Town Meeting - Apr 22, 2019
This is the first night of Arlington's 2019 town meeting.
Town Moderator John Leone opens with a few brief announcements. The town plans to eliminate printed distribution of town meeting material in 2020. Material will be distributed electronically, though the town will make provisions for individuals who are not able to work with electronic documents.
We will review the capital budget on May 6th.
Article 2: State of the Town Address. Select Board Chair Diane Mahon gives a short state of the town address. Ms. Mahon recognizes Julie Flaherty, who's serving as the acting police chief. Ms. Mahon moves on to Arlington High School. It's a good school, but the facilities aren't working any more. We have the opportunity to get \$83M in funding from the MSBA. The high school means a lot to the town, and it's time to build a new one for our students.
The town will put a proposition 2.5 override on the ballot this year. The last override was in 2011. The board wants to maintain budgetary stability and improve transit options for seniors. We are aware of the effect of property taxes, particularly the effect on seniors.
We will finish the finance committee reform this year. Ms. Mahon is looking forward to school finance committee reform, and more cooperation between school and town departments.
Ms. Mahon recognizes Clarissa Rowe for her services, and says a few words in remembrance of former selectman Kevin Greely.
Article 3: Reports of Committees. Town meeting receives reports from the Redevelopment Board, the Select Board, the Finance Committee, and the Master Plan Implementation Committee.
Al Tosti says a few words about the Finance Committee report. Pages C1 and C2 present financial pictures for override and non-override scenarios. Mr. Tosti introduces members of the finance committee. One member of the fincom passed away last week, after 41 years of serving on the committee.
Pete Howard speaks behalf of the Master Plan Implementation Committee. The master plan was developed over the course of several years. He states that the committee was formed to work with the ARB on the implementation of master plan recommendations, and invites town meeting members to read MPIC's report. There's a lot of work in there.
Diane Mahon introduces members of the Select Board and Adam Chapdelaine introduces town staff.
Article 3 is laid on the table.
Article 4: Appointment of the Measurer of Wood and Bark. The measurer of wood and bark is a ceremonial appointment, which traditionally goes to the eldest member of town meeting. This year, the position goes to John Worden.
Article 5: Election of Assistant Town Moderator. Jim O'Connor is nominated assistant town moderator.
Now, it's time to move on to substantive articles. The ARB would like to present articles 16, 6, 7, 8, 11 first, and table articles 9, 10, 12, 14, 15.
Article 16: Affordable Housing. ARB Chair Andrew Bunnell presents Article 16, along with Article 6 (Dimensional and density requirements for multi-family uses), Article 7 (Dimensional and Density Requirements for Mixed-use), Article 8 (Open Space Requirements for Multi-Family and Mixed-use), and Article 11 (Reduced Height Buffer Area).
(Andrew Bunnell) Arlington adopted a recodified zoning bylaw in February 2018, which was one of the recommendations of the master plan. Tonight, we'll entertain the first substantial zoning amendments.
Mixed-use zoning was adopted in 2016, and we've constructed 30 residential and six commercial units since then. The current ZBL limits the effectiveness of mixed-use development. We have a scarcity of viable commercial spaces. Businesses move away, or at the very least, they don't move here. We want to increase options for businesses, and provide more options for people who work here to live here.
We're also facing a housing crunch, and we want to increase the diversity of our housing stock. Arlington adopted inclusionary zoning 18 years ago, but the ZBL limits our ability to build it. We also want more housing options for younger families and seniors.
Our inclusionary zoning current requires 15% affordable units for projects of six units or more. Allowing higher density would allow us to build more inclusionary units, particularly along the town's transit corridors. The density bonuses encourage more commercial and residential development through mixed-use. Mr. Bunnell shows a map of Arlington, and indicates which areas that would be affected by Article 16.
The proposed zoning changes may seem drastic, but they're the result of hours of work. The changes proposed are minimums, and will allow more flexibility. Article 16 tries to encourage responsible development. It includes side-yard reductions when properties don't abut residential districts. They reduce usable open space requirements, but increase landscaped open space requirements. They include upper-story step-backs above the third floor. They adjust parking requirements. Many of our apartment buildings have excess parking. New projects can create more parking, if they desire to do so.
Article 6--8 are administrative changes. Article 11 involves height buffers. We are not changing the height buffer areas, but we are allowing applicants to reduce the buffer if they perform shadow studies and show a negligible impact.
Project review criteria are not changing. We'll still require landscape plans, drainage plans, and applicants will need to address environmental and safety concerns. We will still look at sustainable building and site design, transportation demand management, and bicycle parking.
These articles will lead to more economic diversity, more diversity of uses, greater amenities, a larger commercial tax base, more affordable housing, and more diversity of housing stock. They'll also allow more opportunities for public/private partnerships.
Four amendments have been proposed to Article 16. Their proponents address town meeting to explain their amendments.
(Gersh Amendment) Jon Gersh's amendment would restore article 16 to what was originally proposed to the ARB: a requirement for 20% affordable units in projects of 20 units or more. Mr. Gersh was one of the signers of Article 16. He feels the ARB took over the article, and turned it into something the signers didn't want. He feels that Article 16 plus the Klein Amendment would be like taking a chain saw to our zoning bylaws. He asks town meeting members to look at the development that's been happening near Alewife. He predicts displacement of residents, and believes that developers will exploit the zoning changes. He states that no studies have been done for these articles. He thinks it's too much, too fast. He'd suggests waiting a year before adopting these articles, so the ARB has time to come up with a better proposal. If we want to make Arlington a city, then we should talk about that and elect a mayor. Mr. Gersh states that the Klein amendment is a Trojan horse.
(Klein Amendment) Christian Klein thanks Mr. Gersh for the warm introduction; town meeting responds with laughter. Mr. Klein's amendment would strike section (C)(2) from Article 16 -- these sections allow density bonuses for 4--5 unit residential projects, even though they aren't required to provide affordable housing. This amendment was inspired by comments made during precinct 8 and 10's community meeting. Affordable housing projects are expensive to develop. Article 16 offers modest incentives through relaxed requirements. He asks "What's the difference between the Capital Square and the new mixed-use building near Stop and Shop?". People fear getting development we don't want instead of development we do. Zoning is a description of dimensions and uses. Anything built under article 16 will get a public hearing in from of the ARB. Mr. Klein encourages people to get involved in ARB hearings.
(Thornton Amendment) Barbara Thornton's amendment would require additional stormwater review, when projects are built with density incentives. This amendment is to help address climate change. The amendment was drafted in consultation with the town engineer.
(Lewiton Amendment) Marvin Lewiton's amendment would strike the provision that allows landscaped open space on balconies. He's concerned about Article 16's reduction to open space requirements, but he's supportive of the article as a whole.
Now, we debate Article 16.
(Steve Revilak) Arlington rewrote its zoning bylaws in 1975, and that effort included two goals: (1) to limit the maximum buildout potential of the town, which is to say, it's population; and (2) to put a stop to the construction of new apartments. We zoned 70% of the town exclusively for single-family homes, and greatly limited the opportunity to construct new multi-family housing. That was the goal back in 1975, and it's what we did.
This general practice -- using zoning regulations to limit the amount of housing available, and to give preference to more expensive forms of housing (like single-family homes) -- is called exclusionary zoning. It's called exclusionary because it creates an economic barrier of entry. If you can't afford the cost of housing in part of a community, then you won't be able to live there.
When there's demand to live in a town like Arlington, exclusionary zoning makes it more expensive; again, by limiting the supply of housing, and by favoring more expensive single-family homes. We've seen this reflected in our housing and land prices over the last few years. During the last round of tax assessments, some neighborhoods saw the increases very acutely.
The land aspect works like this. In 2018, a typical buildable lot cost around $360,000. If you put a single-family home on that lot, one household has to pay the whole $360k. If you put a two-family home on that lot, the land cost drops to $180k/household; for three families it drops to $120k/household, and so on. When land is expensive -- as it is in Arlington -- multi-family makes a big difference, by amortizing the cost of the land.
I see article 16 as a first step in addressing our housing costs, by allowing more multi-family development in exchange for affordable housing. It's a first step.
Next, I'd like to speak to some of the amendments.
The Gersh amendment proposes to restore the language I initially submitted to the ARB. While I commend Mr. Gersh for his engagement on this issue, I will not be voting in favor of his amendment. The reasons are based on the shortcomings I noted in my initial proposal to the ARB: in 18 years, Arlington's inclusionary zoning bylaw has only created 54 units of affordable housing. It's a small number primarily because our zoning limits the opportunities to build at a scale of six units or more.
When I submitted article 16, there were several articles that would have allowed more projects of this scale; but those articles have since been incorporated into 16 as density bonuses. The Gersh amendment does require more affordable units in larger projects, but it creates no new opportunities to build them.
The Klein amendment proposes to strike section (C)(2), which gives incentive bonuses to 4--5 unit projects. I'm in favor of this; it will give us a cleaner affordable housing article. We do need to address the need for middle-income and workforce housing, but that deserves a dedicated effort.
I also support the amendments for additional stormwater mitigation and removing balconies as usable open space.
In conclusion, I wrote the warrant language for article 16 broadly, to give the ARB opportunity for input. I think their version was an improvement on what I originally submitted, and I hope you'll support it, as amended.
(Joanne Preston) Ms. Preston yields her time to Arlington resident Janice Brodman. Ms. Brodman has lived in town for 25 years and works as an economist to promote growth and equity. She's terrified that Arlington will make the same mistakes that other communities have made. Ms. Brodman believes that Article 16 is a huge irreversible change, and that it was drafted without enough input from residents. She's been gathering petition signatures from businesses, to postpone the changes for one year; so far, 54 business owners have signed on. She believes there's been insufficient study into the impacts on traffic and schools. The hope is that inclusionary density combined with density bonuses creates more affordable housing, but she's finding it doesn't work. She believes this approach provides benefits for a few people, but problems for most. She believes these changes will lead to cookie-cutter structures with vacant storefronts. Large storefronts only work for big chain stores. We're a small town and this affects all of us. Ms. Brodman states that the town cannot rely on project-by-project decisions from the ARB, and asks people to vote against the article.
(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden asks for additional speaking time beyond the normal seven minutes. Town meeting declines her request.
Ms. Worden states that density bonuses do not produce affordability, especially for one-unit houses. She believes we need a housing trust fund instead. Ms. Worden claims that market rate rents in Arlington are lower than rents for subsidized units. She claims that 80% of renters pay less than $1100/month. She states that the zoning changes only affect 5% of the town and claims that they'll cause displacement, like the redevelopment of Boston's West end. She claims that these changes support Governor Baker's relentless generic housing policies, and the Arlington Housing Authority's waiting list will explode. She states that usable open space is a master plan recommendation but density is not. She believes that housing costs more in services than it raises in taxes. She claims that Arlington already has the best inclusionary zoning law in the state, and that the ARB should focus on expanding the commercial tax base. She asks town meeting to vote in favor of the Gersh amendment.
(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein has a number of questions, which are answered by Planning Director Jenny Raitt.
Did the town conduct a study of communities similar to Arlington?
What did you find?
Density Bonuses are a primary vehicle for promoting affordable housing production. This is true in Massachusetts, and in the United States.
Including communities like Arlington?
Is Arlington Considered an Inner Core community?
Did the town perform the study itself?
We did not do our own study; we used the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission to perform the analysis. Our studies show a buildout potential of 5400 more units.
Has the town considered requiring financial payments from developers, like linkage fees?
No, the town hasn't completed such a study yet, but we're working on one now.
How many more affordable units do we need to meet 40B's 10% threshold?
Arlington has 5.6% affordable units, and we'd need over 1000 to achieve 40B's 10% threshold. This is based on studies from 2010.
Mr. Weinstein appreciates the work that's been done on this Article but wants to see more studies done before he'd vote in favor if it. He believes that it's an error for Arlington to be categorized as an inner core community.
(Ann Thompson) Ms. Thompson is a real estate economist who teaches at MIT. She found out about these zoning articles by chance. She believes they need to be though out more. Ms. Thompson states that she's not a NIMBY, but she believes we aren't like Cambridge or Somerville. She thinks there's a ton of information to digest, and believes that most people don't understand what's in this article. She asks "who is affordable housing for?", and states that we need to know this. She's not sure what the economic impact would be.
Ms. Thompson would like to focus on the R4--R7 districts. She asks "who will move here?", and "what if affordable housing causes all of our housing prices to go up?". She believes these changes will lead to speculation and displacement.
Ms. Thompson prepared a large of 23 slides for her seven-minute presentation, but doesn't have time to go through them all.
Ms. Thompson says that bigger units are owned by people who don't live in town, and that we need another year to work on this proposal.
(Maureen Gormley) Ms. Gormley cedes her time to Julia Mirak. Ms. Mirak is a resident of Winchester, but a prominent business owner in Arlington.
Ms. Mirak is a third-generation property owner in town, and encourages people to vote in favor of these articles. Her grandfather started an auto repair shop in town, during the 1930's. He grew his business, served on a number of town committees, and always believed in change and growth. The site of the original garage is now the Legacy Apartments, which have 130 units. She states that adaptive re-use of historic buildings is a best practice. Next, she speaks about the parking requirement reductions. The Legacy currently has an excess of parking spaces; we're only using about one parking space per unit. Private investment is essential to grow businesses and attract state funds.
Ms. Mirak recalls an information session she attended where one resident stated that the town was "full". She believes it's crucial that we have a town that people want to live in.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says that this is his 50th town meeting. He states that at his first town meeting, he stood with the people of Arlington to oppose three twenty-story buildings on the Mugar Property. We are all one town, and these density zoning articles are an attack on all of us. It's only 5% of the land area, but 25% of the town's population lives there, and the area abuts one- and two-family houses. Mr. Worden claims that the 1975 zoning rewrite has been maligned as a plot to keep people out of Arlington; it was nothing of the sort. We reduced the maximum building height in 1978--1979. 97% of Massachusetts cities and town are less dense than Arlington. Mr. Worden believes that Arlington has done it's share of "people packing", and that the Gersh amendment is the only reasonable part of article 16. He feels the density articles are a threat to the town.
(Kaspar Kasparian) Mr. Kasparian would like to hold off on all of the zoning articles until all of the concerns are addressed. He's worried about more traffic congestion, particularly during rush hour. He says there's no crosswalk where the Minuteman bikeway crosses Lake Street. He's worried about accidents and deaths on the bike path. He asks if we're holding the community hostage. He asks "who are the investors, and where do they live?", "do the realtors have a personal financial interest?", and "can we estimate the number of children that would be attending our public schools?".
Mr. Kasparian continues with more questions: "shouldn't we state all of the unknowns?", "can we confidently predict the property tax increases?", and "will more storefronts create more opportunities?". He states that Belmont has been struggling ever since Macy's closed. He believes the town has been remiss in addressing the needs of renters, namely the lack of parking and rising rents. He feels that our off-street parking ban is unreasonable. He'd like people to push to restore rent control. He asks people to support house bill H3800 (?) which would raise taxes on long-term capital gain, raise $1B in revenue, and reduce reliance on property taxes.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps introduces herself as a member of the tree committee, and states that the tree committee voted in opposition on these articles. She says the Master Plan recognizes the fragility of our natural resources and promotes trees. These items are just as important as transit and housing. She states that the zoning changes won't protect the tree canopy. She recommends a no vote on Article 16 and the related articles, in order to have additional study, incorporate the tree inventory, and collect pictures of all parcels that could be redeveloped. At our precinct meeting, someone said the zoning presentation went 100 miles and hour, and that they couldn't understand it. It was too much. Ms. Stamps states that she's a visual learner, and doesn't understand what these changes will do for the treescape.
(Pete Howard) Mr. Howard has lived in Arlington for 50 years; he's been a town meeting and finance committee member for many of those years. He believes article 16 will strengthen Arlington's economy and generate larger-value mixed-use buildings. These new buildings will be more energy efficient and provide access to public transportation. This should lead to an increase in the tax base, and less frequent overrides.
(Kevin Koch) Mr. Koch asks about the redevelopment of the Oldsmobile dealership at the corner of Mill St. and Mass Ave. He's concerned about developers subdividing lots, to get around our inclusionary zoning requirements.
Jenny Raitt states that the town changed it's inclusionary zoning bylaw after the Time Oldsmobile was redeveloped, to discourage subdivision and phasing. Mr. Koch said he wasn't aware of that.
Mr. Koch says he doesn't know what the effect on property taxes will be. He encourages the town to get MIT to run some simulations on what might happen. He believes that balconies shouldn't count as open space.
(Bill Berkowitz) Mr. Berkowitz gives his time to Arlington resident Don Seltzer. Mr. Seltzer states that Arlington hired a state agency to work on the zoning changes, and claims that Article 16 is "What MAPC wanted us to do". He goes through a long list of criticisms about MAPC's renderings and shadow studies. He states that development is not limited to Mass Ave. He states that we voted for mixed use, and the building next to the high school is what we got.
(Joe Tully) Mr. Tully states that his family owns apartments in town, and that he's opposed to Article 16. Mr. Tully gives the rest of his time to Arlington resident Wynelle Evans.
Ms. Evans states that she was one of the signers of Article 16, but feels it has changed too much since then. She states that the changes would allow taller and larger buildings, and eliminate the requirement for usable open space. Ms. Evans believes the results would look like something out of Bladerunner. Ms. Evans asks town meeting to vote yes on the Gersh amendment, and then to vote No on the Article as a whole. She states that developers are in the business of making money, and not affordable housing. She believes the article offers no protections for residents, and will cause displacement. She thinks the proposals are too generic, and require more study. She states that we're battling global and local pressures, and believes the town should consider a range of housing approaches.
(Dan Jalkut) Mr. Jalkut doesn't think the building next to Stop and Shop is a bad building, and notes that it used to be derelict gas station. He thinks people come to Arlington because they want a semi-urban lifestyle. He's confused about how to move forward. He thinks the article was put forward with the best of intentions, but isn't convinced enough to vote yes. He thinks that some of the arguments to wait are nothing more than stalling, but he's not sure if it would be a mistake to put this off. He believes the Thornton and Lewiton amendments seem reasonable, and asks the ARB what they think.
Andrew Bunnell states that the ARB supports the Thornton Amendment. Earlier this evening, the ARB had a discussion about balconies, and would be supportive of the Lewiton amendment.
(Bill Hayner) Mr. Hayner asks what an affordable unit would cost. Jenny Raitt answers: a two-bedroom rental unit would cost around $1500/month; a two-bedroom owner-occupied unit would cost around $200k.
Mr. Hayner states that affordable is not low-income, and he believes low-income housing is what the town really needs. He states that only two speakers have talked about schools. He's afraid that we'll lose the Mugar case. He asks town meeting to vote all of these articles down, and to get the questions answered. He asks the ARB to communicate with the town.
It's a little after 11:00pm, and we adjourn until Wednesday night.