Precinct 11 Meeting - April 22nd, 2021

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Held via remote participation, for the purpose of discussing warrant articles.

Article 35 - Industrial Districts

Steve Revilak presents. Arlington's master plan recommended an update to industrial zoning, which is what Article 35 tries to do. Industrial districts comprise 1% of Arlington's land area. There's little turnover, and most districts have very high land to value ratios, meaning that the buildings aren't worth very much, relative to the parcels as a whole. This article doesn't change the size of buildings that could be built -- the maximum height is still 52', which is 4 stories, or three stories if the building has a 26' ground floor. The article focuses on new uses, and sustainability standards for new construction.

Some of the new uses allowed are flex space, co-working spaces, breweries and distilleries, food production, and residential in mixed use. Residential was added late in the process, and is something we don't allow today. After coming up with the basic changes, we asked our consultants to put together a set of pro-formas, to make sure that redevelopment would be financially practical. In some cases, the answer was no -- a property owner would lose money by redeveloping. However, adding some residential allowed the financing to work out.

On the sustainability side, there'd be requirements for planting street trees, making buildings solar ready, having pedestrian friendly facades (i.e., no blank walls), and amenities like benches and public art. Several of the industrial districts lie along the minuteman bikeway, and we tried to take that into consideration. There's also a change for buildings that go up to the maximum height. Instead of requiring a step-back on the top story, the owner would have to install a green, blue or reflective roof, and do all stormwater management on site.

Jonathan Nyberg thanks the zoning bylaw working group for trying to be more flexible. He thinks that will ultimately make us more successful.

Article 91 - Declaration of Climate Emergency

Gina Sonder presents. Article 91 is a resolution that urges coordinated action on the climate emergency. She hopes this will motivate the town to take more concrete actions in the future.

Article 43 - Accessory Dwelling Units

Barbara Thornton presents. ADUs are small independent living spaces, which can be built in a house or an accessory building. Town Meeting almost adopted an ADU bylaw in 2019, but was a few votes short of the required two-thirds super-majority. Barbara thinks this article is better than the 2019 version.

She's had a lot of conversations with the building inspector, to make sure that he'd be on board with the new proposal. She thinks this will be a better article for homeowners that want to add ADUs. 34% of Arlingtonians live along, and there aren't enough one-bedroom units in town to accommodate them all. She says we need more housing, and more housing options, at lower price points.

Jonathan Nyberg says that Newton and Lexington passed similar ADU laws. During the first year, Newton permitted four ADUs and Lexington permitted six. He thinks we should try it, and make adjustments down the road if necessary.

There's a question about which districts ADUs would be allowed in. They'd be allowed in all of the R and B districts, but only in single-family, two-family, or duplex dwellings. Article 43 isn't changing any of the dimensional requirements like height, open space, or setbacks. There's also a six month delay before ADUs are allowed in accessory buildings. This provision was added to ensure that Inspectional Services had enough time to adapt to the bylaw.

Christine Carney thinks there are already ADUs in town, despite the fact that they're not allowed. She thinks it will be good to bring them out of the shadows.

Lori Leahy says she liked the 2019 article better. She thinks there are very few safeguards in Article 43. She doesn't like homeowners being allowed to build an addition in order to have an ADU. A condoized duplex could turn into a four-family home. She believes that people will pave over their lawns in order to add additional driveway space. She notes that when a home with an ADU is sold, there's no continuing requirement for the owner to live there; she says some town's don't allow that.

As a retired person on a fixed income, Lynette Culverhouse can't find much wrong with Article 43. She thinks it will help people age in place.

Steve Revilak wants to comment on two points: existing ADUs and driveways. He knows numerous people who've rented rooms in their homes. They're often boarding arrangements rather than ADUs, because the rental room doesn't necessarily have a separate kitchen. Our bylaws allow boarding by right in the business districts, and by special permit in the residential districts. It's hard to find homeowners that are boarding without a permit. Inspectional services can't simply go into a house a search for renters -- they need the owner's permission or a warrant, and homeowners have fourth amendment rights. He also can't picture the building inspector randomly stopping people walking into their homes and asking "do you own this house?" or "what is the nature of your relationship to this building?".

As far as driveways go, a homeowner can't simply pave over their lawn in order to add more parking. Our zoning laws have open space requirements. Open space excludes driveways, so you can't extend a driveway in a way that would violate open space requirements. There are other regulations; for example, a driveway cannot be more than 20' wide. A homeowner could add parking for an ADU, but they'd have to obey the same driveway regulations as anyone else.

Jonathan Nyberg thinks that making ADUs legal will remove the secrecy around them.

Article 44 - Parking Reductions

James Fleming presents. In the B3 and B5 districts, the redevelopment board can reduce parking requirements for commercial uses, if there's no ability to create new off-street parking. Article 44 extends this reduction to the rest of the business districts.

James compares two commercial parcels in town: a gift shop called Regina's (which has no off-street parking) and a Walgreens with a large parking lot. Per acre, the assessed value of Regina's is four times that of Walgreens. He argues that off street parking isn't the most productive or profitable use of space.

Jonathan Nyberg thinks this is a great idea. It shows adaptability of an old town that needs to stay current.

Article 46 - Teardown Moratorium

Lynette Culverhouse presents. The substitute motion adds several exemptions to the moratorium proposal. It would allow homes subject to the moratorium to be maintained, repaired, or rebuilt in case of fire or disaster. It also proposes a study group to determine the best long-term course of action. She thinks the moratorium will support the net-zero action plan, preserve mature trees, and be good for the environment. Around 24 single-family homes are rebuilt each year, along with 20 or so two-family homes. She thinks that building re-use is almost always less harmful to the environment. Part of the goal is to preserve the town's heritage. She believes the moratorium would apply to a little over 800 homes.

Jonathan Nyberg thinks that Lynette made some good points, but he's concerned about unintended consequences. He's a realtor, a landlord, and a part-time house flipper. He thinks this will make flipping more expensive, and the rebuilt homes will be more expensive as a result. This could penalize people who've been relying on their home as a primary nest egg. He thinks that adding historic designations to a few homes would be better. Less than 0.1% of Arlington's homes are rebuilt each year.

Topher Heigham asks what constitutes a teardown. Lynette says it would be the complete tearing down of a building.

Topher asks who would decide if a building was significantly deteriorated. Lynette thinks the building inspector would make that decision.

Steve Revilak notes that the planning department's memo for this article estimated that it would apply to many more homes than 800. He asks how the the planning department's calculations differed from Ms. Culverhouse's. Lynette says there were different interpretations of "footprint", and she's tried to clarify that in her substitute motion.

Lori Leahy asks why the moratorium would be two years. Lynette says that one year didn't seem like enough.

Joe Aluia thinks this would devalue the equity in these 800-some homes. He asks if this is worth it, for 20--25 teardowns a year. He wonders if there can be a different plan, one that doesn't create hardship.

Jonathan Nyberg says that in the 1950's, it wasn't unusual to for a family with 4--5 kids to live in a 900 square foot house. He says that younger buyers aren't interested in smaller homes. They want more space.

Article 48 - ADA/MAAB standards

Darcy Devney presents. The ARB has twelve categories that they evaluate during environmental design review. Disability isn't one of them. She'd like to see accessibility issues considered earlier in the process.

Article 69 - School Committee Member Stipends

Jennifer Susse presents. We pay stipends to Select Board members, but not to the School Committee. She thinks the proposed stipend is a modest amount that can be used for babysitter fees, and so on.

The article seems generally well-received.

Precinct 11 Voter Comments

There are no more warrant article presentations. Leba Heigham would like to open the meeting to precinct 11 voters, to hear what they have to say about the articles.

Joel Rothstein thinks there's a big push to build more housing in town. He says the town has limited capacity, and wonders if this will lead to an increase in taxes. He asks if there are, or can be, studies about this.

Leba says the school district doesn't have a steady influx of students. There are booms, and anything that gets built can contribute to the school population.

Jennifer Susse says that the current housing proposals are thoughtful, incremental, and prioritize smaller homes. She's not worried about their effect on schools.

Jonathan Nyberg says he sells plenty of big houses to couples without kids. They're more interested in having two home offices. He thinks that having new life in town is a wonderful problem to have.

Christine Carney thinks the master plan is a good planning document to start with. She says that Arlington had a lot more people in the 1950s, 60s, and 1970s. Her brother graduated from Arlington High in 1975, and there were something like 900 kids in his graduating class. The planning department is the best source of information on studies.

In addition to the master plan, Topher Heigham says there's a Long Range Planning Committee that works on five year plans.

Joel hopes that people look at the whole picture. He doesn't want Arlington to become another Cambridge.

Gina Sonder wonders if we've considered encouraging more commercial development.

Jonathan Nyberg says we're a bedroom community with a lot of dysfunctional commercial space on Mass Ave. He says we won't get more affordable housing or commercial development without changing our zoning.

Article 25 - Real Estate Transfer Fees

Jonathan Nyberg would like to say a few words about Article 25. He's on the Housing Plan Implementation Committee, who proposed the article. There's a need for more affordable housing in Arlington, but to get there, we'll need a way to pay for it. The idea is to put money into the affordable housing trust fund; that would give us the opportunity to buy properties and turn them into affordable housing. The real estate transfer fee would be between 0.05% and 2%. Other towns have done this. The basic philosophy is that people selling homes benefit from our high home prices. So it's okay to ask them, and people moving in, to pay a little. The fee would be split between the buyer and the seller. It would exclude properties that sell for less than $445k.

Christine Carney is concerned about taking funds away from seniors who sell their homes.

Lori Leahy says that select board will chose the specific fee, and they're currently leaning towards 1%. She doesn't think the article is specific in how the fee would be split.

Steve Revilak asks if the fee would apply to all property sales (e.g., apartment buildings and commercial property). He lists several high-value transactions that have taken place over the last two years. Those high-value transactions don't take place very often, but it would be nice to capture something when they do.