Town Meeting - May 15th, 2024

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Night seven of Arlington Town Meeting. Materials were available from


(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana informs Town Meeting that there are 18 articles left, and two of these have recommended votes of no action.


(JP Lewicke, Precinct 2) Mr. Lewicke is part of a group called Extend the Red Line. They're asking the state to perform a feasibility study on extending the MBTA Red Line into Arlington, as well as improving bus service. He invites interested people to get involved.

(Rajeev Soneja, Precinct 2) Mr. Soneja offers a recognition of Nakba day. He says the Israel-Gaza conflict has created six million Palestinian refugees.

(Stephanie Ford, Precinct 8) Ms. Ford announces the Housing Corporation of Arlington's walk for housing, which is happening on Sunday. The Housing Corporation of Arlington purchases and develops housing, and rents at affordable rates. The annual walk for housing is taking place this weekend, starting at the Jason Russell house. They've just installed a pre-fabricated Accessory Dwelling Unit on Dorothy Road, and there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony coming up.

Tonight's test vote: Was Memorial Day first observed after World War I? The vote was 66--90--13. The answer was no; Memorial Day was first observed in 1868.

Article 3 - Reports of Committees

(?) Town meeting receives the report from Zero Waste Arlington (ZWA). This is a ten-person committee that seeks to reduce the amount of waste generated in town. The highlights of last year include having an MWRA water truck at town day, a campaign to encourage reusable take-out containers, Arlington on tap, and several new water bottle filling stations. ZWA has a legislative subcommittee that tracks legislation at the state level. They're advocating for a producer responsibility bill. The committee has done outreach and education efforts, a composting pilot, textile collection, the swap shed, and the recycling center. The amount of solid waste our town produces has been going down.

(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee) Ms. Deshler submits the second supplemental report of the Finance Committee. The Fincom met on Monday, before town meeting, to update their recommended vote on the PEG access article. The adjustments were necessary due to changes in ACMi's projected revenues. This supplemental report only applies to Article 35.

Article 32 - Traffic Visibility

No substitute motion has been filed, so we have the Redevelopment Board's recommendation of no action.

No action passes by voice vote.

Article 33 - Rear Yard Setbacks in Business Districts

(note: I was called upon to answer questions about Article 35, so my deliberation notes are the best I could do).

(Steve Revilak, Redevelopment Board) Mr. Revilak says that Article 33 is a proposed zoning bylaw amendment related to altering the rear yard setbacks in business districts; it was inserted by Andrew Greenspon. The Board supports this article, noting that the smaller setback on lower stories may provide for more commercial space in mixed-use developments, and may make them more economically feasible to build. Upper stories will still be subject to the larger setback, so this change should not be detrimental to abutting residential properties. The ARB voted 5-0 at their April 1 meeting to recommend favorable action on Article 33.

(Andy Greenspon, Precinct 5, Article proponent) Mr. Greenspon says this is an adjustment to a zoning change that was adopted by the special town meeting of October 2023. As written, three-story buildings have a 20' rear yard setback requirement, and four stories require a 30' setback. Mr. Greenspon's amendment would have the 20' setback apply to the first three stories, with 30' at the fourth story and above.

Mr. Greenspon shows a slide to illustrate the difference. A three-story building with a 60 x 80' footprint would be 14,400 square feet. Going to four stories would trigger an additional 10' setback, and the four-story building would have 16,800 square feet. With this article, the larger setback would only apply to the fourth story and above, and the building could have 18,600 square feet. This should allow for a larger commercial space on the ground floor which would help increase our commercial tax base. He notes that the zoning bylaw already has height and story limits. Mr. Greenspon doesn't think this will create additional shading, since the 4th story still has to be 30' from the rear property line.

(Michelle Durocher, Precinct 19) Ms. Durocher asks why the ARB proposed a 30' rear yard setback for four stories, at the last Special Town Meeting.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the board felt a larger setback was appropriate for taller buildings. He thinks that Mr. Greenspon's article makes sense, because a number of Arlington's commercial properties are not very deep. Mr. Revilak says he wishes that someone had made this suggestion last fall, so we could have proposed it then.

(Joanne Cullinane, Precinct 21) Ms. Cullinane asks how many commercial properties this bylaw would apply to, and how many abutting properties would be affected.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that Arlington has approximately 350 properties in business district. He doesn't have a count of the abutting properties.

(Joanne Cullinane) Ms. Cullinane says we don't have enough information to understand this change. She thinks it will be too impactful and urges a no vote.

(Wynelle Evans, Precinct 14) Ms. Evans says that people can already build five-story buildings in Arlington, and she thinks this can create enormous massing. She says there are many non-conforming lots, and many houses have non-conforming setbacks. She urges a no vote, because this will bring change to the town.

(JP Lewicke, Precinct 2) Mr. Lewicke asks if the Redevelopment Board already has the ability to grant the setbacks in this article.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says there is a provision in the zoning bylaw that allows the Redevelopment Board to adjust setback requirements during Environmental Design Review. Mr. Revilak says the board does have this ability, but it would be on the basis of site-specific conditions for a particular project.

(JP Lewicke) Mr. Lewicke asks if the Board could require a 30' setback, even if this article were passed.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak answers in the affirmative.

(JP Lewicke) Mr. Lewicke views this as a change to properly advertise what's allowed.

(Sanjay Newton, Precinct 10) Mr. Newton says that the MBTA Communities working group and ARB met with the Chamber of Commerce while those changes were being planned. The Chamber said that there are a lot of businesses that would like to be in Arlington, if they could find suitable space. Mr. Newton sees this as a way to help provide more suitable spaces for businesses.

(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7) Mr. Loreti thinks that Mr. Greenspon's slides were not realistic, because they didn't include upper-story front setbacks, which would reduce the amount of floor area available. He says that being able to build to the limits is not how zoning works. He shows a picture of a mixed use building being constructed at 80 Broadway. Mr. Loreti thinks that a smaller footprint means a smaller foundation, and a lower building cost. He thinks that Arlington should copy Somerville's side-yard setbacks, and notes that the ARB already has the ability to adjust setback requirements.

(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15) Mr. Wagner says the former Menotomy Beer and Wine at 80 Broadway is now a mixed-use building. He asks if we've done adequate work to tell people that this is happening. He notes that no mixed use buildings have been proposed since last fall's special town meeting, and he thinks we need to wait for a few projects before taking citizen petitions. He asks if the proponent is an abutter to a business district. He thinks this change will cause a loss of property values.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein would like to know what the Conservation Commission thinks of Article 33.

(David White, Precinct 21) Mr. White is a member of the Conservation Commission and he has no comment.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein asks how this will affect open space.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says there are open space requirements in the business district. Projects have to satisfy these, in addition to setback requirements.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein asks how this will affect affordable housing.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that having additional floor area on the second and third floors might allow for more dwelling units, which could require the inclusion of additional affordable units.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein asks how this would affect parking.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that, in a mixed use building, the first three-thousand square feet of commercial space is exempt from parking minimums. Residential requires one parking space per dwelling, however, an applicant can ask to provide less parking in exchange for implementing a transportation demand management plan.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein asks if one space per dwelling is a fixed number.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak answers in the negative.

(Ben Rudick, Precinct 5) Mr. Rudick works in commercial real estate, though he doesn't do any work in Arlington. He says were in an era where it's hard to build, due to high interest rates, as well as high hard and soft construction costs. He would only expect to see residential on the fourth and fifth floors of a mixed-use building. He says these would typically be smaller apartments with one or two bedrooms, which are beneficial to the tax base. He recommends supporting the article.

(Charles Blandy, Precinct 6) Mr. Blandy urges town meeting to pass Article 33.

(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.

Article 33 passes, 123--61--1.

Article 35 - PEG Access Budget

(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee) Ms. Deshler says that state law requires town meeting to allocate funds to cable access programs. The Finance Committee recommends favorable action.

(Michael Ruderman, Precinct 9) Mr. Ruderman is ACMi's treasurer. ACMi is a non-profit corporation set up to provide public, education, and government programming. There is a 5% revenue tax on local cable providers, and this money is used to fund local cable access. Mr. Ruderman says that the money is provided to the town, and Town Meeting has to vote to allocate the funds to ACMi. ACMi's revenue goes down every year, because of cord cutting. ACMi covers a number of public meetings, but they don't have enough money to cover them all. Capital improvements have turned meeting spaces -- like the town hall auditorium -- into sound and video stages, so meetings like this can be broadcast live. ACMi asked the Finance Committee to re-vote their budget, and we're learning how to fundraise in order to make up the difference. Mr. Ruderman says the town could directly subsidize ACMi like Brookline and Lexington subsidize their public access stations. He says that ACMi will mount a campaign for public support, and that they give the public the ability to see what goes on in Arlington.

(Judith Garber, Precinct 4) Ms. Garber notes that the supplemental budget is balanced, but the earlier version had a $50k deficit. She asks where the difference comes from.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman says that ACMi has money in the bank, and they're drawing that down to make up the difference.

Article 35 passes, 182--0--2.

Article 36 - Endorsement of Parking Benefit District Expenditures

(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee) Ms. Deshler says this article allows parking fees in parking benefits districts to be used for improvements, as listed in the Select Board report. The deficit will be made up from the fund's balance, which is $513k. The Finance Committee recommends favorable action on Article 36.

Article 36 passes, 180--2--1.

Article 42 - Transportation Infrastructure Fund

(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee) Ms. Deshler says the transportation infrastructure fund holds money from transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft. We expect to receive $26k from this fund, which will be used to support Blue Bikes.

(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7) Mr. Loreti asks what else the money can be used for.

(Jim Feeney, Town Manager) Mr. Feeney says it can be used for any transportation issue.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says he'll vote against this. He says that Blue Bikes were supposed to be a one time expense, and he thinks there are better uses for the money.

(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 9) Mr. Kaepplein asks why our ridership goals are failing.

(Jim Feeney) Mr. Feeney says we're still under the existing Blue Bike contract.

(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein says this seems like a waste of money. He thinks we shouldn't spend any money on this. He says that Blue Bikes are unsustainable, a waste of money, and an unwanted use. Mr. Kaepplein says that our pedestrian crosswalks are awful, poorly lit, and a safety hazard.

(Charles Blandy, Precinct 6) Mr. Blandy moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.

Article 42 passes, 150--33--4.

Article 48 - Appropriation/Miscellaneous

(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee) Ms. Deshler says this article comes before the Town Meeting each year. The town has obligated itself to pay expenses for firefighters and police officers that were disabled while on the job.

(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7) Mr. Loreti asks how much money was used to indemnify Arlington Police Department officers.

(Christine Deshler) Ms. Deshler says that no money was sought from the legal defense fund.

Article 48 passes, 174--2--6.

Article 49 - Water Bodies Fund

(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee) Ms. Deshler says the water bodies fund was established in 2008. It originally applied to Spy Pond, but now covers all of the water bodies in down. She says there's an additional $40k appropriation to study the detention pond at McClennan Park.

(Barry Jaspan, Precinct 18) Mr. Jaspan asks if this includes streams that were covered over.

(Christine Deshler) Ms. Deshler answers in the negative; the fund covers open streams.

Article 49 passes, 184--4--4.

Article 50 - Community Preservation Fund

(Clarissa Rowe, Community Preservation Act Committee) Ms. Rowe says that Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds can be used in three areas: historic preservation, open space and recreation, and community housing. She lists fund recipients from each of these categories. For community housing, the CPA Committee recommends grants to the Arlington Housing Authority for its special needs building, to the Housing Corporation of Arlington for 10 Sunnyside, to the Housing Corporation of Arlington's homelessness prevention program, to a leasing differential program, and roof repairs on the Shea house.

For historic preservation, the CPA Committee recommends funding for the digitization and preservation of town marriage records, planning for the restoration of the Robbins memorial garden, and a battlefield memorial at the Foot of the Rocks. For open space and recreation, the Committee recommends funding for a survey of the McClennan Park detention pond, an addendum to the public land management plan, Minuteman Bikeway improvements at Ryder Street and the Ed Burns Arena, Crosby Park renovations, and a new playground area at Menotomy Rocks Park.

The total is $2.18M for all of these projects.

(Xavid Pretzer, Precinct 17) Mx. Pretzer has an amendment to remove the $450k funding for the Foot of the Rocks, which they have concerns about. This would be a memorial to the first day of the Revolutionary war. It's a small site, which currently has open space, trees and grass. The Foot of the Rocks master plan proposes leveling and paving the area, and Mx. Pretzer is concerned that's not the best use of the site. They say it doesn't preserve a historic site, and it's at a dangerous intersection. They think the money could be better invested in the Jason Russell house, and the money could be better spent on other projects next year.

(Al Tosti, Precinct 17) Mr. Tosti says the British army marched down Mass Ave during the Revolutionary war, when they were attacked and confronted by 3500 militia. He says that lots of British soldiers died at the battle which started at the Foot of the Rocks. He says it's a very historic area. Mr. Tosti says that Mass Ave becomes something of a racetrack in this area, and he believes that the park with help with safety. He wants it to be a monument to the whole town. The Foot of The Rocks master planning committee met with the architects of the Appleton Street improvements. The new monument will incorporate existing plaques and stones.

(Rebecca Gruber, Precinct 10) Ms. Gruber asks how much money has been allocated in previous years, and how much remains to be spent.

(Christine Bongiorno, Assistant Town Manager for Operations) Ms. Bongiorno says that $162k has been allocated so far, and there will be a balance of $116k.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber asks what "bonding the project" means.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says that means some CPA money would be spent for debt service. The committee decided this project would not be appropriate for bonding.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber asks about the total cost.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says the total cost will be $1.2M.

(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti says there is a cash flow issue. Borrowing will allow the work to start earlier. He says the $450k of CPA funds is key, and it will be used to apply for matching state grants. He thinks they might be able to get $200k in federal grants. There are other funding commitments, and the committee is seeking additional funding sources. They're also looking for ways to cut costs.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber asks if this will be ready by 2025, for the 250th anniversary of the start of the Revolutionary war.

(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti thinks there's a 50/50 chance of making it. He expects it to be a four-month project.

(Kristin Pennarun, Precinct 20) Ms. Pennarun says this is a valuable piece of open space, which is passed by all modes of transportation. It's also a gateway space. She has concerns about the funds, but thinks that the co-funding is reasonable; if the co-funding isn't obtained, the $450k will revert to the CPA. She thinks the project will provide a better quality of open space than exists today, and it has the potential to be a gathering site. She thinks the project should take time if needed.

(Eugene Benson, Precinct 10) Mr. Benson supports the Pretzer amendment. He's a former member of the CPA Committee, and voted against this project in the past. He doesn't think it should be funded as proposed. Mr. Benson says that the Jason Russell house is Arlington's equivalent of Lexington's Battle Green, and there's nothing historic at the Foot of the Rocks site. He says there are many needs for CPA funds, but he doesn't see this as historic preservation. He notes that $450k is 21% of the total CPA allocation, and he suggests moving the money to other uses.

(James DiTullio, Precinct 12) Mr. DiTullio says that Arlington has been robbed, and nobody knows about our role at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. He says that Lexington and Concord stole our history. Tourists are the lifeblood of a good, healthy economy, and history doesn't need to have a park. He says the design has a mix of both, and we desperately need to do better with this space. He doesn't think it would make sense to appropriate money for a design if we don't follow through with it. Even if it's not ready for 2025, it will still provide value into the future. He thinks the Foot of the Rocks is a bit dumpy, and asks Town Meeting to support the funds.

(Michael Ruderman, Precinct 9) Mr. Ruderman says that Mass Ave didn't exist until 1811, and the Foot of the Rocks was created in 1819 when Arlington was still a district of Cambridge. He says the site would already be memorialized if it were in the Minuteman National Park, but it's in the wrong town. All of the militia companies say that this is where the colonial army was born. He urges a vote for the funding.

(Elizabeth Dray, Precinct 10) Ms. Dray says this sounds like there's a lack of clarity. She asks if this is the actual location that should be commemorated. She understands that the goal is to support businesses, but she's concerned that we might be taking parking away from them. She doesn't think this is the best use of money, or the best use of space. She asks if there are any traffic calming measures planned for this area.

(Jim Feeney) Mr. Feeney says there are no traffic calming measures related to this $450k.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray says this is a busy intersection which needs safety improvements. She loves the idea of having a water fountain, but that isn't a reason to do this project. She'd like a guarantee that the CPA Committee won't ask for additional money in the future, and she supports the Pretzer amendment.

(Christopher Moore, Precinct 14) Mr. Moore moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes by a voice vote.

Pretzer amendment fails, 77--95--6.

Article 50 passes, 160--15--3.

Article 53 - Takings for Stratton School Safe Routes

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey says this article is seeking to secure a pedestrian right of way to the Stratton School.

(John Alessi, Transportation Planner) Mr. Alessi says this article is about approving a right-of-way acquisition plan, which will provide a fully-accessible route to the Stratton School. Most of the work will be done on Hemlock Street and Dickson Ave. There have been three abutter meetings so far, and the plans are at the 75% design level. Mr. Alessi says the right of way plans haven't been fully finalized, and they'll need to be approved by MassDOT. Construction is slated for 2025, and Town Meeting approval will help the project stay on schedule. Mr. Alessi says there are 42 affected properties; there will be some takings, and some easements. If approved, he will work with MassDOT to finalize the plans, meet with property owners, get the required approvals, and develop a property acquisition plan.

(Len Diggins, Precinct 3) Mr. Diggins has an amendment, which will add twelve words that were suggested by MassDOT.

(Mike Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham notes that Mr. Diggins amendment contains language that was requested by MassDOT, as a belt-and-suspenders measure.

(Gary Goldsmith, Precinct 11) Mr. Goldsmith says he's walked this area. There are no sidewalks and a large number of street trees. He asks if any trees will be removed.

(John Alessi) Mr. Alessi says the plans include the removal of ten trees, and the planting of 14 new ones.

(Gary Goldsmith) Mr. Goldsmith says that new trees don't provide the same degree of benefit as larger mature tress.

(Amy Antczak, Precinct 17) Ms. Antczak urges support. She walks this route with her kids almost every day. They have to walk in the street, traffic moves fast, and there are many near misses. She hopes the design can consider the trees.

(Charlie Foskett, Precinct 10) Mr. Foskett thinks this is putting the cart before the horse. He favors safety, but doesn't think we have enough details about what's going to happen. He thinks there's not enough information to act on, and that people have the right to know before their land is taken. Mr. Foskett says that land has to be purchased at fair market value, and we need to know the costs first. He urges the Select Board and town staff to proceed with their plans, but thinks we shouldn't allow property takings until we have more details.

There's a motion to adjourn. Motion fails, 71--99--2.

(Joe Solomon, Precinct 16) Mr. Solomon moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.

Diggins amendment passes, 164--7--3.

Article 53 passes, 135--35--3.