Select Board - Mar 30th, 2022

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Hybrid meeting, with most of the Select Board in person and the public attending remotely. Materials were available from

These notes cover a subset of agenda items.

Housing Production Plan

This agenda item involves a presentation of the draft housing production plan. The Arlington Redevelopment Board approved the plan on January 24th, by a 5--0 vote, and the Housing Plan Implementation Committee approved it by a 3--1 vote.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Arlington adopted a Master Plan in 2015, and Ms. Raitt says the town started to implement one of it's suggestions -- creating a housing production plan -- in 2016. Housing production plans have a life of five years and ours expired this year. She says that Arlington has implemented several of the recommendations in the 2016 plan, including mixed use, parking reductions, allowing accessory dwelling units, providing assistance to the Housing Corporation of Arlington, creating inclusionary units, and establishing an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The housing plan helps us understand our needs and demands, and contains recommendations for adding to our subsidized housing inventory. The plan helps us address unmet housing needs and possibly prevent an unwanted 40B. She says the town currently has a certified housing plan.

Ms. Raitt says the Department of Planning and Community Development started updating the plan in 2020. This was during the pandemic, and the department had to try numerous outreach strategies, including "meeting in a box" materials for residents to use. Once the HPP has been approved by the Select Board, it will go to the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for approval. The new plan analyzes demographic data, identifies local needs, recognizes efforts, identifies barriers, and can guide future affordable housing development. The plan will help the Affordable Housing Trust Board set priorities, guide CPA expenses, and advance regulations to permit redevelopment.

(Eric Helmuth, Select Board) Mr. Helmuth says the board received a letter of concern about infrastructure capacity. He asks if (Town Manager) Adam Chapdelaine could comment on that.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says he's discussed this concern with the DPW director. The DPW director's main concerns about capacity have to do with inflow and infiltration. This is when water, typically groundwater, gets into the sewer system and creates more flow. Mr. Chapdelaine says the DPW director was far less concerned about ordinary flow. He says there are discussions around significant projects like the Symmes and 1165R Mass Ave. Mr. Chapdelaine says the ability to handle outflow isn't a concern.

The chair says that several members of the public have asked to address the board on this topic, and he'll give them an opportunity to speak.

(Jo Anne Preston) Ms. Preston says she's a commissioner of the Arlington Housing Authority (AHA). She says the 2016 plan described the AHA as a vital partner, but no such description appears in this plan. She believes the plan's description of the AHA is negative and inaccurate. The plan says that AHA has been unable to increase its housing inventory, and she'd like to have that statement struck. She disagrees that the AHA is having difficulty maintaining its properties. She thinks a lot of the statements about the AHA need to be corrected, and says some of the negative ones were quoted in newspaper articles. She's concerned that the negative statements will make it harder for the AHA to receive funding in the future. Mr. Preston says the Arlington Housing Authority is the largest provider of affordable housing in Arlington.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says the plan is really faulty, and that the Select Board is the only set of elected officials that can stop it. He thinks this plan will reduce housing diversity in the town. He notes that the plan suggests allowing two-family homes in single-family districts, and three-family homes in two-family districts. He says that town meeting's reaction to the 2019 density articles were a warning to the planning department and the ARB. The consultant said that parts of the plan are about housing choice, and Mr. Wagner believes this will increase costs. He thinks the plan doesn't devote enough discussion to infrastructure. Mr. Wagner says the planning director doesn't live in Arlington, but members of the select board do. He asks the board to reject the plan.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says he's been involved in zoning for a long time, since 1970. He says he fought against the first Mugar project and zoning for hi-rises. Now the Mugars have come back with a 40B. Mr. Worden says he's seen a lot of reports and plans, but this one is the worst he's ever seen. He says it's full of terrible ideas. Mr. Worden believes that the elimination of single-family zones is a blow to homeowner choice, and he doesn't think that's fair. If adopted and implemented, Mr. Worden believes this plan will destroy Arlington as we know it. He says that some board members think this is okay, but Mr. Worden hopes the Select Board won't destroy our town. He says there are bizarre and crazy ideas in there. The master plan says the only things we need are affordable housing, and housing for seniors.

(Eileen Cahill) Ms. Cahill agrees with Mr. Wagner. She's a civil engineer and can't even fathom the proposed changes being made without a study of the town's infrastructure. She says she doesn't understand the town manager's earlier comments, and that one can't ignore additional waste water when the sewer system is old. She thinks the sewer system needs to be studied area by area, and that the housing plan doesn't devote enough discussion to the water and sewer systems. She says this is irresponsible. She says that civil engineers count lots and bedrooms when sizing a sewer system, and that one can't make a blanket change without study. She asks the board to let her know if this aligns with the town's maintenance plan for water and sewer.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says he's written to the board with a list of deficiencies. He thinks the report should use the most recent census data rather than American Community Surveys. He thinks it's too early to account for the effect of MBTA community zoning requirements, and he thinks the elimination of single-family zoning is contentious. He says the plan isn't limited to affordable housing, and he thinks it should focus on affordable housing for households making less than 100% of the area median income. He thinks it fails to address infrastructure, especially the effect on schools. He believes that Arlington's population is growing faster than the school district's McKibben report projected. He believes that Arlington needs a clear idea of school enrollment growth during the next decade, and how it will be accommodated.

(Josephine Babiarz) Ms. Babiarz is against the proposal. She says there's a single family home at the end of her road that was turned into two condos, and they sold for $1M/each. She says they don't have enough yard or setbacks. She says that most of her street consists of 5000 square foot lots, and she doesn't see how anyone could build a two-family home on a lot that small. She says that Arlington is a town and not a city, and that we'll lose by allowing single family homes to be converted into two-family. She's concerned there won't be sufficient access for the fire department and ambulances. She asks "what about curb cuts". She asks if we'll have sufficient fire and police, and thinks we need more information.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden says this housing plan is a disgrace that will destroy Arlington. She says there's nothing about climate change or affordable housing. She thinks the plan is a blueprint for exploitation, and is full of false statements. She thinks it will be expensive for town people and lead to mega-million dollar overrides. She says these hearings are a charade. She thinks that money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund should go to AHA maintenance and to families making less than 30% AMI. She doesn't believe the plan is compliant with DHCD regulations. She thinks the plan will incentivize lucrative and environmentally damaging 40Bs. She says the town is undergoing a regime change and the new town manager shouldn't be saddled with this defective plan.

There's no one else signed up to speak.

(John Hurd, Select Board) Mr. Hurd says there's a lot to unpack in 110 pages, and that the plan is the result of a lot of hard work from the town and residents. He thinks the plan is the sum of our efforts to look at our needs and barriers. He moves adoption. He acknowledges that the elimination of single-family zoning will be contentious, and that we'll get to hear about that next month at town meeting. He's happy with the plan and thinks it's a good statement of needs and goals.

(Len Diggins, Select Board) Mr. Diggins thinks the plan is a good iteration and we'll iterate again in five years. He says we'll hear critiques and act on them. Mr. Diggins seconds Mr. Hurd's motion, and says "onward with the plan".

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says the point of the plan is to give the town a roadmap. He thinks the plan tries to help with affordable housing, but he acknowledges that Arlington has trouble with resources. He has some pause about the elimination of single-family zoning, and says we're at a decision point about that. We're at a place where we're about to take that decision head-on. He thinks that Arlington is intrigued about the idea of ending single-family zoning, but perhaps not ready to do it yet.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon says the motion is to adopt a plan; it's a framework. She notes that the plan doesn't make any changes itself, and that anything substantive has to go before the ARB and town meeting. She asks Ms. Raitt if it would be possible to re-frame some of the points about the AHA. Instead of saying "lacks proper resources", perhaps something like "is pursuing funding" -- just re-frame it a little. She believes the AHA board is applying for more funding. As we move forward, Ms. Mahon hopes we can rephrase those two points. Ms. Mahon says she understands where those comments came from, but believes the housing authority is in a different place right now. She knows that Ms. Raitt and (assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema are working with the AHA.

(Steve Decourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. Decourcey says the plan contains 42 strategies and he thinks a lot of them are good. He's concerned about the strategy of allowing two-family homes in what are currently single-family districts. He notes that the ARB will vote on a warrant article to this effect on Monday night, which is only five days away. He says that Cambridge is planning to do a study to ensure that ending single-family zoning there doesn't cause the wealth gap in Cambridge to grow. He'd like to hear what the ARB says Monday night. He doesn't think that a slightly longer timeline will hurt.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says he has some reservations about removing single family zoning. He says we'll see how the ARB and town meeting vote. If the board would prefer to table the vote until after the ARB's votes, that might be okay with the longer term goal.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the ARB has already voted to adopt the plan, in January.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins asked why it hasn't come to the Select Board until now. Mr. Diggins asks how the board will react if the ARB votes no action on the warrant article to allow two-family homes in the single-family districts.

(Steve Decourcey) Mr. Decourcey thinks it's important to know what the ARB thinks, since they're voting in five days.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd asks if the plan will have to go back to the ARB if the Select Board amends it.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says it will have to go back to the ARB. The idea is for the ARB and Select Board to approve the same plan. He notes that not having a plan might affect our safe harbor status.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says he's not aware of any unfriendly 40B's coming down the pike. He'd like to get a unanimous vote from the Select Board, and says the ARB's vote Monday night may not change his mind.

Motion to table passes, 5--0.

MBTA Community Zoning

This is a presentation about MBTA community zoning requirements, and the draft guidance that's been issued from the Massachusetts Department of Planning and Community Development (DHCD).

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt explains that we have draft guidance from DHCD with the eligibility requirements that we'll have to meet. She introduces assistant planning director Kelly Lynema, who will give the presentation.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema shows a slide with the MBTA community requirements that were set by the state legislature. DHCD was given a mandate to draft guidelines for compliance. The requirements include a district of at least 50 acres with three or more family homes allowed by right. There's also a requirement to allow a gross density of 15 units/acre, and that includes the area needed for streets. For Arlington, the district would need a capacity of 5,115 homes. Ms. Lynema notes that's the total capacity, and not an additional number of homes. She says that at least 25 acres of the district have to be within 0.5 miles of a transit station, but the rest of the district can extend further out.

Ms. Lynema says that compliance is required for continued eligibility for Massworks and Housing Choice Initiative grants. She says that Arlington hasn't used Massworks grants in five years, but we are applying for one in June.

Ms. Lynema says that Arlington does not allow more than two-family homes by right and we don't have a district of reasonable size. She says that East Arlington is already close to the required density.

The town will need to submit an action plan in around a year and having the zoning adopted by 2023. Ms. Lynema says that final guidelines will be issued later in 2022.

Ms. Lynema presents some initial ideas for compliance. We could allow three-family homes by right in higher density districts, or create a large 40R smart growth district. We could also allow single family homes to have two ADUs.

Ms. Lynema shows several sketches of what compliant districts might look like, based on DHCD's draft guidelines. We don't know for sure until DHCD issues their final guidance.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there's nothing for the board to act on tonight.

The board moves receipt of the presentation.

(Diane Mahon) For the current Mugar process, Ms. Mahon thinks this could fly in the face or against. She says that we won't know what we need to do until the guidelines have been finalized, and that she has some concern for East Arlington.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth says this presentation helped him understand what Arlington will need to do.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the MBTA advisory board talked about this yesterday. He says the state is committed to this and their goal is to help communities as much as possible.

Board votes 5--0 on the motion to receive.