MBTA Communities Working Group - Jun 6th, 2023

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Meeting held in the first floor annex of town hall. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/32332/.

Preparation for June 8 public meeting

(Sanjay Newton, Working Group Chair) Mr. Newton says we have a big night this Thursday.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says she's received a new map from Utile, and it's in the process of being printed from her office plotter.

(Kin Lau, Working Group) Mr. Lau met with members of Inspectional Services, the Arlington Police Department, the School Superintendent, and High Rock Church for a round-table discussion about the multi-family zoning requirements for MBTA Communities (aka "Section 3A"). He says they were supportive, but wanted more information.

They asked how long it would take for the buildings to be built, and Mr. Lau explained that these are long-term changes, which will probably take place over 25--50 years. They also had questions about historic districts and the flood plains. The Superintendent said that having a spread-out district is good, because it gives the school district the most flexibility to buffer elementary school zones. He asked the Superintendent about school capacity, and was told that we're heading towards the peak of our school enrollment curve. There's an expectation that school enrollment will decline after that.

(?) Someone asks who'll be presenting Thursday night. Ms. Ricker and Mr. Newton will give opening presentations. Utile will give a presentation about the technical requirements of the new law, and Mr. Revilak will go over the survey results. We still need someone to introduce the table exercises, and go over the questions we'll be asking the public to answer.

(Teresa Marzilli, DEI Department) Ms. Marzilli asks if Utile will present the map.

There's discussion about who will present the map. Mr. Revilak volunteers to do this, since that's immediately after the presentation of survey results. Ms. Gruber will introduce the table exercises.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker asks if we want to make any changes to the way the map looks, for when we show it on Thursday night. Perhaps taking out the lot lines, so there's more emphasis on the general area of the district.

Ms. Aamodt and Ms. Gruber agree with this proposal, Mr. Baudoin disagrees.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the map meets the capacity requirements.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says these districts are smaller than the previous iteration, because they assume an average of four dwellings per lot.

(Laura Wiener, Working Group) Ms. Wiener suggests adding a key, to explain that the different district colors represent East Arlington, Arlington Heights, and Arlington Center.

(Sanjay Newton) For Thursday's presentation, Mr. Newton would like to focus on the general map, and some of the choices we have to make. He'd prefer to see us come up with multi-family districts that work for the town, and then check for compliance at the end.

(Vince Baudoin, Working Group) Mr. Baudoin thinks we need to know more about the rough assumptions that went into the map.

(Mette Aamodt, Working Group) Ms. Aamodt is concerned that people will assume that things are more worked out than they actually are.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker asks if the proposed districts should be shown in three colors, as they currently are, or just one. She'd given Utile direction to focus more on the corridor, and less on the three commercial centers.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt thinks the map looks less conceptual than it actually is.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton suggests having a single color. He also suggests giving each table a blank parcel map, and some of the conceptual maps from the survey -- the ones which show transit lines, parks, and so on.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says we don't have a way to show what the massing of these districts will look like. He'd like Utile to model what we could fit on 5000 and 10,000 square foot parcels, along with the massing of a four-plex, a six-plex, and a twelve-plex. He suggests having pictures to illustrate these different scales.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener doesn't like the idea of assuming an average of 4 dwellings per parcel.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt shares Ms. Wiener's concerns. She suggests providing each table with a current zoning map, for comparison.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests that we're working with areas and locations, and these can grow or shrike.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin notes that the proposed districts are set back a few parcels from Mass Ave. He asks about that.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says Utile did that on their own.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin suggests coming right up to Broadway and Mass Ave, with the exception of parcels that are currently zoned for commercial uses.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt has a general concern about the map looking more finalized than it actually is. On one hand, the public may like the map; this may force us to accept something we aren't completely happy with. On the other hand, if the public doesn't like it, then we could be forced to defend something we don't fully believe in.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin thinks the goal is to put out the map, in order to get useful feedback. This map shows a corridor approach. He thinks we'll get good feedback if we ask good questions.

(Steve Revilak, Working Group) Mr. Revilak is okay with the ambiguity. We didn't have a map at the last public forum, but we do now. That's something concrete that people can talk about and provide feedback on. He's also comfortable with assuming an average of four dwellings per parcel. Average means that some parcels will have more, and others might have less, and we want the public to help us figure that out. He thinks it's okay if four isn't the right average, and expects things to move around as we incorporate feedback about scale.

Next, we'll move to draft documents that working group members were asked to review.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt has comments about the survey narrative. She'd like it to say more about sustainability, and to have that discussion framed differently. For example, by mentioning that it incorporates smart growth principles.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak appreciates the suggestions, and asks Ms. Aamodt to send him a red-lined copy of the document, with the changes she's proposing.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton suggests tabling the report for now, so we can focus on the discussion questions for Thursday night.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests being more specific than "some planners say" or "experts say". He thinks those citations should have specific attribution, like "Our consultants from Utile say".

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt suggests removing the language about fifteen-minute neighborhoods.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin suggests a number of wording simplifications.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber suggests re-wording one of the questions, so it sounds more like a question, and less like a recommendation.

The working group members who drafted these documents would like time to incorporate these changes. There's agreement to send the changes to staff by 2:00 pm Wednesday.

There's a suggestion that the "size and scale" handout say that different densities are appropriate for different neighborhoods.

(Talia Fox, Planning Department) Ms. Fox asks what specific materials should go in the packets that are given to each table.

The group decides on

  • one 11x17 copy of the draft map per person. This will be for participants to keep.
  • one set of reference maps per table. These will include the current zoning map, a map of flood zones, a map of transit routes, and a map of historic districts.
  • one printed copy of the questions per person.
  • name tags

In addition, each table will have a large copy of the draft map, along with markers and sticky notes to provide comments.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt suggests asking people to draw bubbles on the map, showing where they'd like to see buildings of different scales.

Next, we discuss the format of the table exercises. The general outline is:

  • Introductions with an icebreaker question
  • Asking participants to spend a few minutes reading over the questions.
  • Asking participants to spend a few minutes discussing the questions in groups of two or three (e.g., by talking to the person next to them).
  • Having facilitators lead a discussion of the questions with the entire group.
  • Having report-outs from each table.

(Marisa Lau) Ms. Lau tells the working group that there will be a Google form, where attendees can provide feedback on the event.

Our next forum will (probably) be sometime in mid-July.

Next, we discuss what we want the draft map to look like. The proposed changes are:

  • Omitting parcel lines
  • Keeping roads on the map
  • Not drawing borders around colored areas on the map. Or alternatively, to have borders around every area that's colored.
  • Having the proposed districts extend all the way out to Mass Ave, or commercial properties on Mass Ave
  • Using a single color for the districts

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt says there are a lot of things we haven't discussed as a group, due to a lack of meeting time. She suggests having two-hour meetings instead of 90 minutes, in order to have more time for dialog. She feels the process has missed a few key steps, like an analysis and synthesis of existing plans. She'd like to bring in that element, in a more formal way. Ms. Aamodt also believes that town politics are looming over us like a specter and getting in the way of meaningful discussions. She'd like to invite the relevant groups or individuals to a future meeting.

(Teresa Marzilli) Ms. Marzilli reminds the working group that we'd created a spreadsheet of stakeholders to reach out to. She'd like us to continue reaching out to these groups in order to get more feedback.

(Claire Ricker) When taking this job, Ms. Ricker was told that it's incredibly difficult to pass significant zoning changes in Arlington, partially because of opponents that try to hijack the narrative. She believes that the warrant article about usable open space was an example of this. She saw the article as being about changing a policy that has a negative impact on some homeowners, but during town meeting it became the "people will pave over their backyards" article. This group does have to work within the open meeting law's structure and it can be tough to work that way. Ms. Ricker has a lot of concerns about the hijacking of narratives.

Next Steps

Working group members are reminded to send their revisions to staff by 2:00 pm Wednesday afternoon. After the public forum, we'll send around a poll to choose our next meeting date(s).

Mr. Revilak says that several working group members have provided edits to draft minutes. He asks that any other edit requests be sent directly to him.

Meeting adjourned.