Arlington Redevelopment Board - Oct 4th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

Urban Renewal Planning

Jenny Raitt gives the board a presentation about urban renewal.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says that the Arlington Redevelopment Board was the first combined planning and redevelopment authority in Massachusetts. It was established in 1971 via home rule petition and the board's authority is derived from the Town Manager Act and Zoning Bylaw. In state law, MGL Chapters 40 and 41 cover planning boards, while Chapter 121B covers redevelopment authorities.

The board's urban renewal actions are generally subject to town meeting approval. This includes things like borrowing money and moving forward with an urban renewal plan.

Urban renewal is a strategy for the redevelopment and revitalization of substandard, decadent, and blighted open areas (these are the terms used in urban renewal law). Urban renewal comes from a challenging history in the United States. The idea is to try to find a way to redevelop areas that are struggling and not receiving investment.

To date, Arlington has had two urban renewal plans. The first covers Arlington center; the planning started in 1978 and the actual work began in 1982. It affected 9.4 acres around Mill Brook and Arlington Center, and gave the ARB the ability to lease three properties: 23 Maple St, 27 Maple St, and 611 Mass Ave. This urban renewal plan expired in 2011.

The second urban renewal plan was for the Symmes property (formerly a hospital and now Arlington 360). This plan was approved in 2002 and expires in January of 2022. Urban renewal plans cover a fixed time period, generally around 20 years.

Urban renewal activities include planning and studies, property acquisition, and the demolition and rehabilitation of structures.

One of the basic criteria for urban renewal project is that without public action, the project site would not be otherwise developed. The project needs to promote desired private investment, have a sound financial plan, and involve a substandard, decadent, or blighted open area. Urban renewal planning can include relocation plans, if necessary.

At this point, Ms. Raitt pauses to take questions from the board.

(Melissa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis asks who's driven urban renewal plans in the past.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the Arlington Center urban renewal plan was driven by several parties, including the Select Board, the Director of Planning and Community Development, and the ARB, with support from other bodies. The Symmes plan was led by similar groups.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson notes that for the Symmes property, there was an old deed that gave the town the right of first refusal if the property was sold.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak asks what a "blighted open area" is.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says it's an area that's in poor condition, or is poorly maintained.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak gets the sense that urban renewal projects require a lot of up-front planning -- one has to determine the scope, what is to be done, how the work will be funded, and who will perform the work. He asks if that's correct.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that's correct, except for the part about who does the work. That can be decided after the plan is approved.

(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if the Master Plan has any recommendations for urban renewal projects.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says it doesn't.

Ms. Raitt moves into the second part of her presentation, which deals with blighted open properties.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that when talking about a property for urban renewal purposes, you're really talking about the area. Urban renewal projects need a champion (or several champions), and should engage a diverse constituency. The project should articulate a clear and compelling vision, and it should capitalize on existing assets. Urban renewal projects should assemble resources to strengthen commercial areas and neighborhoods. There are a range of tools and policies available.

Common sources of urban renewal funding include: community development block grants, the MassDev underutilized properties program, the Mass Historical Commission preservation projects fund, and other sources.

Ms. Raitt notes that Arlington's Affordable Housing Trust Fund is able to to accept, receive, hold, and dispose of real property.

Ms. Raitt asks the board if they have any questions.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has regulations or guidelines for urban renewal projects.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that DHCD has guidelines, and must approve any urban renewal plan.

(Kin Lau, ARB) With respect to blighted properties, Mr. Lau would like a better sense of the scale we're talking about.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there's spot blight, area blight, and emergencies. It's not unusual for communities to think about spot blight.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he doesn't see blighted areas in town, but he does see blighted spots.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB) Ms. Zsembery asks about the scenario where there might be several instances of spot blight which undermine an entire neighborhood. She asks how that would be treated.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says you'd have to consider both the individual parcels and the neighborhood as a whole. Even when spot blight involves a single parcel, an urban renewal plan would need to speak to the effect on surrounding properties.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer asks if urban renewal could be applied to the Mugar tract, or if the board has any particular properties in mind.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the Mugar parcel could be applicable. An urban renewal plan would depend on having a compelling vision for the site, and a need for redevelopment. At several points in time, different town groups were interested in acquiring the property by eminent domain.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery feels that there are areas along Arlington's commercial corridors that are contributing to a lack of redevelopment. So, the board felt this would be an appropriate topic for discussion.

There's no further comment from the public.

Executive Session

There's a motion to end the public part of the meeting, move into executive session, and adjourn afterwards. Motion passed, 5--0, and the board moves to executive session.