MBTA Communities Working Group - May 30th, 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/32310/18?curm=5&cury=2023.

Review and Discussion of preliminary draft

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says there isn't a new map yet, but she hopes it will be provided in the near future. She asked Utile to model three-, six-, and twelve-family homes for massing and parcel sizes. She also informed them we preferred the East Arlington map for V1 more than the one for V2.

(Sanjay Newton, Working Group Chair) Mr. Newton says the first set of maps is to get people talking, and we'll go from there.

(Laura Wiener, Working Group) Ms. Wiener would like to see multi-family between our residential districts on Mass Ave. We have more retail spaces than we can fill, and she thinks we should allow some of them to become residential. Trying to hold on to them is just going against the market. Ms. Wiener suggests adding a few parcels on Mass. Ave. in East Arlington, across the street from CVS and Menotomy Grill.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says she could envision a transfer of development rights arrangement for commercial parcels, where re-developing a commercial parcel (as residential) in one part of town would allow residential parcels to be converted to commercial in another part, like Arlington Center. She thinks this would be hard to do, though. She notes that the ARB was fairly clear about not wanting to include existing commercial parcels in the multi-family district.

(Kin Lau, Working Group) Mr. Lau says we don't own the Walgreens site, but it makes good money. He thinks the RCN properties on Mass Ave are a good candidate for re-zoning. It would be a good place for a 24-unit apartment, and that scale works well both in terms of economics, and having an efficient building footprint.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker agrees that 24-unit apartments are an economically good configuration.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau likes mixed-income buildings rather than ones with only affordable housing. He's concerned there's a stigma attached to living in a building that's only low-income housing.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton thinks the desire for commercial vitality, as expressed in the survey, isn't the same as "don't touch the business districts".

(Steve Revilak, Working Group) Mr. Revilak isn't sure that support for commercial vitality is as clear cut as that particular survey question makes it out to be. Yes, many respondents expressed a preference for commercial vitality. However, the questions that got into specific strategies that might accomplish this -- locating multi-family housing in business centers, near commercial corridors, along commercial corridors, and incentivizing mixed use -- there was much less support. He thinks this could be a case of respondents liking an abstract goal, and being more lukewarm about the specifics that could help achieve it.

(Rebecca Gruber, Working Group) Ms. Gruber thinks this would be a good question for June 8th.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener thinks there's a lot of variety in what people mean when they talk about "commercial".

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like Utile to look at what lot sizes would be appropriate for 25-unit apartments, and what we could practically put on the 5000--6000 square foot lots we have.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton thinks that the number of units is something we should check at the end. He'd like us to focus on doing something that benefits Arlington, but at the end, we have to make sure it complies.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says our commercial space is a combination of old and new. Our empty shops are that way because they're old, small, and don't get enough foot traffic. They don't provide businesses with the opportunity to grow, unless they want to relocate. Our commercial spaces work well for small restaurants, nail salons, and hair stylists, and that's what many of them are. Mr. Lau thinks improving commercial vitality is a separate issue to address. The charter of Section 3A is multi-family residential, though the other stuff is related.

(Vince Baudoin, Working Group) Mr. Baudoin seconds the idea that the lack of foot traffic puts our businesses at a disadvantage. He sees some use for the older spaces -- they're less expensive than newer ones, and ideally, we'd have a mixture of both. He thinks we should consider expanding the business districts

There's back-and-fourth discussion about the barriers to building apartment buildings in Arlington. A main one is the minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet. The only parcels that allow this use and meet the minimum lot size requirements are in the business districts. Roughly once a decade, one of them these properties turns over and becomes an apartment. Examples are Arlington 360, Brigham Square, and The Legacy.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener suggests picking a parcel size, and asking Utile to model it.

Preparation for June 8th public meeting

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber drafted an email to town meeting members. She hopes it can be distributed to the town meeting member announcement list.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says he'll check with Town Clerk Juli Brazile about sending the announcement.

(Teresa Marzilli, DEI Department) Ms. Marzilli says that June 8th will kick off a fairly intensive month of engagement. They'd like to let people know what's coming, and what the next steps are. They suggest having printed copies of the meeting in a box materials for distribution.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton recalls that we discussed moving the location from the Community Center to Town Hall. He asks about the status of that.

(Teresa Marzilli) Ms. Marzilli isn't concerned about having enough space in the senior center. They note that the town hall auditorium can be very loud when you get a room full of people talking.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber says we'll need enough printed materials and maps. She assumes that working group members will circulate during the event.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton summarizes the rough agenda we discussed last week: opening presentations, group mapping exercises, and then report outs. He asks about having note-takers at each table.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that most of the Planning Department staff are available that night, and she believes we can have a note-taker at each meeting.

(Teresa Marzilli) Ms. Marzilli suggests setting norms for table discussions. They're of two minds with respect to having facilitators, vs letting tables manage the discussions themselves.

There's back and fourth discussion about the pros and cons of having table facilitators.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin suggests having neighborhood maps, where different tables work on different neighborhoods, rather than giving each table a map of the entire town. He'd encourage people to sit at tables where they're familiar with the neighborhood, but of course people could choose whichever one they're most interested in. There'd be three different maps: East Arlington, Arlington Center, and Arlington Heights.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker asks about rotating. For example, spending ten minutes on each area.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber is concerned that some areas might get more representation than others.

(Teresa Marzilli) Ms. Marzilli thought the tables would be more topic focused.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin suggests three topics: East Arlington, Arlington Center, and Arlington Heights.

Members of the working group brainstorm some of the questions they'd like groups to discuss. These involves concrete choices we'll be making in coming iterations. Topics include

  • What size buildings to allow by right
  • Whether to exclude parcels that are currently zoned commercial
  • Whether to incentivize mixed use in areas where it's not currently allowed (effectively expanding the business districts)
  • Being able to leverage future development for infrastructure improvements
  • Allowing buildings that are tall enough to require an elevator
  • Allowing buildings that are large enough to trigger the enhanced stretch code's passive house standards for multi-family housing.
  • Allowing buildings that have enough dwellings to trigger inclusionary zoning

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin suggests using visuals to frame certain questions. For example, we might include a few pictures of buildings, and ask people to discuss where the different buildings belong.

The group would like someone from Utile to be available to answer technical questions.

(Steve Revilak) Over the weekend, Mr. Revilak put together the data appendixes for the survey report. There are three sections: the first shows responses to the multiple choice questions along with some graphs. The second lists the main themes we identified by coding comments. The third contains all of the comments, along with the answers given for the corresponding multiple choice question.

Mr. Revilak has been collaborating with Marisa Lau on this work. He'll provide Ms. Lau with a draft of the narrative section by Thursday evening, so she can provide suggestions and feedback.

Mr. Revilak would like at least one more set of eyes to review the report. Sanjay Newton volunteers.

(Teresa Marzilli) Ms. Marzilli supports having a moderated question and answer section at the end. They suggest we need to think about ways to keep the public engaged.

Next Steps

Mr. Revilak, Mr. Newton, and Ms. Lau will work on the survey report.

Mr. Newton and Ms. Gruber will work on questions about sustainability.

Ms. Wiener, Mr. Baudoin, and Ms. Gruber will work on questions involving retail and commercial.

We'll need someone to give the introductory presentation, and explain how Section 3A's multi-family requirements apply to Arlington. Mr. Revilak offers to give a presentation on survey data, since he's familiar with it.

Meeting adjourned.