Select Board - Jun 29th, 2020

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Meeting conducted via video-conference. These notes cover a subset of agenda items.

Citizens Open Forum. (Carol Kowalski) Ms. Kowalski is a former director of the Department of planning and community development and supports the proposed 40B project at 1165R Mass Ave. It's exciting to see the vision for Mill Brook coming true. This is a good project proposed by a long-standing business owner. There are few redevelopment opportunities in town. She hopes the board will support this project.

(Lynette Culverhouse) It's clear that housing's a hot topic. Housing costs are narrowing options for residents; developers propose plans and the town takes them. Ms. Culverhouse thinks residents deserve to have input on housing before any more is built. We should be telling developers what we want. People should decide what gets built, not developers. We should find more democratic ways to get residents into the process.

(Don Seltzer) One month ago, I sent the select board a letter about 1207 Mass Ave. The last time the select board considered the sale of this property, the majority of board members had yet to be elected. The board never approved this contract, and the developer has been dragging his heels.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein would like to get clarity as to whether a special town meeting will be held in the fall. Given the current pandemic, he's concerned that we won't be able to have one. He proposes a virtual town meeting, like the one Lexington had.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray is here as a co-chair of Arlington Fights racism. She's disappointed in the town manager. She's disappointed that the public forums on racism were organized without her group. The human rights commission only voted to co-sponsor the event. This is an example of the town's insular voice. This was not a conversation. Conversations shouldn't require questions to be submitted in advance. She's very concerned about Lieutenant Pedrini.

(Laura Keisel) Ms. Keisel wishes to provide input on the 40B project proposed for 1165R Mass Ave. She lists current area median incomes, and expects the subsidized apartments to cost $2000/month. She claims that existing market rate apartments cost less than that, and the 40B project will push out lower-income individuals. She's like to see units affordable to 50% AMI, and perhaps a higher number of affordable units. She believes this project will displace people.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman believes the top perils are preservation of the business tax base and the creation of affordable housing. He moved to Arlington 20 years ago when our tax base was 95% residential and 5% commercial. Now, it's 96% residential and 4% commercial. He feels we're moving in the wrong direction, and states that 15% affordable units is not enough. The prices are too high. Mixed use is a loophole to convert all of our commercial spaces to residential. He asks for a moratorium on the conversion of business uses to residential uses.

(Ben Rudick) Mr. Rudick is speaking as the founder of Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors. He supports the project. He reminds the board that we're dealing with a private landowner and a private developer. 25% affordable is good. What you ask for has to be economically feasible, otherwise developers will walk away. Asking for 50% affordable might get you 50% of nothing.

(Pam Hallet) Ms. Hallet discussed the project with the Housing Corporation of Arlington's board. They support it. She thinks the project is exciting, and is thrilled to see 25% affordable units. She hopes the developer will consider having units at a range of AMIs.

(Mary Ann Donovan) Ms. Donovan loved the presentation on racism the other day, and got a lot out of it.

(Mark Kappelin) Mr. Kappelin is concerned about the Mirak's 40B proposal. He points out that the select board opposes the Thorndike place proposal, and asks why they'd support this one. He's concerned about the loss of artists space. He'd concerned that the property is on a hill, which would be difficult for disabled persons to climb.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak states that Arlington is part of HUD's Boston, Cambridge, Quincy, MA-NH Fair Market Rent area. This area contains over 100 communities in six counties in Eastern MA and southern New Hampshire. HUD's AMI for the entire area is $119,000 for a family of four, and housing added to Arlington is unlikely to change that. There are three main costs for new housing construction: land, labor, and materials. If one wants to provide housing for someone at a point below those costs, you'll have to provide subsidies. There's not a market solution for below-cost housing. The Housing Corporation of Arlington has done great work. The Arlington Housing Authority seems not to have built any new homes since the 1970's; it may be worthwhile to understand why. An Affordable Housing Trust fund could be a useful source of subsidies. The town could also become a property developer on its own.

Update: Sustainable Transportation Plan. Transportation planner Daniel Amstutz gives a presentation to the board. We're working with transportation consultants Nelson-Nygaard on the project. One of the products will be a transportation fact book. Mr. Amstutz show examples of what the fact book will include, including maps of collisions, walking paths to public transit stops, and the grade of those walking paths. Even without rail stations, we still have a large number of public transit riders. The fact book will be released by the end of July, and the plan finalized by the end of the year.

Diane Mahon appreciates the work.

Joe Curro thinks the walking map is fascinating. His neighborhood is situated at the top of a large hill, and elevation is definitely a consideration when walking.

Mr. Amstutz says they're planning to have additional focus groups for people with mobility challenges.

Jenny Raitt says there will be additional outreach happening in the next 1--2 weeks, especially for seniors.

Steve DeCourcey asks when the transit rider study was done.

Mr. Amstutz says that data was based on the 2020 ACS. There are a lot of people working from home right now, and that would create a different mobility distribution. They've asked the consultant to look at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Len Diggins is impressed with the nimbleness of town staff and the consultants. He asks Mr. Curro how he navigates his hill during the winter.

Mr. Curro says we have a great DPW that plows. Beyond that, you have to be careful.

Update: Economic Recovery Task Force'. Economic Development Coordinator Ali Carter presents the results of her department's consumer survey. People are making their own choices with respect to when to come out. 1,452 people responded to the survey. 30% said they'd wait for a vaccine before dining out. The distribution was more varied when it came to shopping indoors. Curbside pickup was a popular choice.

Overview and Presentation: Proposed Redevelopment at 1165R Massachusetts Avenue. Mary Winstanley-O'Connor (counsel for the proponent) presents. This is a joint venture between the Miraks and Spaulding and Slye. The Mirak family has been in town for generations and have made numerous philanthropic contributions. The project will have 130 residential units, 25% of which will be affordable. Spaulding and Slye will sell their interest to the Miraks when the project is complete.

This project was designed in accordance with the 2015 Master Plan and contains smart growth attributes. It will showcase the minuteman bikeway. It seeks to repurpose historic buildings. The consultants will determine the number of residents that receive local preference.

The proponents organized a video-conference for neighbors to attend. They're going to do a traffic study. They'll also perform a shadow study, because several neighbors requested that.

As a 40B project, this will go before the ZBA. Tonight, the joint venture is asking the select board for a letter of support to MassHousing.

(Julia Mirak) This project is similar in size to the Legacy. The Miraks purchased the mill complex in the 1970s and have preserved it. We've established and expanded Workbar. Adding multi-family housing will preserve the beauty and integrity of these historic buildings while providing new affordable housing.

(Daniel St. Clair, Spaulding and Slye) We're using David Gamble for design. He worked on the town's master plan.

(David Gamble) Arlington is a desirable town for many reasons. In 1977, the Arlington Conservation Commission developed an initial design plan for Mill Brook. The town's Master Plan was developed through a public process, and we want to leverage that work. People want neighborhoods that are walkable and close to transit and public spaces. This property has a complex shape. The Miraks are patient and civically-minded land owners. We followed the design guidelines laid out in the Master plan. The site and the buildings will knit the landscape together.

(Joel Bargman, Architect) We're planning to restore one building, replace one building, and create one new building. The building we're replacing is constructed with wood timbers, which are decaying due to insect infestation. The engineers recommended replacement. The current access road is covered with a walkway, which is too small to accommodate emergency vehicles. We'll remove that covered walkway and widen the access point.

The new and existing building will share a common core. Nearly all of the parking will be in indoor garages. This project is about making connections to neighborhoods and giving special treatment to natural resources. We'll add a bridge over the brook. There will be two courtyards with green space. The outdoor amenity space will be shielded from existing neighborhoods. The property currently has 6.4% pervious surface; the redeveloped property will have 22.5% pervious surface.

(Daniel St. Claire) We've almost completed the transportation study. There are a number of ways in and out of the project area. We expect minor increases in traffic, which the streets can accommodate. All parking will be on site. There will be bicycle access via streets and the minuteman bikeway. There will be dedicated long-term bicycle parking and bicycle repair areas. There will be some short-term parking outdoors.

We feel the project offers a number of benefits: improvements to the public realm, connectivity, adaptive re-use, resiliency, sustainability, accessibility, and economic development. It will also improve access for public safety vehicles.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) The select Board has a narrow role: to solicit comments and report them to the subsidizing agency. The board has 30 days to file comments, once the application is filed with the subsidizing agency.

(Diane Mahon) Mary O'Connor and the Miraks have long ties to Arlington, and that speaks volumes. She'd like residents and town employees to be given an opportunity to obtain some of the affordable units.

(Joe Curro) The master plan process was very democratic, and this project touches on those areas. He's excited about the adaptive re-use and the opportunity to open up Mill Brook. He's happy to see this go forward.

(Len Diggins) This is an interesting project. People here care a lot about their community. You won't be able to please everyone, but you should listen to people's concerns. He asks how much bike storage there will be.

The proponents anticipate storage for 50--100 bicycles, but are still working on specifics. They'd like to take advantage of their proximity to the Minuteman Bikeway.

Mr. Diggins asks the proponent to explain their rationale for the number of parking spaces to the number of units. The proponents tried to study apartment buildings in the area, to determine the number of parking spaces they were actually using. The plan is to mimic that. This works out to around one space per unit. The project will have a combination of studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.

Mr. Diggins encourages the proponents to go as high as they can with respect to affordability. However, he realizes they have to make money. We'd like more affordability and more diversity in town. He shares concerns about the loss of an industrial district property but thinks this may be the best we can do with the space. He thinks it's a beautiful project, and he can support it.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey appreciates the neighborhood outreach that's already taken place. The board will use its 30-day comment period wisely. He appreciates the adoption of ideas presented in the Mill Brook study report.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd believes this is an innovative use of space, which fits a need for the town. The Mirak family has always given back to Arlington.

The board moves receipt of the presentation.

Discussion: Thorndike Place Comprehensive Permit. The board discusses a letter to the ZBA.

Mr. Hurd says the letter urges the ZBA not to move forward with the project, while recognizing that the ZBA is an independent board.

Ms. Mahon says the comments to the ZBA are informative, with the realization that the ZBA is independent, and guided by law.

Mr. Curro isn't comfortable sending a letter to the ZBA without seeing an updated project submission.

Mr. DeCourcey believes the board should update the letter. Perhaps the chair could authorize 1--2 members of the board to work on this. We'd have to update the letter to reflect any changes in the development, and reiterate our opposition.

Mr. Diggins's only oppositions to the project are on environmental grounds. But he'll go along with the Board's letter.

Mr. Hurd asks if we should discuss the letter at the next select Board meeting, or update what we have. He notes that the ZBA has a hearing scheduled for July 14th.

Mr. Curro suggests that Mr. Hurd work with one more member of the board to draft a letter to the ZBA, making them aware the comments will be coming later.

Ms. Mahon says that the select board is 100% committed to helping the ZBA enforce the town's regulations.