Arlington Redevelopment Board - May 18th, 2020

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Meeting conducted via teleconference.

Docket 3625, 882--892 Mass Ave. The docket involves the property owner's intent to demolish a single-story commercial building and replace it with a four-story mixed-use building. The applicant has asked for a continuation in order to do further work on the design.

Andrew Bunnell realizes that one bedroom apartments are lacking in Arlington, but he'd prefer not to displace four businesses.

Kin Lau feels there should be more commercial space on the ground floor, and he'd like a better facade on the Lockeland Ave. side of the building. He'd also like to see the locations of tree plantings, mechanical diagrams, and perhaps a relocation of the curb cut.

Eugene Benson has numerous concerns with the project. He's unclear if the applicant intends to narrow the sidewalk. We wonders if the board can grant a parking reduction in exchange for additional affordable housing. He'd also like to see electric vehicle charging stations and solar panels.

David Watson would like more modern commercial space. Some aspects of the proposal aren't in compliance with the ZBL. The proposal misses the mark with respect to bike parking. Perhaps it's possible to retain some of the look and feel of the existing structure.

Rachel Zsembery would like to see more commercial space and more thought give to the choice of materials.

Mr. Bunnell would like to ensure that the applicant is given a transcript of the board's comments.

Robert Annesse (attorney representing the applicant) arrives at this point, and provides remarks to the board. He notes that numerous comments have come in; he and his client would like the opportunity to address some of them.

This property is in a B2 zone, and the proposed project is mixed-use. He understands the desire for a bigger commercial component. They've done a phase 3 contamination study. Taking the entire building down will allow the contaminated soil to be removed.

In 1988, the board granted an EDR for the construction of apartments on top of the existing building. It's not known whether the contamination existed at that point. The applicants would like to take the building down, in order to address the contamination.

Mr. Annesse says this B2 district is an "orphan"; there's an R5 district on one side with a 33 unit apartment building and, an R2 district in back. The applicants would like to do something more consistent with the 33 unit apartment building.

According to Mr. Annesse's client, all of the leases have expired and his client has talked with the tenants about relocation. He disagrees with the notion that the tenants are being evicted. They'd like to build 22 residential units because they believe they're more marketable, and the governor has said we need more residential housing. He asks the board to keep an open mind and hopes they won't ask his client to abandon the general concept.

Mr. Benson is glad that Mr. Annesse mentioned site remediation. He hopes the applicant can provide a timeline for the cleanup effort.

Mr. Lau offers to sit down with Mr. Annesse to review the initial plan.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with a number of Mr. Bunnell's comments. He'd like to see commercial space on the entire ground floor. He's happy to hear that the applicants are considering something on the scale of the 33-unit apartment next door. We have a real need for more housing, and especially for smaller units like single-bedroom apartments.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner claims that people are concerned that they're going to get a building like the one across the street. He thinks we need more retail, not more luxury apartments and condominiums.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein wants to ensure that his written comments will be forwarded to the applicant.

(Jim Kempf) Mr. Kempf likes the comments that board members have made. He thinks that 22 cars will add a lot of traffic next to the high school. He'd like to make sure the bus stop will be retained. He's bothered by the building going right up to the sidewalk. He thinks the building looks like a piece of plastic. He thinks the brick building next door (the 33-unit apartment) is beautiful.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman would like to make three points. First, a lot of work needs to be done with this application. Second, he disagrees with the claim that all leases have expired. Mr. Ruderman states that ACMi's lease has not expired, and has six years remaining. Third, he states that ACMi was not aware of the site contamination when they signed their lease, and were only informed about the contamination a few weeks ago.

(Patrice Smith) Ms. Smith lives across the street. She's concerned about the building height, groundwater, traffic impacts, and the building setback.

(Stepped away for a moment)

(John Worden) Mr. Worden doesn't think zoom meetings are fair public meetings. He'd glad to hear that the board is interested in retaining some commercial space.

(Judy Alexander) Ms. Alexander wonders what will happen to traffic patterns during the high school rebuild, when construction is rampant.

Mr. Annesse says they'll address traffic during the next hearing. He also wishes to examine the leases of the existing tenants.

Mr. Bunnell points out that lease agreements are not the purview of the ARB.

(Norm McCloud) Mr. McCloud supports Michael Ruderman's comments. He states that ACMi has invested $70k in a studio build and can't simply move to an empty store front. He states that ACMi hasn't had any contact with the landlord, and has not seen any documentation of the environmental problems.

(Marine Darlow) Ms. Darlow echoes the concern of her neighbors: traffic, water study, and the set back of the hotel. (note: Ms. Darlow's were intended for a different docket)

The hearing is continued until July 6th.

Docket 2818, 880 Massachusetts Ave. This hearing involves new signage at TD Bank. Jay Parillo represents the applicants.

Mr. Parillo says they've reduced the size of the directional sign, to conform with size requirements in the zoning bylaw.

There are no questions from the board.

There are no comments from the public.

Permit approved 4--0--1 (Ms. Zsembery abstaining).

Docket 3602, 1207--1211 Mass Ave. This hearing involves the a proposal to construct a mixed-use building at 1207--1211 Mass Ave, consisting of a hotel and a restaurant. Mary Winstanley-O'Connor presents for the applicant. Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor would like to address a few points about zoning. She states that the hotel is not residential because our ZBL's definition of dwelling unit explicitly excludes hotels. She will send a worksheet of FAR calculations to the board. With respect to parking, the board is able to reduce the 50 required spaces to 25; the project is asking for 28. She states that ZBL section 5.3.17 contains the wrong language; the upper-story step back should start at the fourth floor rather than the third. Town counsel's memo affirms that the ZBL language differs from the town meeting vote that established mixed-use, and she believes the ARB should be bound by the language from the town meeting vote.

The applicants have not expended any additional soft costs, because they've been waiting to see how the 5.3.17 question was resolved.

Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor says her client has contacted two traffic consultants. Both have said it will be hard to do a meaningful traffic study with school out of session, and the restrictions in place for COVID-19.

David Watson sees two issues with the upper story. One involved the 3rd floor vs 4th floor discrepancy in Section 5.3.17. The second is whether the step back requirements of 7.5' can be altered. He's not sure if the board has the power to do that.

Mr. Benson says the board has received town counsel's memo, and he believes the board is bound by that. He'd like to see calculations for the bonus FAR provision. He'd also like to see calculations for the public access space, and language for the public easement. He'd also like to understand why there isn't a required 20' setback on the Clark St. side of the lot.

Mr. Lau states that a front yard setback can be an average of the setbacks of existing buildings. Existing buildings on Clark Street have 6--7' setbacks.

Regarding parking, Mr. Benson would like to see something in writing, stating that valet service will be used for hotel guests and not for customers of the restaurant.

Mr. Lau asks what materials the applicant will provide going forward. Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor says the materials are listed in the planning department memo.

Mr. Bunnell would like to see an accurate site elevations and a traffic study.

Ms. Zsembery asks the applicant to review the minutes of the January hearing, regarding the appearance of the building. She'd like to see better quality drawings.

Mr. Lau asks if how board can see material samples via a zoom meeting. Ms. Zsembery suggests flat photos of the materials and the specifications for the materials. She'd like to know what the specific materials are.

Mr. Benson isn't clear on whether the shadow studies took site elevation into account. He'd like to ensure that shadows won't encroach on nearby solar panel installations.

Ms. Zsembery asks if the board should ask TAC to weigh in on the traffic study.

(Missed a bit here)

Mr. Watson shares the concern about trying to do a traffic study with no traffic. He believes that auto and bicycle volumes have increased during the last four years.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer doesn't understand why the hotel isn't residential. "Hotel" is listed in a table headed "residential uses", and therefore it should be considered residential. He believes that front yard setbacks should apply on the Clark Street side of the building. He claims that the building will reduce winter sunlight to 50% of the abutters, and states that the fourth floor on Clark street also requires a step back. He claims that a topographical survey will reveal lots of problems, and that the hotel will exceed the 50' height limitation. He feels the garage openings are too small.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner thinks it's strange that Arlington allows people with positions in town government to represent clients in front of boards. (note: Mr. Wagner is referring to Mary Winstanley-O'Connor. In addition to being an attorney, she also serves on the board of assessors).

Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor points out that she is classified as a "special employee", whereby state law allows her to represent clients.

(Lisa Hynes) Ms. Hynes is in favor of the project. She appreciates the investment in these properties. She realizes that there are tradeoffs, but wants to voice her support.

(Ann LeRoyer) Ms. LeRoyer believes the proposed public access space should not be acceptable because it's outdoors and therefore cannot be used all year round. She states that neighbors are not in favor of public activities. The applicant, Mr. Doherty, owns one of the lots, and it's an egregiously unimproved property. She questions whether the proponent will be a good steward. Traffic is a major concern for the neighbors. The old pizza place across the street is being renovated, and that will bring more traffic. The neighbors are concerned about what happens if the building closes and becomes abandoned.

(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti thinks the legal notice from this hearing was defective from the start, because the relief sought was not listed in the notice. He cites section 1.4 of the ZBL and believes that a hotel should not be allowed in the B2 portion of the site. He feels that the board should adopt the most restrictive reading of the ZBL possible. Mr. Loretti also believes that a hotel is a residential use, and claims that the definition of dwelling units have nothing to do with residential uses. He feels the applicant should have filed a warrant article to rezone the property from B2 to B4. He claims there's no landscaped open space in the proposed project, and that the board shouldn't consider relief that the applicant has not asked for. He also feels that his letter should appear in the agenda items for the docket, rather than as correspondence received. Finally, Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor is a special employee because of the select board.

(Michael Sandler) Mr. Sandler points out the high school and DPW reconstructions. Our neighborhood is experiencing a transition. We need a traffic study. This video-conference meeting is not a real public forum. Mr. Sandler says the optics of this are bothersome to him.

(Carol McDonald) Ms. McDonald saw an accident last week. We need a traffic study. The board should talk to the patrol ladies. Besides the school, there's also traffic from the church, and that's a problem too. Glare is a problem. She remembers the gas station across the street, and asks if the gas tanks were ever removed. She says that Somerville and Cambridge are building hotels. What if there's vacancy? She doesn't think it's practical to have a hotel in Arlington, and asks why the town can't lease out the VFW building.

(Andrew Dwyer) Mr. Dwyer is eager to see the property cleaned up. It's an eyesore. He's concerned about traffic, parking, and privacy. He'd like to see views of the back of the property. He says there's a big difference in elevation. He's concerned about the building taking away all of the light and all of the privacy.

(Marina Darlow) Ms. Darlow is concerned about traffic and limited visibility. She doesn't know how this will change the parking situation in her neighborhood. She's concerned that people will park on the street. She's concerned about the elevation. She'd like to see better quality drawings.

(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti asks if the board received the transcript he sent, from the town meeting discussion on mixed use.

Mr. Bunnell acknowledged receipt.

Public comment ends.

Mr. Bunnell is a little frustrated that the project has gone on for so long. He'd like to pick up the pace and have the next hearing in 45 days.

Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor believes they can provide everything on the planning department's list in that time period. She's concerned about being able to get the traffic study done in time, however,.

Mr. Bunnell thinks there's a lot of potential value in this project, but a lot of questions to answer.

Mr. Benson states that the board has received two legal opinions from town counsel. The first is regarding upper-story step-backs. The second states that mixed use is allowed in both the B2 and B4 districts. He feels the board should treat the uses as allowed.

Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor asks what she should do if the traffic study can't be done in time. The board advises her to work with the planning director.

Ms. Zsembery doesn't want to see the project come back without a traffic study.

Mr. Bunnell suggests continuing the hearing to July 6th, and asks Ms. Winstanley-O'Connor to let them know if that's not feasible.

Board votes to continue, 5--0.

Director's Update. Jenny Raitt provides an update from the department of planning and community development. Town administrative offices are not open yet, and town staff will probably continue to work remotely until July 1st. She's not sure when town hall will re-open. Many of the DPCD staff are involved in recovery efforts, which leaves the department with light staffing. There are no virtual engagement schedules, but the department has published surveys on sustainable transportation and residential design guidelines.