Arlington Redevelopment Board - Oct 22nd, 2020
Held via video-conference. The board conducts public hearings on three proposed zoning articles. The proponents will have an opportunity to present, and the public will have an opportunity to comment. The board will deliberate and vote on these (and other) articles on Oct 28th.
Meeting materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1181.
Article 20 - Parking Reductions in the B3 and B5 Districts. Jenny Raitt presents the article.
(Jenny Raitt) The board conducted a hearing on this article on March 2nd; it grew out of an ARB docket where the applicant wished to open a restaurant at the site of a former store. The building has no off-street parking, and the applicant was unable to fulfill the zoning bylaw's parking requirements. The ARB accepted the application, but referred the applicant to the ZBA for a parking variance. The parking requirements were triggered by a use change. Compliance can be difficult in these cases, and there's also a high threshold for granting of a variance. This runs counter to the town's economic development goals. Part of the matter comes down to the question of whether we want to reserve space for parking, or to use that space for something else. In addition, the town would like to reduce the number of vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled in Arlington.
Ms. Raitt displays a map, showing which parcels in the B3 and B5 district would be affected.
(Katie Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein supports the article. She'd like to see things that make it easier to start a business in Arlington.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt points out that many business don't have off-street parking. We don't want storefronts to remain vacant because potential businesses can't satisfy the parking regulations.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson believes the affected business areas already work with the parking that's available. He hopes that reducing the burden of providing off-street parking spaces will improve vibrancy and increase the occupancy rate.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau supports the article.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti wasn't able to find the main motion in the hearing materials, and he's not sure what the board would be voting for. He calls the planning department memorandum misleading. He claims that our bylaw doesn't require new parking for businesses unless the new use requires more spaces than the previous use; he feels that the board should only require the incremental difference. Mr. Loretti says he's only aware of 3--4 parking variances being filed over the last 50 years, and doesn't see a need for this article. He also doesn't see why the article is limited to the B3 and B5 districts. Mr. Loretti says that residential uses are allowed in business districts. He claims that the pub in the heights did not need a variance. He asks the board to defer the article for study.
(Darcy Devney) Ms. Devney says that cars don't melt away because we want them too. She notes that overnight parking waivers go to the select board, and asks how things will work when two bodies have a say over parking. Ms. Devney says she's a member of the Commission on Disabilities, and that the down doesn't have enough handicapped accessible spaces. She believes this article will make that problem worse: if fewer parking spaces are required, then fewer handicapped spaces will be required too. She's worried that this is an attempt to get around the state's Architectural Access Board. She believes the town needs more handicapped accessible spaces, not fewer.
Public comment ends.
(Gene Benson) Mr. Benson wants to be clear that this article applies to business uses, not residential uses.
Ms. Raitt displays the board packet page containing the main motion for this article. Mr. Benson says this article is intended to recognize limitations that exist.
Article 16 - Definitions related to Open Space. Ms. Raitt says that the intent is to neutralize the term "Open Space" in our zoning bylaw. She says the proposal of term "yard" is consistent with terminology the board has used during hearings, and this may also improve usability of the Zoning Bylaw.
The chair recognizes Steve Revilak, who is the proponent for Article 16.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he's brought this article for two reasons. First, our zoning bylaw uses the words "open space" in two different context, each of which has a different meaning. Second, Mr. Revilak has heard the words "open space" at numerous public hearings in a way that's detached from their definitions on the zoning bylaw. This leads him to believe that people don't understand what the terms mean in the bylaw. He'd like to have new terms, which better match the text of the definitions.
Mr. Revilak wants to emphasize that he's proposing a change to terms. He's not proposing any changes to the definitions themselves, or to any of the dimensional regulations based on those definitions.
Our ZBL uses the terms "Open space" into two different ways: the open space district, and the dimensional and density regulations that apply to private yards. The Open space district is defined as "parcels under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation Commission, Conservation Commission, etc ... principally for open space and recreation functions". The land in the open space district is owned by a public entity and available for the public to use. Structures on land in the open space district are limited to an accessory role; for example, a shed. For the most part, it's green space.
With respect to dimensional regulations, we have three terms: Open Space, Usable Open Space, and Landscaped Open Space. The latter two have specific quantitative requirements, and the first provides a framing for the others.
Our ZBL defines this form of of open space as "A yard, including sidewalks, swimming pools, terraced areas, decks, patios, play courts, and playground facilities; and not devoted to streets, driveways, off-street parking or loading spaces or other paved areas". Note that the first two words of the definition are "A yard"; hence, Mr. Revilak is asking the term to be changed to "Yard Space". However, he's open to other terms, as long as they're a better fit to the definition.
Ms. Raitt displays a page from Mr. Revilak's memo, with the changes he's proposing to the bylaw.
(Katie Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein expresses support, since this moves the bylaw to a place where the terms are more understandable. She feels it's a modest administrative change.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson has several concerns with Mr. Revilak's article. He doesn't believe Primary and Secondary accurately capture what the bylaw is trying to describe. For example, a property could have more landscaped opens space than usable open space. He's also unsure how the term "yard space" would fit with provisions that allow usable open space on rooftops.
Mr. Benson suggests changing "Open Space" to "Private Open Space", to emphasize the private/public difference in the two uses.
Mr. Benson also has a question about scope. The warrant article mentions changing terms in Section 2. But we'd also have to change the bylaw in sections 3 and 5, where those terms are used. The warrant article doesn't mention sections 3 or 5.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau concurs with Mr. Benson.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says that Mr. Benson stole his comment. He has observed people using the terms in a way that's inconsistent with our bylaw definitions. He's has reservations about the term "Yard space". Mr. Watson says that "Open space" is a term of art, and he doesn't want to cause confusion among people who work in different municipalities.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he'd be fine with Mr. Benson's suggestion of "Private Open Space". He believes that Cambridge uses the term private open space in conjunction with its yard regulations.
The Chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says this proposal is a solution to a problem that we don't have. He doesn't see the point in complicating things, and believes we should stick with the terms we have.
(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden believes that this is an attempt to confuse the definition of open space. She believes that Mr. Revilak will use this article to try and sneak in a whole bunch of changes to the zoning bylaw. She believes the proposed change would be damaging to the town.
(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner believes the article is an effort at obfuscation. He says that open space is supposed to be for landscaping and trees, and a way to prevent COVID. He says that Mr. Revilak wants density and urbanization, and these things would be dangerous to a town like Arlington.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer asks the board if they really want to burden town meeting with this article. He feels it will take town meeting 20--30 minutes to deliberate and vote, and this is only a semantic quibble.
(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti likes the existing terms, and feels that no change is necessary. He also says that the board should consult with the town moderator on the question of scope.
(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore has a question about the inclusion of sidewalks in open space. He asks if this would include public sidewalks.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt displays Mr. Revilak proposed change, which boils down to changing the words "open space" to "yard space", "usable" to "primary", and "landscaped" to "secondary" -- the red strikeouts and underlines being shown. Beyond that, the definitions are exactly as they appear in the current zoning bylaw. She says that these definitions apply to privately-owned lots, not public sidewalks.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that as he understands the bylaw, these open space definitions apply only to private property.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to emphasize what Ms. Raitt said earlier. Aside from changing the terms, the definitions would remain exactly as they are.
Article 17 - Notice of Demolition, Open Foundation Excavation, New Construction, or Large Additions. Ms. Raitt introduces the article. She says it relates to the good neighbor agreement, which is part of the town bylaws. This article would have the ZBL cross-reference the good neighbor agreement in the town bylaws.
(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman is Article 17's proponent, and presents the article. Mr. Ruderman says that the residential study group offered a set of bylaw amendments to address common concerns about new development in neighborhoods. These were adopted by town meeting in 2017. He says the bylaws were about giving notice and providing a point of contact. Since then, the bylaws have not been thoroughly acknowledged and put into practice. He'd like the zoning bylaw to reference the town bylaw, as a way to make people more aware of the good neighbor agreement.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if this is just a requirement for the building inspector.
(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman says yes. It makes compliance with the good neighbor agreement a condition for issuance of a building permit.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau supports this, as an extension of the good neighbor agreement.
(Katie Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein thinks this is a reasonable extension of the good neighbor agreement.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson isn't sure if this is strictly necessary, since the good neighbor agreement in the town bylaw already requires compliance before issuance of a building permit. He sees this as a cross reference, but doesn't object to that addition.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he came to the same conclusion as Mr. Watson. Mr. Benson asks Mr. Ruderman if he knows of any cases where the good neighbor agreement wasn't complied with, and a building permit was issued anyway.
(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman says he's working on a list of properties, to see if there cases where the good neighbor agreement wasn't enforced. He says the residential study group did a survey in 2019; 39% of respondents recalled getting the required notifications, 39% didn't, and the rest couldn't remember either way.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is interested in seeing evidence from the time when the Attorney General approved the good neighbor agreement change to the town bylaws. He also sees some issues with the proposed wording.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore supports this article. He believes the good neighbor agreement is being enforced, but it takes time for contractors and developers to become aware of the bylaw and adapt their practices. He says that tree removal runs afoul of the good neighbor agreement because tree removal typically happens as part of site preparation, before a building permit is issued. He'd like to see the good neighborhood agreement applied to certain aspects of site preparation, and thinks that strengthening communication is a good thing.
(Peter Fiore) Mr. Fiore says that the house across the street was demolished; he received the notice required by the good neighbor agreement, though he didn't receive a copy of the site plan. He says he had issues with the contractor's work hours and the property owner wasn't helpful. He thinks the good neighbor agreement notice is a good general guide for people though. He supports Mr. Ruderman's article.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says the good neighbor agreement was passed in 2017 and went into effect the during the fall of that year. He says the residential study group did their survey in early 2019. They sent the survey to approximately 1,200 households, but only 14% responded.
(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti says that the town bylaw already requires compliance before a demolition or building permit can be issued. Adding a reference to the zoning bylaw empowers anyone to request enforcement from the building inspector. He thinks this will strengthen regulations, but will not add any new ones.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would support this article, to strengthen the relationship between the zoning bylaw and good neighbor agreement.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau believes that homeowners are allowed to remove trees from their property, if they aren't in the required yard setbacks. He doesn't want to prevent people from removing trees from their own property.
(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore says that Mr. Lau is right about yard setbacks and tree removal. He thinks the good neighbor agreement goes a long way towards educating abutters.
(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti would like to make additional comments about Article 20, now that he's had an opportunity to read the main motion. He believes that apartment operators in the B3 and B5 district will claim that they're running a business. He suggests a change to the wording.
Public comment on Article 17 ends.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt notes that the hearing on these warrant articles remains open, and that members of the public can continue to submit written comments.
Warrant article hearings continued until Monday Oct 26th.