Town Meeting - May 17th, 2021

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Seventh night of Arlington's annual town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from

229 present for the checkin vote.

The moderator holds a vote, asking town meeting members to accept a voluntary reduction in speaking time. Passes 185--39--7.

The town moderator said he received several amendments on Friday afternoon, after town offices had closed. He asks town meeting members to submit their amendments prior to 10am, at least two days before articles are expected to come up.

Article 3 - Reports of Committees

(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman would like to provide an update on the high school construction. It's on budget and on schedule. The total project budget is $289M.

The school committee is using a value engineering approach to keep the project within budget, and this resulted in some elements being cut. The east staircase/ramp to the Athletic field was removed, and there were several changes to building materials.

The contractor found unanticipated contamination when drilling the geothermal wells. As as result, the building will have air source rather than ground source heat pumps. This revision will delay opening of the STEAM wing until February 2022.

The Parmenter school was renovated, in order to provide pre-school facilities. The contractors have been following COVID protocols, and this hasn't delayed construction. The town signed a guaranteed max price agreement, which will save us over $1M. The building will exceed the original sustainability estimates, and construction will still occur in four phases. Mr. Thielman invites town meeting members to visit url{} to see current project status.

(Larry Slotnick, Zero Waste Arlington) Mr. Slotnick says the pandemic cut off the group's ability to do in-person outreach. This led the group to virtual outreach efforts; they've launched a webinar series which has been popular. They're running campaigns to increase awareness of solid waste issues. For example, "No plastic please" is a campaign to reduce the use of single-use eating utensils. The town will have to negotiate a new trash hauling contract, and less blue bin contamination will allow us to get a better rate. Only 10% of plastic that winds up in our blue bins is recycled. There's a separate campaign to divert organics from solid waste, which will also save the town money. Organic waste makes up around 25% of the town's trash.

There are no further reports, and article 3 goes back on the table.

Article 56 - Capital Budget

We continue discussions of the town's capital budget.

(Charlie Foskett, Finance Committee) Mr. Foskett says the Capital Planning Committee report shows Arlington's capital needs for FY2022, and the following four years. Capital investments are very important decisions for the preservation of infrastructure and the environment. We are within the 5% per-year limit we apply to capital expenses. At the last meeting, Chief Kelly clarified the nature of the Highland Fire Station repairs -- the funds are needed to repair damage, and not because of poor workmanship. He urges a no vote on the Leonard amendment. He's concerned about the increased costs of the DPW renovation, which were due to inflation, along with higher materials and labor costs. The DPW yard hasn't been improved in over 50 years, and it's not a safe and productive working environment. There've been no eliminations that would compromise DPW's ability to function. He asks town meeting for a positive vote.

(Judith Garber, Point of Order) Ms. Garber asks about the ordering of articles for tonight's meeting.

(John Leone, Moderator) Mr. Leone says that we're doing article 56 first, then articles 44--61.

(Lori Leahy, Point of Order) Ms. Leahy asks how long town meeting members will have to speak when introducing amendments.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says they'll have seven minutes.

(Nancy Bloom) Ms. Bloom asks why two school buses can have different replacement costs.

(Timur Yontar, Capital Planning Committee Chair) Mr. Yontar says the replacement cost is the net after trade in. The two buses have different trade-in values.

(Zarina Memon) Ms. Memon asks what the marble panels at Highland Station will be replaced with.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says they'll be replaced with marble. They'll also relocate the protective bollards, to prevent future damage.

(Zarina Memon) Ms. Memon asks if there have been any in-kind donations to the town, either in time, labor, or materials.

(Timur Yontar) Ms. Yontar isn't aware of any in-kind donations.

(Zarina Memon) Ms. Memon suggests the town pursue in-kind donations in the future. She asks about money from the sale of the DAV building on Mass Ave.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says the $750k from the building sale will be applied to the FY22 capital budget.

(Zarina Memon) Ms. Memon asks how the money will be used, and if it could be used for renewable energy.

(Timur Yontar) Ms. Yontar says the money will be used to defray the cost of the capital plan.

(Zarina Memon) Ms. Memon asks if the capital plan has any renewable energy items.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says there are a few electric and hybrid vehicles, and various green building approaches which are becoming more cost effective.

(Zarina Memon) Ms. Memon asks about plans to retrofit old buildings.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says that old buildings are repaired and upgraded as necessary.

(Caroline Murray) Ms. Murray moves the question.

Motion passes 197--30--1, do debate is terminated.

(Roderick Holland, Point of order) Mr. Holland asks the moderator to summarize the amendments as we vote on them.

The Leonard amendment is first; it will reduce the capital budget by $30k (which are the funds associated with a repair to the Highland Fire Station).

Leonard amendment fails, 23--207--7.

Foskett Amendment passes, 210--20--4.

Article passes, as amended. 228--7--0.

Articles 44--49 are removed from the table.

Article 44 - Parking Minimums

Arlington allows required off-street parking to be reduced to zero for commercial uses in the B3 and B5 districts, if they have no ability to create new off-street parking. Article 44 would extend this relief to all of the business districts.

(Rachel Zsembery, Redevelopment board chair) Ms. Zsembery says this article would take the parking reductions passed last year, and make them available to businesses in all of the business districts.

(James Fleming, Proponent) Mr. Fleming uses the Heights Pub to illustrate the need for off-street parking reductions. When a new use was proposed for the space, the pub was on the hook to provide new off-street parking, and there was no space on the lot where this could be done. The ZBA granting a variance for the off-street parking requirements, and that allowed the pub to go forward.

Outside of the B3 and B5 districts, there are 384 pedestrian-oriented storefronts without any off-street parking. Article 44 would allow the ARB to reduce the off-street parking requirement to zero in all B districts, if a new business had no ability to create additional off-street parking.

Mr. Fleming compares tax revenue generated per acre for a Walgreens in East Arlington (which has a very large parking lot), with a gift shop called Regina's (which has no off-street parking). Regina's generates four times the tax revenue per acre of land.

(Zarina Memon) Ms. Memon says there's an industrial parcel at the bottom of her street, where people are always parking in the street. She asks if neighboring towns grant similar parking reductions.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says there are other municipalities that allow parking to be reduced to zero. Cambridge and Somerville, for example.

(Zarina Memon) Ms. Memon says she doesn't want this article to pass.

(Xavid Pretzer) Mr. Pretzer is a frequent user of public transit, and he supports this amendment. Climate change means we should be using public transit more, and cars less. He supports the article.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman is against the article. The old five and dime was wrapped inside a hundred year old building. He doesn't believe that all commercial properties should be eligible for parking reductions. If a business has too many customers, they'll park all around. Drivers will park on side streets, and this will be the situation all over. He believes the comparison of Walgreens and Regina's is devoid of knowledge about how real estate works, and he thinks the article is short-sighted.

(Christoper Moore) Mr. Moore motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 168--64--0.

Article passes, 180--51--2.

Article 45 - Increasing the Percentage of Affordable Housing Units

(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber wasn't expecting Article 45 to come up tonight, and her guest speaker isn't available. She asks if Article 45 can be postponed to Wednesday.

The moderator agrees to the postponement.

Article 46 - Teardown Moratorium

The Redevelopment Board recommended no action on Article 46, but the proponent has submitted a substitute motion. It calls for a two-year moratorium on the demolition of capes and smaller homes that were built before 1950. It also proposes a study committee to formulate a way to prevent teardowns.

(Lynette Culverhouse, Article Proponent) Ms. Culverhouse wants to establish a temporary moratorium on teardowns. The moratorium would apply to capes, and houses built before 1950. She wants to preserve these buildings and develop plans for affordable housing. This moratorium will apply to 871 homes, all of which have footprints of 1000 square feet or less. She shows a picture of a single-family cape that was purchased for $600k and replaced with a $1.4M single-family home. Moderately priced homes are being purchased by developers. About 24 homes are torn down and rebuilt each year. Building re-use has less impact on the environment, and it's better than replacing old buildings with energy efficient ones. Older homes were built better and new construction is unaffordable. Trees and green spaces are our best assets for reducing the effects of climate change. The article proposes a study committee, who will look at ways to do this.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says that homes are often a family's largest asset. Article 46 will make these homes worth less, and people who own them will have to defer selling until after the moratorium. She thinks this is more about nostalgia than affordability, and would rather see an approach that doesn't devalue property.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden thinks this is a small percentage of the homes in Arlington. It's a temporary moratorium, and there's a parallel for it in the historic districts. Historic districts were requested by people who live there, and they're valuable. Mr. Worden wants to call a halt to teardowns and asks town meeting to vote yes.

(Sanjay Vakil) Mr. Vakil is against the article. He thinks there will be nominal benefits to the town, and the burden will be placed on a small number of residents. Perhaps the costs could be borne by the town in a future proposal.

(Matthew Reck) Mr. Reck moves the question.

Motion to terminate passes, 158--70--1.

Substitute motion fails, 57--172--6.

Vote on the ARB's recommendation of no action passes, 189--37--9.

Article 48 - ADA/MAAB Standards in Administration and Enforcement

This article proposes to amend the Redevelopment Board's environmental design review criteria, to add consideration for Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (MAAB) standards.

(Darcy Devney, Disability Commission) Ms. Devney says that Article 48 will not apply to private homes. Environmental design review has 12 review standards, but accessibility is not one of them. Inspectional services reviews building plans, but only after the EDR process is over. ADA standards are mostly enforced by litigation. The goal is to remind developers that disability and access standards are part of the permitting process.

There are no comments on the article.

Article passes, 230--2--1.

Article 49 - Sky Exposure Planes

Article 49 received a no action recommendation from the Arlington redevelopment board. The proponent has filed a substitute motion to establish sky exposure planes in Arlington's zoning bylaw.

(Ted Fields, Article Proponent) Mr. Fields thinks that large homes produce oversized impacts on neighbors, and they're more expensive. Over time, the average size of a home has increased. It was 1900 square feet in the 1920s and 3700 square feet today. These effects are often exhibited when old homes are torn down and replaced with larger ones. These rebuilds affect neighbors on either side.

Sky exposure planes extend outwards from lot lines, and a building can't extend beyond these lines. There are exemptions for minor overhangs, and the idea was reviewed by the residential study group. It's intended to reduce the impacts of new construction, and it wouldn't apply to additions.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman is in favor of the article and urges a yes vote. He thinks the effects should be readily apparent to anyone who walks down the street. Residents don't like large new construction, and this is a solution. The consequences of mansionization are real.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if the building in figure one is a home in Arlington.

(Ted Fields) Mr. Fields says it is.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks how many teardown there are in a year.

(Kevin Kelly, Fire Chief) Mr. Kelly doesn't have an exact number, but it's more than ten.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson thinks this idea is absolutely ridiculous, and the teardown issue is overblown.

(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans supports this article. It's an elegant solution. Sky planes are commonly used in commercial development, and this will protect solar panels.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak was under the impression that the article's goal was to pull building mass to the center of a property, rather than protecting solar panels. It encourages roof eaves to be located on the left and right side of the building, regardless of its solar orientation. He asks if that's correct.

(Ted Fields) Mr. Fields says that's correct.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if the article was discussed with the building inspector, and how easy it will be to enforce the new requirements.

(Michael Byrne) Mr. Byrne says that inspectional services will enforce the requirements, whatever they are.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a question about how this proposal will interact with existing dimensional regulations. Consider a right triangle. The base of the triangle is the side yard setback, and we regulate that. The height of the triangle is the building height, and we regulate that too. This article would add a regulation on the angle of the hypotenuse, relative to the base.

Right triangles being what they are, it's not necessary to regulate all three. The characteristics of a right triangle are uniquely determined by the length of two sides, or by the length of one side, and one angle. He asks if there was any thought given to eliminating one of the extraneous regulations.

(Rachel Zsembery) Mr. Zsembery said the board was considering those aspects, particularly the way topography would affect them.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks this is an interesting idea, but he'd like to see another iteration, where some of the topographical details are worked out.

(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman moves the question.

Motion to terminate passes, 221--7--2.

Vote on the substitute motion fails, 90--134.

Vote on the ARB's no-action recommendation passes, 176--41--2.

Article 53 - Position Reclassification

Positions reclassification is an "standard" article that appears each year. Reclassifications happen when positions are added, changed, or take on new responsibilities.

(Adam Chapdelaine, Town Manager) Mr. Chapdelaine explains that Article 53 comes from HR reclassifications. These are decisions made by HR and the HR board. He briefly lists the reclassifications contained in the main motion.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman asks if the school sustainability coordinator and DEI assistant positions would be added to a later budget.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says this article would formalize the school sustainability coordinator position. The DEI assistant position was already adopted in the budget; this article would add pay and classification plans.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman asks what the school sustainability coordinator does.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says that employee would focus on solid waste from the schools, to minimize the amount that was sent to landfills.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman asks if this position was formerly filled by a contractor.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine isn't sure of the individual's contract details offhand; he'd have to check.

(missed a little here)

(John Leonard) Mr. Leonard says the finance committee report mentioned deleting the CTO position and adding a CIO. He asks why both positions aren't shown, with some years going to zero. He'd like to see old positions zero filled in department budgets.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says this was a title change, without a functional change to the position. It's the same position and the same pay; just a different name.

Mr. Chapdelaine also notes that the school sustainability coordinator position is paid from the school budget rather than the town budget.

It's nearly 23:00 and town meeting adjourns for the evening.