Select Board - Jul 22nd, 2019

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I attended tonight's select board meeting for the first two agenda items. The first was a presentation on replacement housing given by DPCD director Jenny Raitt. The second was a housing presentation by Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.


Demolitions and Replacement Homes. Ms. Raitt provided the board with a report on demolitions and replacement homes in Arlington. DPCD worked on this report from October 2018 through July 2019. This work was motivated by a town meeting request to have the residential study group examine demolitions and replacement homes, and to see if changes to our demolition delay bylaw would be appropriate.

DPCD staff met with other town departments and historic planners to evaluate our demolition bylaw. The rate of large additions is low: approximately 27/year, with a spike between 2014 and 2015. Different areas of town experience these renovations differently, so any strategy should vary by zoning district.

In ten years, approximately 1% of the homes in town were rebuilt. Changes to our demolition delay law are not likely to affect this. The department also considered the effect on affordability for median income households. New houses are more expensive than older ones, but there is a high demand for housing in the region. We need more housing production, at various price points.

DPCD is already working with the conservation commission and town engineering on ways to strengthen our wetlands protection and stormwater bylaws.

The town recently added 130 properties to its historic housing inventory. The report recommends two actions. First, the Arlington Historic Commission should clarify their process for designating a property as historic, because this process is not codified anywhere. Second, the Historic Commission should have a defined role any time a property is categorized as historic.

The aesthetics of new housing seem to be the crux of the issue. Ms. Raitt recommends that the town develop a set of residential design guidelines. Our last town meeting authorized funds for this effort.

Joe Curro moves the report be received. Mr. Curro called out the report's findings with respect to the tenure of owners before demolition. He felt that these homes were really someone's retirement nest-egg. He also noted that a fair number of demolitions were done by home owners rather than developers.

Mr. Curro was surprised at how tightly the curve of building grades was centered around "C. He hopes we continue to measure the effectiveness of our tree protection bylaw and good neighbor agreement. He asks how the design guideline process would be implemented.

Ms. Raitt says there are different models for implementing design review. We'd want to examine different models before determining what would be most appropriate for the town.

John Hurd asks what guidelines the historic commission uses for adding properties to our historic building inventory.

DPCD Planner Kelly Lynema said the criteria varies. Often, the commission looked at preserving the fabric of a neighborhood rather than individual homes.

Mr. Hurd says that some people are shocked when they buy a house and discover it's a historic property. Having a historic property means there are a lot of hurdles when doing a renovation. He thinks the inclusion guidelines should be more concrete.

Ms. Raitt notes that the Massachusetts Historic Commission suggested we codify our criteria.

Dan Dunn asks what the plan is for distributing this report to town meeting. He suggests sending it out to the town meeting member mailing list.

Steve DeCourcey asks if we've codified any design guidelines. Ms. Raitt says we have design standards for commercial development, which are used by the Arlington Redevelopment Board. Residential design guidelines would look similar.

Mr. DeCourcey anticipates that there will be a challenge in finding the right balance. We probably want some review, but not everything will need to be reviewed.

Diane Mahon things condominium conversion should be looked at, especially conversions from two or three family homes.

The board opens the matter for public comment.

Lynette Culverhouse appreciates that the board is looking into this. She lives in a cape-style house and is disturbed by large replacement homes. She believes we're not taking carbon footprints seriously enough, and that larger homes use more energy. Ms. Culverhouse grew up in England, and believes that country has more historical character and more continuity of architecture. She thinks that money shouldn't be the bottom line, and we need more discussion about what we value. She thinks there's a double standard that allows developers to do what they want, while placing more restrictions on residents.

Joanne Preston is glad do see attention paid to the problem of teardowns. Ms. Preston says her neighborhood has seen seven teardowns over seven years. Ms. Preston says she didn't see the residential study group being involved in the report. She believes the report would benefit from wider consultation, like the tree committee. Ms. Preston doesn't think the report's survey component is valid because only 14% of people replied. Ms. Preston also says the residential study group never did a site review of her neighborhood.

Diane Mahon asks what the next step will be. Adam Chapdelaine says we'll distribute the report.


Housing in Arlington. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine gives a presentation to the select board.

The Metropolitan Mayor's Coalition consists of fifteen communities around greater Boston. Despite the name, some of the communities are towns and don't have mayors. During the last few years, the region has created 148,000 jobs and added 110,000 people, but only 30,000 new houses have been built. Home prices have surged, and Massachusetts currently has the highest housing prices in the nation. We're even more expensive than California.

Many Arlington households are cost-burdened (meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on housing), or extremely cost burdened (meaning they spent 50% of their income on housing). This has significant quality of life impacts.

The MMC expects the region will need 185,000 new housing units by 2030 in order to keep pace with job growth. We've long considered economic diversity to be one of Arlington's strengths, but rising home prices will make it hard to preserve.

30% of Arlington residents are cost-burdened and 37% of low-income seniors are extremely cost burdened. Our cost of housing is rising faster than wages.

In recent years, 1,460 rental units were converted to condominiums. This is gentrification in action.

What can we do? Continue to work with the Housing Corporation of Arlington, use Community Development Block Grants for affordable housing projects, maintain our weatherization program, and continue to work on the implementation of the master plan and housing production plan.

Arlington joined the Metro Mayor's Coalition in January 2018, to participate in the climate and housing tasks forces. Five communities in the MMC have a town manager form of government.

Boston has set a housing production goal of 63,000 new units by 2030, and other communities are working on formulating their goals.

In the future, we should consider enhancements to our inclusionary zoning amendments, discuss transit oriented development, reconsider accessory dwelling units (perhaps with age restrictions), and other strategies that aren't necessarily zoning-related.

We should continue public engagement, and have more joint meetings with the select board and ARB. We may start making policy changes next year, during the spring or a fall town meeting. Mr. Chapdelaine is also interested in seeing what role the board wants to play.

Dan Dunn is absolutely convinced that the lack of housing production is a real problem. Market forces are changing our town, and doing nothing is not an option. This is a regional problem and we can't wait for someone else to solve it. Regional collaboration is important. Mr. Dunn is happy to work with the ARB, as long as they're happy to work with the Select Board.

John Hurd sees two ways to address housing affordability: we can make Arlington a less desirable place to live, or we can have more housing units. He's happy to work with the ARB, and believes Select Board involvement will give the issue more public attention.

Joe Curro is on the same page as Mr. Hurd, with respect to the economics of supply and depend. Mr. Curro says that his nephew is sleeping on a couch in his basement because he can't find housing that he can afford. He notes that the board was involved in the master plan and in the adoption of mixed-use zoning.

Steve DeCourcey asks if the ARB has discussed having a joint meeting with the select Board. Yes, the ARB had this discussion as part of their goal-setting process. Mr. DeCourcey thinks we clearly have an issue in the region. Arlington can't solve the problem by itself, but we should do our part. This could be a full discussion that also improves the commercial corridors and increases the town's tax base.

Diane Mahon says that she faithfully watches ACMi's recordings of redevelopment board meetings. She believes that the Select Board shouldn't hold a joint meeting just for the sake of having a meeting. But if the ARB is suggesting this in a spirit of reciprocity, we should meet with them. Ms. Mahon would like to address the gentrification issue, even if we do nothing more than an educational program. She believes that ADU's might be better if they can be made in perpetuity.