Arlington Redevelopment Board - May 1st, 2023

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Meeting held in the first floor annex of town hall. Materials were available from

MOU for ARB Properties

(Claire Ricker, Planning director) Ms. Ricker presents a draft MOU that she worked on with Town Counsel, regarding the transferred properties at 20 Academy Street, 23 Maple Street, and 611 Mass Ave. It will give the board the opportunity to provide feedback on future tenants. She brought up the idea of limiting the amount of space leased to town tenants, but the town manager pushed back on that. Ms. Ricker says she requested a provision that parking at 23 Maple Street not be used to supplement other town properties. Facilities will handle future collection of rent.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson thought it was a bad idea to have MOUs. He's concerned about the second "whereas", since we didn't redevelop 23 Maple Street. He suggests changing the wording of the third "whereas", and adding "or other third party" to the fourth.

Mr. Benson says that 23 Maple Street will likely need work in the future, and he thinks the ARB should have a seat on that committee. He suggests additional changes to Section 2, along with adding a sentence noting the date of approval.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says the town can continue leasing, or sell the buildings. He'd like the ARB to have a say in buyer selection, in the event that they're sold. He'd still like to have a cap on the percentage of space that's rented to town staff.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that he got a job as the Mystic River Watershed Association chair, around 23 years ago. The organization didn't have an office at the time, and there was no place for staff. They managed to secure space in a town-owned building, which the town hadn't been able to rent.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he'd like to preserve the ability to do that.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery recalls that the board talked about a 30% cap. She'd like to push for a threshold, though 30% might not be the right number.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau likes the provision that 23 Maple not be used to supplement parking for other buildings. He notes that Arlington doesn't have any emergency shelters in town -- places to house families displaced by fire, for example.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker doesn't think it's bad to advocate for a limit. She's seen some conceptual plans for housing at 23 Maple Street. She asks about having percentage caps on some properties but not others.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says we've put a commercial kitchen in the senior center, but it's not being used to its full potential by any of the tenants.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker asks about a scenario where the Housing Corporation of Arlington buys 23 Maple St., and leases some office space back to the town.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks the cost of housing is too high for that to be practical for HCA.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the concept is interesting.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak believes there's a word missing in the last line of page 1.

Mr. Revilak doesn't think he has enough information to take a position on percentage caps. He doesn't know what the town's space needs are, and doesn't want to see us in a position where a percentage cap causes the town to rent space office from a commercial landlord. He'd also like to know what percentage of the Community Center is used for town offices, vs other entities.

There's more discussion among the board members. There's a suggestion for a condition like "no greater than the percentage of space used today" for the Community Center and Jefferson Cutter house; that would leave 23 Maple Street up for further negotiation.

Ms. Ricker will have a follow-up conversation with the Town Manager.

MBTA Communities

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says we've closed the community-wide survey on MBTA Communities zoning and handed the survey results off to Utile, our consultant. We've also released the visioning kits. The MBTA Communities working group will meet on Thursday, and that meeting will focus on outreach and engagement. We expect Utile to deliver a first draft before the working group's meeting on May 16th.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to see Utile's materials at an ARB meeting.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she'll check to see if Utile can come to the ARB's meeting on May 15th. She says we'll have another public meeting in June, followed by another survey. From there, we'll continue to iterate on the proposal.

Ms. Lynema says that Utile's contract runs until the end of June, so we'll have until then to work on location and massing. Utile has said that any scenarios they deliver will comply with DHCD's regulations.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if 40R is on the table.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker isn't sure; it depends on whether a 40R district will require a two-thirds vote. She'd like to get the MBTA district in place, and consider updates in the future.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak briefly discusses the survey results. He noted that "sustainable practices" had the largest number of respondents who answered "I support". Locating the district along transit routes also had a high level of support; however, that dropped off in the questions about more specific areas, like near commercial centers, along main corridors, etc.

Mr. Revilak says he's started working on coding the written comments. He originally considered doing word clouds, but wanted something that captured sentiment. For example, a number of comments mentioned "density". Some did this in a negative way, like "I'm against multi-family housing, because we have too much density". Others used the term in positive ways, like "I'd like to see more density along Mass Ave". So, he's come up with a way to indicate positive and negative sentiment with the various concepts mentioned.

Mr. Revilak asks if it would be worth while to continue coding comments; Ms. Lynema answers in the affirmative.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the Chamber of Commerce wants to help support this effort, but they're concerned about the possibility of losing commercial space.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if Utile's work will be done by the end of June.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says yes, unless we find more funding.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is concerned about our ability to produce visuals, if the funds run out. He asks if there are other funding sources we can consider.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema thinks we could apply for additional technical assistance grants.

There's discussion about funding sources to investigate.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if this could be themed around fifteen-minute neighborhoods.

New Business

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema suggests holding the meeting date that was set for May 22nd. She also says that Calyx Peak submitted a host community agreement, and that will come before the board at some point.

The board adjourns to town meeting.