant disagreed, they'd need a different avenue for appeal.

Mr. Bunnell thinks this discussion is worth having, but he'd like to table it for now. He then asks what if staff had the opportunity to refer cases to the board for public review. Would the board's advice be binding or just a recommendation?

The board opens the hearing to public comment.

Chris Loretti doesn't believe the proposed changes are consistent with MGL Ch 40A Sec 3. He suggests using the same language that's in the Dover amendment.

Mr. Loretti believes the board is trying to make the administrative aspects unnecessarily hard. Dimensional and density regulations are enforced by the building inspector. If an applicant wanted to build something else, they'd have to go before the ZBA. The ZBA is the appropriate board to hear variances.

Carl Wagner is concerned that dimensional and density regulations won't be considered for some uses.

Article 22: Correcting Citation Errors. This article is intended to correct citation mistakes made during the recodification.

The board opens the hearing to public comment.

Mr. Loretti points out that one of the corrections involves a date (changing "August 1975" to reference a specific date in August 1975), and doesn't believe that fits in the scope of the warrant article. He also believes that the citations should go at the end of 5.4.3, not 5.4.2. He suggests taking another look at the proposed changes, or putting them off.

Organizational Changes. The board elects Andrew Bunnell to serve as chair, and Kin Lau to serve as vice chair.