Arlington Redevelopment Board - Sep 14th, 2020
Meeting held via video-conference. These notes cover a subset of agenda items.
Board Organizational Meeting. The board welcomes new member Katherine Levine Einstein. Rachel Zsembery becomes the new chair and Lin Lau remains vice-chair.
Docket 3633 - 1500 Mass Ave. The petitioner proposes a three-story mixed-use building at 1500 Mass Ave, with four residential and one commercial unit.
Jenny Raitt (DPCD director) refers the board to DPCD's memo on the application. DPCD recently received a tree plan, and copies of the good neighbor agreement. The tree plan was approved by the tree warden, but differs from planting plans in the application.
(Bob Annese, Attorney) Bob Annese presents for the petitioner. The lot contains 7265 square feet, and we're proposing a three-story building with four two-bedroom apartments. They're planning office space as the commercial use. There are a number of other businesses in the area: Mal's Auto Body, a car wash, a liquor store, and a Trader Joe's. The commercial space will include indoor bicycle parking and a shower. The applicants won't be able to say much about surface water until they start digging into the site. It's a complicated site, with a large elevation change to the property behind it. Mr. Annese says the petitioners are looking to the ARB for advice on how to address the site. The project needs a residential component to economically work for the developer.
(Monte French, Architect) The building is set 25' back from the front lot line. They're planning short term bicycle parking in front and a circular one-way driveway around the rear of the property.
(missed a bit)
(Bob Annese) The site is challenging. There's a significant elevation difference between this site and the surrounding properties. The roof of the proposed three-story building will be lower than the property behind it.
(Monte French) There's an apartment building to the left of the site. It's up on a grade, and higher than the proposed building. The 25' front setback it to provide greenery and open space. Traffic will enter on one side of the site and exit from another. There will be parallel parking around the perimeter. They're planning to provide five parking spaces; the bylaw requires six, so they'll need relief for one parking space.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is supportive, but has several points of concern. He asks if the building will have a handicapped-accessible unit.
(Monte French) Mr. French says there currently isn't an HCA unit, but they could consider adding one on the ground floor.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau prefers to see an HCA unit on th ground floor. He asks if the building will have sprinklers.
(Monte French) Mr. French says the building will need a sprinkler system, and it will have a dedicated sprinkler room.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests putting the sprinkler room near the front entrance, to make it easily accessible to the fire department.
Mr. Lau asks if it's possible to have one curb cut instead of two.
(Monte French) Mr. French says the two curb cuts are intended to allow a one-way traffic flow. Two-way access (from a single curb cut) would make it harder to maneuver.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau prefers one curb cut and more space in the back of the building. He suggests moving the building forward, and thinks that mixed-use buildings should be situated closer to the sidewalk. He thinks the building fits in with the surrounding neighborhood.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is confused about the square footage calculation of the lot. He asks Mr. Annese to explain how the area was determined.
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese says they had the property surveyed, and the survey provided the area measurement.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks for clearer copy of the plot plan; the print on the submitted plan is small and difficult to read.
Mr. Benson moves on to gross floor area. He calculated GFA based on the plans and came out with a different number. He asks the architect to review the definition of gross floor area in the ZBL and redo the GFA calculations.
Mr. Benson moves on to parking. He notes that the parking spaces will be next to a retaining wall. He asks if there will be enough room to open a passenger car door.
(Monte French) Mr. French says he used standard parking space dimensions, but can take a closer look at the door clearance.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson moves on to parking and transportation demand management. He doesn't believe a shower in the commercial space will help with TDM, because the applicants need relief from residential parking requirements (1.5 spaces per two bedroom apartment) and not commercial parking requirements. He suggests adding an affordable unit as a way to get parking relief.
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese doesn't know if an affordable unit will be financially viable. But he agrees they can do an accessible unit; perhaps a studio or one-bedroom apartment.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wonders if a first floor apartment would make the commercial space too small to be viable. He'd like to see a market analysis.
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese says he used to work out of a smaller office space in East Arlington, but agrees to look at the commercial viability.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson moves on to the apartment balconies. He believes they're too big, and suggests the petitioners review the ZBL section that covers projections into side yards.
Mr. Benson would also like to see the design plans updated, to reflect the tree plan approved by the tree warden.
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese reiterates that the petitioners are looking for suggestions on how to make the site viable.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with Mr. Lau's suggestion of moving the building forward. He suggests a 20' front setback instead of 25'.
Mr. Benson asks about the retaining wall.
(Monte French) Mr. French says they're still working on the details. They've been talking to an engineer, and to the property owner behind the building. He believes they'll need to add another retaining wall.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the current site grades up. He asks how they plan to adjust the grading.
(Monte French) Mr. French says they plan to level the grade on the site, with some slope for drainage.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the gas vent on the sidewalk, on the front right side part of the property.
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese says there are ongoing discussions about that.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks where the building mechanicals will be located.
(Monte French) Mr. French says they'll probably be located on the roof.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to know how the mechanicals will be screened. He asks if there will be in-unit laundry facilities.
(Monte French) Mr. French says there will be in-unit laundry.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks the petitioners to talk about the mechanical systems.
(Monte French) Mr. French says they haven't designed the mechanical systems yet. He's leaning towards having a mini-split (heat pump) for each unit.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says he doesn't have a good sense of how this building will fit in with the surrounding buildings. He'd like to see a drawing that shows the surrounding buildings, especially the one in the rear of the property.
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese says they can provide such a drawing.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says that the elevation change will determine how much the mechanical systems affect the rear abutter. He says the board will need to see a landscape plan that reflects the tree plan approved by the tree warden. He understands the former site wasn't well-maintained, but would like to see the old trees replaced. He's also concerned about the turning radius in the rear of the building.
(Monte French) Mr. French says the 25' front setback was intended to provide usable open space. Moving the building forward will eliminate the usable open space (usable open space requires a 25' minimum dimension).
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says he'd like to see some alternatives. The ARB's goal is to have the best project they can, but they'll try to be flexible where they can.
(Monte French) Mr. French says they can look at moving the building forward and to the side. The challenge will be in providing sufficient maneuvering room for two-way traffic. He asks the board what they prefer.
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese asks what the board would prefer to see in the next iteration.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests they try not to reduce the square footage of the building, and says the board has some flexibility to reduce other dimensional requirements. He recognizes that this is a unique and challenging site.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson has some concerns with the first floor. Adding an accessible apartment to the first floor will make the office space small. Mr. Watson is worried that too small a commercial space wouldn't meet the intent of the mixed-use bylaw.
Mr. Watson like the idea of adding an affordable unit in exchange for a parking reduction. But he realizes that's a big ask for a building of this size.
(Katherine Levine Einstein) Ms. Einstein likes the plan and thinks it brings a lot to the neighborhood. She lives nearby and likes it. She like the idea of moving the building closer to the sidewalk. Ms. Einstein also supports a two-way driveway and a single curb cut.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about snow removal. He says the petitioners will need to identify where snow will be stored.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests putting a planting buffer in front of the rear retaining wall. This should help with door clearance.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks how trash removal will work. He thinks the driveway will be too tight for a garbage truck.
(Monte French) Mr. French says they'll use a private trash service, or have bins that are wheeled to the curb.
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese says there's an apartment nearby that takes barrels out to the street.
Ms. Zsembery opens the meeting to public comment.
(Andreas Kellar) Mr. Kellar is the rear abutter. He's happy the old building is being torn down and rebuilt. He's concerned about tree removal. Mr. Kellar believes that the petitioners removed more than the eight trees the tree warden's plan requires them to plan. He's concerned about the grade of the property, removal of dirt, and height of the retaining wall. He says that the removed trees eliminated shade on his property. He thinks the new building is too ambitious for the size of this lot.
(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton is delighted to see housing coming in, and is 100% in favor of the project. She asks why it can't be four stories instead of three, with two accessible units on the ground floor.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says the applicant is asking for a four unit apartment which isn't allowed in the B1 district. He says that if the ARB allows this project, then there will be a line of builders proposing similar projects. He believes that mixed use doesn't allow the combination of any two uses. He plays a recording of the 2016 town meeting, where former ARB member Mike Cayer said the ARB planned to allow only uses that would be permitted standalone in the given district.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is okay with this project, particularly the residential component. We're looking at four or five new homes, people will live in them, and he's sure those residents will appreciate having a nice place to live. Mr. Revilak encourages the board to work with the applicant so the project can go forward. He hopes to see more mixed-use development like this along Mass Ave.
(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden says she's submitted written comments, and will give an abbreviated version of them. She says this project violates the zoning bylaw so badly that it should never have been considered. She says the proponents need to submit an economic analysis. She believes this project will encourage the wanton destruction of land and trees. She says the developers haven't found a commercial tenant yet, and that the entire building could become residential. She thinks the curb cut will pose a danger to public safety.
(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti says he's disappointed with the board's understanding of the zoning bylaw. He says that apartments are not listed as an allowed use in the B1 district. He believes four apartments and an office are not in character of the neighborhood and will impair the integrity of the district. He appreciates the applicant's effort to provide open space. He disagrees with a memo that town counsel previously provided to the ARB. He asks if there's been an appeal to the ARB's lawlessness in issuing a permit for the Hotel Lexington. He asks what will happen when that permit is overturned in court.
Public comment ends.
Ms. Zsembery summarizes the board's questions and concerns. These include:
- Circulation and parking
- Gross floor area calculations for the first floor
- Move the building forward five feet
- Addressing the request for an accessible apartment
- Screening for air handling equipment
- Plans to address snow removal
- Sufficiency of the transportation demand management plan
- Market analysis for the commercial unit
- Balcony projections
- Planting locations for eight trees, per the tree warden's plan
- Drawing showing the relationship to the rear of the property
- Location of the sprinkler room
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he'll have a tough time approving this project if there's a significant decrease in the size of the commercial space.
Board votes 5--0 to continue the hearing to Oct 19th.
19R Park Ave – review of and update on Minuteman Bikeway connection. Pam Hallet from the Housing Corporation of Arlington provides an update on HCA's project at 19R park ave. The board previously approved this project; HCA is back because of the potential need for modifications.
(Pam Hallet, HCA) Ms. Hallet says that the soil contamination on the site was worse than expected, and they've had more than a $100,000 overrun in remediation costs. Much of the contamination was from PCBs, and that soil is expensive to remove. HCA's funders are concerned that the project no longer has sufficient contingency funding.
HCA agreed to work on cost-cutting measures, to ensure that the project can be completed. They're proposing to not build the bridge to the minuteman bikeway right now. The funders were okay with that. The MBTA has many restrictions on connections to their property, and HCA is still negotiating with them. Depending on funding, HCA may have to take the bridge out permanently.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says this project is 100% affordable housing, and transformed a contaminated site. He asks if funding is the only issue with the bridge.
(Pam Hallet) Ms. Hallet says yes, and that HCA is planning to look for additional funding to build the bridge. The bridge can be built later, pending the availability of funds.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks about the height difference between the 19R Park Ave property and the Minuteman bikeway.
(Pam Hallet) Ms. Hallet says there's a 10' height difference. The bridge was designed to be wheelchair accessible, so there's a lot of back and fourth.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson says he's excited about this project, but will be disappointed if the bridge can't be built. He's glad to see that HCA is looking for funding, and wonders if they could consider CPA funds. He asks if the board needs to approve anything.
(Pam Hallet) Ms. Hallet says she's here to provide notice to the board. The project funders like the bridge, and they believe it's premature to make a final decision about it.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson points out the CPA applications are available now.
(Katherine Levine Einstein) Ms. Einstein thinks this is a great project, and she hopes HCA can find funding for this infrastructure.
Committees and Appointments. Jenny Raitt says that DPCD is recommending Ben Bradlow for a position on the Housing Plan Implementation Committee. Mr. Bradlow is here to meet with the ARB.
(Ben Bradlow) Mr. Bradlow recently moved to Arlington. He's currently a post-doctoral research fellow, and has worked with housing groups in the past. He's trained as a sociologist and as an urban planner. He'd like to contribute to work on the Housing Production Plan.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks Mr. Bradlow has a great resume, and asks what project work he's done.
(Ben Bradlow) Mr. Bradlow says he spent five years in South Africa, working to upgrade basic neighborhood services. While living in Somerville, he was part of a team that negotiated a community benefits agreement with the master redeveloper in Union Square.
(David Watson) Mr. Watson believes that Mr. Bradlow will bring a unique and relevant perspective, and supports his nomination to the HPIC.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks Mr. Bradlow where he thinks Arlington should be going.
(Ben Bradlow) Mr. Bradlow says there's a regional housing shortage, and feels that Arlington is in a good position to be a leader in eliminating the regional housing deficit while being thoughtful about how that's done. The union square planning was very contentious, but we got 96% ratification from the committee. He says the project taught him how to negotiate conflict and get to something that people can live with.
(Katherine Levine Einstein) Ms. Einstein supports the appointment.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery also support Mr. Bradlow's nomination.
Board approves Mr. Bradlow's nomination to the HPIC, 5--0.