Town Meeting - Jun 1st, 2022

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Night eleven of town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from


193 Town meeting members participated in the check-in vote.

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says we're going to take Article 49 out of order, sometime after mid-meeting. Mr. Christiana notes that we're likely to take up article 38 tonight. He stresses the need for civility. During deliberations on an earlier article, some town meeting members accused others of fear-mongering, in a way that could be taken as a personal affront. Mr. Christiana says he'll step in if speakers begin to cast aspersions on others.

There are no reports submitted this evening.

Article 37 - Unsafe Structure

Article 37's goal is to clarify that only the director of Inspectional Services (or their designee) has the authority to declare a structure unsafe. We began deliberating this last Wednesday.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana recalls that Ms. Mozina made a motion to amend from the floor last week, and this week we have her amendment in writing. He invites Ms. Mozina to explain her amendment.

(Engjellusche Mozina) Ms. Mozina thinks her amendment is clear and non-controversial, and cites the authority of the building inspector in state law.

(Mark Rosenthal) Mr. Rosenthal asks if this specifies penalties if the wrong party determines that a structure is unsafe, and if the Building Inspector is the only one who's allowed to make that determination.

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein says the article doesn't specify a penalty. If someone determined that a building was unsafe on their own, then went ahead and demolished it, it would create a similar situation to what happened earlier. The owner would need a ZBA process to regain their development rights.

(Mike Ciampa, Director of Inspectional Services) Mr. Ciampa says that state law imposes fines if a home is taken down without a demolition permit. The zoning penalties can be more extreme; you could lose your development rights on the lot. He thinks it's important to have this provision in the bylaws.

(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman moves the question.

(Eugene Benson, Point of order) Mr. Benson says that we've had no debate on the amendment.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that's correct. There was a motion to terminate debate, and now it's up to town meeting to decide what to do.

(Janice Weber, Point of order) Ms. Weber asks what all the background noise is. She says it sounds like dishes clamoring.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana isn't sure, and asks the panelists to mute themselves.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 153--62--4.

(Gordon Jamieson, Point of order) Mr. Jamieson asks if the amendment should say "MGL" instead of "GL".

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says this doesn't matter.

Mozina amendment passes, 149--68--4.

Article passes, 215--6--2.

Article 38 - Two Family Construction Allowed by Right in R0 and R1 Residential Zones

Article 38 proposes to allow two-family and duplex homes to be constructed in the R0 and R1 districts by right. Currently, these districts do not permit the construction of two-family/duplex homes. This article was proposed by Annie Lacourt and ten registered voters.

(Annie Lacourt, via video) Ms. Lacourt says she proposed this article after seeing several smaller single-family homes in her neighborhood torn town and replaced with much larger ones. We have a regional housing shortage, and that contributes to making housing more expensive. Smaller, older homes are less attractive to buyers and more attractive to developers. Right now, our bylaw gives developers one option in most of the town town -- build a new single family home. This article would create the option of building two-family homes instead.

Ms. Lacourt says this article isn't about creating affordable housing, according to federal definitions. There are two-family homes in these districts; these homes were built before they were outlawed in 1975. Not all homes sales result in teardowns and not all teardowns are done by developers. By allowing two-family homes to be built instead, we'll add to our housing stock, and two-family homes are more energy efficient than single-family. Having these new homes built closer to Boston is better than having the built further out, on undeveloped land.

Ms. Lacourt says there are no zoning changes other than allowing two-family homes. The tree protection bylaw still applies. Regarding infrastructure, Arlington had a higher population in the past. She thinks that much of the opposition is rooted in the idea that new residents will degrade our quality of life. If we pass this article, we'll be the first town in the state to end single-family restrictions and we'll be a leader.

(Jordan Weinstein, Point of order) Mr. Weinstein says he wouldn't raise a point of order if it weren't so important. He's disappointed in the way the voting portal handled the requests to speak. Mr. Weinstein says he pressed the "Request to Speak" button early, but hit the "too many connections" screen and wound up 36th in the list. He asks the moderator to clear the speaking queue and open it again.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana suspects that a lot of people requested to speak at the same time, and overloaded the portal server. He's not sure we'd get a fairer result if we were in town hall and 40--50 people raised their hand at once. Mr. Christiana acknowledges that the portal isn't perfect. We'd use different techniques if we were in person, but that's not where we are now.

(Lori Leahy, Point of order) Ms. Leahy says she ran into the same problem. She asks the moderator to alternate pro and con speakers.

(Ian Goodsell, Point of order) Mr. Goodsell suggests picking speakers at random.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana believes the connection overload and retries already created a degree of randomness.

(Rebecca Gruber, Point of order) Ms. Gruber asks if speakers could limit themselves to 2--3 minutes, since there are over 50 people in the speaking queue.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana expects to have a motion to terminate debate before we get through the entire queue. He won't reduce speaking times, but agrees that conciseness would be preferable.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton has an amendment to article 38, which will change the two footnotes in the main motion. The main motion from the ARB would limit new duplex dwellings to 1850 square feet by deed restriction, which would be binding on future owners. Mr. Newton says that deed restrictions can be used for good or bad things. His amendment would enforce the size restriction as part of the inspectional process, and it would stay in effect for three years. After three years, owners of these homes would be on equal footing with other homeowners. After three years a family would have the ability to build an addition to meet their needs. Without that option, they'd probably have to move. Mr. Newton says his amendment would also respect changes made by later town meetings, whereas deed restrictions would not. He asks town meeting to join him in voting "yes" for this amendment, and for the article as a whole. He thinks article 38 will be a climate win, produce new homes that are less expensive, put Arlington in a position of leadership, and take a step towards unwinding a racist zoning policy.

(Frank Ciano, Point of order) Mr. Ciano says the previous gentleman was presenting an amendment, and should not have commented on the main article.

(Michelle Nathan, Point of order) Ms. Nathan asks if it's clear that we'll be voting for the main motion if this passes.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christian says it's acceptable to vote for an amendment, but against the main motion as amended. He says there can also be incompatibilities between amendments, which is actually the case tonight.

(Kristin Pennarun, Point of order) Ms. Pennarun asks if it's really the case that a speaker who's presenting an amendment can't speak to the main motion?

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that's not settled as a matter of policy. He takes Mr. Ciano's earlier point. Presenting an amendment means the speaker has an elevated priority. It seems more fair to limit them to the amendment, but they they have to go back into the speaking queue. He asks speakers with amendments to stick to presenting their amendment.

(Josephine Babiarz) Ms. Babiarz also has an amendment. She says a discussion of this article is not discriminatory. She has several questions. First, is the article feasible? Will the town be able to retain its zoning? Who will enforce it? Is this considered a taking? And, will it provide benefits? Ms. Babiarz says that her goal is to delay this article. She says that single-family homes went for $1.69M in 2019, and that old houses may have asbestos or lead paint. She thinks that four-family homes are more feasible, since each one can sell for $712k. We won't find single-family homes at a $700k price point.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says this seems like a long wind-up to presenting the amendment.

(Josephine Babiarz) Ms. Babiarz says the draft guidance will allow multi-family homes by right, and it will void our zoning if we don't meet the requirements. We'll be forced to do whatever the MBTA requirements are. The laws might force us into new redevelopment. She asks who will enforce this, and believes the fire department is the only one who deals with properties that are sold. She asks what happens if the seller doesn't put the restriction in the deed. She asks if we'll pay town employees to go do different land registries and look up the deeds. She thinks this article might be considered a taking.

(Note: I'm not sure where MBTA community requirements fit into this discussion. In those guidelines, "multi-family" refers to three or more dwellings per building; this article is about allowing two dwellings per building.)

(Beth Elliot, Point of order) Ms. Elliot believes that entire presentation was on the merits of the main motion.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana believes it was an excessively long wind up, regarding why Ms. Babiarz felt a delay was needed.

(Alex Bagnall) Mr. Bagnall asks if Article 38 would be considered a taking.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim doesn't see the article as a taking, with or without the requirement for a deed restriction.

(Alex Bagnall) Mr. Bagnall asks about the town's plan to do an equity audit, and whether this article would have any bearing on that.

(Jillian Harvey, DEI director) Ms. Harvey says that housing will be a main focus of the equity assessment. Allowing two-family homes in single-family districts is a small but actionable step. Ms. Harvey says that Arlington is just like every other community in the greater Boston area, including our decisions on housing policy to restrict growth and development. People say they want diversity, but our bylaws say otherwise.

(Alex Bagnall) Mr. Bagnall says that systemic inequalities benefit those who have already benefited, and harm those who've already been harmed. He asks how much more we're willing to do. He says that rolling back exclusionary zoning policies will require affluent homeowners to give something up. Our government created these inequalities and we should be the ones to correct them.

(Ben Rudick) Mr. Rudick says that Arlington is the home of one of the country's leading experts on housing policy, Katherine Levine Einstein. He invites Ms. Einstein to speak.

(Kathrine Levine Einstein) Ms. Einstein specializes in local policy, and believes that article 38 would have a small but positive change. She says there's proof that more market rate housing development is absolutely critical to bringing down housing prices. California, Oregon, and Minneapolis have all implemented this reform, and so far the effect has been modest. Each home in a new duplex costs less than a new single-family home. She expects to hear a lot of calls for delay this evening, and states that delays can have a profound negative effect on the housing market.

(Ben Rudick) Mr. Rudick says these views aren't fringe. He started a group called Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors. The group has over 400 members, who are overwhelmingly supportive of article 38.

(Xavid Pretzer) Mx. Pretzer says that housing cost is the issue he hears about most in Arlington. A lot of people are rent burdened, but aren't eligible for subsidized housing, or there's no subsidized housing available. They think this is an important positive step towards addressing the issue. Mx. Pretzer would like to give a used car analogy. The supply chain disruptions prevented auto manufacturers from building new cars, and eventually used cars that were 3--5 years old were selling for more than the new models used to. They say the same thing is happening with housing. Teardowns have happened before and they'll continue to happen in the future. We're choosing whether the new homes can be single-family, or two-family of limited size. Mx. Pretzer notes that the single-family zones have many two-family homes that were built before zoning was adopted. Arlington would be a leader in doing this. They say that Lexington's comprehensive plan includes multi-family housing in areas that are currently single-family only. This is an opportunity to be part of a regional solution. They ask town meeting to join them in supporting the article and the Newton amendment.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana notes that three supporters have spoken. He'd like opponents to raise their hands (in Zoom), to see if any of them would like to speak.

(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans is floored by what's happening to home values. We've become an affluent suburb. She thinks that article 38 will only provide choices for people who can afford a million-dollar home. She think this article will accelerate teardowns, and that buyers will be competing with builders. She says that Minneapolis was one of four places that eliminated single family zoning, but there was a 28% decrease in housing affordability in the 16 counties surrounding the twin cities. Ms. Evans thinks this will put upward pressure on prices, and we're just meeting the needs of high income buyers. She says we need to support affordable housing, getting a real estate transfer fee passed, and community land trusts. She feels that allowing two-family homes by right will fuel the upward trend.

(Sheri Baron) Ms. Baron opposes the article, and she hasn't read of any benefit that would lead her to support it. Her biggest concern is diversity. Ms. Baron moved here in 1976, when Arlington felt like a small town, and there were affordable choices. If Article 38 passes, we will deliberately and knowingly become a rich town. We're already heading there. We will push people out. Changes will occur when that diversity dies. Ms. Baron wants to keep Arlington welcoming. Ms. Baron notes that two of the five ARB members voted against article 38 and she's wondering if one of the members who voted "no" could explain their actions.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says the rationale for the votes is covered in the ARB's report to town meeting. The members who voted against the article were in favor of the concept. Ms. Zsembery was concerned about not seeing enough of an engagement plan. At the time the ARB voted, the board had approved the housing production plan but the Select Board did not. She hoped that creative strategies like this one could be part of a more comprehensive plan.

(Jon Gersh) Mr. Gersh says that whether to eliminate single-family zoning is a debatable idea and we're debating it. He says constituents don't know about this, and how dare we consider dropping this bombshell on our unsuspecting neighbors. Mr. Gersh says that 80% of residents have no idea that we're debating single-family zoning, and what if the first clue someone gets about this is when someone builds two-family home next door. How dare we! Convince me that people want this and I'll play ball. Mr. Gersh says there will be a backlash about this and "forget about it".

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana would like to call on speakers who are undecided, or have questions to ask.

(Joseph Solomon) Mr. Solomon asks if there are concerns about the town's infrastructure, if article 38 passes.

(Mike Rademacher, Director of Public Works) Mr. Rademacher says it's not clear how many additional units this would create. Mr. Rademacher says we've had a greater population on the past, and that our infrastructure could handle some limited increase. It's hard to say without knowing how many more homes.

(Joseph Solomon) Mr. Solomon asks if a builder could build a two-family home with two ADUs.

(Mike Ciampa, Director of Inspectional Services) Mr. Ciampa says a builder would not be able to build a duplex with two ADUs. ADUs need to be built by an owner who lives on the property. And although our zoning code makes a distinction for accessory dwelling units, the building code does not. A two-family home with an ADU would trigger additional code requirements, like having a sprinkler system.

(Joe Solomon) Mr. Solomon asks if the Planning Department could provide some idea of the number of units that might be built.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says the planning department performed a study of replacement homes in 2019. Between 2010 and 2022 there were 310 permits for major renovations, which averages out to 27/year. She doesn't see that number being much different if Article 38 passes.

(Joseph Solomon) Mr. Solomon would like to circle back to Mr. Rademacher. He asks if the infrastructure could handle an increase of 27 homes/year.

(Mike Rademacher) At that rate, Mr. Rademacher would have no concerns about the strain on utilities.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman has a question about the size limitation of 1850 square feet of heated living space per dwelling. She asks what would preclude a developer from building two floors of unheated space in order to build a larger home.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the entire structure would need to fit within the existing limits.

(Mike Ciampa, Director of Inspectional Services) Mr. Ciampa says the wording is "heated living space". The space would have to be unfinished; the owner would need a building permit to finish it later, and they wouldn't be able to get it. Mr. Ciampa says that heated living space is finished area. He thinks the wording is enough to prevent a go-around.

(Marvin Lewiton) Mr. Lewiton lives in a two-family home in the R1 district that pre-dates zoning. He's asked a lot of neighbors if they're concerned about two-family homes like his, and they're not. Regarding the teardown issue, it's unfortunate that people don't want to live in small capes, especially if they have lead paint and asbestos. Regarding the size of homes, The planning department did an analysis on what's likely to be torn down and replaced, and it's a small percentage of the homes in R1. Mr. Lewiton thinks that the opponents who are talking about the end of single family zoning are exaggerating. It would be nice if new duplex units were cheaper, but they'll undoubtedly be less expensive than the single-family alternative. A typical new single-family home in Arlington requires a $400k income, if the owners want to pay less than 30% of their income for housing. The only way to get truly affordable housing is via subsidies, and we'll need to figure out where that money is going to come from. He thinks this article will help increase diversity.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone wants to look at the reality of this, and says he's a real estate attorney. He thinks that every single family home that's sold will be sold to a developer, who will build a two-family where each unit costs over $1M. He thinks the notion of diversifying the housing stock is a fantasy. Mr. Leone thinks the schools are at capacity. If we add 30--40 homes each year, where are we going to put the kids. Mr. Leone says that 50% of the calls to the fire department are for medical emergencies, and he questions whether the fire department has enough capacity to handle an increase in the number of people. He asks if we can afford additional people in the fire and police departments. He says that Arlington is the second densest town in Massachusetts, and we've already done our part. He says this isn't the way to go about it.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse says we've heard that there are an average of 27 teardowns/year. She asks if we have any sense of what zoning districts these were done in.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that there were 27 demolitions in 2021, which took place in the R0 and R1 districts. There were roughly the same number of significant renovations of non-conforming homes.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse asks if owners ever do teardowns.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that 4 of 32 were done by homeowners. The rest were done by builders.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse asks what replaces the homes that are torn down.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there were a few cases where single-family homes were replaced with two-family ones, but it's not the majority.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse asks how large the new single-family homes are.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that in the 2010s, the median finished size of a new single-family home was 3400 square feet. That's bigger than the median finished size from the 2000s, which was 2953 square feet.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse asks if the size is still going up.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the median reflects where we are today.

(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse says she used to follow school enrollments very closely when she was on the school board, but hasn't followed them as closely since leaving the board. She asks if the schools could handle an extra 20 houses/year of enrollment.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana was hoping to have School Committee Chair Liz Exton answer the question, but she's not here this evening.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden says that article 38 is the most discriminatory article that town meeting has ever considered. She says it will exclude families of limited means and ruin Arlington's reputation for diversity, equity, and inclusion. She says this is the worst article ever, and it will change our zoning districts fundamentally. If Arlington still had a newspaper, this would be a banner headline, but the paper no longer reports on town meetings or elections, and no one reads the warrant that's sent to them. No one checks the town website. She thinks this article should get buy in from the majority of the population before being allowed to proceed. Ms. Worden says that Arlington has done it's share; we're the second densest town and the twelfth-densest community in the Commonwealth. We have no commercial tax base. If this is a contest for the worst idea, it's not ours to win. This article will cause our entire town to become a great big demolition site. Homes will be sold for maximum profit, and they'll block the sun from neighboring homes. They won't be affordable. They'll create more demand for schools and parking. Only our town leaders and density advocates will benefit. We should retain our community. Please vote no.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton is happy to speak in favor of this article. This won't eliminate single-family homes. Given the history of zoning's role in exclusion, she thinks it's reasonable to allow two-family homes all around town, and not confined to certain areas. Ms. Thornton says that Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies suggests allowing two-family homes by right. This is not about creating affordable housing, which is what the Housing Corporation of Arlington and the Arlington Housing Authority have. Affordable housing costs money, and we don't have than money available. Buyers of new single family homes need an income of more than $400k/year. She'd like to get this to $150--200k/year. With $200k of annual income, you could buy a $1M home. With $150k of income, you could by a $750k home. Homes built under this article would be in that target range, and this will allow people to buy 21st century starter homes.

(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti asks about the voting threshold for this article.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that Article 38 needs a 2/3's vote to pass.

(Janice Pagliasotti) Ms. Pagliasotti asks if there's way for equity to occur around housing at a regional level, rather than just Arlington.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana thinks that question is out of scope.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher has a question about waking up to the specter of a 5500 square foot building. She thought this article would limit two-family homes to 1850 square feet each, or a total of 3700 square feet. She asks if it would be possible to build a 5500 square foot home.

(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa answers in the negative.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher asks if this article makes any changes to dimensional regulations.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says no, the article isn't changing dimensional regulations, open space, parking, or density regulations. The only thing being considered is a use change.

(Karen Kelleher) Just to clarify, Ms. Kelleher asks if new homes would still be the same size, just two-family.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt answers in the affirmative.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher asks if the article relaxes any sustainability requirements.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says it doesn't alter any sustainability requirements, or other town bylaw requirements.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher asks if some of the ARB members who voted "yes" could speak to their yes vote.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests that Steve Revilak or Eugene Benson answer the question.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak said he voted in favor of Article 38 because he thinks it's a good policy. We have a good understanding of home sales and how many homes are replaced each year, and that makes it fairly straightforward to reason about the effects of Article 38. Mr. Revilak says this issue has come up in the past, and he felt like it was time to have town meeting weigh in.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner asks if a slow rate of change would make us less diverse or reduce open space. He says there was a pro-density article proposed in 2019, and the ARB didn't support this article when it was first proposed in 2020. He thinks this article would remove housing choice. Mr. Wagner thinks that Arlington has some of the most inclusive housing in the state, and that we're cheaper to live in than any of our neighboring towns, with the exception of Medford. If article 38 goes through, we'll have accelerated teardowns. In all cases, when a single-family home was torn down to build a new two-family home, each of the new units cost more than the old single-family that was torn down. Mr. Wagner thinks this will raise property taxes, put increased stress on town infrastructure, and new homes will be built to the maximum size allowed. He says that developers remove trees and pay the fines as the cost of doing business. Think of the waste of teardowns. It's better to insulate and renovate. We're in a housing crisis, meaning that housing costs go up. Mr. Wagner thinks the housing crisis would be solved if other towns in the town manager 12 built more housing. He thinks this will reduce diversity for middle and low-income residents, and that all residents are opposed to this change. He thinks the amendment will unfairly alter zoning throughout the town.

(Janice Weber, Point of order) Ms. Weber moves to dissolve the meeting.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says he won't entertain a motion from a point of order.

(Josephine Babiarz, Point of order) Ms. Babiarz asks if we were supposed to vote on collective bargaining tonight.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says he's checked with Mr. Foskett, and it will be okay to push that vote to the next meeting.

(Charles Blandy) Mr. Blandy moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate succeeds, 165--51--0.

Vote on the Newton amendment fails, 101--116--5.

Vote on the Babiarz amendment fails, 29--194--4.

Vote on the article fails, 112--113--2 (two-thirds vote required).

Town meeting adjourns until Monday, June 6th.