Town Meeting - Apr 24, 2019
Night two of the annual town meeting. We start with announcements, then move on to receiving reports.
Article 3: Reports of Committees. The Permanent Town Building Committee (PTBC) submits their report. The PTBC has been working on two major projects: the Gibbs school renovation and the Hardy School addition. Both projects have come in on time and on budget. The Gibbs project was much simpler than the high school will be, but there were a surprising number of things to deal with. The Gibbs renovation was done entirely within the footprint of the existing building. Major projects for the coming year include the public works facility on Grove street and the Central School (Senior Center) renovation.
Juli Brazile gives a report from Envision Arlington. The Committee discovered that many residents don't understand our town's form of government. Envision Arlington has been doing outreach to help people learn. The Sustainable Arlington committee hopes you enjoy eco-week. This year's survey went smoothly, and we doubled the number of responses. We're looking at new ways of doing outreach. The survey results indicate that town meeting members can act as a bridge between residents and town government.
Next, we take votes on the consent agenda. I didn't have a copy of the list with me. There was nothing I wanted to pull, but a few articles did get pulled out.
Article 16: Affordable Housing. ARB Chair Andrew Bunnell addresses town meeting. Mr. Bunnell states that the ARB listened to town meeting comments on Monday. They'd like to pull Article 16 (Affordable Housing), Article 6 (Density and Dimensional Requirements for Multi-Family Uses), Article 7 (Density and Dimensional Requirements for Mixed-use), Article 8 (Open Space Requirements for Multi-Family uses and Mixed Use), Article 9 (Townhouses), and Article 11 (Reduced Height Buffer Area). These articles will go back to the ARB for further study. Mr. Bunnell asks people to remain engaged, as we'll need a broader study regarding what the town desires.
Since the ARB pulled their version of Article 16, we have the Gersh amendment.
(Steve Revilak) I explained the definition of affordability in our bylaw. An affordable unit is "affordable" to a renter making 60% of the area median income, or an owner-occupant making 70% of the area median income. "Affordable" means that the household spends no more than 30% of their income on housing.
I state that since Arlington adopted inclusionary zoning in 2001, it's only be used on five projects. I ask (through the moderator) why it's been used so few times.
Jenny Raitt responds, saying that there are very few opportunities to build projects of six units or more.
I ask Ms. Raitt if developers are building a lot of five-unit projects. Since the affordable unit requirements applies at six units, I'm wondering if developers building a lot of five-unit projects to avoid the affordability requirement.
Ms. Raitt indicates that there aren't five-unit projects being built.
(At this point, I'm opposed Article 16, even though it's my original wording. Affordable housing requirements aren't very useful if the ZBL rarely allows them to be triggered).
(Ted Palluzo) Mr. Palluzo says he's lived in different towns, but this is the best one. People want to live here. He thinks we own a tremendous debt of gratitude to the ARB. Every town has three different batches of people: NIMBYs, people who want the town to grow, and people who want lots of growth. We're across the street from Cambridge and Somerville, which are really hot areas. Mr. Palluzo states that Arlington will not succeed in keeping things they way they were, and that planning is the best way to adapt to change. Having the ARB take more comments and do more work is good. If the building next to Stop and Shop isn't a good building but was built under our current zoning laws, then maybe the zoning laws have to change. Mr. Palluzo states that six people in the room were elected by the town -- five Select Board Members and the town Clerk. Mr. Palluzo thinks that these six people need to express their opinion about the plans. He'd like to hear from the town's Finance Committee, and other town leaders.
(Dan Jalkut) Moves the question.
Vote on the Gersh Amendment fails: 90--123.
Town meeting votes no action on Articles 16, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11.
John Deist raises a point of order. He thinks the consent agenda vote went by too quickly.
Article 14: Parking Reduction Applicability. Andrew Bunnell presents the article. Town meeting adopted transportation demand management (TDM) in 2016, and it's been very successful. When drafting that article, we inadvertently omitted R7 (the large apartment district) from the list of applicable districts. This article will make TDM applicable in the R7 district.
(Marian King) Ms. King is concerned with low-income people not having enough parking. She's glad we now have overnight on-street parking by special permission. She believes it's unfair when residents have to park on the street because their apartment doesn't provide enough spaces.
(Dan Jalkut) Mr. Jalkut generally favors lower parking demands. He understands there may be people who need more cars, but doesn't like the idea of forcing developers to create parking spaces that go unused.
(Andrew Fischer) Mr. Fischer asks about the number of parking spaces required. A member of the planning department explains what the requirements are.
(Gordon Jameson) Mr. Jameson asks which zones have TDM.
TDM applies to R5, R6, the business districts, and the industrial district.
Mr. Jameson asks what the impacts of TDM have been.
We've been able to permit projects and uses with less parking on-site, more bicycle parking, and encourage other transportation options.
Mr. Jameson states that he's in favor of the article.
(John Deist) Mr. Deist moves the question.
Vote passes: 181--34.
Article 15: Accessory Dwelling Units. Andrew Bunnell presents the article. Arlington's Housing Production Plan identifies a need to develop a range of housing types. The ADU article only applies to single-family homes built before Feb. 14, 2019. This program is similar to ones used in neighboring towns, who've found the impact to be minimal. ADUs are limited to 750 square feet or less, must have two or more methods of egress, and the building must be owner-occupied. ADUs will not be permitted in a detached structure, and they will only be allowed by special permit. ADUs must be leased for a minimum of one year at a time, and they cannot be sublet. This bylaw will allow the town to track where ADUs are located. We only expect a small number of ADUs to be built under this article, and they should have moderately low rent.
(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon asks if there are about 6000 single-family homes in the R0 and R1 districts?
Yes, there are.
Ms. Mahon asks how many would be built in Arlington, whether there would be many special permits, and about demands on water and natural gas.
Jenny Raitt expects a limited number of ADUs because that's what neighboring towns have seen. She states that an ADU requires two means of egress; that may or may not involve a fire escape. She states that the ZBA will consider water and gas demand during special permit hearings. Ms. Raitt also expects the requirements for these units will make them cost-prohibitive.
(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman believes there's an elaborate schedule of restrictions in the article, unlike earlier proposals. He asks who would enforce the restrictions.
Inspectional services would be charged with enforcement.
Mr. Ruderman asks how the enforcing agency would know that someone is building an ADU.
A person building an ADU would have to file a building permit. It would be obvious from the permit that they were constructing an ADU.
Mr. Ruderman asks what the penalty would be if someone built an ADU without a special permit.
The fine would be up to $1000/day.
(Michael Quinn) Mr. Quinn favors the idea of in-law apartments. He says he watched a YouTube video of the residential study group discussing this article. He got the impression that everyone in the RSG disapproved by the end of the meeting. Mr. Quinn states that he discussed this article with the Council on Aging. He's not aware that the RSG has vetted the new version. He's not sure the article has been vetted enough, and believes not enough outreach has been done. He's also unsure if this article will move the needle on our housing needs. Mr. Quinn hopes to see this again in future years.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks what percentage of the town is dedicated to the R0 and R1 districts (these are single-family districts).
Jenny Raitt says 70% of the town's land is devoted to these single-family districts.
Mr. Klein believes that we have to find a way into R0 and R1, if we want to democratize affordable housing in Arlington. He notes there are issues in doing this, and asks if someone can speak to the article from an emergency services perspective.
Chief Jefferson states that the fire department originally had issues with addresses. He understands that ADUs will have a distinct address, so that's no longer an problem. Mr. Jefferson states that the fire department generally knows what they're responding to, but may not in this case.
Mr. Klein asks if these issues are surmountable. Mr. Jefferson responds "we can deal with anything."
Mr. Klein asks how difficult it would be to build a code-compliant unit.
Building inspector Michael Byrne answers. An ADU would need a one-hour fire rating, two means of egress, and the water and gas supplies must be big enough.
Mr. Klein states that it takes a lot of work to build an ADU, but it's doable. He feels these give the town to create more affordable housing in areas that wouldn't ordinarily have them. He notes that the ZBA would have to approve a special permit for each unit constructed.
(Liz Pyle) Ms. Pyle states that the residential study group examines zoning changes in residential districts. She states that the RSG reviewed Article 15 on March 8th, and came to the conclusion that it needed additional study. She states that the ARB ignored their recommendation, and never provided the RSG with an opportunity to review the revised version of the article.
Ms. Pyle believes the ADU article isn't ready yet. She believes that these units would end up as Air BnB hotels for Boston, and would raise rents overall. She believes that Article 15 doesn't provide inspectional services with the enforcement tools it needs. She states that inspectional services couldn't inspect one of these units without a warrant. She states that there's no increased funding for enforcement, and that we haven't passed any regulations on short-term rentals. She asks "what if an LLC owns the house, how can we tell if it's owner-occupied?". She states that we have too many non-conforming lots, and that there are no parking requirements for ADUs. She suggests putting the article off for a year.
(Michael Byrne) Mr. Byrne (director of inspectional services) says that his department will find a way to enforce whatever town meeting comes up with. He states that the ADU article is not unenforceable.
(Brian Hasbrook) Mr. Hasbrook speaks in favor of the article. He thinks the only downside is that it's too restrictive. He feels it's too hard to do this within the footprint of an existing home. Mr. Hasbrook says he's personally benefited from accessory units, especially when he was younger. He tells a story of his dad, who went into hospice while living in his brother's ADU, and ended his live there. He's less concerned with violations, and states that there are already restrictions against Air BnB.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon states that he's also a member of the residential study group, and doesn't recall as many questions as Ms. Pyle mentioned. He states the RSG found three issues with ADUs. First, there was concern about teardowns to create ADUs, but the article includes a drop-dead date to prevent this. There was concern about short-term rentals, but now the article requires a one-year lease, and this year's warrant includes an article to regulate short-term rentals. The owner of an ADU must affirm compliance each year, under penalty and pains of perjury. The zoning bylaw provides inspectional services with a variety of enforcement mechanisms; this would be just like enforcement for any other code violation. Mr. Hanlon thinks this isn't a big risk to take, and states that the town can re-evaluate after a year. He states that ADUs won't do much to address our housing crisis, but they can provide flexibility for families. He thinks this is a small risk that's worth taking.
(Gordon Jameson) Mr. Jameson asks if the ARB has listened to public comments about article 15.
The ARB indicates that they have.
Mr. Jameson notes that the article requires a one-year lease, no additional parking, and annual recertification. He asks if an ADU would increase a property's assessment.
An ADU would increase the assessed value of a property.
Mr. Jameson asks if an ADU needs both a kitchen and a bathroom.
Yes, both a kitchen and bathroom are required.
Mr. Jameson notes that town meeting approved the town's master plan. He states that these articles are a direct response to the master plan, that the redevelopment board worked hard to deliver them to us, but we continue to say "we don't want density". Mr. Jameson states that we either need to be inclusive, or fess up to being a gated community.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden states that nothing in current law prevents a homeowner from having someone living in their house. He states that the town voted for a recodified zoning bylaw in January of 2018, but the process was very rushed. Mr. Worden reads the definitions of R0 and R1 from the zoning bylaw. He can't understand how the ARB put this article forward without changing the district definitions. He thinks the zoning bylaw should have a footnote saying "the ZBA can let your neighbor turn a one-family house into a two-family house".
(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman states that there are forces at work that thrive on disrupting local regulations, and they are aggressive and combative. He's concerned that in a few years, owners would find ways to squeeze Air BnB use into these articles. Given the number of prospective units, Mr. Schlictman believes we should adopt Article 35 (Short-Term rental regulations) first, and make sure it's effective.
(Mark McCabe) Motions to terminate debate.
Vote fails: 137--82. (This is a zoning article, so it requires a 2/3's vote; it would have needed 146 votes to pass).
Article 17: Sign Regulations. Andrew Bunnell presents the article. Our sign bylaws are not in compliance with current case law. In drafting a new sign laws, we wanted to create a clearer bylaw which was easier to follow. The supreme court case Reed v. Gilbert was the primary motivation. The supreme court ruled that municipalities cannot regulate signs based on their content; they can only regulate time, manner, and place. We wanted our ZBL to comply with the Reed case. We've created a set of sign districts, and established standards for different types of signs.
(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman asks what a bandit sign is.
Erin Zwirko states that "bandit sign" refers to an unpermitted sign.
Mr. Schlictman asks what a cabinet sign is. Ms. Zwirko gives an example of an existing cabinet sign on Mass Ave.
Mr. Schlictman asks if anything in the sign article would run contrary to the proposed dark skies bylaw. Ms. Zwirko says there is not.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein proposes two amendments. The first would correct a typo; the second would consolidate sign reviews under the ARB.
(Bill Berkowitz) Mr. Berkowitz asks who would enforce the law.
Enforcement would be done by the building inspector.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden states that there's a wavy sign on a pole down the street, which has been there for months. He asks if the sign bylaw will be enforced.
Michael Byrne states that the bylaw will be enforced.
There's a motion to terminate debate, and debate is terminated.
Article passes: 207--8.
Article 18: Floodplain District, Article 19: Inland Wetland District. The ARB wishes to present the two articles together. The Board worked with the Conservation Commission on these articles. The Conservation Commission provided valuable feedback, but remains neutral on the issue of zoning. Mr. Bunnell notes that these sections were not addressed during recodification. The changes will better align the Zoning Bylaw with Conservation Commission regulations, and will not change the Conservation Commission's review process.
There's no discussion.
Article 18 passes: 214--2.
Article 19 passes: 210--1.
Article 20: Review of Religious and Educational Uses. Andrew Bunnell presents. Article 20 deals with the Dover Amendment. The goal is to make our ZBL compliant with state law in this regard.
(?) The town meeting member points out a few citations and asks if they create a circular reference.
No, this particular citation refers to the ARB's regulations.
(John Deist) Mr. Deist asks about the definition of educational and religious uses.
Jenny Raitt states that the organizations must be non-profit, as stated in MGL Chapter 40A.
Mr. Deist asks how for-profit organizations will be excluded?
Ms. Raitt states that applicants must be certified by the building inspector.
(Gordon Jameson) Mr. Jameson believes that referencing state law makes our job easier.
Vote: article passes, 207--4.
Article 21: Bicycle Parking. David Watson presents the article. The master plan talks about bicycle parking. Our current bylaw ties the number of bicycle parking spaces to the number of automobile parking spaces. It doesn't provide much guidance on bicycle parking, other than the requirement for a bicycle parking space to be 2' by 6'. The new proposal requires 1.5 bicycle parking spaces per dwelling unit, and gives more guidance for what kind of parking is required. Long-term bicycle parking must be covered and secure; short-term parking can be outside and unsheltered. The ARB has been imposing these kinds of bicycle parking requirements for some time, even though they're not in the bylaw.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak states that cycling is his primary mode of transportation. There are three things about the bylaw that he finds particularly attractive: (1) the decoupling of bicycle parking requirements from automobile parking requirements, (2) the distinction between long- and short-term parking, and (3) the provision which states that racks designed to hold a bicycle only by it's front wheel will not satisfy the requirements of this section. The last part is awesome.
(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman things that car parking is less of an issue than it's been in the past. Adequate bicycle parking is more of an issue. He believes the new bicycle parking requirements make a lot of sense.
(Pete Howard) Mr. Howard is a frequent cyclist. He asks if the town is going to make these requirements retroactive.
No, they won't be retroactive.
(Dan Jalkut) Mr. Jalkut believes this is a really good idea. He believes we should encourage bicycling. He asks if short-term parking can be co-located with long-term parking, and if residential parking can be co-located with business parking.
These types of bicycle parking can be co-located.
(David Bean) Mr. Bean asks what the town does about abandoned bicycles.
Adam Chapdelaine states that the town can coordinate removal, between the police department and DPW.
(Timur Yontar) Motion to terminate debate.
Article passes: 207--7.