Precinct 17, 21 Meeting - April 21st, 2021

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

Article 24 - Ranked Choice Voting

Greg Dennis presents. RCV is intended to avoid issues with vote splitting and multi-way races where the winner receives less than 50% of the vote. This is a home rule petition. If town meeting approves, it will still need favorable action by the state legislator. It will also be posed as a ballot question, giving the voters final say.

Someone asks what's different than last year's proposal. The main difference is in the way that multi-seat elections are handled. Last year's proposal would have used a proportional system, like Cambridge. In this year's proposal, each seat would be treated as a separate contest.

Someone asks about the process in the state legislature. The home rule petition would likely be voted on by the Joint Committee on Elections, and then go to the governor for approval.

Articles 12, 85, 86

Rajeev Sonja summarizes articles 12, 85, and 86, which were inserted at the request of the Human Rights Commission. All of these are resolutions.

Article 12 proposes to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day. This was motivated by Christopher Columbus's acts of genocide against indigenous peoples.

Article 85 is a land acknowledgment. An acknowledgment of native lands would be read at the beginning of each public meeting.

Article 86 adds a celebration of Juneteenth. Rajeev says this has no impact from and HR perspective.

Al Tosti points out that creating new public holidays entails a substantial cost for employee pay.

Article 38 - Energy Efficient Homes on Non-Conforming Lots

Ryan Katofsky of the Clean Energy Future Committee Presents. The CEFC was tasked with drafting a plan that would allow Arlington to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions. Today, all homeowners can rebuild the above-ground part of their home. 28% of homeowners can't rebuild the foundation, and this greatly reduces their ability to rebuild energy efficient homes. Article 38 would allow basements to be rebuilt on non-conforming parcels, as long as the new home was highly energy efficient. It must be rebuilt within the same building footprint.

One attendee says that energy efficiency has a paradox that leads to more consumption. Ryan responds by saying that energy-efficient homes are such an improvement over older homes that it would be difficult to waste that much energy. A person who buys an efficient car doesn't necessarily start driving twice as much, simply because their vehicle is more efficient.

There's a question about non-conforming lots that are larger than 5000 square feet. Ryan notes that lots can be non-conforming for several reasons. For example, a lot on a hill can be non-conforming because our open space regulations require open space to be flat, and there's no flat space on the lot.

Someone asks if this article could create new buildable lots. Ryan says no, it only applies to lots with existing principal structures.

Article 43 - Accessory Dwelling Units

Barbara Thornton presents. This article received a favorable vote from the Redevelopment Board, and has been endorsed by the Select Board and Envision Arlington's Diversity Task Group. An ADU is an independent living space in a house, or a separate accessory structure. She feels this article is an improvement over the one that was passed in 2019. It prohibits ADUs from being used as short-term rental housing. 34% of Arlingtonians live alone, and there aren't enough single bedroom apartments and condominiums to fill that need. As a result, these folks have to live in larger homes than they need, which makes the home unavailable to those who need more space. We need more housing, at a greater variety of price points. ADUs cannot be sold separately, and the owner must reside in the ADU or main house at the time it's constructed. There wouldn't be any additional parking requirements for ADUs.

Lori Leahy says she's all for creative solutions to help people age in place, but she thinks Article 43 allows ADUs that are too large. She's also concerned about organizations like the Housing Corporation of Arlington building lots of them. She's in favor of more housing, but is concerned about safety. She's concerned that ADUs will allow boarders. She believes that ADUs will be allowed in any type of building, even apartments, and even in the industrial district.

Barbara says she's spoken with the building inspector and fire chief. The fire chief's main concern was in getting the correct address in the event of an emergency. She says that building, fire, and safety codes will apply to ADUs, and they'll get the same building inspections as other types of construction. She urges people to use the town's Request/Answer center to report safety violations, if they observe them.

Steve Revilak says that in any other circumstance, an individual or organization can own as many residential properties as they want. They're also allowed to rent them without restriction on who the tenant is. Article 43 simply treats ADUs like ordinary residential rentals. He notes that our Zoning Bylaw already allows up to three boarders per residential dwelling. Article 43 would only allow ADUs in single-family homes, two-family homes, and duplexes; it doesn't allow them in apartment buildings. ADUs would have their own entry in the use tables, and Article 43 does not allow them in the industrial districts.

Article 34 - Marijuana Uses

Eugene Benson presents. The Cannabis Control Commission changed their regulations, and municipalities have to comply with them. They introduced a use called "Marijuana Delivery Service", and Article 34 adds this use to our local regulations. Arlington has a limit of three marijuana establishments, and we already have two.

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, or yard setbacks. Instead, it 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 to the mix allowed the financing to work out.

On the sustainability side, there'd be requirements for planting street trees, making the 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 allowed 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.

Don Seltzer says that residential uses were snuck in at the last minute, and he expects them to be the dominating use. The article doesn't require open space for residential. He says this will be a developer's dream, and that Arlington's dwindling industrial districts will be chopped up into little pieces.

Steve Revilak responds by saying there was a tradeoff. We added residential in order to make redevelopment economically viable. Allowing bigger, taller buildings would have been another alternative, but we decided against that early on in the process. It's a tradeoff.

Article 7 - Rock Removal Requirements

John Burkhardt speaks in favor of Article 7. He says it would allow rocks to be removed by blasting instead of chipping. He shows several large rocks that were thrown into his yard by a chipping excavation, and asks people to vote in favor.

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.