Board of Selectmen - Mar 5th, 2018

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Appointments. The board heard two appointments: one to the tree committee and one to the surveillance study committee.

Special Town Meeting. Arlington will hold a special town meeting on May 2, 2018. The selectmen will propose an article to extend the moratorium on recreational marijuana. The selectmen may also propose articles to add one or two liquor store licenses, and to increase the number of alcohol licenses available to restaurants. The special town meeting warrant will be open from 8am - 4pm on March 13th.

Next, on to warrant article hearings.

Article 17: Bylaw Amendment/Demolition of Historic Structures. The warrant article was proposed by town meeting member Len Kardon. Teardowns are the issue most frequently raised by residents in Mr. Kardon's precinct. He believes that teardowns disrupt the character of neighborhoods and reduce the number of relatively affordable homes. There have been approximately 25 teardowns in Arlington during the last four years.

Mr. Kardon's article proposes an amendment to the town's historic structure preservation laws, to include any building built before 1968 (i.e., aged fifty years or more). Mr. Kardon notes that Newton decided that that the architectural heritage of their community included homes built during the 20th century. Wellesley adopted a similar demolition delay bylaw. Other communities have demolition delay bylaws that cover more properties. There are currently 1,200 or so "significant structures" on the historic commission's inventory. This amendment will not stop teardowns; it will just delay them.

The amendment would increase the workload for the historic commission, and the commission does not impose permit or hearing fees. Teardowns typically increase property values by $300,000; fewer teardowns/redevelopments would have a negative impact on property tax revenue.

Clarissa Rowe is a firm believer in demolition delay.

Diane Mahon thinks this is an idea to explore, but she's concerned about unintended consequences.

Kevin Greeley thinks this is a good idea, and asks if it could be ready for special town meeting.

Adam Chapdelaine says the residential study group is already working on this issue.

Dan Dunn doesn't think teardowns are as big an issue as people make them out to be. Some teardowns have been fine; others have not.

Doug Heim says that the town's demolition delay bylaw covers complete demolition. It also covers partial demolitions, which affect 25% or more of the front or side walls.

A resident of Hutchinson Road addresses the board. A developer purchased the property at 21 Hutchinson Road and is planning to demolish the house and built two houses in its place. The resident received a notification about the construction (via the recently-passed good neighbor agreement), and wonders how a developer could do this without any sort of public hearing.

I addressed the board for a few minutes. Over the weekend, I read the demolition delay bylaws cited in Mr. Kardon's presentation. These bylaws work differently than ours. In these communities, the age of a building triggers review, and there's a clear set of criteria to determine whether the demolition delay bylaw should be triggered. Our bylaw uses a set of criteria to trigger the review, but doesn't give clear criteria for when to invoke demolition delay. I believe we'll need more than a definition change to make this work.

I also expressed concern regarding the impact to commercial and mixed use development. The lower end of Broadway has been identified as a candidate for mixed use development, but the vast majority of commercial buildings in the area were built well before 1968. For example, the Dunkin Donuts on Broadway was built in 1966, and I don't feel it needs protection from the Historic Commission.

Next, there are a number of residents who want to talk about 21 Hutchinson road. The first is the owner of Cambridge Landscaping. He thinks Arlington's tree laws are woefully inadequate, and wants the fees to be higher. He believes the town is behind the times, and that the tree inspector lacks the authority to deny removal.

Another resident says that Hutchinson Road is designated as a scenic road, and that developers are ruining it. The resident would like to see a moratorium on teardowns.

Another resident voices opposition to the redevelopment of 21 Hutchinson Road, and hopes the board will take these comments into consideration.

Another resident moved here 10 years ago, and supports Mr. Kardon's proposal. The resident claims that Arlington is notable for a proliferation of teardowns. You'll have to deal with this, or you'll lose the town you grew up in.

Another resident wants to talk about trees and predatory developers. The resident says he's suing the town over something to to do with the conservation commission. He thinks the tree bylaw is useless. He thinks that large houses are destroying the character of the town.

Doug Heim notes that people have brought up a lot of issues, but not all of them are related to the proposed warrant article. The redevelopment on Hutchinson road is a zoning issue. Mr. Heim points out that the town's tree protection bylaw has been around for less than a year and a half. Later tonight, we'll hear an article that proposes to increase the bylaws mitigation fees. The good neighbor agreement (which requires notification for significant residential construction) came into existence less than a year ago.

Susan Stamps (member of the tree committee) ensures the board that the tree committee works hard to preserve trees. They're asking town meeting (via Article 14) to approve higher mitigation fees for tree removal. They want to preserve the tree canopy in Arlington.

Diane Mahon mentions article 14, which would adjust mitigation fees under the tree protection bylaw.

Kevin Greeley says that his family is selling their house. The kids have moved out, and they'd like to downsize. They're having a tough time finding a buyer for their 4000 square foot house. People say it's too big and too old. Mr. Greeley says he won't sell to a developer.

Clarissa Rowe loves trees and believes in saving old houses. She'd like to try to make some progress now. She like Mr. Kardon to separate his proposal from the town's historic preservation bylaw, and try to have it ready for special town meeting. The Massachusetts Historic Commission uses 50 years as the age of an old house. She'd like an article to preserve older homes. She believes the town has to start somewhere.

Dan Dunn asks if it's possible to change the original proposal, and present it during regular town meeting.

Doug Heim says that such an amendment would not be in scope of the original warrant article. Dan Dunn says that some teardowns are good, and some teardowns are bad. The hard part is teasing them apart, without affecting everything else.


Out of curiosity, I looked up 21 Hutchinson Road's property card in the Assessor's database. The property is valued at $972,200: $377,300 for the building, $589,800 for land, and $5,100 for extra features. The land is worth 1.5x the value of the house, which seems to be a fairly common thing in Arlington. The property was sold to Hutchinson Road LLC for $1,000,000 on Nov 3, 2017.

The building is a 1906 Colonial in the R0 district, with 2,498 square feet of finished living area, on a 18,765 square foot lot. During the hearing, a resident expressed displeasure about the single house turning into two houses. Our zoning allows that. R0 has a minimum lot size of 9,000 square feet. Assuming adequate frontage, there's enough land to subdivide into two lots.

Article 19: Home Rule Legislation/Municipal Finance Department. Treasurer Dean Carman presents the article. He starts with some history, from the town's 2011 decision to research the pros and cons of a consolidated finance department to 2017's town meeting vote on changing the Treasurer from an elected to a hired position.

Benefits of the consolidated finance department would include monthly department meetings (with mandatory attendance), improved coordination among financial units, and better quality control. Work done in this area has already improved the process for bond issuance, and will make it easier to maintain the town's AAA credit rating. Mandatory cooperation makes a big difference. A consolidated finance department gives more efficiency, improves reporting processes, allows more information sharing, eliminates silos, and provides more flexible career paths.

Diane Mahon believes there's something missing from this presentation: the schools. In 2012, MassDOR made several recommendations to the town, and most of the recommendations had to do with the school finance department. She feels that the school is not cooperating with the rest of the town. The school department needs to come along on this journey.

Joe Curro believes we'll need incremental buy-in to make this work. Incrementally, we're pushing the ball forward.

Article 18: Home Rule Legislation/Appointment of Town Comptroller. Dean Carman presents this article as well. Article 18 would make the comptroller part of the consolidated finance team, and would add accountability to the position. The town manager can recommend candidates for the comptroller position, but the Board of Selectmen would have to approve them.

The article has a number of provisions relating to the removal of the comptroller. The Board of selectmen would have to approve removal, and the matter would have to be discussed in an open session. The goal is to ensure that the comptroller cannot be fired for discovering malfeasance. Effectively, it's whistle-blower protection.

Clarissa Rowe likes the checks and balances that are built into the article.

Kevin Greeley asks why there are deadlines for accepting a nomination, or for approving a termination.

Doug Heim says that the deadlines are to prevent the board from sitting on its hands. He also notes that a request for information would constitute "acting".

Dean Carman says the deadlines prevent the comptroller (or candidate for the position) from being left out on a limb.

Doug Heim adds that the deadlines would ensure that removal for cause proceedings are carried out quickly.

Dan Dunn believes it's important to have a default action, if the board fails to act within the specified deadlines. He also believes this article will help the Board maintain oversight over the Town Manager.

Adam Chapdelaine notes that the school department CFO has been attending consolidated finance team meetings.

Diane Mahon wants the school department included in consolidated finance team meetings, even if we have to hold their feet to the fire.

Clarissa Rowe notes that there have been financial mistakes on both the town and school sides. The Board votes favorable action on both articles.

Warrant Article Final Votes. Five articles are up for final votes: Articles 6, 11, 13, 14, and 21.

Article 14 is an increase to remediation fees under the tree preservation bylaw. Dan Dunn reiterates a position he expressed at the last selectmen's meeting: the selectmen's report should include the initial set of fees the board plans to impose. The board decides to table the article, until they can come up with a set of fees.

There's a short discussion on Article 6 (Capital Planning Committee). Doug Heim says that the additional two seats will only be filled if the Town Manager or Chair of the Capital Planning Committee requests them. These seats will only be re-appointed if the positions remain needed.

The selectmen vote favorable action on Article 6 (Capital Planning Committee), Article 11 (Vacant Store Front Registry), Article 13 (Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture), and Article 21 (Vision 2020).