Precinct 1, 3, 5, 7 Fall Meeting - Nov 16th, 2022

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Fall meeting of precincts 1, 3, 5, and 7, conducted via remote participation.

Sustainability and Related Topics

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon begins with an update on the town's clean heat warrant article. During the pandemic, town meeting passed a warrant article that would have required electric heat for all new construction and substantial renovations. The article was a home rule petition, which the state legislature would have to adopt. Representative Garballey and Senator Friedman were working to move this forward. Several other communities adopted similar home rule petitions, so the state passed legislation allowing ten towns to pilot the program.

There is a catch with the state's pilot legislation: it requires communities to meet certain affordable housing requirements, which Arlington has not met. To be participate in the pilot, communities must meet these requirements by February 2024, and Arlington's only pathway is to adopt MBTA Community zoning by then. This is likely to come up during a special town meeting in the fall of 2023. If we're not able to adopt MBTA Community zoning in time, then some other community will take our place. Salem, Boston, and Somerville have all applied to be part of the program.

Mr. Hanlon moves onto Municipal Stretch Codes. The state is considering a new net zero stretch code, and we can expect this to come before town meeting. The net zero stretch code will require all large houses (where large means more than four thousand square feet) to be all electric, or to achieve net zero by generating energy on site (via solar panels, for example). Larger apartment buildings (12,000 square feet or more) would have to meet passive house standards.

There may be a Green Municipal Buildings article, which will set standards for new municipal construction.

Finally, Arlington is doing an electrification project, to give people advice and assistance on how to electrify their homes, install heat pumps, and so on.

Mr. Hanlon pauses to take questions.

(Roderick Holland) Mr. Holland says he's having heat pumps installed in two weeks. He says he lost the context for the all electric installation, and asks Mr. Hanlon to explain.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says the state is considering a specialized stretch code for low-rise residential and commercial buildings, along with multi-family housing. If adopted, large homes (over 4000 square feet) would either have to be all electric -- no fossil fuel combustion at all -- or be zero emissions houses, with tighter envelopes, and generating power on site. Mr. Hanlon says that from a practical perspective, net zero homes are harder to build than all-electric ones.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks about the difference between stretch codes and the green municipal buildings article.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says that municipalities have to opt in to stretch codes. Arlington has already adopted one stretch code, and we're considering a more stringent one. These codes apply to municipal buildings, but we have the option of electing to go beyond what the building code requires. He says we're looking at ways to update the green standard we hold ourselves to.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks if the electrification project is being done by a group of volunteers.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says it's a new group, and one can find more information on the town website.

(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber asks if there's an update on the plastic water bottle ban.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says he's not sure of the status.

(Larry Slotnick) Mr. Slotnick says our bottle ban was approved and went into effect on November 1st. He says the Board of Health is the primary communicator to food and beverage retailers, and they've been talking to retailers about alternatives. But, the bylaw is now in effect.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says he talked with the owner of one establishment about the new bylaw, and they said they're going to take a financial hit because of it. He suggested they embrace the new policy, and let customers know they're working to protect the environment.

(Larry Slotnick) Mr. Slotnick spoke with the owner of another establishment, which happens to sell a surprising amount of bottled water. He says the Regent and Capitol theater rely on concessions for part of their income, and he'd love to find a way to enable them to sell water to their customers, but not using containers.

Housing and Related Topics

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the Planning Department is giving a presentation about MBTA community requirements tomorrow; he's hoping to attend and learn more.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak offers to explain the gist of MBTA Community requirements. As an MBTA community, we have to create a zoning district (or districts) where multi-family housing is allowed by right. Guidelines from the state say the district has to have a capacity of a little more than 2000 units. That's not 2000 additional units; it's 2000 units if the district was empty, and the housing was built from scratch.

Mr. Revilak said there was an earlier set of guidance from the state, that would have required the district to be near the Alewife T station. That's changed, and we now have the option of putting the district anywhere in town.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse notes that there are 175 MBTA communities in Massachusetts, and they're all working on this. Arlington isn't the only community affected.

(Vincent Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin asks if any areas of Arlington currently comply.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that "multi-family" means three or more dwellings on a single parcel. Three family homes aren't allowed by right anywhere in Arlington.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks how people would feel about having the Broadway Corridor be part of the MBTA district.

(Andrew Greenspon) Mr. Greenspon says he's generally a proponent of density, and he knows people who've been trying to find homes but can't afford them. Mr. Greenspon says that East Arlington is already dense, and he'd like to see the district spread out more across town. He's okay with having three-family homes on Broadway.

(Vincent Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says it sounds like the MBTA Communities will do more to increase diversity, rather than density. He says it sounds fantastic.

(Adam Auster) Mr. Auster says he'd like to see a lot more density along the main corridors. He thinks we can leave most of the corridor as-is, but allow more homes by right 1--3 lots in. He thinks this could help fuel more shops and businesses, and likes the vision.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says she's been listening to series of webinars about the MBTA Community requirements, which were put out by the state. She says they're very informative. The process is structured with several deadlines; as long as we meet those deadlines, we'll be considered in compliance. She heard there's a plan to bring this before a special town meeting, and understands there's a requirement to allow at least fifteen units/acre. She thinks this will be an asset to Mass Ave.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse thinks the planning department is doing the right thing in terms of time. They're starting to get feedback now, and it will be important to hear from people. We need this to pass in order to participate in the gas ban pilot. She says this is really a question of what's allowed by right. Since the 1970's, Arlington has only allowed one- or two-family homes by right. It's hard to build 3--4 family homes because of this; the extra requirements don't make sense for projects of that size.. This legislation is really about making sure that the 175 communities allow more housing by right, without people having to go through an expensive special permitting process.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says he lives near Broadway, and that this is not about allowing three-family homes by right. He's concerned that there will be illegal development, and the town will rubber-stamp it. He doesn't like the idea of Broadway being part of an MBTA district. He says the town did an older study that focused more on commercial districts. He think we need to have a serious conversation about what to do, and whether we want to comply. He also thinks that the cost for a special permit is small, and not a barrier.

(Larry Slotnick) Mr. Slotnick believes that some parts of Arlington already have a density of fifteen units/area. He says that the mixed use buildings being built are mostly daycare, since those are the kind of businesses with the cash flow to afford new spaces. He hopes that mixed use build outs can include some of the things necessary to have a restaurant.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak tries to give a verbal picture what 15 units/acre would look like. There are 43,560 square feet in an acre. A portion of East Arlington is made up of two-family homes on 5000 square foot lots. That's not quite 15 units/acre. The law refers to "gross density", which includes building lots, plus the space needed for roads and sidewalks. He thinks portions of East Arlington are definitely in the ballpark of that density.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner asks if ADUs count as part of a multi-family dwelling. He says we need to consider what the people of East Arlington would feel like if we change their quality of life. He says that larger buildings are more expensive, and cost more in taxes.

(Jennifer Litowski) Ms. Litowski lives in East Arlington and likes the fact that it's a transition between urban and suburban. She doesn't see any threat from apartment buildings, and likes seeing kids walk to school with their parents. She likes neighbors.

(Emily Zhu) Ms. Zhu doesn't think this is a big deal. There are already places in East Arlington that meet the density requirement, and she thinks we could allow multi-family homes there.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak wants to follow-up on the question about ADUs. He says that ADUs aren't considered part of multi-family housing. The guidance requires multi-family dwellings to be free of age and size restrictions, and our ADU bylaw has a size limit. It's his understanding that the size limits prevents them from counting as part of multi-family housing.

Overnight Parking Pilot

A few town meetings ago, there were voter-sponsored articles to establish an overnight parking permit program. These articles weren't acted upon, but our Select Board has expressed interest in conducting an overnight parking pilot.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the Select Board has been discussing the pilot, and whether or not to move forward.

(Jen Litowski) Ms. Litowski says that a pilot program will show short-term impacts, but not long term ones. That's not to say that the pilot program is a bad idea. She's just pointing out that pilot programs have their limitations, and believes that's something to keep in mind.

(Becca Persson) Ms. Persson says the Menotomy Manor Tenant's Association strongly supports the pilots. Tenants there are often ticketed for parking on the street.

(Rebecca Davis) Ms. Davis says she used to have an off-street parking permit. She suggests that snow emergencies are something to think about.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the Select Board was thinking about starting the pilot program in May, to avoid winter.

(Vincent Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin offers a potential consideration: someone might buy a car simply because they'll be able to park in the street. He suggests that on-street parking could be counted towards a developer's parking requirements.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says that hasn't been a direct consideration. In the long run, he'd like to reduce the need for parking by reducing the need for residents to own cars. He thinks that small, shared EVs could be useful, and notes that most cars are only used for a small portion of the day. They sit idle most of the time.

(Roderick Holland) Mr. Holland says he's gotten an unusual amount of constituent feedback about the parking ban, and most of it has been negative. He cautions Mr. Diggins to expect some negativity. Mr. Roderick says there were eight couples living in a two family home down the street, earlier in the pandemic. They had more cars than parking spaces, and there was a lot of informal on-street parking. Mr. Holland says this really didn't work well, and modified the quality of life for households in the neighborhood.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says he's opposed to lifting the town's overnight parking ban, and he believes that allowing on-street parking will just encourage developers to build bigger houses. He doesn't object to a pilot program, but thinks it should be town-wide and last for an entire year. Mr. Loreti says this question comes up every few years and never goes anywhere.

(Greg Dennis) Mr. Dennis would like to see the pilot applied to localized areas. Street aren't just for cars, but residents who want overnight parking on their street should have that option. He thinks the approach needs to be localized.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the Arlington Police Department will not like a street-by-street approach, because it will make parking regulations harder to enforce.

(Vincent Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says that street parking is usually free. He asks if the town could collect fees, and use them to fund a parking benefits district.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to see overnight parking fees set according to the value of the land, rather than fees that are intended to cover the cost of administering the program. He thinks the fee should be more akin to the cost of renting a parking space.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins said he suggested a higher price point for the fee, along with subsidies for lower-income households. He says the Select Board also considered parking benefits districts.

(Adam Auster) Mr. Auster says that parked cars serve as traffic calming on Henderson Street. He notes that ten years ago, the town had a ballot referendum on the overnight parking ban. Every precinct voted in favor of keeping the ban in place. He's in favor of the pilot. Mr. Auster thinks it will be a difficult discussion, but hopes we continue to have it.

Override Scenarios

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the Select Board hasn't made a decision about whether to call for an override vote in 2023 or 2024. He says he's met with the Long Range Planning Committee, who will have a lot of input into that decision. Right now, the choice looks like a smaller override vote in 2023, or a larger one in 2024, based on current projections. He says this will depend on a number of things, like inflation and interest rates. There's also a question about whether the state will be able to provide more funding to municipalities, since they took in more money than projected.

(Adam Auster) Mr. Auster asks about the form of the override vote, and how the Select Board might put the question to voters. Based on the efforts to adopt the Community Preservation Act, Mr. Auster believes that people have an appetite for spending on things they like.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the town generally follows an all-or-nothing approach to override votes, and so far, there's been no discussion about doing things differently. He says that overrides give the town surplus funds for a while, so it's possible to find a sweetener to put in. We need more Long Range Planning Committee meetings to work this out.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says the MBTA Community webinars talked about the idea of complete communities, where everything is within a fifteen minute walk. She thinks it would be nice to think about that holistically. The tree committee is starting to consider potential changes to the tree preservation bylaw, to prevent homeowners from taking trees down on their property. She asks people to let her know if they have ideas about tree protection.

Discussion with the Moderator

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana is putting a survey for Town Meeting Members together, which will include questions about how the Town Meeting web page is organized, and what the common use cases and navigation patterns are.

(Roderick Holland) Mr. Holland asks if Mr. Christiana has any thoughts to share regarding virtual vs in-person town meetings.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that state law doesn't provide an option for hybrid town meetings, and that the legal premise for remote meetings is solely based on safety. Town's can't hold virtual town meetings only for the sake of convenience, but the legislature may change this. He says that some towns, like Lexington, have filed home rule petitions to allow some form of hybrid town meeting. Arlington could do this, but we haven't started that process.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the state senate wanted to extend the remote participation provisions until 2023, but the house wanted hybrid options for everything. The legislature may do something about this in February or March.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that town meeting can't change it's start time on a whim. Our town bylaws state when town meeting begins, and specify an 8pm start for the first night; we'd need to amend the bylaw in order to change that. Mr. Christiana thinks it might be possible for subsequent meetings to start at different time, but he'd want to discuss that with town counsel. One of the survey questions will ask about start time.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner wants to congratulate Mr. Christiana on his first year as town moderator, but he thinks that this year's town meeting was not as successful as it's been in the past. He says that zoom meetings don't allow people to read the room, and he thinks that zoom is a bad format. It's incredibly important for democracy to have these meetings in person. Mr. Wagner notes that this year's town meeting went on for a long time, and he thinks we need a hybrid or in-person option.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says there are a lot of challenges in doing remote town meetings, including a compressed time-frame for getting everything set up. A hybrid meeting might cover more bases, but we need to figure out how to get there.

(Betty Stone) Ms. Stone says it was nice to have a fresh moderator. She notes that Arlington generally has one town meeting, which starts in April and goes for as long as it needs to go. She's learned that other towns, like Burlington for example, have several meetings throughout the year, with each devoted to a specific topic. They have a standard schedule of this. She asks if there's been any consideration of having a system like that.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana attended his first Massachusetts Moderator's Convention. He found it refreshing to see what other towns do, and says there are a lot of differences in the way towns run their meetings. Few use a speaker queue like we do; having lines at one or two microphones is more common. He thinks it can be worth shopping around for ideas.

Mr. Christiana agrees that Arlington's town meetings are very long; we're an outlier and we're known for it. Many towns finish their meetings in one night, and open town meetings tend to be shorter than representative ones. Arlington tends to have more articles and more debate. He asks if our meetings need to be that long, and says he might consider other options for voting. For example, some towns vote by using the "raise hand" feature in zoom. The length of debate and the number of articles are things we need to decide on as a community. It comes down to getting a better sense of what town meeting wants, and adjusting to those values.

(Jennifer Litowski) Ms. Litowski says this past year was her first town meeting, and she's looking forward to doing it in person. She thinks the hybrid option is important to pursue, especially for people with disabilities, or family responsibilities. She notes that Arlington is one of the larger towns in Massachusetts and we have a complex government. She asks how we compare against other large towns.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says we're on a short list of the largest towns in the state, but he suspects that the length of our meetings is more than a linear function of our population size. Our meetings run a lot longer, even in comparison to other large towns. He says that population, complexity, and proximity to urban areas might be an influence. It's possible that we could slim-down non-essential elements of town meeting. Mr. Christiana estimates that 1--1.5 nights of the last town meeting could be attributed to the time required to take votes.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins notes that Brookline has a tradition of having two town meetings per year. If we wanted to break meetings apart into a finer granularity, we'd need to find a way to do that.

(Rebecca Davis) Ms. Davis would like to encourage everyone to think about why we are an outlier, in terms of how long our meetings are. She says the length and duration of our town meetings is an obstacle to diverse communities, and the number of sessions will make her consider whether to run for a second term. She suggests varying the start time, and believes we can still have a robust debate without so many sessions.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana acknowledges that the pandemic has made the process longer and slower.

(Rebecca Davis) Ms. Davis thinks there can be a happy medium.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana suspects that virtual town meeting creates less of a barrier to speaking. In person, you have to get up in front of a few hundred people to speak. On zoom, it's just like any other zoom meeting; you raise your hand and talk. But it's up to town meeting to decide how much they want to debate.

Mr. Christiana asks how people feel about town meeting's level of preparation. He thinks it could be possible to have more preparation and less debate. Some people have different mindsets about how much debate to have.

Meeting adjourned.