Precinct Meeting - P1, P3, P4 - April 8th, 2023

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Meeting held via remote participation. Much of the meeting consisted of warrant article presentations, and the ensuing discussions.

Article 10: Opt in to Specialized Stretch Energy Code

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps explains that the state has a regular building code. Several years ago, they developed a "stretch" code that municipalities could opt into. The stretch code requires higher levels of energy efficiency, and Arlington opted in a few years ago. Town meeting votes during the last few year have shown support for energy efficiency. The state has set of goals for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Arlington tried to pass a home rule petition to prohibit natural gas in new construction and substantial renovations, but the attorney general's office rejected the article, because it would have interfered with the state building code.

Under the specialized stretch code, new buildings under 4000 square feet would have to be all electric, or pre-wired for a future electric conversion. Buildings over 4000 square feet would have to be all electric. Multi-family buildings over 12,000 square feet would also have to be all electric. Ms. Stamps says that several communities have already adopted the enhanced stretch code, and Boston is considering it.

Question: What's the impact to building cost?

Ms. Stamps isn't sure, but she believes that lower energy costs make these buildings less expensive in the long run.

Question: Is this separate from the 10 community fossil fuel pilot?

The enhanced stretch code is separate from the fossil fuel ban; we'll be able to participate in the fossil fuel ban if Arlington creates multi-family districts for MBTA communities this fall.

Question: How will this affect our ability to build affordable housing?

We don't expect this to create obstacles for affordable housing developers. The Housing Corporation of Arlington's 10 Sunnyside ave project will be an all-electric building, built to passive house standards.

Question: Will gut renovations need to be all electric?

No, the enhanced stretch code only applies to new construction. If Arlington is able to participate in the fossil fuel pilot, we'll be able to require gut renovations to be all electric.

Article 12 - Three Year Moratorium on the Installation of Artificial Turf on Town Land

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein starts by explaining the origins of this article. Beth Melofchik was looking at Arlington's Public Land Management Plan, which recommended artificial turf for active uses. Jordan says that natural grass absorbs CO2 and he believes that artificial turf contradicts our Net Zero Action Plan. Ms. Melofchik started researching artificial turf and was disturbed at what she found. Artificial turf contains PFAS, aka "forever chemicals", and they're detected at higher levels in artificial turf fields, waterways, and athlete's bodies. PFAS are now suspected of causing brain cancer and possibly other deadly diseases. Six of these chemicals have been banned by the EPA. Artificial turf also gets hot in the summer, and that limits its use during warmer weather. Natural grass fields can be built with proper drainage, to allow playing after a rain storm.

Mr. Weinstein says the article received a recommendation of no action from the Select Board, but it will be re-introduced via substitute motion. The substitute motion will establish a study committee and prohibit the installation of artificial turf on town-owned land until the study is complete. He says it wouldn't prevent the use of existing artificial turf fields.

(Amos Meeks) Mr. Meeks says that PFAS are an issue, but doesn't see any connection between this article and the Net Zero Action Plan.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says PFAS have been researched for several years, and that the state doesn't allow CPA money to be used for artificial turf.

(Adam Lee) Mr. Lee thinks there will be proponents of artificial turf who will object to this article. He asks how far along Poet's Corner is, and whether this article will stop it.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein doesn't know. He understands the field is topped and may be contaminated. He believes the Poet's corner project involves a land swap with the Belmont Hill school, in order to build some sort of athletic complex. The Belmont school insists on using artificial turf for the athletic fields.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps suggests watching the recording of a Conservation Commission hearing where artificial turf was discussed, and says that the Commission's chair opposes it. She says there will be an Artificial Turf Forum at town hall in early May. She says that Concord has banned artificial turf for the last eight years.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein says that Boston is initiating a ban, as are other communities.

(Amos Meeks) Mr. Meeks asks why the Select Board voted no action.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says that the board was deferring to the Conservation Commission and Town Manager. The town manager has already put an artificial turf moratorium in place for the rest of his tenure. However, the Parks and Recreation Commission supports artificial turf, and believes it's low risk.

(Arthur Prokosch) Mr. Prokosch asks about the difference between the warrant article and the substitute motion.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein says the substitute motion is more specific than the warrant article.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says he supports the study committee, but expects the moratorium to be a point of contention.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein also expects the moratorium to be a point of contention. He thinks we know enough about it to call it dangerous and we need to know more before allowing it.

(Nandana Mewada) Ms. Mewada asks why the substitute motion wouldn't apply to the high school athletic field.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein believes the town has already committed to contracts to construct that field, and they didn't want to interfere with them.

Article 13 - Appointed Town Clerk

Someone asked for Article 13 to be put on the agenda, but there's no one here to present it.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins agrees with the conclusion of a study that the town did a few years ago, which recommended converting the Clerk to an appointed position.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse thinks that elected positions are appropriate when policy making decisions are involved. She says that most of the Clerk's duties are dictated by state law, and that it's more of an operational job.

(Jordan Remy) Mr. Remy says that as communities have added more and more laws, qualified people have become more important. He believes the Clerk's office should be part of professional administration. Appointing the clerk means that the position isn't limited to Arlington residents.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse says the current Clerk supports making it an appointed position. If town meeting votes in favor of this article, the change will still have be be approved by voters.

(Jennifer Litowski) Ms. Litowski asks why town meeting can't make this decision on their on.

(?) State law says the voters have to approve when an elected position is changed to an appointed one.

(Greg Dennis) Mr. Dennis says that many communities have professionalized the Clerk's position.

Article 14 - Strategic Plan for New Growth

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the Select Board voted no action on Article 14, mainly because of a memo from the Planning Department and ARB, which said this topic will be covered by the master planning process we plan to start in 2024. Mr. Diggins says that Article 14 would create a committee to study ways to increase new growth, and notes that more new growth would decrease the need for overrides. He's also like to see something done to create more workforce housing, because the cost of housing is making it difficult for us to hire school teachers. The Long Range Planning Committee is already seriously talking about the next override. Mr. Diggins says he talked to members of the ARB, DPCD, ZBA, and Board of Assessors when working on his main motion, and they all seemed enthusiastic at the time.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin thinks that a committee to study new growth would be a positive thing.

(Jordan Remy) Mr. Remy asks if this would just be a study committee.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins answers in the affirmative.

(Jordan Remy) Mr. Remy asks if Mr. Diggins had contemplated a larger study or a more formal plan.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says he'd consider that, if there was community support. He'd like to see development that helps us achieve some of the goals in our planning documents (the Net Zero Action Plan, and Sustainable Transportation Plan, for example), while also bringing in more growth and revenue. He thinks we should be able to do more than one thing at a time.

(Scott Mullen) Mr. Mullen asks if there are any concerns that the outreach for the last master plan was lacking?

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says no.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has the sense that his colleagues on the Redevelopment Board supported the idea of finding ways to encourage new growth, but the concerns were more about timing. He thinks the timing of the master planning process may be contingent on whether Arlington adopts MBTA community zoning in the fall. If we don't, we'll have to take another try, because we need to be compliant by the end of 2024. Personally, Mr. Revilak supports the article.

Article 29 - Downtown Business Parking Minimums

(James Fleming, via recorded presentation) Mr. Fleming says the town has minimum parking requirements for all businesses. His article would remove these parking minimums for business uses in the B5 district, which is located in Arlington Center. He says that retail uses require one off-street parking space per 300 square feet of retail, and size of a parking space and drive isle is about 300 square feet; this is nearly a one-to-one ratio.

Many commercial properties in B5 don't have off-street parking, and businesses that come in have no opportunity to construct it. The B5 district is along bus routes and the Minuteman Bikeway, and there are two municipal lots in the immediate vicinity. The zoning bylaw already allows a business to substitute parking space these lots with via a special permit; this article would allow that to happen by right.

Mr. Fleming says that special permits add time and cost when opening a business, along with adding uncertainty.

(Jordan Remy) Mr. Remy asks about the motivation for putting this forward.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that when a business opens they'll need to go before the ARB because their building won't have off-street parking. He wanted to make that special permit option by right.

(Jordan Remy) Mr. Remy asks whose initiative this was.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says it was his initiative, after watching ARB hearings.

(Chad Gibson) Mr. Gibson asks how the ARB voted.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says they voted in favor, 4--0.

(Chad Gibson) Mr. Gibson asks why the change only affects B5, and not other business districts.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that B5 is the only district with paid parking, including the municipal lots. The other business districts are spread out, and there's little in the way of demand management, like parking meters.

(Scott Mullen) Mr. Mullen says he's totally supportive. He thinks this removes an unnecessary barrier. He says that parking is access for a person to get somewhere, regardless of the mode of transit they choose to use. He notes that Arlington Heights has only three bicycle racks, but parking for over 100 cars. Having more bicycle parking would increase the capacity to bring people in.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins supports the article. He says the Boston MPO did a study of curbside use, and Arlington was part of that study area. He says there's a perception that people always drive to businesses, but that's not always the case.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka says she supports things that would help businesses. She asks if this would apply to new buildings.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming answers in the affirmative.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka asks if it would apply to mixed use.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says it would apply to commercial uses in mixed use, but not residential. Residential would still have parking minimums.

Article 30 - One- and Two-Family Usable Open Space

(James Fleming, via recorded presentation) Mr. Fleming says that usable open space is a continuous piece of yard that's 25' x 25' and generally flat, which is "for the enjoyment by residents". This article would remove the usable open space requirement for one- and two-family dwellings, and allow homeowners to decide how best to use their properties. He says that Lexington, Belmont, Winchester, and Waltham don't require usable open space. Medford has a usable open space requirement that's similar to ours, but it doesn't apply to single- and two-family homes.

This article would mainly affect older one- and two-family homes which don't meet the 25' requirement. On small lots, the usable open space requirements can prevent homeowners from adding modest additions, to adapt their home to meet their needs. He goes through a series of slides with examples of homes and yards, and the challenges they could run into. He doesn't think that usable yard space should prevent a homeowner from making incremental changes to their property.

Mr. Fleming notes that, in Arlington's bylaw, usable open space is not green space, and says that different people will have different notions of what "usable" is.

(Chad Gibson) Mr. Gibson asks how the ARB voted.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says the ARB voted in favor, 4--0.

(Chad Gibson) Mr. Gibson says he's actually run into this problem with usable open space, and he appreciates Mr. Fleming for bringing this forward.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that 1/2 of the ZBA's workload used to be special permits for homeowners that were adding dormers, where the lot didn't have usable open space.

(Jordan Remy) Mr. Remy says he wasn't aware this was such a problem; it's an added layer of rules. He asks if the article will make any changes to setbacks.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says no.

(Jordan Remy) Mr. Remy says he's very supportive of eliminating something that's causing a hassle.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps doesn't support this. She says that open space is important for the town, for rabbits, and bugs, and pollinators. She's also concerned about making piecemeal changes to zoning. She's prefer to put any zoning changes on hold until after we complete the next master planning process.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that in our bylaw, open space is space that's not a building, and not parking. He thinks that lot coverage regulations already cover what Ms. Stamps is concerned about. A single- or two-family home can't cover more than 35% of the lot.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says we all like open space. He says the requirement isn't for green space, but a 25' space.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the usable open space requirements were added in the 1970s, when the town rewrote the zoning bylaws. He assumes it was a well-intentioned change, but after living with it for 50 years, he thinks the main effect was to create hurdles for homeowners with non-conforming, or barely conforming properties.

Article 56 - Subsidized Compost Collection

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse says this article came from a group of eighth graders who proposed subsidizing compost collection for restaurants on Mass Ave. She says that the Finance Committee started off being firmly opposed, but became supportive after hearing the kids arguments. She says it will provide a 10% subsidy for compost collection.

Safety on Broadway

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin lives near Broadway, which is a road that's wide, mostly un-marked, and has a 30 MPH speed limit. This combination encourages drivers to drive quickly, which creates a hazard for other road users. He thinks there's a need for crosswalks, better lighting, and lowering the speed limit to 25 MPH.

(Jennifer Litowski) Ms. Litowski says a child was struck by a car on Oxford Street about a month ago, while crossing to get to the Leslie Ellis school. The child was lucky enough not to be seriously injured. She says there's a lot of concern about traffic, and interest in traffic calming on streets between Mass Ave and Broadway.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin would like to get a group together to advocate for improvements. He says that Somerville is getting $100k to look at improving the intersection of Broadway and the Alewife Brook Parkway.

(Jordan Remy) Mr. Remy loves the idea. He thinks that people taking different forms of transportation should have the option of doing so safely.

(Nandana Mewada) Ms. Mewada lives on Winter Street. She says people speed down it all the time.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka says she's interested in safety improvements, and doesn't feel safe biking or walking on Broadway. She thinks the town should focus on safety, and not on redeveloping these areas.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says the goal is to focus more on public property.

Young Arlington Collaborative

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says he's looking for people to become part of the Young Arlington Collaborative. The YAC was created by town meeting, and has two representatives from each precinct: one student and one adult. Membership is open for students between the ages of 12--21, and adults between the ages of 21--40.

Meeting adjourned.