Arlington Redevelopment Board - Sep 18th, 2023

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Meeting held in the main room of the Community Center. Materials were available from

Docket 3766 - 351 Broadway

This special permit involves new signage for Thai Moon.

(Stuart, Sign installer) Stuart tells the board that Thai Moon is in a new space, with a temporary unlit sign. He's here to propose a new sign which will have reverse channel letters and be attached to the existing structure.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says there are several other internally lit signs on the street, and he's okay with that. He's on the fence regarding the sign's size.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks about the lighting.

(Stuart) Stuart says the sign will be halo lit. The lighting will be inside the raised letters and project backwards, to create a halo effect. He says it's secondary lighting.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak wants to clarify the relief sought for the sign. The bylaw requires spacing on either side of the sign -- 12" or 20% of the width of the architectural element to which the sign is mounted, whichever is less. Mr. Revilak understands the store facade is 13', so the maximum width would be 11' or 132". The proposed sign is 139" wide, so the relief sought is 7".

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery notes that there are old gooseneck lights above the storefront. She asks if there are plans to remove them.

(Stuart) Stuart believes the owner plans to do so.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman likes the design and the internal lighting. He doesn't expect light leakage. He's in favor of the sign. Mr. Ruderman says he's happy that Thai Moon found a new space, and asks if traffic patterns will be a subject of this hearing.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery answers in the negative; the hearing is just about the sign.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says it's great to see Thai Moon in a new space. He says the ARB should hold hybrid meetings, rather than meeting in person.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks Mr. Wagner to limit his comments to the scope of the hearing, which is Thai Moon's sign proposal.

There's no more comment from the public.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks this application meets the standards for relief. He's in favor of the proposal.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is also supportive. He notes that the applicants also need relief for the width of the lettering on the awning sign. The lettering is limited to 60% of the awning width. They're allowed 11 square feet of lettering on an 11' awning, but are asking for less than five square feet. He's okay with that.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery clarifies that the applicants are seeing relief for both the wall sign and the awning sign.

The board discusses conditions and findings. The applicant will be asked to remove the old gooseneck lighting, and the board will find that the signs are architecturally appropriate for this location.

There's a motion to approve the sign permit. Motion passes, 4--0.

Warrant Articles for Fall 2023 Special Town Meeting

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery introduces the next agenda item: warrant articles for the special town meeting. She informs the public that the board will only take comment on the warrant articles listed on tonight's agenda. Speakers will be given two minutes to address the board. The board will deliberate and vote on October 2nd, and written comment is welcome until that time. Ms. Zsembery asks that speakers conduct themselves in a courteous manner, and says that disruptive individuals may be asked to remove themselves from the meeting.

Article B - Open Space in Business Districts

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that Article B's main motion was drafted by Kelly Lynema months ago, and the board has not previously approved it. This article proposes to allow landscaped open space on rooftops and balconies, regardless of height. Arlington's bylaw already allows landscaped open space on rooftops and balconies, as long as they're not more than 10' above the lowest occupied floor. Mr. Benson thinks doesn't make sense to limit the height in this way. It also removes 5.3.22.C, which is duplicated elsewhere in the bylaw. Landscaped open space in business districts would be calculated on lot area rather than gross floor area. Residential districts would continue to use gross floor area. Finally, the article would eliminate the usable open space requirement for business districts.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak had a question about the applicability to the R districts, but Mr. Benson's summary answered it.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Laurel Kane) Ms. Kane says she's not well-versed in this stuff, but to a layperson, it doesn't feel like balconies or a rooftop should be open space. She'd prefer to see actual open space.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner thinks the board is suppressing public comment. He says this is one of the 2019 density articles, and completely inappropriate for the business districts. Mr. Wagner says there have been no public hearings on articles B--J, and he thinks that ridiculous. He says we need to save permeable space and asks the board to reject this article.

(Elizabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Jones asks if the elimination of usable open space from the business districts will mean not building things like cafes with outdoor seating.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti thinks the changes to the definition of usable open space go beyond the warrant article's scope, because the definition also affects the R districts. He disagrees with allowing open space on roofs, and says the article isn't ready for prime time.

(Joanne Cullinane) Ms. Cullinane thinks this seems like a blow, and a reduction in green space. She says it seems like we're trying to pave over everything.

(Ratnekar ?) Ratnekar supports the article, and says we need to move along with the times. He says that earlier bodies considered open space on rooftops. Height is also a dimension. If we can farm vertically, then we should be able to have rooftop terraces.

(Matt Miller) Mr. Miller understands the vertical dimension, but says the public can't access spaces on roofs. He moved to Arlington because it's not Somerville. He asks "if a lot of people move in, what will we do?"

(Kristen Anderson) Ms. Anderson says the people have been congregating outdoor since the pandemic. She thinks it would be great to have more outdoor seating for restaurants. She'd like to eat outdoors on a terrace.

There's no more comment from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that open space is private property, and not open to the public.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson reiterates that Arlington's bylaw already allows open space on roofs as balconies, but only up to a certain height. This article would simply remove the height limit.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the definition for usable open space clearly states that it's intended for the use of the building occupants. As Ms. Zsembery said, it's not open to the public. Mr. Revilak suggests not striking the requirement that usable open space have a grade of less than 8%. He agrees with the idea and thinks removing that requirement would also get rid of many non-conformities (e.g., homes on hills), but he thinks the business districts should be the focus of this article.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to see "the less than 8% grade" requirement removed.

Article C - Rear Yard Setbacks in Business Districts

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the first draft of Article C was done by Kelly Lynema, who originally had three suggestions for the setback regulations: a variable rear yard, no setbacks, or a standard fixed length. Mr. Benson incorporated the variable length proposal into this main motion because he felt it was the most interesting. The setback requirement varies according to what's behind the property where the setback applies. It takes the surroundings into account.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he prefers the variable setback option, because it's the most contextual of the three.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner is concerned that this article was presented without the opportunity for public comment. He thinks this is another of the density articles from 2019. He says it looks like a drastic limitation, and suggests deferring until the spring.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman says there's a process issue, because there's been no opportunity for public comment. He thinks this article will give the ARB too much discretion.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says "some people are saying that town management want's to turn Arlington into Somerville", and points out that the variable rear-yard setback is similar to Somerville's zoning ordinance. He's concerned about the 0' rear yard setback for buildings abutting a right of way. He thinks the variation should be based on use, rather than on zoning district.

(Elizabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr-Jones asks if this will affect the R1 and R2 districts.

There's no further comment from the public.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says these rear-yard setback requirements would only apply to the business districts, not R1 or R2. He says the article doesn't provide the ARB with any discretion; the setback is based on the size of the building and what's behind it.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak doesn't believe this change was proposed in 2019.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says these articles were discussed last winter. The ARB originally planned to bring them to the last annual town meeting.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees that most of these article were discussed in the spring. He says the town manager asked the ARB to postpone the articles until the fall, and that's why we're taking them up now.

Article D - Step Back Requirements in Business Districts

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says this article will require the upper-story step back to be along a building's primary facade, which will be assumed to be Mass Ave or Broadway. The article was drafted to require the step back above the fourth story, rather than above the third story as in the current bylaw; Mr. Benson thinks the board should discuss this. It also clarifies how the 7.5' is measured.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau favors having the step-back above the fourth story. So, starting at the fifth story.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests unstriking the sentence that says "upper story step-backs are not applicable to the industrial districts", since those districts have their own height bonuses and performance standards. He'd prefer to have the bylaw say that the upper story step back is in addition to the required yard setback. However, in the cases where this provision applies, the required yard setbacks are 0', so measuring from the property line is okay. Mr. Revilak is on the fence regarding whether step backs should be required above the third or fourth stories.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would prefer to have upper-story step backs start at the fourth story (i.e., above the third).

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman doesn't think this is a good idea. He'd like to see step backs on all sides of a building, regardless of whether they face a right of way.

(Laurel Kane) As a lay-person, Ms. Kane finds this very hard to understand. She asks if the proposal could be translated in a way that makes it clearer to a lay-person.

(Chris Loreti) Chris Loreti says that step backs were sold to town meeting as a way to ameliorate height. He thinks they should start at the fourth story. He thinks that defining the principal facade to be along Broadway or Mass Ave is arbitrary, and shouldn't be in the bylaw at all.

There's no further comment from the public.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson understands that this is a difficult topic. He notes that the main motion says "presumed to be along Mass Ave or Broadway", which means the principal facade can be different if there's a case for doing so.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is inclined to keep the existing requirement, where step-backs start at the fourth story. He's in favor of having the step-back only on the principal facade.

Article E - Reduced Height Buffer Area

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the main motion is exactly what Ms. Lynema drafted last winter, but he's not sure if it's in scope of the article text.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery isn't sure that the proposed buffer limits are the right ones. She'd like to spend more time on this article, and bring it back in the spring.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that the height buffer regulations have been in the bylaw, unchanged, since 1975. At that point in time, the maximum heights were 200' in the PUD district, and 110' feet in R7 and B5. All of these districts were down-zoned in the 1970s and 1980s, but the height buffers were never adjusted to match. Mr. Revilak says he's tried to find primary source documents related to these downzonings -- ARB minutes, reports, town meeting transcripts and such -- but never found a discussion of the height buffers. He thinks the existing regulations are an internal inconsistency that's crept in over successive down-zonings. He thinks the buffer limits should be smaller, but he's not sure what the right numbers are.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says this was another article that was withdrawn from town meeting in 2019. He says it's proposing to reduce the height buffer by 75%, which will lead to enormous buildings. He says there hasn't been public input, and asks for the article to be delayed.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman doesn't think the ARB should have this discretion. He thinks this is a highly technical article, and visuals would help.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti agrees with not bringing this article to town meeting. He notes that the ARB already has the ability to waive the requirements if it finds that doing so won't result in adverse effects.

There's no more comment from the public.

Article F - Corner Lot Requirements

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that this article affects yard setbacks for corner lots that are in the business districts. It would apply the setbacks for the business districts, rather than the setbacks of abutting properties, which might be in residential districts. He clarifies how the board has been treating corner lots in business districts.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Elizabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr-Jones wonders about roadway visibility requirements, and whether those requirements will be affected by this article.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti finds this unacceptable, because it could allow a 0' setback on both sides of a corner lot. He thinks this article is damaging and should be scrapped.

(Matt Miller) Mr. Miller asks how this will affect snow removal. He thinks traffic impacts should be taken into consideration.

(Ratnekar ?) Ratnekar is in favor of this article. He says that Arlington had 17% more people in the 1970's but only 10% more under 18. Arlington has had more people, and more density.

There's no more comment from the public.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says there is section of the zoning bylaw about visibility around corners. It requires a 20' line of sight, between 3' and 7' above the curb. However, that requirement only applies to residential districts; it's not applicable to business districts.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that a lot of residential streets are narrower. Streets in the business districts tend to be wider, which provides more visibility.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks that zoning bylaw section 5.3.16 is also relevant to the discussion. 5.3.16 gives the ARB discretion to adjust yard setbacks during environmental design review. He thinks that Article F simply codifies the way the board has been treating corner lots in business districts.

Article G - Height and Story Minimums in Business Districts

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the board has discussed this topic a few times. The zoning bylaw currently allows single story buildings along Mass Ave and Broadway. This article would set height minimum of two stories and 26' in the business districts. It would not affect single- or two-family homes, and the board would have the ability to waive or modify the requirement where two stories isn't feasible. For example, if someone were to rebuild a gas station, a second story might not be feasible.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that retail spaces are typically 14--18' tall, so he thinks the 26' minimum in reasonable.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Elizabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr-Jones heard the board not wanting to be restrictive. She asks what would happen if someone wanted to build a building with a greenhouse, like Pemberton Farm. She says she doesn't understand this restriction.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says that most business owners rent their spaces, and they have no idea you're doing this. It strikes him that the ARB is proposing a restriction in the bylaw. He thinks this will lead businesses to close, and the article requires more discussion.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman thinks that giving the ARB discretion will lead to the public perception that they can be swayed.

There's no more comment from the public.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the proposed bylaw change explicitly allows the ARB to waive requirements in particular circumstances. He says that zoning is a tug of war between letting property owners do what they want, versus requiring them to do what the town wants. He notes that owners of existing one-story buildings would not be required to add a second story. They'd just become non-conforming.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says this article is about encouraging new growth. He thinks it will tend to encourage new buildings that have higher value and generate more property tax revenue. The alternative is budget overrides, and we'll be voting on one in November.

Article H - Administrative Correction

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says this article is an administrative correction of a citation. We removed a paragraph from the bylaw last year, and re-numbered subsequent paragraphs in that section. That left us with a cross reference to a section that no longer exists.

There are no comments from the board.

There are no comments from the public.

Article I - Residential Uses in Business Districts

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that single- and two-family homes are allowed by right in all of the business districts, and he thinks it doesn't make sense to allow new single- and two-family homes there. Existing single- and two-family homes in the B districts will become pre-existing non-conforming. He thinks the board should discuss whether to remove the words "single-family, two-family, and duplex" from the B district dimensional tables. Mr. Benson's inclination is to leave that language in, to govern existing structures.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees with Mr. Benson.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak was going to ask about the dimensional tables, but he agrees with Mr. Benson's reasoning for leaving the "single-family, two-family, and duplex" language in.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says the public isn't aware that the board is planning to prevent new single- and two-family homes from being built in the business districts. He asks the board to defer this until spring town meeting.

(Matt Miller) Mr. Miller thinks there should be a reason for this restriction. He believes it could prevent someone from putting a funeral home in the business districts.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti thinks the district definition should be historical, and describe what's already there. He doesn't see the need to make single- and two-family homes in the business districts non-conforming, and he questions whether this is necessary. He asks if property owners have been notified, and how many single- and two-family homes have been constructed in business districts during the last five year.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman thinks this will incentivize people to build larger buildings. He says these lots are small, and can't handle big sardine can buildings. He thinks there should be more public discussion.

There's no more comment from the public.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that Section 5.5.1 contains district definitions and purposes, and he feels the intent of this article warrants a change to those definitions. He notes that no one who owns a single- or two-family home in a business district will be required to tear it down.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks the intent is to keep B district parcels used for business, rather than having them turn over to low-density residential. He says this is another example of trying to encourage new development that's more valuable and generates more tax revenue.

(Rachel Zsembery) Mr. Zsembery says that town meeting is typically the place where public discussion of warrant articles occurs.

Article J - Street Trees

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that town meeting adopted street tree planting standards for business districts several years ago. A group called Green Streets Arlington asked about expanding these standards to residential districts, in order to increase the town's tree canopy. He says the planning department would administer this section of the bylaw, for developments that don't fall under the jurisdiction of the ARB.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's concerned this might lead to tree plantings that are too dense for the trees to thrive.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes the language allows for the spacing to be adjusted, based on existing trees.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Elizabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr-Jones thanks the ARB for bringing this article forward. She's grateful to see this happening now, especially with MBTA Communities coming up.

(Kristen Anderson) Ms. Anderson fully supports this article. She thinks that having more trees along Mass Ave will make it more walkable.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says that during the ARB meeting on September 11th, he heard that the ARB was getting rid of open space. He thinks this is like having a night out smashing windows, then going to a priest in the morning to confess.

There's no more comment from the public.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he's very conscious about adding requirements to new development, that previous developments were not subject to. But he thinks this requirement is appropriate, and he hopes it will lead to an increase in the town's tree canopy.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery closes the hearing on warrant articles for the spring town meeting. She says the board will deliberate and vote on these articles on October 2nd. She says the board will continue to accept written comments until that time.

Upcoming Meeting Schedule

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests adding a meeting on October 10th, so we can approve the report to Special town meeting.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker thinks that October 10th provides staff with a good timeline to produce the report. She says the report would be posted to the ARB's agenda on the previous Thursday.

There's a motion to schedule an additional meeting on October 10th. Motion passes, 4--0.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says there's currently nothing scheduled for October 16th. The board can decide whether to eliminate this date during the October 2nd meeting.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says there's a citizen-sponsored zoning article that has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. She's spoken to the moderator, and says he'll accept an amended report, if scheduling constraints make this necessary.

Meeting adjourned.