Arlington Redevelopment Board - Nov 15th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

Docket 3665 - 645 Massachusetts Avenue

The petitioner is Chase Bank, who applied for a special permit to construct a bank branch at 645 Massachusetts Ave, in a space formerly occupied by a restaurant. This is a continued hearing.

(note: This hearing opened before I became a member of the board, and I will not be able to vote on it.)

(Robert Annese, Attorney for the petitioner) Mr. Annese says he'd like the special permit application to be withdrawn without prejudice. At the last meeting he got the sense that wouldn't happen, as is curious if that's still the case. If the board won't allow a withdrawal, Mr. Annese would like to request a continuance and bring in the property owner and a representative from Chase.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau is fine with a withdrawal. He notes that the applicant won't be able to bring a proposal back to the board for two years, if the board votes no. He thinks it would be a shame to do that.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery is okay with allowing a withdrawal.

(Melisa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis would like an explanation for this course of action.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery believes it's so that a future application wouldn't be influenced by the current application.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says that a withdrawal would allow the applicants file a new application later. If the board doesn't grant this request, they you'll have to vote on the original application. An unsuccessful vote means the applicant can't come back for two years.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if there's a revised proposal.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that Mr. Annese was brought in after Chase filed their application. He'd like the opportunity to counsel the bank, and return with a new application.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says that he and Chase would look at the situation anew. He says this situation is teaching him a lesson: if there's a four member board, he may advise his clients not to appear until all five members are seated. He's looking at the situation anew with Chase. He's been appearing before this board since the 1970s, and never had a request to withdraw denied.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson thinks that MGL Chapter 40 Section 16 makes it clear that the application can only be withdrawn with the board's permission. The downside of continuing is that Mr. Revilak won't be able to participate, and Mr. Annese will need a unanimous vote from the other four members. Mr. Benson asks if this will set a bad precedent, and doesn't think it will set a good one. However, he thinks the applicants should be entitled to have a full board review their application. So, he would support a withdrawal, in this limited circumstance.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is concerned that the applicant was not prepared, and she has reservations about the project. She's not willing to allow them to withdraw.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says he can't be sure if they'll re-file the same application -- that's why Chase hired him. He has ideas for changes and believes no one will be prejudiced if the full board is allowed to hear the matter. A new application would be different than what they presented earlier.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says it took a long time for the fifth member to be brought on. She'd like to see the full board participate.

(Eugene Benson) At the last hearing, Mr. Benson was opposed to withdrawal but has since changed his mind. If we allow Mr. Annese's request, then Mr. Revilak would be able to participate. If we deny Mr. Annese's request, then Mr. Revilak wouldn't be able to participate. He'd allow a withdrawal so that the application could be re-filed and heard by the full board.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says she wouldn't support a withdrawal.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese would like to have the hearing continued, as he doesn't have the four votes necessary to allow him to withdraw the application.

The board and Mr. Annese discuss a schedule for continuing.

There's a motion to continue to Jan 3rd (I think that was the date); passes, 4--0.

Docket 3348 - 833 Massachusetts Avenue

This is a continued hearing, which involves an abandoned old house between a CVS pharmacy and a church.

(Robert Annese, Attorney for the petitioner) Mr. Annese says he's met with the Arlington Historical Commission (HAC), and their consensus was to have the building retained. They didn't like the idea of moving the building forward, but favored keeping the existing building and adding an addition. There are architectural and ADA issues as well. Mr. Noyes instructed Mr. Annese to present these two options to the board. Option three is to wait two years (for a demolition delay) and construct a new building.

During the AHC meeting, we identified an issue with moving the building forward -- the lot narrows toward the front and there may not be enough room for the width of the building. Moving the building forward would allow for mixed use and more dwellings, however. If they have to expand to the rear of the building, there won't be enough units to trigger inclusionary zoning. Mixed use would be office space rather than retail, due to agreements that the property owner has with CVS.

(Monte French, Architect) Mr. French says that moving the house forward will allow more dwelling units.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese feels like he's being pulled in to different directions, and asks for the board for direction.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery recalls the board's previous meeting, where the general consensus was for moving the building forward.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the AHC was willing to waive the two-year demolition delay.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says he didn't ask that question directly. However, the AHC didn't like the idea of building a new, architecturally similar building closer to the front of the lot.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau prefers having the building closer to Mass Ave. He thinks that will be a better fit for the streetscape, and would also trigger inclusionary zoning. He doesn't want the building to sit wrapped in Tyvek for two years. His preference hasn't changed since the last meeting.

(Rachel Zsembery) Mr. Zsembery agrees with Mr. Lau.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with Mr. Lau. His number one hope is that there's no demolition delay, so that the building won't stay wrapped up for two years. He thinks that either option is potentially fine. He's like to see the building moved forward, so that it aligns with the front of the CVS and the stairs of the church next door. He says the AHC has allowed houses to be moved further than this -- even to entirely different lots.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese asks if the board would be okay with moving the existing building forward and adding a rear addition.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that simply moving the building forward wouldn't activate the streetscape. The first floor is 5--6' feet off the ground. This is Mass Ave, and he doesn't want to see a big recessed mansion. Maybe that was done in the past, but it's not appropriate now.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says that retaining the building and adding mixed use would be okay. She's unclear about what kind of result they'd get from moving the building forward, but supports it.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Lau.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery believes the board's preferences are still in the same place: move the building forward and retain elements, or move the building forward and add to the rear.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says the AHC would prefer to see the entire building move forward, but he hears Mr. Lau's concerns about the streetscape. He says he can wait for the moratorium, and asks how hard he can push the historical commission.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to know if the building can be lowered a few feet, if the entire thing were moved forward on the lot. So that it's 1--2' above the sidewalk.

(Monte French) Mr. French would like to move the building closer to the street. Lowering it might be a problem, due to a sewer line on the property.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau wants to make sure it interacts well with the street.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis prefers that the town not be put in limbo for two years.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks it might be okay if the building were moved forward at the existing elevation. There are a lot of buildings like that -- Newbury Street for example.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wouldn't be able to support a plan where the residential units were all in the back. He'd prefer not to wait out a two-year demolition delay, but that is Mr. Annese's choice.

(Monte French) Mr. French acknowledges that an earlier proposal had the residential entrance in the rear. They'd add a tree-lined walkway to the rear entrance.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery believes the goal is to move forward as expeditiously as possible. She says that having the building elevated creates accessibility problems.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks Ms. Zsembery's point about accessibility is a good one.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that moving the building forward is a given.

There's a period of back and fourth where the board discusses three options: move the existing building forward at the same elevation; move the existing building forward and lower it down towards the street; or construct a new building closer to the street. The consensus is for a new building, closer to the street.

(Melisa Tintocalis) A few board members expressed a desire to move the building forward and retain some historical references. She'd like more specifics on what they had in mind.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that means retaining having things like clapboard and a maybe a colonnade. It wouldn't be a modern building.

The board recognizes that the width of the lot may pose a challenge with moving the building forward. It may not be worthwhile to move just a portion of the structure.

(Rachel Zsembery) Mr. Zsembery asks if the board would like to close this hearing tonight.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to keep the hearing open, until the AHC issues a ruling.

There's a motion to continue the hearing to Dec 20th. Passes, 5--0.

Continued preliminary discussion of zoning amendments

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt provides a summary of the last Zoning Bylaw Working Group (ZBWG) meeting, where the group provided feedback on two zoning audits that were done for the master plan.

One recommendation involved reducing the number of zoning districts and some of their dimensional regulations. This seemed to generate the most ideas. Perhaps focusing on the business districts.

A second recommendation was to reduce the number of uses requiring a special permit. Not everyone agreed with this, and it would need further study.

A third recommendation was to change the special permit requirements for large additions. There wasn't as much agreement here.

A fourth recommendation involved updating parking regulations. There were varying opinions here.

A fifth recommendation was to amend the environmental design review process. Ms. Raitt points out that this is one of the board's goals, but there wasn't much interest from the ZBWG.

Finally, there was a recommendation to add regulations for solar access. Ms. Raitt says the Net Zero Working Group is considering this.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is the board's designee to the ZBWG. He thinks Ms. Raitt gave a good recap, but we'll need another ZBWG meeting to have something concrete.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau supports reducing the number of zoning districts, and reducing the number of special permit uses. He doesn't mind encouraging solar, but wouldn't want to see that used as a tool to inhibit development.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if the first recommendation could apply to residential districts too.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt answers in the affirmative. She notes that Mr. Revilak is also a member of the ZBWG. He wasn't able to attend the last meeting, but provided a memo with his thoughts. She asks Mr. Revilak if he'd like to summarize his memo.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says his memo focused on business districts and uses. Arlington's business districts used to run along Broadway and Mass Ave, approximately 100--150' deep on either side of the street. It was a straightforward form-oriented approach where more intensive uses (like apartments and businesses) ran along the main corridors, with less intensive uses (like single- and two-family homes) behind them. That changed when the map was re-drawn in the 1970's. It seems like any parcel that didn't have a business use became part of a residential district, and the commercial parcels were fit into one of six districts, depending on how they were used at the time. Mr. Revilak that's the only logical explanation for the fragmented district boundaries in the current map: they just represent what happened to be there in 1975.

Mr. Revilak would also like to see the number of special permit uses revisited. In terms of the zoning bylaw, by-right uses are things we encourage and special permit uses are ones that might be okay, but we'll have to think about them first. According to our use table, the kind of businesses Arlington encourages are: banks and restaurants with less than 2000 square feet, offices and retail with less than 3000 square feet, businesses with five or fewer employees, and single and two-family homes. The latter aren't businesses at all, but they are allowed by right in any business district. He feels that EDR is appropriate for new construction, but might be overkill for changing uses in an existing space.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the challenges are the map, uses, and parking. It would be great to look at these in a comprehensive manner, rather than piece by piece.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says she'd like to bring a few things forward, such as an article regarding street trees. Some smaller articles could potentially move forward, but her department is currently short on staff. The map is important, but it will be hard to get that done in time for a spring town meeting.

Update on Arlington Housing Plan

A draft housing production plan will be available for internal review in about a week. It should be posted to the town website on Nov 29th. The board's December 16th meeting will be devoted to the draft housing plan. Ms. Raitt suggests having a joint ARB/Select Board meeting after the housing production plan is adopted.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is interested in having a joint meeting with the Zoning Board of Appeals, because they're also a special permit granting authority and may have their own perspective on zoning amendments.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt suggests inviting ZBA Chair Christian Klein to a future ARB meeting. She points out that the ZBA has had a very full schedule, with 39 meetings so far this year.

Approval of Minutes

The board amended and approved minutes from their October 25th meeting.

Open Forum

(Eliza Burden) Ms. Burden is a member of the tree committee, and says the tree committee is ready to address heat island-related issues. As development happens along Mass Ave, she'd like to make sure we're leaving room for trees, and space to address stormwater issues.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming has a question about townhouses as a use in residential districts. In Boston, there are many townhomes on narrow lots, with party walls and no side yard setbacks. He asks if Arlington's zoning bylaw would permit single-family attached homes with party walls. The board discusses this, but doesn't arrive at a clear answer.

Meeting adjourned.