Precinct 8, 10 Annual Gathering - Apr 22nd, 2018

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Precincts 8 & 10 organized a gathering to discussion warrant articles for the upcoming town meeting, and town issues in general. This was held at the Senior Center.

Christian Klein opens the meeting and goes over the agenda.

Town Moderator John Leone gives a brief introduction to town meeting and town government. Town meeting is a form of government that goes back to before the revolutionary war.

Christian Klein leads a review of the articles.

The first five warrant articles are fixed: an article to hold town elections, the state of the town address, receiving reports from committees, nominating the measurer of wood and bark, and nominating the assistant moderator.

Articles 6--20 are bylaw amendments; 21--27 are different votes; 28--47 are town appropriations. Plus, there are seven more articles for a special town meeting.

We move from article summaries to questions and answers.

Question: Does anything address the sales and local taxes changes in federal tax laws?

No, nothing we're aware of at the local level.

Question: What about article 27? I don't see a main motion in any of the committee reports.

The finance committee didn't report on article 27. They plan to amend their report with a no-action vote.

Question: What's the vacant storefront registry?

The landlords are required to register vacant storefronts, pay an administrative fee, and to perform routine maintenance on their properties. This isn't a fine, it's just an administrative fee.

Comment: Even if commercial properties aren't occupied, the owners still have to pay property taxes.

Question: Some articles deal with position reclassifications and collective bargaining agreements. How do you know how to vote?

We get recommendations from town officials, like the HR department. Town officials will also be there to answer questions. We generally rely on the town to make a good faith effort in collective bargaining agreements.

The town's five year plan anticipates the effects of collective bargaining agreements. The town also revisits position classifications at least every five years.

Question: How much revenue does the town get from liquor licenses?

The fee is something like $2,500--5,000/year, per license.

Next, we turn to town issues.

High School Rebuild. (Scott Lever) The high school rebuild will be a big issue for the town. We're working with MSBA, and currently in the feasibility study stage. See https://ahsbuilding.org/ for information about the project. The next public meeting on the AHS rebuild will happen on June 4th.

Enrollment growth is a key driver. The project should be finished by 2022--2024.

The town will identify 3--4 concept designs, submit these to the MSBA, and then work on design specifics.

Cost estimate is somewhere around $300M. The MSBA should fund 40--45% of this cost. The town will have to ask residents to approve a debt exclusion. There may also be additional operating costs (e.g., for more staffing).

(Brian Rehrig) This undertaking is very much driven by state process. The conceptual designs cover how the buildings are arranged on the site, massing, parking, and general space utilization. We're considering re-using parts of the existing building, in order to get more bang for the buck in terms of cost and usability.

Brian encourages people to attend the public meeting on June 4th.

Question: What about parking? That could be shared between the town and school.

The architects are looking at this aspect.

There's also a DPW yard renovation in progress. Their facility is adjacent to the high school athletic fields, and the two groups of architects are talking to each other.

Question: What about energy efficiency and environmental guidelines?

Energy efficiency is a big part of the design. An energy efficient building will have a lower operating cost. Town bylaws require the building to be LEED certified (at least).

Question: How long will the debt exclusion last?

Probably 30 years.

Comment: When projecting future tax bills, it would be nice to see a quantile breakdown, rather than an average expected increase.

Comment: I hope the town holds the override in October, when people are around, rather than June or July.

Question: Who was the architect, and how were they selected?

The town received seven proposals and HNFH was selected. They also did the Thompson school, and Cambridge Ringe and Latin.

Question: What's the expected lifetime of a school building?

We expect a lifetime of around fifty years, with a peak enrollment of 1700--1800.

Question: If the town winds up with too much space, could they lease it out, and then take it back if enrollment increases?

The school committee is considering this, but it's out of scope for the design committee.

Question: What about contingencies for hazardous material cleanup?

This has been a consideration. It's a former industrial site, and the football field is capped.

Question: Is there anything in the capital plan for the senior center? The town doesn't budget money for the Council on Aging's transportation programs. Also, the Senior Center lacks handicapped access.

The capital plan includes $4M for improvements to the senior center.

Question: Does the high school design include community-centric spaces?

No. Due to site constraints, we're trying to move non-education uses elsewhere.

Comment: During the last public meeting about the high school, a number of people were interested in more public and inclusive spaces. But the MSBA won't pay for that.

Question: Will there be a pool?

No, not at this site.

Mugar Property. There was a 40B proposal to build 219 units on the Mugar site. This is currently in litigation. The developers knew the project would be contested, and only provided enough information to file their comprehensive permit.

Debt Exclusion and Operating Override. Arlington's last operating override was in 2011, and was expected to hold us over for three years. We've been able to stretch it out until now; the 2011 override will likely get us through another year or so. The town saved a lot of operating expense by going into the state GIC program for health insurance. The GIC allowed us to avoid another operating override.

The town recently approved a debt exclusion to pay for the Thompson school rebuild. The high school will require another debt exclusion. We have some exempt debt on the books, which will come off before then.

We can't get away from enrollment increases. At the very least, new residential construction adds to the tax base.

Residential and Commercial Development. The town recodified its zoning bylaws. This year, we'll work on the master plan implementation.

The residential study group wasn't able to come to consensus on any zoning articles for this year. The group may be the ones who wind up studying the demolition delay proposal on the warrant. The residential study group is also interested in bylaws regulating rock removal, loosening regulations on in-law apartments and promoting energy efficient construction. We'd also like to close loopholes in the building code.

Question: What's the rock removal bylaw?

It comes out of a construction project on Irving Street. A developer removed a large slab of ledge to make room for a house.

Question: What about limiting the size of homes?

There's pressure on both sides of this issue. It's a balance between developers and homeowners who want to expand, and residents who don't want the construction.

Question: Can we increase our tax base on the commercial side?

The Master Plan Implementation Committee will look at recommendations for commercial development.

Question: There's lots of new development on route 2, in Cambridge, on the other side of the Mugar property. But there's nothing happening on the Arlington side. Has Arlington been opposing this development?

Yes.

Election Participation. Our town elections have a low turnout. It was 15% in the most recent election.

Comment: A brief primer on town government might help. The League of Women Voters put together a set of materials to encourage voter participation.

Comment: The local press should put more effort into covering local elections.

Comment: Personal contact makes the most difference, but it's also the most labor-intensive approach.

Comment: Local elections and decisions have a very immediate effect on our lives. Much more than what happens at the federal level.

Question: Why do we vote on Saturdays? Should we consider changing this?

The election date is set in the town bylaws.

Comment: Today's Globe had a great article on Town meetings across Massachusetts.

Question: Who can we contact about worn out crosswalks?

Try the town's question and answer center. You can also contact the transportation advisory committee.

Question: What about monitoring of the new speed limits?

We'll have to ask Chief Ryan during the budget debate.

Question: Can the DPW be asked to really clear intersections? Sometimes, the snow gets piled up and prevents people from getting into the intersection. This is a hazard for the elderly, and people who use walkers.

Comment: New paving leads to faster traffic. Traffic calming on Jason Heights is a big concern.

The DPW says there are plans to add traffic calming.

Question: How can residents and town meeting members keep in touch with one another? There are about 40 people here, but there are over 4,000 residents in precincts eight and ten. Should we hold more meetings like this?

It would be nice if town meeting itself held a follow-up, to connect with residents.

Comment: The next time I get a notice about a meeting like this, I'll bring my neighbors.

Comment: The Arlington Chamber of Commerce puts together "Welcome to Arlington" packets and gives them to realtors. Perhaps those packets could include information about town elections and town government.