Precinct Meeting - P1, P4 - April 10th, 2024

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials available via It was organized by Vince Baudoin (Precinct 1) and Judith Garber (Precinct 4).

Article 33 - Rear Yard Setbacks in Business Districts

(Andy Greenspon) Mr. Greenspon presents Article 33, which relates to rear yard setbacks in the business districts. A special town meeting article changed the requirements to a 20' setback for up to three stories, and a 30' setback when there are four stories or more. Mr. Greenspon's article would change this to a 20' setback, with a requirement that the fourth story and higher be set back 30' -- in essence, a rear step back. His goal is to promote and sustain small businesses. He thinks this change will make a 4th story more economically feasible along with providing more space for businesses on the ground floor. Mr. Greenspon notes that many of Arlington's commercial parcels are small, and he doesn't believe this will create additional shadows.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka asks if there are specific parcels that motivated this article, and whether the Redevelopment Board already has the authority to waive setback requirement.

(Andy Greenspon) Mr. Greenspon thinks that having dimensional baselines are preferable to seeking waivers. He notes that the board unanimously recommended favorable action on the article.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is a member of the Redevelopment Board. He says the attorney general approved the Special Town Meeting changes to rear yard setbacks in late March, and there haven't been any permit applications under the new requirements. Speaking as an individual, and not for the Redevelopment Board as a whole, he says that the board does have the ability to adjust setback requirements for individual projects. He believes the board wants to make the permitting process more predictable, and baseline requirements help in that regard.

(Michelle Phelan) Ms. Phelan suggests a labeling change to Mr. Greenspon's diagrams. She thinks the proposal makes sense.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka says she lives next to a large building, and a few feet of height can make a big difference.

Article 15 - Prohibition of Fair-Trade Restrictions - Fur Products Sales

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel gives a presentation on Article 15, which would ban the sale of all products that contain animal fur. She says there's an exemption for stores that sell used fur products. Ms. Kiesel says that several neighboring communities have enacted similar bans, and she wants to make sure that the fur market doesn't spread into Arlington. She feels that fur farms are inhumane and environmentally damaging.

(Arthur Prokosch) Mr. Prokosch asks how many other communities have enacted similar bans.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says it's about a dozen.

Article 16 - Pet Sale Restrictions/Retail Pet Sales

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says that Article 16 would prohibit the sale of live animals in pet stores. The prohibition would not apply to animal rescues or adoption centers. She says that Article 16 is about pet mills and poaching animals from the wild, and that approximately 14 cities and towns have similar prohibitions. The prohibition would include mammals, birds, amphibians, and fish. Ms. Kiesel says that US pet dealers imperil 225 million animals and endanger some species. Many birds are released into the wild because their owners no longer want them, and a large percentage of reptiles and amphibians die during the first year. She says the demand for tropical fish is degrading coral reef ecosystems. Ms. Kiesel says this is an area where federal or state regulations don't exist or fall short. This should have little or no economic impact because Arlington doesn't have pet stores which sell live animals.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks what's the difference between a puppy mill and a puppy breeder?

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says that mills are factory-style environments for breeding, and that small breeders don't contract with pet stores.

(Arthur Prokosch) Mr. Prokosch asks if this would affect stores that sell live bait. There's one of these in Arlington.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says that bait shops wouldn't fit the definition of pet stores. She also says that the prohibition on the sale of fish will be in a separate clause for severability.

Article 17 - Right to Pet Companionship

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says that Article 17 would create a right to pet companionship, by prohibiting no-pet policies in rental agreements. She says there are animal welfare and social equity aspects to this article. Ms. Kiesel says there's an euthanasia crisis due to a lack of pet-friendly housing. The Select Board recommended no action, but that was probably because the prohibition would have applied to condominiums. She says that Paul Schlichtman, the article's proponent, is working on a substitute motion that would exempt condominiums and smaller rentals.

(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat says that having certain animals, like dogs, goes against some religious traditions.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says that fair housing laws already require that service dogs be allowed. Renters tend to have lower incomes, and pet bans harm them the most.

(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat says there are faith group issues that should be considered.

(Laura Kiesel) As a renter, Ms. Kiesel felt like landlords frequently denied her access to emotional support animals, and that no-pet policies are used to deny people housing.

(Rebecca Persson) Ms. Persson says it feels hard to codify preferences for pet owners over people with allergies or respiratory ailments.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel thinks that landlords should be responsible for keeping the common areas of their buildings clean. She asks if landlords would tell tenants they couldn't bring peanuts into the building, because a tenant might have peanut allergies? She says the ideas is to consider the needs of people living in the units.

There's more back and fourth about this.

(Michele Phelan) Ms. Phelan asks if four-family dwellings and less would be exempt.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says there would be an exemption for buildings where the landlord lives on the premises. She's not sure if there's a unit limit, because the language of the substitute motion hasn't been finalized.

(Michele Phelan) Ms. Phelan says she's had the situation where a tenant's pet did a lot of damage to the apartment, so being forced to allow pets puts a lot of onus on landlords. Once a tenant moves out, it's hard to recoup the cost of the damage, and there are reasons why landlords have no-pet policies. Ms. Phelan says that pets can be a big headache after a tenant leaves, or while the tenant is still living there.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel thinks that landlords could consider this when setting rent, or the amount of the security deposit.

Article 55 - Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program Match

(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat is a member of the Arlington Libraries Foundation Board. She says that Article 55 is seeking funds for the planning and design of the new Fox Library. Getting this money from the town is a precondition for obtaining additional grant money in the future. Today, the Fox Library is completely inaccessible: the front door and community room can only be accessed via stairs. Library use has significantly increased during the last several years, and renovations would make it more usable for a large part of the town. The library director has been holding listening sessions to understand the needs of the community, and the Finance Committee recommended favorable action on Article 55.

(Michele Phelan) Ms. Phelan asks if the renovation would be a demo and rebuild.

(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat says that will most likely be the case, but a final decision has not been made.

(Michele Phelan) Ms. Phelan asks if the library will move to a new location.

(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat answers in the negative.

(?) Someone asks if the library needs this money in order to get future grants.

(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat says yes, it's a requirement of the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program.

(Charles Hartshorne) Mr. Hartshorne asks if there's a plan to put housing above the library.

(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat says that's on the table.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says he understands that the town is planning to do a separate study, funded by a different grant, about the feasibility of including residential units.

(Jill Blanchard) Ms. Blanchard asks about the time frame.

(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat says the grant applications would be submitted in May, if Article 55 passes. This would be the first step in a multi-year progress. She encourages people to take a tour of the Fox.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin says that Save the Alewife Brook is holding a greenway cleanup on April 13. It will start at 10:00 AM.

Article 22 - Lowering the Voting Age to 16 in Local Elections

(Sophie Shen) Ms. Shen is the proponent of Article 22, which would lower the voting age in municipal elections from 18 to 16. The Select Board recommended favorable action by a vote of 4--0--1. She believes that lowering the voting age would improve civic engagement. First, once people start voting, they tend to keep up the habit. Second, it would strengthen civic education. She thinks it's important to have voter education in high school, and says that black and latinx students are the least likely to learn about voter registration while they're still in high school. Third, being able to vote empowers young people. Ms. Shen says the parts of the brain that are necessary for voting have fully developed by age 16. 16--17 year olds are given responsibility in other ways -- they can drive, work, and be tried as adults for serious crimes.

(Greg Dennis) Mr. Dennis asks if 16 and 17 year olds would be allowed to run for town meeting.

(Sophie Shen) Ms. Shen says she didn't think of that. But introducing young voices to town meeting would be a good thing.

(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber says that turnout in Arlington's municipal elections is typically low, and this could be an opportunity for improvement.

Article 14 - Focused Residence Picketing

(Greg Dennis) Mr. Dennis is surprised that we're jumping on an outright ban on picketing individual residents, rather than imposing time of day restrictions like Boston did. He says that Mayor Wu was subject to much more protest than Governor Healey. We have time of day restrictions for other things that make noise, like heavy machinery.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says there was a supreme court case -- Reed v. Gilbert -- that caused Arlington and many other communities to rewrite their sign bylaws. The court said that municipalities could impose time, place, and manner restrictions on the display of signs, but couldn't impose restrictions based on the sign's content. To him, Article 14 would create a kind of time, place, and manner restriction.

Meeting adjourned.