Arlington Redevelopment Board - Oct 17th, 2022

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Meeting held in the first floor of the Arlington Community Center. Materials were available from

Zoning Amendments

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says that staff has provided a table of recent plans, and itemized each of their recommended policy changes. She says the board needs to decide which items (if any) to bring to town meeting. Ms. Ricker suggests the board consider transfer of development rights (especially in relation to MBTA community zoning), a 40R smart district, and the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery made a list of potential zoning amendments that the board discussed during their retreat. This list includes

  • Open space requirement and rear setbacks
  • Step back requirements for new construction with frontage on multiple streets.
  • The retain and treat 100% of stormwater requirement in the Industrial district.
  • Self-storage as an allowed use in the industrial district.
  • Ambiguity in the regulations for how GFA is calculated
  • FAR limits in the R2 district
  • An overlay district for Mass Ave and Broadway
  • Revisiting the set of allowed uses in the Industrial district (someone was interested in opening a doggie day care on an industrial district parcel, but that isn't an allowed use)
  • Establishing a 40R district
  • Prohibiting one-story buildings along Mass Ave
  • Placing ARB-controlled properties under the management of the facilities department.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson believes that a lot of recommendations in the table could be pursued in conjunction with MBTA community requirements. He notes that the ARB didn't have a role in drafting the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan or Net Zero Action Plan, and he's concerned about the board's lack of input.

Some of the items Mr. Benson would like to work on include

  • No more single-story buildings in the B districts.
  • Changing the requirements for open space in the B districts, so there's more opportunity for street activation.
  • Revisiting the prohibition on parking in front setbacks. Mr. Benson doesn't think it makes sense to disallow this.
  • What to do with inclusionary zoning. A few years ago, the ARB
  • d town meeting that we'd revisit our IZ bylaw and look at whether 15% was the right number. He thinks this could be combined with density bonuses.
  • Expanding the criteria for Environmental Design Review. Mr. Benson is interested in adding something about mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
  • Allowing additional building height in flood plains, so buildings can be elevated to provide freeboard.

Mr. Benson also has a list of clarifications and corrections he'd like to see in the bylaw. These include

  • Section 5.6.4(H). Clarify the kinds of residential uses that are allowed in the Industrial districts.
  • Updates to 5.6.2(D)(1) and 5.6.2(D)(7), if the Attorney General approves our warrant article about Solar Energy Systems.
  • Stormwater requirements for Industrial zones. Mr. Benson would like the bylaw to say what size of storm the stormwater system has to accommodate.
  • Fixing the last sentence in 3.1(B). The attorney general said this is unenforceable, because town's can't create additional requirements for the issuance of a building permit. But since town meeting adopted that provision, it's in our bylaw.
  • 5.3.21(2)(D) has a cross reference to "Section 0". Mr. Benson suspects 5.5.2(A) is the correct reference.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau would like to take this list of plan recommendations and organize them into different groups. The groups might be something like: corrections, MBTA communities, the Industrial District, and Mixed-use (i.e., how to encourage mixed use development in different areas). Residential housing could be another group.

(Melisa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis asks if the MBTA community zoning will come before a special town meeting.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the goal is to have enough time for a planning process.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says that several residents have contacted the department, asking that we allow sufficient time to educate the public and discuss what our MBTA district should look like. The town will apply for technical assistance and she realizes there's substantial work to do in the areas of outreach and engagement. Ms. Lynema distributes copies of a timeline that she's been working on.

She'd like the process to be such that we ask people where they think MBTA districts might be appropriate. There could also be a discussion about whether to meet the minimum requirements, or to do something more in order to meet town goals. The next phase would take community input and develop a set of scenarios, since we're not limited to the area around the Alewife MBTA station. She envisions us iterating on the scenarios, figuring out what the articles and main motions should be, and attending precinct meetings. The schedule allows time for visualizations, to better show what the changes could look like.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Mr. Tintocalis says there are many ways these pieces can be used to accomplish more than the baseline. It might be a new form-based district that incorporates several of the recommendations. She thinks that a 40R district would hit a number of plan recommendations.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak would like to see the ARB discuss our planned changes -- and the MBTA community zoning in particular -- with the Select Board. He thinks they could bring a valuable perspective, and having alignment between our two boards could increase the chances of having the changes adopted by town meeting. At the very least, Mr. Revilak would like to run some of these ideas by the Select Board, just so they're aware of them.

Mr. Revilak agrees that a number of the plan recommendations could be used to comply with MBTA community zoning. He'd prefer not to bring those to the next town meeting, but wait for the MBTA zoning effort. He does favor a prohibition on one-story buildings in the commercial districts, and some of the recommendations in the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan -- specifically the consolidation of districts along Mass Ave. Mr. Revilak thinks the board can work on district consolidation, without necessarily tackling the recommendation for an planned unit development district.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker agrees that we need time to build coalitions and do good graphics. She notes that 40R is 20% inclusionary zoning, while our own bylaw is 15% -- she thinks that's worth looking at

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau has a comment on transferring management of ARB-owned properties to the facilities department. He'd still like the ARB to have a say in tenant selection, but agrees that facilities is in a better position to manage maintenance.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the timeline proposed for MBTA community zoning makes a lot of sense. He says that some consultants are good at drafting, and some are good at community process. For this project, we really want a consultant who's good at both. He asks about the action plan that we have to submit in early 2023.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the action plan is essentially a timeline and a schedule.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks we can do more than clarifications and corrections for this town meeting. He'd like to see us bring forward a few substantive articles, like one-story in the business districts, and articles about the industrial zones.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees that we should parse out what's in the MBTA bucket. She summarizes the suggestions for clarification that she's heard: artist's mixed use in the industrial districts, solar requirements, stormwater requirements for the industrial districts, fixing the conflict the AG noted in 3.1(B), the reference to section zero, and having the FAR/GFA regulations better reflect how inspectional services interprets the bylaw.

There's also the general issue of inclusionary zoning, and allowing parking in the front setbacks. Ms. Zsembery notes an earlier docket where we discovered that a FAR limit of 0.35 didn't really work in the R2 district, but perhaps that could be addressed as part of the MBTA effort.

For the business districts, we have a potential MBTA overlay, and possibly some consolidation.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the extent that we might want to use the B districts for MBTA zoning. He thinks that's a conversation to have.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks the MBTA districts could go behind the business districts along Mass Ave.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery continues with more B district items: height minimums, the Arlington Heights Business District, open space requirements in the business districts, and upper story step-backs on properties with frontage on two streets.

There's further discussion about whether to do the MBTA zoning via an overlay, versus changing the regulations for the base districts.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis thinks it's okay to make some corrections to the districts now, and then focus on MBTA community requirements.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is concerned that if the board takes on too big a project for town meeting, then we'll end up with nothing moving forward. She'd like to pick a few items that could help unlock potential on the main corridors.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that incremental steps are easier to achieve. He suggests having more public meetings, especially with abutters. He'd like the ARB to have input along the way.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees. She'd like the ARB to have more working sessions. She sees three main areas: the industrial districts, business districts, and residential housing. She'd like to take a few things forward, and prioritize the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to decide what to do about self-storage, and allowing new uses in the industrial district.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would like to look at how specific the uses are.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis notes that self-storage facilities aren't high value commercial properties. She asks if we should try to be more innovative and visionary.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says we'll move something forward for the industrial districts. She'd also like to do something in the business districts, like consolidating some of the smaller B districts and establishing height minimums.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks the Mass Ave section of Arlington Heights would be a good place to start with district consolidation. The heights business districts are fragmented, and there's already been a public process around what kind of changes to make. The Heights neighborhood action plan has a set of zoning recommendations; even if we don't adopt them directly, there's a starting point to work from.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if we want to do something with affordable housing.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that 40R is one of the MBTA strategies, and that includes an affordable housing component.

ARB 2023 Schedule

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema reviews the draft meeting schedule for 2023. It's generally the first and third Mondays of the month, with exceptions for holidays. There are weekly meetings scheduled for March, to accommodate warrant article hearings for town meeting. Ms. Lynema says the schedule is to help provide clarity to applicants about when material is due, and to the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that the board's schedule is somewhat dependent on town meeting's schedule.

There's a motion to approve the draft schedule. Approved, 5--0.

Open Forum

(John Worden) Mr. Worden thanks the board for having an in-person meeting, but says that without amplification it was hard for him to follow the discussion. He looked at the list of plans and says he's never seen so many bad ideas on a single page. He asks the board to consider something else instead: establishing an institutional zone like the one in Winchester, so that Arlington can meet the 1.5% land threshold in Chapter 40B. Mr. Worden says there's not a housing shortage; there's just a shortage of housing that people can afford. He says that developers gobble properties up before they get to market. He suggests the ARB do something to preserve post-war houses, and to require 20% commercial space in mixed use. He says we have the obligation not to sell East Arlington down the river for the folks in the state house who wrote the MBTA legislation.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says the audio needs to be improved; he also had trouble hearing the Board's conversation. Mr. Wagner says that MBTA density has already been achieved in Arlington. He asks if we really need the state funds, and if we can we fight the MBTA zoning. He thinks these are detestable ideas, and that town employees should work for the people. He says there's a housing crisis, but it's not about quantity. There's plenty of housing, it's just not in Arlington. He also disagrees with the three-minute time limit for speaking during open forum.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks staff to clarify whether Arlington has met the MBTA community requirements.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the requirement is for allowing multi-family housing by right, at a density of at least fifteen dwellings per acre. Multi-family housing means three units or more, and Arlington doesn't allow that by right anywhere.

There are no more comments from the public.

New Business

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the department is reviewing a draft RFQ to hire a consultant to help with business district design standards.

Transportation planner Dan Amstutz will be leaving Arlington for a position at VHB; his last day is November 7th. So, we'll need to hire a new transportation planner.

Ms. Ricker says that the department has received seven applications for the Economic Development Coordinator position.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the planning department is aware of any new project.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says there's the proposal for 80 Broadway. The applicants for 645 Mass Ave might be coming back.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the MBTA started their bus rescheduling project in the spring. The current proposed schedule would eliminate the 67 and 84 buses, and reduce the frequency of the 78. There's a new route, 54, that will run between Arlington Center and Waltham. The MBTA is having a meeting to discuss the new schedules on Nov 2nd, and will release a revised plan before then. He says this potentially eliminates a number of public transit routes.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board will need to discuss hybrid meetings the next time we meet.

Meeting adjourned.