Special Town Meeting - Oct 25th, 2023
Fourth night of the fall special town meeting. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting/2023-oct-special-town-meeting-warrant.
(Al Tosti, Precinct 17) Mr. Tosti says he's been active in town government for around fifty years. During that time, one of the most effective public servants that he knew was Charlie Lyons, who passed away recently. Most of Charlie's efforts were behind the scenes, getting people to work together. Charlie was elected to the School Committee at age 18, and to the Select Board in the 1980s.
(John Worden, Precinct 8) Mr. Worden learned that there are affordable housing aspects in the ARB's recommended vote, and he asks to have the Worden Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Article 12 - MBTA Communities Overlay District (cont'd)
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana copied the names from the live speaking queue at the end of Monday's meeting, and put them together with the in-advance speaking requests. He'll re-open the live speaking queue if Monday's list becomes exhausted. Mr. Christiana says he'll only take motions to terminate debate from the live speaking queue.
(Eric Helmuth, Precinct 12) Mr. Helmuth introduces Senator Cindy Friedman. Ms. Friedman is an Arlington resident who wishes to address town meeting.
(Cindy Friedman) Ms. Friedman would like to acknowledge the work of the MBTA Communities Working Group and the Arlington Redevelopment Board. She believes we've done an exemplary job and commends Town Meeting for a civil and honest debate. It's nice to have civility and thoughtfulness rule. As a senator, Ms. Friedman is acutely aware of the need for both local and regional perspectives. The town and the region are not alone -- housing is an issue everywhere in the Commonwealth, and the Healey administration will be very strict about what it will accept for the MBTA Communities act. Ms. Friedman says we depend on young people, and they can't afford to live here. Recent college grads can't afford to live here. We have an acute labor shortage, and many businesses can't staff to capacity. Across the state, there are between 200 and 400 behavioral health beds offline due to a shortage of workers. There just isn't enough housing. Businesses are making the decision not to come to Massachusetts because there isn't enough housing. Seniors who'd like to downsize can't do so, because there's no place to go. We need to do many things at once: housing, sustainable development, and a transportation system that works, all at the same time. Ms. Friedman says this article makes a difference, and what communities do affects each other. Towns are starting to take this seriously. Article 12 is one of the long-term solutions. Ms. Friedman can't stress this enough: the lack of housing is seriously affecting the economic vibrancy of our communities.
(Elizabeth Pyle, Precinct 8) Ms. Pyle is a former member of the Residential Study Group, and she's strongly opposed to the Bagnall-Fleming amendment. She supports the Evans amendment to modify the map, and believes that fixing the map fixes the problems with Article 12. She says that four story buildings on side streets is too much, and her constituents in precinct 8 are upset about it. Four stories will have negative impacts to residents, and three stories is an acceptable compromise. Four story buildings aren't required to have elevators. Ms. Pyle says her experience on the residential study group has taught her that it's not advisable to have a one-size-fits-all approach, due to topography. Building heights are measured from the average grade, so buildings on hills appear larger, and that's a serious flaw of the proposal. Four stories on a hill are out of scale. The Evans amendment keeps the overlay close to Mass Ave. Ms. Pyle encourages town meeting to keep the common sense three story height, and adds that she'll vote against article 12 if the Bagnall-Fleming amendment passes. Being cautious now will give us more room later. We need real world data. Housing is a regional issue, so lets share the burden and not take on too much of the issue ourselves.
(Asia Kepka, Precinct 1) Ms. Kepka introduces Jeff Brahmer, an Arlington resident who'd like to address town meeting.
(Jeff Brahmer) Mr. Brahmer has lived here for 35 years, and Monday night was the first time he's attended a town meeting. He feels like he never saw a notice letter about the zoning change. Mr. Brahmer thinks that lines of communication have to be good. If citizens aren't well-informed, they cannot participate and they will feel enraged. Mr. Brahmer lives on Newman Way, which is a little street. He thinks it's one of the most diverse areas in town. It's near the High School, a CVS, and a Whole Foods. There's an apartment building at the end of the street, which makes it one of the most diverse areas in town. The apartment building has a new owner who's raising rents; the tenants held a demonstration about this several weeks ago. Regarding young people and affordable housing, what if everyone in town meeting came out to that demonstration? What would the tenants and the landlord think? Your neighbors are people who will be impacted. Mr. Brahmer says that everything passes away but love, and he encourages people to pray. People are with you in your decision making.
(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman is a member of the School Committee, and people have asked him about how the MBTA Communities act will affect the schools. Mr. Schlichtman thinks "not much". The School Committee doesn't raise drawbridges; we pull up another chair. Arlington had a large population growth in the 20th century, over 90% growth just in the 1920s. There were 54 thousand people living here in 1970, and 46 thousand in the last census. The MBTA Communities act will not generate the kind of growth we saw during the last century. The state has a requirement for capacity, but the reality is that it will require redevelopment. Mr. Schlichtman says that Arlington is a self-governing urban neighborhood, six miles away from the state capitol. In most of the country, being six miles from the capitol would mean being in the same city. Mr. Schlichtman lives in an 895 square foot condo that was built in 1971, before Arlington tightened the rules on apartment buildings. A solid majority of his neighbors live in multi-family housing near Mass Ave. He says that rejecting or watering down Article 12 will push people like him out. He supports the Bagnall and Anderson amendments. Regarding the Leone amendment -- if Mr. Leone wants in, let him in. The vote before us is good for him, good for us, and good for Arlington.
(Elisabeth Carr-Jones, Precinct 14) Ms. Carr-Jones asks what assurances we have, that the state will allow us to use our 15% affordability requirement.
(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says there have been a number of recent developments where our 15% requirement was applied. 80 Broadway and 882 Mass Ave are two examples. Arlington has also approved a number of 40B permits in the last few years, and these have a 25% affordability requirement. She thinks the success and interest in 40B developments is some evidence that our 15% requirement won't create a barrier.
(Elisabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr-Jones asks what opportunities we'll have to change the zoning later, and to make downward adjustments.
(Rachel Zsembery, Redevelopment Board Chair) Ms. Zsembery says that any later changes will have to be approved by town meeting.
(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says we'd need to notify the state of any changes. She thinks we'd be okay, as long as the district was still compliant.
(Elisabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr-Jones says she's grateful to the working group, the Redevelopment Board, and the residents who participated. It's enriched her understanding of the issue. She says the map may seem balanced, but it's thicker in the middle, and concentrated in precinct 14. She supports the Evans amendment and would prefer to have it in the main motion.
(Mark Rosenthal, Precinct 14) Mr. Rosenthal would like to read a piece of literature. It has to do with a fellow who wakes up and finds construction equipment in his yard, ready to tear down his house. Mr. Rosenthal reads some of Arthur Dent's lines from the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". He's been receiving calls from outraged residents who didn't hear anything about this until a few days ago. He says the process did not serve the members of the town.
(Barbara Thornton, Precinct 16) Ms. Thornton asks about the economic impact to the town. She asks if we can invest in a third-party study.
(Jim Feeney, Town Manager) Mr. Feeney says yes, we can consider that idea.
(Xavid Pretzer, Precinct 17) Mx. Pretzer lives very close to the proposed multi-family district. Yes, it's a big change, but doing nothing won't keep the town the same. Mx. Pretzer says they love the people here. Without more housing, seniors won't be able to stay in town, renters will be displaced, and we'll just get more McMansions. Housing cost is one of the biggest concerns for renters, and rents have skyrocketed the last few years. They thank the working group for using a range of outreach efforts, including outreach to renters. This proposal is a meaningful middle ground. In order to tell people "you're welcome here" we need to have places for those people to live. Mx. Pretzer is planning to vote yes on the Bagnall amendment, and no on the Evans amendment.
(Peter Fiore, Precinct 2) Mr. Fiore asks how much solid waste will be sent to landfills under article 12. He says that Massachusetts landfills are estimated to close in 2030 because they'll have reached capacity, and our representatives on Beacon Hill need to address that. He asks town meeting to support the Babiarz amendment in order to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, so that they'll be able to stay open longer.
(Carl Wagner, Point of Order) Mr. Wagner objects to the moderator using questions submitted in advance, because he feels they were pre-screened by the moderator.
(Charlie Foskett, Precinct 10) Mr. Foskett wants to talk about costs to the town. He says that zoning has effects that last for decades. The town collects taxes per parcel, but the costs are per capita. Taxes come from both owners and renters. Last year, we spent $169M on 46,000 residents, which works out to $3.2k per resident. A typical single-family home generates about $10,000/year in tax revenue and that's the only type of house where taxes cover expenses. Having another resident in your household will increase your expenses, and the same thing happens when we add residents to the town. This will increase our fiscal deficit, and it's supported by the literature. Mr. Foskett says that population increases don't pay for themselves. A possible increase of 50--200 units over ten years will generate about $200k in defects.
(Annie LaCourt, Precinct 13) Ms. LaCourt asks if the town finance department has done anything to predict the effect of Article 12 on the town finances.
(Jim Feeney) Mr. Feeney says it's hard to predict the future.
(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt asks how often we budget based on population.
(Jim Feeney) Mr. Feeney says we only do that for the number of school pupils.
(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says there are predictions of risks and crises, but it's difficult to predict the future of the town. Arlington has a five-year budgeting process, and the 2023 budget we predicted five years ago is quite different from the one we actually have. Things change, and we've increased the budget without increasing population. Ms. LaCourt says the finance committee didn't weigh in because there were too many factors to consider. Increasing the population is a bit of a risk, but there are also rewards. We can mitigate climate risks by reducing our dependence on automobiles. Having more housing in a variety of types will create more equity in the Boston MSA. Homes in Mattapan are at risk if we don't build more housing here. When Ms. LaCourt moved here, she liked the fact that her kids had friends whose parents were from all walks of life. She's worried about kids who only know kids whose parents are doctors and software engineers. She thinks it's important to preserve the town's economic diversity.
(Roderick Holland, Precinct 7) Mr. Holland has an observation. A while back, he received a briefing about the MBTA Communities Act, and learned that two-family dwellings aren't considered multi-family. He says we have neighborhoods of two family homes. Mr. Holland wants to offer a cautionary tale from Arlington, VA. Arlington VA has a main drag called Columbia Pike, and his grandmother used to live there. In the 1950s, apartment developers purchased single family homes and built apartments. The whole strip changed over in two years, and it went faster than anyone anticipated. Mr. Holland believes this article might also produce rapid changes.
(Laura Wiener, Precinct 8) Ms. Wiener asks if the redevelopment board can give their positions on the various amendments.
(Rachel Zsembery) Regarding the Evans amendment, Ms. Zsembery says the proposed map came out of a year-long community process, and it tries to equitably distribute the district across elementary schools. She thinks that going from 2.5 to 3 stories is not a difficult leap.
Ms. Zsembery believes the the Babiarz amendment will put us out of compliance, as it creates a restriction that we don't have anywhere else in the bylaw.
The Worden amendment would significantly reduce the capacity of the neighborhood multi-family district, because it inappropriately uses the term "structure".
The board supports the Anderson amendment, but is concerned with the use of a specific percentage.
Ms. Zsembery thinks the Loreti 1 amendment doesn't add anything; there's already a note in the dimensional table that requires landscaping in the front yard. For Loreti 2, 13' story heights are a standard for mixed-use buildings, and they allow for larger windows and more light. For Loreti 3, there was a question about whether we'll have any teeth to enforce it. Mr. Zsembery thinks that will be the case: if LEED Gold Certified is a condition of the permit, the applicant will need to complete that step in order to get a certificate of occupancy.
The board was unsupportive of the Wagner 1 amendment because it would inhibit parcel aggregation. The board was also unsupportive of Wagner 2, because the bonuses were based on stated desires of the community.
(Robin Bergman, Precinct 12) Ms. Bergman thinks we're about to make a mistake by passing restrictive zoning. She thinks we need to make sure we're not affecting the climate and affordability. Arlington is built out and expensive already, we don't need more market rate housing, and there's no guarantee that the state will approve the use of our affordable housing requirements. There's no guarantee that building more will bring prices down. Ms. Bergman says the US has a surplus of 3.5 million homes, but they're in the wrong place. She thinks that homelessness is caused by market rate housing, and high rents are caused by people who buy apartments for their value, without renting them out. She says that speculation and financialization makes rents higher, and upzoning will only increase gentrification. Ms. Bergman thinks we should leave room for an affordable housing overlay. There's also the debate over parking. Ms. Bergman thinks we need parking minimums because it's not practical for everyone to walk, bike, or take public transit. Also, our mass transit system isn't good. She thinks we should make the least disruptive change now, and add more later.
(Laura Gitelson, Precinct 17) Ms. Gitelson moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes by a voice vote.
We start by voting on the amendments.
Wagner Amendment 1 fails, 58--167.
Babiarz Amendment fails, 49--174.
Loreti Amendment 1 fails, 58--164.
Bagnall-Fleming amendment fails, 57--162.
The Anderson secondary amendment passes, 201--17.
The amended Anderson amendment passes, 203--22.
The Lane amendment fails, 59--159.
Loreti Amendment 2 fails, 63--160.
(Josephine Babiarz, Point of order) Ms. Babiarz asks if she can make a friendly amendment to Worden 2, to change the word "structure".
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says no, because debate on the article has been terminated.
Worden Amendment 2 fails, 42--176.
Loreti Amendment 3 fails, 59--163.
Wagner Amendment 2 fails, 53--163.
Evans Amendment fails, 76--144.
Leone Amendment fails, 99--106.
That leaves us with the main motion, as amended by Anderson.
Main motion passes, 189--35.
With article 12 disposed of, the special town meeting is dissolved.