Arlington Redevelopment Board - Sep 11th, 2021
Meeting held in the Public Safety Building's meeting room. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1404. It was the board's annual goal setting meeting, and my first meeting as an ARB member.
Jenny Raitt summarizes planning efforts that have taken place during the last year. The Net Zero Action Plan and Connect Arlington transportation plan were endorsed by the Select Board. Both are long-term plans. The town is currently working to update the Housing Production Plan and Open Space and recreation plan. There are also discrete plans to address fair housing shortcomings.
Many of the current planning efforts come from the Master Plan. We have a Master Plan Implementation Committee (MPIC) with several sub-groups. There was the Zoning Recodification Working Group, which oversaw recodification of the town's zoning bylaws. That group evolved into the Zoning Bylaw Working Group, which oversaw updates to the sign bylaws and zoning for the industrial districts. Another group developed residential design guidelines for the town.
The Historic and Cultural working group is working on a plan to update Arlington's historic resources inventory, and to perform an archaeological study. This work is being done under the historic preservation master plan.
Another MPIC sub-group is working on the Mill Brook Corridor. The town may create another group focused on economic development.
The town was awarded $1M in Community Development Block Grant funds for COVID-related issues. We've also received money from the American Rescue Plan Act.
There are revitalization efforts happening at Wellington Park and Whittemore Park, and well as sidewalk restoration projects. There's a revitalization plan for Broadway Plaza, which has to be coordinated with MWRA and Verizon utility work.
A lot of the planning department's efforts have focused on pandemic response, rather than core department responsibilities.
There's a group working on a plan for Arlington Heights. (This is more of a place-making Plan).
At the moment, the planning department really doesn't have the capacity to take on more work. Our Conservation Planner recently took a new position, and we're looking for a replacement.
There's a discussion about how to better involve the ARB in some of these efforts. Steve Revilak asks if the ARB would consider taking over the work that's currently done by the zoning bylaw working group, since they are zoning amendments that will eventually come before the ARB. There's also a desire to have a more formal process for ARB appointees to come back and report to the board.
The town will have to update its Stormwater Management Plan for Spring 2022.
The Net Zero Action Plan Committee is likely to move forward with several zoning updates for spring town meeting. We might consider amending EDR criteria to consider elements of the Net Zero Action Plan. Eugene Benson would like to improve the town's inclusionary zoning, which might dovetail with the Housing Production Plan.
This spring, there will potentially be a citizens article for reducing parking requirements for multi-family housing.
Steve Revilak would like to see the board revise some dimensional regulations, FAR in particular. He notes two commercial projects (Citizens Bank and 10 Sunnyside Ave) where the commercial buildings became smaller -- negative growth, in effect.
Kin Lau would like to work on zoning changes for the Mass Ave Corridor. That could include revisiting the zoning map, parking requirements, FAR, and setbacks.
Jenny Raitt suggests that board members review the town's housing needs assessment, which is available from the town website.
Jenny suggests asking for an appropriation to update the town's design guidelines. The current guidelines seem to assume that parcels along the Mill Brook corridor are much larger than they are.
Rachel Zsembery thinks that projects that come before the board aren't all that great from a design standpoint. She'd like to encourage applicants to invest more effort up-front, so they don't need so much refinement during the hearing process.
With respect to commercial corridors, the board discusses whether to focus on specific geographic areas, or specific topic areas. The state guidelines for MBTA communities create a couple of unknowns here. The guidelines haven't been released yet. We expect the area near the Alewife T station to be affected, but we don't know exactly how. We also don't know of the bus turnaround in Arlington Heights will be considered a "terminal" for the purposes of 40A; depending on DHCD guidance, MBTA community requirements may affect the heights too.
Last year, "review EDR criteria" was one of the board's goals. It's been on the list for a while, but it's a lower-priority goal.
The board considers taking a geographic area and considering parking, dimensional regulations (FAR, height minimums, setbacks), map adjustments, and minimum requirements for the amount of commercial space in mixed use. Arlington Center might be a candidate.
There's interest in modernizing the town's permitting process, in order to make it more efficient. Steve would like to work on this.
There's a suggestion to look at municipal vulnerability preparedness work, and see if any zoning changes are warranted. For examples, regulations for areas at risk of flooding.
In the past, the board has talked about handing off some of their building management responsibilities to the facilities department. This would require a vote of town meeting. Over the years there's been less interest in town-owned properties. Most of the groups in the Central School building are town departments. 27 Maple is mostly town offices. The Jason Cutter House has one tenant, which pays $200/month in rent.
Members of the board are interested in meeting with town counsel to get a better understanding of what the ARB's powers are, particularly as a redevelopment authority. There are three blighted areas in town that we may be able to address via urban renewal: the Atwood House, Arlington Automatic Transmission (Broadway, in East Arlington), and Tweet Tweet (Mass Ave in the heights).
The board discusses ideas for improving presentations during hearings. The consensus seems to be for having architects and engineers present more, and attorneys present less. When we go back to meeting in person, we may try to meet in the senior center. The second floor conference room in the town hall annex really isn't big enough to fit the number of participants we've been seeing lately.