MBTA Communities Working Group - Jun 27th, 2023
Hybrid meeting, held in the police station community room, 112 Mystic Street. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/32424/.
Approve Minutes from Prior Meetings
The working group approved minutes from Feb 28, March 28, May 4, May 16, and June 20th.
Debrief joint Working Group/ARB Meeting
(Sanjay Newton, WG Chair) Mr. Newton thought last night's meeting with the ARB was productive. He'd like to do a go-around to see how other members feel.
(Vince Baudoin, WG) Mr. Baudoin says it's good to have the ARB involved, since they review projects. He thinks the ARB wants something they can feel comfortable in proceeding with. Mr. Baudoin says he heard ideas of having different scales on and off Mass Ave, and Mr. Benson's suggestion of allowing multi-family and mixed-use in some of the residential sections of Mass Ave.
(Rebecca Gruber, WG) Ms. Gruber suggests scheduling time to walk down sections of Mass Ave, and discuss where the different approaches might work.
(Steve Revilak, WG) Mr. Revilak had some specific takeaways from the discussion with the ARB. He felt like the chair was interested in creating opportunities for parcel aggregation, which is something our current zoning map was designed to prevent. For example, small R districts that are sandwiched between B districts should probably be left out of the multi-family zone, so it's possible to combine pieces and make a bigger B district. There are also a number of B districts that are very shallow, which makes those properties hard to redevelop. Mr. Revilak suggests leaving out areas behind shallow B districts, so that it's possible to aggregate parcels and have something at least 100' deep (100' generally being the standard lot depth in Arlington).
(Mette Aamodt, WG) Ms. Aamodt thought the meeting was not productive. She wanted to have more of a discussion, rather than getting opinions from (ARB members) Mr. Benson and Ms. Zsembery. She thinks the two groups should have been meeting all along, and sees disagreement around the general direction. While Ms. Zsembery said the B1 proposal wouldn't work, Ms. Aamodt was surprised to see Mr. Benson's support. She wanted to brainstorm more, and isn't sure how to take the ARB's feedback. She feels it's contrary to some of the things we've been discussing.
(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker notes that the MBTA Communities working group was formed by the ARB, for the purpose of bringing community members into the conversation.
(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt asks what happens if we're not in alignment.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says he expected to hear areas of agreement and disagreement.
(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber asks which of the two groups will place the article on the warrant for special town meeting.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says it will be an ARB article. The ARB has to hold hearings on proposed zoning changes, whether they come from a town body or from citizen petition.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says that we're providing a product for the ARB, which gives us the opportunity to make the case for our ideas.
There's discussion about the division of labor and responsibility between the two groups.
Review Maps and other planning products
We're joined tonight by Beth Locke, who's the Executive Director of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin acknowledges that Arlington's business districts are limited. The process we're going through is about creating the opportunity for more multi-family housing, but we've been having conversations about the relationship between housing and business. He says we're not planning to touch the existing business or industrial districts at all, but we are open to the idea of having mixed use in areas along Mass Ave that are currently zoned residential.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker displays the new draft iteration of the map. Utile added a new multi-family district along Broadway, which is shown in green. They tell us that the new district doesn't violate the contiguity requirements in DHCD's guidance. The map is based on an assumption of four stories, 10' side setbacks, 20' rear setbacks, and 0' front setbacks. The capacity would be 3,158 dwellings if we limited the housing density to 30 dwellings/acre, and 7879 units without a per-acre cap. Ms. Ricker says we can vary the height, but a lot will depend on individual parcel sizes.
(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt thinks we need to make a decision about density. She wonders if we should exclude parcels that are zoned for three or more units in order to avoid inadvertent down-zoning. A lot of the multi-family district is currently zoned for two or more family homes, and we're not unlocking a lot of potential by placing the district in areas that are currently near 15 dwellings/acre. She's concerned about the possibility of overburdening schools elementary schools, by placing too much of the district in one area.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says he'd like to know the number of existing units in the proposed district. He asks if varying the heights will change the level of contiguity.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker proposes looking at the different areas and seeing what makes sense. For example, there are a number of garden apartments along Mass Ave, and other housing types that could be replicated.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks the map should omit parcels that are under consideration for the Arlington Heights Business District. As we adjust the map, we'll also need to make decisions about whether to remove parcels, or whether to shift the districts back.
(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin points out that the Arlington Heights Business District map includes several multi-family buildings, like the stretch of triple-deckers on Mass Ave. He asks if those would become non-conforming uses.
(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber suggests having those remain residential parcels, but giving height bonuses for mixed use.
(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says he's concerned about having dead zones on Mass Ave.
(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt suggests leaving room for the Arlington Heights Business District proposal to go forward, and using Capitol Square as an example of what different approach could look like.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker thinks that Paul Revere Road might be a better place for the multi-family district in the heights, in order to avoid overlapping with the Arlington Heights Business District.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks it's important to have the ability to combine parcels in the business district.
(Teresa Marzilli, DEI Department) Ms. Marzilli asks about areas that are already zoned for multi-family housing.
(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt thinks this all needs to be reviewed. She's disappointed that more of Broadway hasn't been included.
There's discussion about apartments, the 20,000 square foot minimum lot size that Arlington's current zoning requires, and how many of them are non-conforming and couldn't be built today. The group agrees that the Section 3A districts should leave room for future commercial growth around the existing business districts, but there are areas directly on Mass Ave and Broadway that are suitable for inclusion.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests removing the portion of the East Arlington district that's east of Henderson and Fairmont Streets. These blocks are near the Alewife Brook and Mr. Revilak is concerned about the future risk of flooding.
There's discussion about Arlington center. Ms. Aamodt favors including parts of the center in the multi-family district, while Mr. Baudoin isn't so sure.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the fact that the center has been left out implies that the area should be treated differently, perhaps with its own master planning effort.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton notes that we don't need to submit everything we rezone to the state as part of our certification of compliance.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees. He thinks that Lexington was particularly strategic about doing this.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau points out that we have a 3D sketch-up model of Mass Ave. He'd like to see us explore that model more.
(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin asks about the possibility of giving a presentation to the Chamber of Commerce.
(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke says she'd be amenable to that.
(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber thinks people understand that having more housing will be beneficial to local businesses.
(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke says that the Chamber of Commerce has a few members that are landowners, but most businesses in town don't own their properties.
(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says he understands the difference. Some businesses are property owners, and their business is their land.
(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke asks whether the board is trying to meet the requirements of the law, or go beyond them. She doesn't understand why the town would do more than the minimum amount required.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says the working group is inclined to do more than the minimum, and he thinks there's public support for that.
There's discussion about this topic, where it's noted that the multi-family districts can evolve over time. In the future, we might add areas in, or take areas out.
(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke acknowledges that a lot of people have said they support commercial vitality, but she questions whether they understand what it takes to really help businesses. She'd like to see future survey questions that get into some of those details.
(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt asks if Arlington has the capacity to support more businesses.
(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke says she's received calls from several commercial realtors who are looking for space, preferably places with second-generation kitchens. She says there are businesses that want to come to Arlington, but they end up going elsewhere because there aren't suitable spaces here.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker has heard the complaint that some of Arlington's commercial spaces are poor quality. The big question is how to turn them over.
(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt thinks there's an argument for clustering commercial uses in certain areas. Mass Ave is 3.5 miles long, and there are about 20 New York City blocks in a mile. She believes Arlington lacks the capacity to support that much commercial, and thinks we need to be more realistic about what we can support.
The group discusses the next set of map changes to request from Utile. These include
- Having two different height limits, with higher buildings along Mass Ave, and lower shorter buildings behind it. We'll start by assuming a maximum of six stories on Mass Ave, and four stories behind. These provide differentiation in scale, and are taller than Arlington's typical three-story homes.
- Leaving the district footprint as-is, with the exception of (a) removing parcels that overlap with the Arlington Heights Business District, and (b) are east of Henderson and Fairmont streets.
- Asking Utile to calculate the number of dwellings currently in the district, so we can understand the delta between district capacity and what's there now.
- Including parcel lines within the multi-family district, rather than shading over the entire area.
(Teresa Marzilli) Ms. Marzilli says it will be helpful to have ways to explain these choices, especially when we get to the stage of doing advocacy.
(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt suggests avoiding existing R2 districts that are already built out, and focusing on R1 instead. For example, Bates Road is zoned R1, and could be used to bridge the areas along Mass Ave and Broadway. Likewise, there are a number of R1 areas around the Thompson school.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that Utile is working with a number of different communities, so we'll have to be judicious with what we ask them to do.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks we're really going to need 3D drawings when we present this proposal to the public.
(Teresa Marzilli) Ms. Marzilli has been working with the Housing Corporation of Arlington (HCA). HCA has been doing their own outreach and engagement, but had questions about Broadway and Mystic Street. Ms. Marzilli summarizes some of the engagement opportunities we have lined up. These include
- The Housing Corporation of Arlington
- Arlington EATS
- The Arlington Reservoir Concert Series
- The front table at the Robbins Library
- Holding office hours in the library
- Having a booth at the Farmers Market
Ms. Marzilli suggests going back and checking in with some of our key stakeholders. We'll also need things like flyers, a QR code survey, ways to collect feedback as we refine the map, yard signs, and postcards. We can partner with Joan Roman to create a Facebook page, but it will have to follow the town's social media policy. In other words, the Facebook page would be a place to disseminate information, but not for back and fourth discussions.
(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber says she's working on a one-page flyer. She thinks the same kinds of display materials could be used for both the library and farmers market. We just need to sit down and work them out.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says he's been working on an update to the meeting in a box. He notes that we won't have another meeting for two weeks, and he'd like to release the materials before then.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak makes a motion that the outreach team be authorized to produce new meeting in a box materials, which can be posted to the town website when the outreach team thinks they're ready.
The motion is unanimously adopted, which means the materials should be available by the end of the week.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak hopes the survey report can be posted to the town website in the near future. He thinks we've gotten a lot of useful feedback, and he'd like to keep public comment in the center of the conversation.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker agrees that the report should be posted. Her department is currently short-staffed, and that's been the main barrier to getting things posted on the town website. Ms. Ricker says that her office has gotten a large number of public records requests for working group materials. These include the different versions of the draft map, and the sign-in sheets from June 8th.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to see the group have a discussion about resident-submitted maps. These take a lot of work to do, and he thinks that residents who've submitted them deserve to have their work discussed.
(Teresa Marzilli) Ms. Marzilli asks if we're planning to send abutters postcards.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests waiting until the map is in a more final state.
The next working group meeting will be held on July 11th, in the APD community room. It will be a hybrid meeting.