Arlington Redevelopment Board - Oct 28th, 2020
Meeting held via video-conference. Tonight, the board holds one more warrant article hearing, allows a period of comment on any of the proposed articles, deliberates, and votes. Meeting materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1189}
Article 21 - Rezone Town Property. This article proposes to rezone a parcel of town-owned land from single-family residential to industrial, to accommodate a salt shed for the new DPW yard.
DPW director Mike Rademacher introduces Jeff Albert to present. (Mr. Albert's company is working on the design for the new DPW facility. I didn't get his title or the name of his firm.)
(Jeff Albert) Mr. Albert says the renovation includes four existing buildings, some new buildings, a salt shed, a municipal parking lot, and fuel storage. The project involves two parcels which total 5.95 acres. 4.42 acres are currently part of the industrial (I) district, and the rest are zoned residential (R1). The new facility will house public works and inspectional services, and the IT department. The IT department requires approximately 11,000 square feet of building space and 30 parking spaces. We tried to fit all of this on the original I-district parcel, but couldn't find a practical way to do it.
We decided on a shared parking area, in conjunction with the high school design team. The field used to have a large fuel storage tank, and there's considerable environmental contamination on the site. The R1 parcel would be mostly parking and a portion of the salt shed. The existing R1 area is covered with a barrier, to contain the soil contamination. Most DPW structures are on the industrial site.
Changing the R1 parcel to I will allow DPW to store their equipment under cover, rather than leaving it out in the open. The R1 site can't be used for residential construction, due to the soil contamination.
(Mike Rademacher) We plan to start construction in the Spring of 2021, and estimate it will take two years.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau points out this area used to be a practice field for the high school. He asks about runoff from the parking lot.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says they're planning a system to capture rainwater and store it in a tank under the parking lot. This system will prevent rainwater from permeating the contaminated soil, and spreading the contamination around.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if they plan to plant trees around the perimeter of the parking area.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the landscaping plan is still under development, and will be subject to DEP guidelines for the contamination barrier.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he supports the proposal.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the DPW will appear before the conservation commission.
(Jeff Albert) Mr. Albert says they've filed an NOI.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks if there was a parking utilization study.
(Jeff Albert) Mr. Albert says they've performed a parking utilization study, and believe the requested number of spaces are adequate.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks if they considered a parking structure rather than a surface parking lot.
(Jeff Albert) Mr. Albert says they considered a parking structure. It was cost-prohibitive, and there were challenges with access and space.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says he doesn't like seeing green space paved over, but believes there's no alternative here. He's like to see screening improvements to the parking area.
The chair opens the hearing for public comment on Article 21.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says that DPW was planning to take another parcel for the DPW yard renovation. He asks if that's still the case.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says they won't need that parcel for the DPW yard renovation.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden asks if they can use pervious pavement for the new parking lot.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher reiterates the issue with soil contamination on the site. Right now, there's a barrier to prevent water from getting into the contaminated soil.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden asks if the parking lot can go somewhere else.
(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says they considered other locations for the parking lot, but they would have made it impossible to secure the facility. He notes that the high school renovation will enlarge existing athletic fields.
(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner asks if attendees can comment on article heard during previous meetings.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'll open the meeting to comments on other articles, once the board has finished with Article 21.
Public Comment (on any article proposed). The chair opens the meeting to further public comment, on any article that the ARB will vote on this evening. For reference, Article 16 was a proposal to rename the defined term "open space" to something different; Article 18 was a proposal to allow two-family/duplex homes in districts that are exclusively zoned for single-family; and Article 19 was a proposal to allow accessory dwelling units by-right in any residential district.
(Rebecca Peterson) Ms. Peterson wishes to oppose articles 16, 17, 18, and 19. She's lived here for 20 years and says she loves the neighborhood. She says she doesn't want to live in Cambridge or Boston. Town meeting rejected ADUs last year. Ms. Peterson says that if she wanted to live in Cambridge or Somerville, then she'd live there instead. She says that more housing will not make Arlington more affordable, and that the entire cost of schools is borne by homeowners. She says "please stop lecturing us about single-family zoning and racism", and that she wants to maintain a certain level of density.
(Max Palmer) Mr. Palmer supports the ADU article, and the proposal to end single-family zoning. He believes we need more market rate housing, and these articles will help us to make headway. New market rate housing will reduce costs at the higher end.
(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says that what Mr. Palmer said was false. People who move to Arlington will pay more. He says the board should reject articles 16, 18, and 19 on democratic and procedural grounds. He says that article 16 devalues open space, and that articles 18 and 19 are dangerous density proposals. He doesn't support articles 18 and 19 and believes that article 19 is illegal because town meeting voted down an ADU proposal last year.
(Marina Popova) Ms. Popova opposes articles 16, 18, and 19. She agrees with Mr. Wagner. She asks the board "who do you represent?". She thinks these proposals have no benefit for current residents, and will only benefit those who are very rich.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer wants to speak to Article 18. He says the number one reason given for ending single-family zoning is to correct a racist legacy. But was that true in Arlington? Before Arlington had zoning, people built single-family homes because that's what they wanted. Arlington's first zoning map had two districts: single-family, and general, where the land was largely undeveloped. People built single-family homes because that's what they wanted and racism had nothing to do with it. Mr. Seltzer says that Arlington's zoning was never intended to be racist, and that people should look at builders, bankers, and brokers.
(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray asks the board to vote against articles 18 and 19. She's alarmed to see these articles coming in front of the ARB with no community outreach. She says that article 18's changes are huge (ending single-family zoning), and that more people should know about them.
(George McDowell) Mr. McDowell says that 99% of the people in town don't know about it. He thinks that single-family zoning should only be ended through voter referendum, and not through town meeting.
(Yohannes Epka) Mr. Epka is in favor of increased density and accessory dwelling units. He's glad that an earlier speaker raised the issue of race. It's important to consider intent. Zoning has been used for segregation since racially restrictive covenants were outlawed. The "character of our town" restricts who can live here. More housing would benefit people who'd like to live in our town.
(Mark Rosenthal) Mr. Rosenthal is against articles 18 and 19. He says that zoning isn't racist, and it's not redlining. Mr. Rosenthal says he grew up in a redlined area of Philadelphia which was 99% Jewish. He moved to Arlington in the 1970s. When a realtor was showing him around, the realtor said "you're lucky, five years ago we wouldn't have let you in because you're Jewish". In the 1970s, we put restrictions on the number of people who could live together to keep out students. Mr. Rosenthal says that racism comes from realtors and landlords, not from zoning.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says that Arlington used to be a town where you could by a single-family home for not a lot of money, but there's not much of that left these days. It's because of realtors and developers. You won't see that again unless you pack so many people into town that it becomes undesirable. Articles 18 and 19 are fundamentally the biggest changes that have ever been proposed for this town. Mr. Worden thinks these articles shouldn't come before this town meeting, and that the ARB should postpone them until we have a "real" (i.e., in-person) town meeting.
(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans says she lives in an 850 square foot house, that's surrounded by a variety of zoning districts. She empathizes for people who want to live here but can't. Ms. Evans says research shows that density increases prices unless there are inclusionary zoning restrictions. It only lowers prices in the top tier, not lower ones. She claims that more housing will not increase diversity. She thinks these changes should be better publicized, and that it would be a travesty to have this come before town meeting this year.
(Nora Mann) Ms. Mann has lived in Arlington for 30 years, and spent ten of those years serving on the Arlington Redevelopment Board. She thinks this discussion is fascinating and well moderated. She supports the housing articles, hopes for an affirmative vote, and a discussion at town meeting. We have a housing affordability crisis in the region, and we can't rely on other communities to fix it for us. These articles are about starting to move to a more affirmative housing stock.
(Grant Cook) Mr. Cook says this town needs both more market rate and affordable housing. The claims that we only need affordable/subsidized housing is a poison pill. Last year, people said "we need more time" in response to the ADU bill. Why? He'd like to see a debate on this, and if town meeting votes in favor, that's the way the legislative process works. We shouldn't hide from these issues.
(Joanne Preston) Ms. Preston says that her neighborhood had seven teardowns. She says it's not true that houses will sell for less if they cost less to build. They'll sell for what the market will bear. Ms. Preston says that Arlington didn't have racist zoning, and that people would have been displaced if last year's zoning articles had passed. She says there will be no appreciable increase in diversity.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak lives on Sunnyside Ave, where a developer build 42 duplexes in the late 1940s. He's the seventh owner of his half-duplex; his and six other families had a house because a developer was allowed to build it. He believes this is the case for most of the town -- people have places to live because at sometime in the past, someone was allowed to build them. Mr. Revilak hopes people can understand how they benefited from the ability to build housing in the past, and are willing to pay that forward. He supports articles 18 and 19.
(Judith C) Judith would like to see more discussion, and have this go to down meeting.
(Marina Popova) Ms. Popova is very offended that people think she's racist just because she wants single-family zoning and doesn't want ADUs. She says that anyone can put an offer on property, and that it doesn't matter what race or religion you are. If you can't afford it, you won't buy it. She says that more housing won't change costs, and that people don't benefit from what developers build, but rather that developers benefit from what people buy.
(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray says she's offended by the suggestion that people weren't paying attention to these articles in the spring. She says that if families of color wanted to move here, then they would. They don't move here because Arlington has a bad reputation, and isn't considered a welcoming place. She says the problem has to do with schools and the police, and that there's no need to get this done now.
(Michael) Michael supports articles 18 and 19. He says we have a housing crisis, and need to do our part. He wants to see the town change.
Public comment ends.
Board Deliberation and Votes. The board moves on to deliberation and voting. Article 16 first.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson doesn't support article 16 as it's currently worded. He agrees that the public is confused about our definition of "open space", but doesn't think the proposed renaming will solve the problem. He's also concerned about whether the warrant article language would allow changes outside of section 2. However, if the board would like to tinker with the wording, he'd be okay with that exercise.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau concurs with Mr. Watson. He thinks the intent is good, but the term "yard space" is still confusing. He proposes to table the article until the next year, so that the board has time to go through the entire bylaw.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the intent was not to undermine the definition of open space, but to make a distinction between privately-owned open space and public spaces in the open space district. He thinks that using the term "private open space" will accomplish that intent, and the change shouldn't be controversial.
(Katie Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein thinks the intent of the article is good, and not insidious. But she would like to tinker with the wording.
The board vote no action on Article 16, 5--0.
Article 17 is next. This is a proposal to have the ZBL cross reference the good neighbor agreement in the town bylaws.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says there's nothing wrong with adding the proposed sentence, but it's not necessary. He thinks the issues have more to do with Title 6 Article 7, and the proper fix would involve making changes there. He'd like to see changes made to the good neighbor agreement in the town bylaw, and brought to town meeting next year.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks Mr. Benson if he'd expressed a different concern before, about extending the scope of Title 6 Article 7, and causing it to be triggered in new cases.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson believes the proposed wording might create issues with the order things have to happen under Title 6 Article 7.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson doesn't like the requirement that the building inspector require a finding before issuing a building permit. He thinks that might create confusion.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks this change is already covered in the bylaws. He'd like to make the process simpler for people who are doing additions. He's not supportive.
(Katie Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein says that Mr. Lau captured her sentiments. She doesn't see the need to add regulations unless necessary.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery also agrees that any changes should be made to Title 6 Article 7.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says there's a mismatch between what Title 6 Article 7 requires from an applicant, and what the applicant is required to provide to the building inspector.
Board votes no action on Article 17, 5--0.
Article 18 next. This is the proposal to allow duplexes and two-family homes in districts that are currently restricted to single-family homes.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says the issues this article are trying to get at are important. The board should spend time trying to understand and figuring out how to correct them. He can't support the article at this time. There was confusion around the 2019 zoning articles, despite outreach efforts. The ARB committed to engaging with the select board on housing and affordability. That's still ongoing, and the ARB hasn't put any substantive changes forward. Mr. Watson isn't comfortable recommending this article without further outreach.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is supportive of the article. It brings up a good issue and it would be interesting to hear what town meeting has to say. He'd like to see town meeting weigh in. It's worth discussing in a larger forum.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is torn. We wanted to have robust public discussions last year but the pandemic got in the way. This article was submitted by ten registered voters. Do we want to let town meeting have their say? If it goes before town meeting, then people are going to know about it. These (ARB) hearings are an example of virtual meetings working. Mr. Benson doesn't see virtual meetings as being a burden on town meeting. In his neighborhood, developers buy single family homes, tear them down, and build to the maximum size of the lot. We aren't stopping that; we're giving the developers a choice of building a single- or two-family home. They wouldn't be affordable homes, but you can't build affordable housing in Arlington without deep subsidies.
There are several changes Mr. Benson would like to make to the main motion. First, rebuilt two-family homes should have the appearance of single-family homes. Second, he doesn't want "snout houses" with four-bay garages, or homes where the garage is very prominent. Third, Mr. Benson believes that builders will create duplexes if they can get a better return, which raises the value of property. He asks if the town can capture some of that increase in value. He'd like to see single- to two-family (or duplex) conversion contribute to an affordable housing trust fund, based on the difference between selling value and previous assessment. He'd support Article 18 with those three amendments.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that some of the things Mr. Benson asked for are subjective, but he'd support a fee to an affordable housing trust. Builders don't build affordable housing simply because people say they want it. You need taxes or subsidies.
(Katherine Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein likes the idea of a fee. She says you can't get affordable housing through zoning alone; you need subsidies. Regarding the process, Ms. Levine Einstein thinks there would be nothing more democratic than bringing this before town meeting. She rejects the idea that zoom meetings prevent meaningful discussions. The same people show up, there's the same opposition to housing, and the same disparities in representation. A lot of the conversation involves denying that there's a need for middle-income housing. She was in the Arlington housing market for a few months, and it was terrible. This is a broader pattern. Yes, new condominiums are more expensive than the older homes they replace, but they're consistently $200k--$300k less expensive than new single family homes, depending on which year you're looking at. She supports this article and Mr. Benson's modifications.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery appreciates the interest in this hearing. She leans more towards David's desire to have a robust public process. Town meeting needs education before they can fully understand these issues, and there isn't much opportunity for that. She appreciates Mr. Benson's ideas, and might want to attach others. She'd like to create a background for a more robust discussion.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko points out that main motions are due on Nov 5th, and the board's next meeting is scheduled for Nov 2nd. We'd need the main motions to be wrapped up by then.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson likes the idea of requiring a contribution to an affordable housing trust fund. But that's exactly why a larger discussion needs to happen. If we make substantial changes to a citizen article, then it becomes the board's article. Mr. Watson thinks the board needs to be mindful of the commitment it made to having a public process. He's not sure if the board can endorse this article without going through the process we wanted to initiate.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that the board's report could point out that the ARB didn't initiate the article. This is a huge policy issue. Maybe our function as gatekeepers is to frame this for town meeting. He'd prefer see his changes in a recommended action, rather than the main motion put fourth by the petitioners.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is concerned about the timeline.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson is feeling a sense of deja vu from last spring. He points out that the proponents could continue the discussion by bringing forward a substitute motion.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would vote no action if the ARB isn't able to amend the proposed main motion.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery isn't comfortable going forward without more study and outreach.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the ARB could ask the housing plan implementation committee to consider the article, if the ARB took no action.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says the ARB could recommend study if it votes no action.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would be willing to refer the article for study, do public outreach, and come back in the spring. He thinks that realtors, developers, and some lawyers should be involved in the process.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to know if the study group would be a new group, or an existing one (like the housing plan implementation committee or zoning bylaw working group).
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks if the board could ask town meeting to direct the matter to DPCD for study.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests voting no action, and sending the article to DPCD for study.
There's more back and fourth about how to recommend the matter for study.
(Katie Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein would still prefer to send the article to town meeting.
Board votes no action, 4--1, while asking that the matter be referred to study.
Article 19 (Accessory Dwelling Units) is next.
(Katie Levine Einstein) Ms. Levine Einstein supports the article, and the idea that we shouldn't put impediments in the way of ADUs.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to make one change: that ADUs can only be added to existing structures, in the existing building footprint. He's not supportive of allowing people to build additions to add ADUs. He thinks ADUs in the existing building envelope would be a great thing.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson has some concerns. He supports the idea of ADUs and really liked last year's ADU article. He's concerned about opening the door too widely. He feels that loosening restrictions over time is easier than tightening them. We would prefer a more measured approach.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is a big supporter of ADUs, and allowing them as of right. Procedurally, he thinks the main motion needs a significant rewrite, and isn't sure that can be done in time for Monday's meeting. He's concerned that the current language might create inconsistencies (e.g., the distinction between two-family and duplex dwellings). He doesn't think it makes sense to allow ADUs in all of the R districts without allowing them in the B districts. The word "accessory" appears many time in the zoning bylaw, and those should be scrutinized to make sure they aren't impacted by provisions for accessory dwelling units. He'd also like to add restrictions that the main building be owner-occupied, and that ADUs could not be used for short-term rentals. He loves the idea, but feels there's too much work to do, and not enough time to do it.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees. She absolutely supports accessory dwelling units, and likes the as-of right provisions. Ideally, they wouldn't be limited to the R districts. She believes there needs to be a requirement for owner occupancy, and would like a clearer statement of how much building area can be devoted to an ADU.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks about taking last year's ADU article, and changing the special permit requirement to by-right.
(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko thinks that the warrant language constrains the ARB in terms of what changes they'd be able to make. However, she suspects those conditions could be added to 5.4.2(E).
(David Watson) Mr. Watson is concerned about the board taking a citizen article and making it their own. He asks if that's the right approach.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson believes the board could do better than they did last year. He'd like to do more than taking last year's article and porting it to a different section of the bylaw. He thinks the board could bring something new to town meeting in the spring.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks if this would involve keeping the article with the board, or referring it to the committee.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests adding ADUs to the board's goal-setting agenda.
The board votes no action, 3--2.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he really wanted to bring this article forward, but feels that there are just too many things that need to be fixed.
Article 20 (parking restrictions in the B3 and B5 districts) is next. The board votes favorable action, 5--0.
Article 21 (rezoning town property) is the last article to consider. The board votes favorable action, 5--0.