Precinct 8, 10 Community Meeting - Apr 15th, 2019

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This meeting was held in the Common Ground function room. Christian Klein facilitated. It was a good crowd -- maybe 40--50 people.

Mr. Klein began with background information about town meeting. Arlington has 252 town meeting members, and their job is to debate and vote on warrant articles. Warrant articles are proposed during the winter, the main motions are finalized during the spring, and town meeting votes in April.

The first five articles consist of reports and appointments. Articles 6--25 deal with zoning. Many of the zoning changes were moved into Article 16. Mr. Klein gives a brief summary of each zoning article.

Articles 26--35 are general bylaw amendments. Articles 36--41 are votes, where town meeting needs to authorize something in order for the town to move forward on an issue. Articles 42--45 are home rule legislation. Articles 46--50 are acceptance of local option legislation. Articles 51--56 are endorsements, 57--77 are appropriations, and 78--79 are resolutions.

We'll hold a special town meeting, starting on the third night of town meeting. Special town meeting issues include the high school rebuild, the acquisition of a property at 25 Grove street, and appropriations for future zoning work.

Mr. Klein asks which articles attendees would like to discuss. Topics offered include the high school, zoning, the Mugar property, Civil Service, senior tax relief, dark skies, and the Grove Street Acquisition.

John Worden asks to speak about zoning. He believes the density zoning is the biggest risk that's come before town meeting in years. He states that the zoning would only affect 1% of the town, but it's the thoroughfare. He talks about large apartment buildings, and feels there's no benefit to people who live in Arlington now.

Mr. Worden states that the zoning articles will allow six story buildings. (That statement was not accurate; the maximum height allowed under the current bylaw is five stories, and none of the zoning articles would change that.) Someone from the back of the room calls Mr. Worden on this mistake.

I introduce myself as the citizen proponent for article 16, and offer to explain how it works. I tell the audience that there's a bit of a long story behind article 16, and I plan to tell the whole thing.

Article 16 was motivated by the increasing costs of land and housing in town, and my desire to start a conversation about that. I also wanted to start a conversation about the role our zoning laws play in housing cost.

My original proposal took our inclusionary zoning bylaw -- projects of six units or more must provide 15% affordable units -- and added another tier: 20% affordable units for projects of 20 units or more. That came alongside a series of multi-family articles that would have likely permitted projects of this size.

The Arlington Redevelopment Board felt the multi-family articles would be better off as density bonuses for producing affordable housing. Since I'd proposed an affordable housing article, planning department staff began working on how to revise the articles in that manner. The current version of Article 16 is the result of that process.

First, I explain the definition of affordability. Under our zoning bylaw, an affordable unit must be "affordable" to a renter making 60% of the area median income, or an owner-occupant making 70% of the area median income. "Affordable" means that the household spends 30% or less of their monthly income on housing. Our bylaw requires that inclusionary units remain affordable in perpetuity.

  • Projects of six or more units are required to make 15% of those units affordable. That's part of the current bylaw.
  • Projects of 20 or more units are required to make 20% of those units affordable. That's a new provision in the article.
  • Projects that produce the required number of affordable units are not eligible for the density bonuses listed in the article.
  • Projects that produce more than the required number of affordable units are eligible for density bonuses. That means 15% plus one, or 20% plus one, depending on the size of the project.
  • Projects of 4--5 units are eligible for the density bonuses. There's no affordability requirement here. This provision is intended to allow more smaller multi-family projects. For example, on lots that aren't able to accommodate six or eight units.

Michael Quinn asks if I can name a community like Arlington where inclusionary zoning and density bonuses have worked. I explain how my original proposal was influenced by an IZ bylaw that Somerville passed in 2016. Mr. Quinn felt that three years wasn't a sufficient amount of time to gauge the success in Somerville. I was unable to cite a concrete example of IZ success but stated I would try to find some. Mr. Quinn thought this would be good information to have at town meeting.

Don Seltzer points out that 4--5 unit developments require no affordable units. He believes that developers would be able to divide lots and avoid the affordability requirement. I use the proposed redevelopment of 10 Sunnyside avenue as a counterexample. 10 Sunnyside is a project currently under EDR review, which proposes to redevelop the site of a body shop with 26 units, on a 16,000 square foot lot. Subdividing would limit the project to 15 units rather than 26, which is a much smaller project.

Mr. Klein asks Mr. Seltzer if he'd feel better about the article if section (C)(2) were struck. ((C)(2) contains the language to give density bonuses to 4--5 unit projects). Mr. Seltzer thinks the article would be better, but that he'd still have issues with it.

J.B. Maxwell states that his area of town would be vulnerable if this article passes. This individual lives near some banks, and believes that a contractor could purchase the bank buildings and the abutting properties, and combine them. The bank could also sell their parking lot and turn that into apartments. J.B thinks this would be terrible for Mass Ave.

John Leonard states that developers were able to get around affordable housing laws by developing affordable units off site. He believes this happened in Somerville, but it may have taken place elsewhere in the state.

Patricia Worden states that last year's zoning recodification was an attempt to pull a fast one. I didn't catch the specifics of her argument.

Someone asks if affordable units are rental units or condos. They could be either.

Someone asks how long "perpetuity" is. It's 99 years.

Beth Malofchik states that she was horrified by the methods and message behind the housing forum held in January. She states that she loves trees. She's afraid of luxury condominiums being built around here, and casting shadows on her building. She believes the zoning changes are too generic and encourages people to vote against them.

We move on to Article 37, which proposes to remove the Chief of Police from Civil Service.

Michael Ruderman states that hiring under civil service means ascribing to a set of rules which dictate when a municipal employee can be fired. Jobs have posting requirements, and civil service positions prefer hiring high-ranking individuals from within a department. Civil service offers protections, whereby employees know how to do their jobs, and employers know how employees must be treated. There's mutual protection, for both the employee and the town. Mr. Ruderman believes this is a mutually beneficial arrangement, and argues for keeping these protections.

Sharon Shaylow (?) believes we need reform in the Arlington police department, and looking outside the department is the only way to get this reform. She states that the police office has a full-time public relations officer who submits favorable news stories to alternative news sites; she named one site specifically, but I didn't get the name. She was very disturbed when someone posted a link to one of these stories on the Arlington list.

Michael Quinn stated that he was the one who posted the link, and that he likes the news site in question. The two get into a brief back and fourth. Ms. Shaylow states that the police department sent a swat team to apprehend one immigrant mom. She'd like town meeting to direct the town manager to look outside when hiring the next police chief.

John Leonard states that years ago, the town manager changed the title of the Police Chief to the Director of Public Safety. Years later, we changed the title back. Mr. Leonard is nervous because Chief Ryan has moved on. He wonders what will happen when (Fire Department) Chief Jefferson moves on.

An attendee states that removing the civil service requirement would not preclude the town from hiring from civil service.

Another attendee states that employee protections under civil service are clear, however, it reduces the town's hiring options. They believe the town would be better off in having the ability to look outside.

We move on to Senior Tax Relief. Articles 38 and 43 are circuit breaker articles with means testing. The select board strongly favors their adoption.

A resident named Liz asks about the exemptions. She applauds the effort, but feels that it's hard to qualify for the programs. Moreover, the amount of tax relief is not very significant. Someone responds by saying we could to more, but this is a start.

A resident states that her tax bill went up $1000, and that the high school and budget override will make it go up again. She says we're a town, that she loves it here, and wants to stay. She states that she and her family have given to the town for 51 years and now it's time for the town to give something back in return. She likes the town becoming more inclusive, but she's devastated by the loss of chief Ryan. She states that no one ever enforces the two-hour parking limit on her street. She says she's not complaining; some of the changes are good, but some are cause for concern.

There's a few statements about the dark skies article. Basically, it would require outdoor lights to be aimed below the horizon, and not beyond the property boundaries.

Next, we're on to the acquisition of a property on Grove Street. John Worden states that the house is covered with siding, but it's on the historic registry and dates to the nineteenth century.

Michael Ruderman states that this article is a request to use eminent domain to acquire a property, because the property might be useful to the high school reconstruction. He believes there's not an overriding public interest in acquiring the property, which should be the standard for eminent domain takings. He's also concerned that the town could be penalized for attempting to take the property by eminent domain.

Pete Howard states that the finance committee will recommend no action on this article.

Next, we're on to the article that would authorize bonding to finance the high school reconstruction.

Brian Rehrig states that the high school rebuild is the biggest project, and the biggest investment that the town has ever undertaken. We are currently in year five of a ten-year project. The school building committee is holding a forum on May 21st to discuss the project.

The building committee spent two years weighing the options of rebuilding vs renovating, and concluded that renovation was not a practical option. The new school will be constructed in phases. Mr. Rehrig recognizes that some people were disappointed by this decision, but states that renovation would increase the project cost by at least $25M. He believes the current plan is the right option.

The current project is priced at $291M, and we have MSBA approval for the design. The project will be managed according to MSBA rules, which are both stringent and rigorous. Everything is driven by the town's educational plan.

Town meeting will be asked to authorize the borrowing. The MSBA will contribute between $83--86M, and the town's share will be $204M. The entire cost of the project cannot exceed $291M. There will be a town-wide debt exclusion vote on June 11th, to authorize the proposition 2.5 override.

John Worden states that tens of millions of dollars of that $290M are for town offices and town bureaucrats. He believes those offices could be moved elsewhere. Mr. Rehrig responds by stating that the comptroller, IT, and facilities offices will be moved out of the new school.

Josh Lobel is very disappointed that we cannot agree on the facts about the high school rebuild. He asks speakers to be careful about what facts they state. Mr. Lobel notes that the Thompson school was rebuilt several years ago, then expanded due to increasing enrollment. Keeping some administrative offices in the building offers a buffer, as those offices could be converted into classrooms in the event of increased enrollment.

Liz states that she's voted in favor of every education-related override for the last twenty-eight years, but that she plans to vote against the high school. She states that she supports the rebuild; the objectives are good but the process was entirely wrong. That's why she's voting against it.

Elaine Shay asks recalls when a high school rebuild was voted down in the 1970's. She thinks our school is the pits. It's a dirty, depressing nightmare and if the debt exclusion doesn't pass, our kids will have a crappy place to learn. She urges people to go for it, and to pay it forward for the kids in town.

Bill Burkowitz introduces the next portion of the meeting, where we'll discuss community concerns. He's impressed at the quality of the dialog here and would like to continue these sorts of discussions. He'd like to continue holding precinct meetings, and is interested in hearing other suggestions.

Comment: a few years ago, precinct 4 started a Facebook group. Google groups are also an option.

Question: Have you thought about holding meetings throughout the year? Maybe quarterly?

A number of people raise their hands in support of this idea.

Comment: Perhaps we could meet around the time warrant articles are being proposed.

Comment: I like the idea of having a mailing list for our precinct.

Question: What's a good source for accurate numbers in these articles?

Question: The turnout tonight was better than for past precinct meetings. Why is that?

Someone responds "because you're holding it on a weeknight rather than a Sunday afternoon".

Comment: I put up 20 signs to advertise this meeting.

Several attendees thought this was an effective way to advertise the event.

Comment: We have a neighborhood newsletter, which comes out three times per year. We can announce meetings there.

Mr. Klein states that the town posts a list of town meeting members on its website. Many of them have provided email addresses and phone numbers.

Liz thanks town meeting members who've come here tonight.

Comment: I live in a historic district. I think we need a really fundamental vision for the town. Our protections are looking very fragile.

Someone asks what the zoning appropriation money will be used for. Mr. Klein believes it will be used to develop a set of residential development guidelines.