Precinct 2--4 Community Meeting - Apr 7th, 2019

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I attended a community meeting for precincts 2--4, which was held in the Hardy School cafeteria. In introduced myself as the citizen petitioner for article 16, and offered to try my best to answer questions about zoning articles on the warrant.

Kate Leary gives introductions.

Judd Pierce distributes handouts, and gives a presentation on the Arlington High School rebuild project. Much of the work is being done by a nineteen-member committee. After two years of effort, we've just completed the schematic design phase. The MSBA should vote on our design proposal soon, which will be their blessing for us to move forward with the project. At special town meeting, we'll be asked to approve the bonding for the project. If successful, the town will hold a special election in June for the debt exclusion.

The rebuild will not involve the use of modular classrooms. Instead, the new school will be phased so we can use the new facilities once the first two wings are built. The new high school will accommodate 1755 kids. It will have more adjacent and common spaces, and fewer hallways than the current school. The new school will provide better facilities for performing arts and athletics, as well as a new athletic field. There will be bicycle access via Summer St. and the Minuteman Bikeway.

Comment: This is a Rolls Royce high school. Can we afford it? Why is it costing so much?

Money is a key element. We're asking for a debt exclusion (tax increase) to cover the costs. The site has several complicating factors, and that adds to the cost. In Boston, construction costs are increasing at about 4% year-over-year. If we wait a year, the costs will go up, and the project will be more expensive.

Bill Hayner states that he's an educator, and that he's cheap. If the town doesn't approve the override, we'll have to start the application process all over again. Mr. Hayner states that MSBA is a great watchdog and has been diligent about making sure our architects prioritize educational use. We can't fix what we have, and with the number of student's we've got, we can't build it any cheaper.

Question: are any of the elements unnecessary?

Comment: It's just so much more expensive than recent school rebuilds.

It turns out that Belmont recently rebuilt their high school, and ours will be less expensive than theirs.

Rachel Stark states that we should keep our historic buildings and stop tearing them down. She believes the plans for the new high school don't make sense, and never did. Someone responds with disagreement. Our students don't care about the building facade; they care about what's inside. It's not fair to make them attend classes in the building that's falling apart.

Question: Is this debt exclusion a normal debt amortization? Is there any information that shows when the spending will take place, along with the repayment rates?

The building committee is working to put this information together.

Someone asks about the schedule for the override vote. In April, town meeting will vote on whether to authorize the bonding. If this passes, we'll have a town election on June 11th, to vote on the debt exclusion. If that passes, we can move forward.

Mr. Hayner points out that the MSBA will not cover certain building costs, requiring the town to pay 100% for those items.

The town has not selected a contractor yet. Construction should start next year, and finish four years after that.

That concludes the presentation on the high school rebuild. The group makes a list of other items for discussion. These include:

  • Zoning
  • The change to job classification for the police chief
  • Reducing debate time at town meeting

I described the articles in five points:

  • Our current bylaw requires 15% affordable units for projects of six units or more. That provision stays as is.
  • Article 16 will add a requirement for 20% affordable units for projects of 20 units or more.
  • Projects of six or more units that build the minimum required number of affordable units will not be eligible for new density bonuses, which are listed in the new section 8.2.4(C)
  • Projects of six or more units that build more than the minimum required number of affordable units will be eligible for density bonuses.
  • Projects of 4--5 units will be eligible for the density bonuses. The intent is to allow more multifamily development on smaller lots, which may not be able to accommodate six or more units.

Someone asks about the definition of affordable. In our bylaw, affordable means that a person can't pay more than 30% of their income for housing. There are also income restrictions: rental units are limited to people making 60% of the area median income. Owner-occupied units are limited to people making 70% of the area median income.

Someone asks whether the affordability restriction lasts 20 years. Our ZBL requires affordable units to be affordable in perpetuity, which translates into 99 years.

Jennifer Susse states that in addition to looking at what the affordable housing article might do, we also have to look at where we are now. Our elementary school enrollment won't continue to grow forever. The families will kids in the elementary school will eventually stop having kids. But the current class enrollment will continue to move through the schools. Our town has very few residents in the 20--32 age bracket; housing diversity will help that. Ms. Susse believes that the school district can handle any additional enrollment from new housing.

Comment: We're not requiring developers to do enough. Seventy years ago, there were way more households and way more kids. I don't think there's enough protection.

Elise Selinger states that she moved to Arlington last summer, and that she generally supports these articles. She's glad to see the changes are proposed with an affordable housing component. Inclusionary units are deed restricted, so they're protected against market rate rent increases. Ms. Selinger is a member of the Housing Plan Implementation Committee and recently started learning about the master planning process. She points out that development of these units will be subject to special permit review by the Arlington Redevelopment board. Perhaps the town could own some land and redevelop it. That would be a cool.

Adam Auster wants to push back against the idea that this process was rushed. Getting the final wording by early April would be good by Arlington standards. Twenty years ago, it seemed like the ARB was giving things away, but not now. Mr. Auster believes there's been a high level of transparency.

Someone asks if zoning amendments require a two-thirds vote of town meeting. They do.

Someone notes that there's pending legislation that would allow zoning changes to be passed with a simple majority, rather than a two-thirds vote.

Mr. Auster points out that proposition 2-1/2 limits tax increases, but exempts new growth. Since new growth isn't subject to proposition 2-1/2, that gives municipalities the incentive to permit development.

Next, we talk about the proposal to remove the police chief from civil service. The town manager believes this will broaden the applicant pool. Chief Ryan took the job on the condition that it would be a civil service position; he felt that it strengthened the position, and made it more independent.

Next, we discuss the proposal to allow all legal residents to participate in town elections. One of the attendees recently became a US citizen. She points out that 10% of the town's residents are legal aliens and green card holders. These folks can't vote in town elections.

Precincts 2--4 decide to make this a tradition: to hold a community meeting the day after town elections.

Susan Stamps talks about proposed changes to the tree protection bylaw. The size of a protected tree would be reduced from 10" DBH to 8" DBH. Developers would lose the opportunity to replant trees that were removed from the lot setback; they'd have to pay into the tree fund instead.