Arlington Redevelopment Board - Oct 25th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

Docket 3665 - 645 Massachusetts Avenue

This EDR docket involved Chase Bank's application to put a branch office at 645 Mass Ave. They've requested to have their petition withdrawn without prejudice.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks why the applicants decided to withdraw.

(Robert Annese, Attorney for the Applicant) Mr. Annese says they're planning to withdraw the current application and re-submit. He likes to be involved from the outset in permit applications, and that wasn't the case here. He's talking with Chase's team and the land owner. They're going to re-file after having further discussions about their plans. Mr. Annese says he's reviewed the board's concerns about the application.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson isn't happy with allowing withdrawal without prejudice. He thinks that's just delaying the process. He says he can't see approving a Chase bank branch in this location, and he'd support a withdrawal with prejudice.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says the re-filed application would be substantially different, but he can't say how until more discussion has taken place. He's surprised by Mr. Benson's objection.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks if Mr. Revilak could vote, if the application were refiled.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt answers in the affirmative.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery asks if the withdrawal can be accepted with a majority vote of the board.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says yes, and notes that the board can simply accept the withdrawal, because the ARB hasn't rendered a decision. The board can also continue the matter until Ms. Tintocalis is present.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese requests the docket be continued to November 1st.

There's a motion to continue to November 1st. Passes, 3--0.

Docket 3673 - 455-457 Massachusetts Avenue

The applicants own a business parcel at the corner of Mass Ave and Medford St. They would like to convert the building to mixed use, by adding residential on the second floor.

(Robert Annese, Attorney for the Applicant) Mr. Annese says the applicants have responded to most of the board's questions in writing. They've revised the layout of several apartments, including A5, A11, and A12. They've also offset the windows on the interior side of the back alley.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson appreciates the landscaping plans and asks for clarification about the location of the trees.

(Aaron Mackey, Engineer) Mr. Mackey says they went with arborvitae because they felt that would provide better screening. They considered other options. They could plant three honey locusts at 20' spacing or an oak species at 10' spacing. Those options wouldn't provide very much screening.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if there's enough room to put a tree near the driveway.

(Aaron Mackey) Mr. Mackey says he'd have to check with his landscape architect.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson appreciates the solar-ready roof. He's concerned that the placement of the utilities (heat pumps, etc) might restrict the number of solar panels that could be installed there. He asks if the air source heat pumps (ASHPs) could be repositioned, so that 50% of the roof was available for solar panels.

(Peter Slowik, Architect) Mr. Slowik says the ASHPs can be moved.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about a loading dock.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy says he had a discussion with Ms. Raitt about this, and asks if she'd like to summarize.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the applicant has no intention of putting a loading dock on site. She says they've come up with a plan, but it will need review from the Select Board and Arlington Police Department. There's currently no loading area at the site, and business deliveries are made to the street.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson sees the applicants are still working on their TDM plan. He's concerned about the allocation of parking spaces.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy says the off-street parking will be solely for the residential dwellings.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson believes that fifteen spaces could be used for the residents, and the remaining space could be reserved for one of the businesses. But he'd be okay with TDM measures for the businesses.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thanks the applicants for being responsive to the board's earlier comments. He asks what materials they plan to use for the cornice.

(Peter Slowik) Mr. Slowik says the cornices will be painted; that will be done in coordination with the contractor. He points out that the applicants have to appear before the Historical Commission, who will likely have feedback.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests staying away from PVC; it can expand and contract the lot, creating gaps at the seams. He thinks the second floor looks barn-like and would prefer a different treatment. He suggests concrete panels, rather than board and batten. Mr. Lau would like a condition that the rear alley can't be use for storage or building mechanicals.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy agrees with the proposed condition. He says the alley has to stay clear for fire purposes.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks about the walkway in the alley.

(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy says it may be heated, to help with snow removal.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks what materials they plan to use for the cornices.

(Peter Slowik) Mr. Slowik says they're planning to use Hardie Board.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau appreciates the changes to the room layout. He suggests how the applicants might be able to add a walk-in closet to one of the apartments.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak has a question about the second story windows on the Medford St. side of the building. He asks if they'll be centered over each commercial unit.

(?) Yes, that's the intention.

(Steve Revilak) Overall, Mr. Revilak appreciates the window symmetry on the different sides of the building. He sees that the alleyway is 10.5' wide, and asks about the width of the actual path.

(?) The path will be around 6' wide.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he was just curious about the width. Regarding the civil engineering plans for the dumpster enclosure, Mr. Revilak sees that there's a bollard shown in the middle of the plans. He asks what the bollard is for.

(?) The bollard is basically a backstop, to prevent the dumpster from being pushed into the building.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if all of the apartments are single-bedroom.

(?) Yes, the apartments are all one-bedroom.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the elevation design isn't bridging the difference between modern and historic. She suggests imitating the stone material on the second floor, or something to keep the historic nature. Going more modern to differentiate the upper story is another option, perhaps with a metallic material.

(Peter Slowik) Mr. Slowik says they didn't want to mimic the historical building on the first floor, or to have the second story stand out too much. He says he'd need to confer with the owners before pursuing one of these directions.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees with Mr. Lau's earlier comment: stay away from PVC. She asks about the window material.

(Peter Slowik) Mr. Slowik says they're planning to use vinyl windows. But if the Historical Commission recommends something different, they'll do that instead. Whatever treatment they use on the Medford street side will be carried around to the other sides of the building.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks about the materials on the exterior of the storefront.

(Peter Slowik) Mr. Slowik says they're planning to use fiber cement board.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests using something that will marry better to the other storefronts. Ms. Zsembery also suggests using wrought iron railings around the second floor balcony. She's also like to see signage plans for the full elevation on both sides of the building. This would act as a guide when tenants turn over, and signs are changed or upgraded.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks the Leader Bank sign is oversized.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would prefer to see all of the signs re-done. In lieu of that, she'd like to see a specification for how new signs would be installed.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese doesn't think the board has the ability to do that in a blanket kind of way.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees that it would be nice if all of the signs are consistent, but agrees that existing non-conforming signs should be allowed to continue as non-conforming.

There's a bunch of discussions about signs and the sign bylaw.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak points out that the Zoning Bylaw has a section that deals with pre-existing non-conforming uses and structures. He's read this section several times, but never with signs in mind. Before imposing a condition, he'd like to think about how the rules for non-conforming uses would apply to signs.

Mr. Revilak isn't worried about the existing non-conforming signs. As businesses turn over, new tenants are going to want their own signs, and he suspects the problem will likely solve itself over time. He likes how all of the signs on Medford street are different, and thinks this helps the individual businesses stand out.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the board received a comment about the alleyway, which said there'd be too much shade for plants to grow.

(Aaron Mackey) Mr. Mackey says the landscape architect selected plans that were suited to shade. He'd have to defer to the landscape architect for more specific questions.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks a narrative description from the landscape architect would be helpful.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Gary Goldsmith) Mr. Goldsmith thinks that electric heating inside the sidewalk sounds good. He asks where the melted water will go.

(Aaron Mackey) Mr. Mackey says the walkway will be built with pervious pavers; water that passes through them will flow into a stormwater retention system. Snow melt will drain through there, and the retention system is sized to accommodate a 100 year storm. This will greatly reduce the amount of runoff from the site.

(Gary Goldsmith) Mr. Goldsmith says that's great news.

(Aaron Mackey) Mr. Mackey adds that the stormwater system was necessary to prevent sheet flow from the site.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer would like to comment on the rear alley. That space is currently used as a loading and service area. It's cluttered, and the proposed plans try to put three uses into an area that's half as wide. He sent an analysis of solar exposure to the board. He believes that plants will only receive 30 minutes of direct sunlight per day during the growing season. He also believes that each business owner will shovel snow from the rear of their business onto the landscaped strip, and none of the plants will survive. He feels the alley will fail for all thee uses.

There's no further comments from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery summarizes the set of issues raised by the board: the feasibility of replacing shrubs with trees, completing the TDM plan, the parklet, avoiding the use of PVC for the cornices, and a condition about signage.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau feels supportive. To him, the biggest issue the board and batten look on the second floor.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt suggests that all of these issues could be conditioned upon review and administrative approval from the Planning Department. The Historical Commission will approve the final design elements. The final planting plan could also be administratively approved.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is comfortable with that.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the board is granting relief from several regulations, and he thinks that will need to be explained in the decision.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a question about the Historical Commission's review. He asks if they'll be limited to making recommendations about the Medford street side. If the historical commission requires a certain treatment for the second floor, he'd want to see that carried around to other sides of the building, so that we don't have a situation where one side of the building looks different from the others.

The board discusses findings and conditions.

Motion to approve the special permit. Passes, 4--0.

Docket 3348 - 833 Massachusetts Avenue

This docket involves the Atwood house, a deteriorated building of historic significance next to a CVS on Mass Ave.

(Robert Annese, Attorney for the Applicant) Mr. Annese says the applicants have submitted two concept plans to the board, and they've considered building out in the rear of the property. Concept one is strictly residential; it will retain the building and create five one-bedroom apartments. Concept two provides a similar front facade, moves the structure closer to Mass Ave, and creates a mixed-use building with seven apartments and 1,313 square feet of office space. Mr. Annese says he's also dealing with the Historical Commission.

(Monte French, Architect) Mr. French says that concept one comes from the building being set so far back, and raised above the sidewalk grade. The front setback isn't good for commercial space. They'd renovate the house with five apartments in mind, and there's potential to explore adding in the rear. All five apartments would be one-bedroom and studio units. This would retain the stairwell and the exterior of the house.

With concept two, the intention is to rebuild, but replicate the character of the house. This would provide more units, more unit diversity, and a commercial space.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says they will go before the historical commission on November 2nd. Mr. Noyes (the property owner) has come to the realization that time is up and he has to move forward. The owner has spent $33,000 to remove asbestos and $8,000 to re-do the electric service. He's paying a price.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson's main concern is being stuck with a boarded up building for an extended period of time, which would happen if the Historical Commission imposes a demolition delay. He thinks both concepts are good, and the front residential entrance is a big improvement.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese thinks it's in the interest of the town to get this done. He'd prefer mixed use, and doesn't want to see a demolition delay.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the commercial space will be an office.

(Robert Noyes, Property Owner) Mr. Noyes says it could be an office. They've also kicked around the idea of making it a shared work space.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the mixed use concept would include an affordable unit.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese answers in the affirmative.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau's preference is to go with concept one if the Historical Commission imposes a demolition delay, and concept two if they don't.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak prefers concept two for several reasons. It creates more apartments, enough to trigger our inclusionary zoning bylaw; it has a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments rather than being all single-bedroom; and, it moves the building closer to the street. Mr. Revilak thinks the current 37' setback is too much for a business district on a main corridor. He'd rather see the building move up and hug the sidewalk.

(Rachel Zsembery) Mr. Zsembery agrees with Mr. Lau -- concept one if there's a demolition delay and concept two otherwise.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden likes the first concept, because it retains the existing building. It takes a perfectly good building and retains it. Having the setback will say something about what an old Arlington used to look like before it was overrun with development. He believes that Arlington doesn't have a lot of older buildings around, and we shouldn't lose one if we can avoid it.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer thinks that concept one is close to what the ARB envisioned when permitting the CVS. He doesn't think that concept two will be able to have usable open space.

There's no further comment from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery reiterates her preference: concept one if there's a demolition delay and concept two otherwise. The applicant's next step would be to come back with a plan for a special permit. She asks the board if it's okay to close the docket.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks it's okay to close.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the board might not have gotten any movement on this property if it wasn't for re-opening the CVS special permit. He suggests continuing for two months, or until we get an application for a special permit. He'd like the applicant to come back after they meet with the Historical Commission, and would like them to propose a timeline.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau favors closing the docket. He says we can always re-open it later.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says it will take time to develop a plan. The hearing could be closed. But with the history of the property, the applicant is really at the mercy of the board.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to see the applicants after they've met with the Historical Commission. The Historical Commission's decisions are really going to set the stage for what happens next.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests the applicants re-appear on November 15th, to provide the board with a schedule and the direction they plan to take.

(Geoff Noyes) Mr. Noyes says he's on board with trying to get something done.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese believes they'll need more time, and asks about other dates.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery proposes December 6th, which is okay with Mr. Annese.

Motion to continue to December 6th passes.

Approval of Minutes

The board approves minutes for their September 27th meeting.

Open Forum

No one wishes to speak during tonight's open forum.

Meeting adjourned.