Town Meeting - May 18th, 2022

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


204 people participated in the attendance vote.

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says we've been averaging around four articles per night. At this pace, we'll finish on June 20th, which is too late to have the budget finalized. He says we'll need to finish by June 15th, which is the Wednesday prior.

(Adam Auster, Assistant Moderator) Mr. Auster said he held several budgets to ask about the Net Zero Action Plan and Sustainable Transportation Plan. The Town Manager sent a detailed letter to Mr. Auster on this subject, which is posted under Article 50 of the annotated warrant. He asks for this letter to be entered into the official town meeting record.

Article 3 - Reports

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

(John Worden, Point of Order) Mr. Worden would like to make an announcement. He says he pulled an article off the consent agenda, but has changed his mind. He also doesn't understand why Mr. Christiana is so worried about time. Mr. Worden was the town Moderator for 19 years, and he says town meeting always finished with time to spare, even when there were more articles on the warrant.

(Note: my co-worker is a member of Bedford's finance committee, and their town meetings generally last one or two nights. We're on night eight, and I'm personally hoping we can finish up sometime between nights twelve and fourteen.)

Article 60 - Bluebikes

We continue the discussion of whether to spend $100k to keep Bluebikes stations in Arlington for two years, and to re-evaluate the program at that time.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that the Finance Committee report says there were 10,000 trips taken from our Bluebikes stations, which wasn't enough to cover all of the associated costs. How many trips would we need to break even?

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says that we'd basically need to double the number of trips, according to our current contract.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if we'd be able to get additional docking stations, if our contract were renewed.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there were two surveys done regarding locations for additional docking stations, and there is support for two more. One of them could be in Arlington heights.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if having more stations would change the number of trips required to break even?

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says we'd need the same number of trips per station to break even. Having two more stations would mean needing proportionally more trips.

(Steve Revilak) In terms of the cost of the stations, Mr. Revilak asks if Arlington has a different type of agreement than other communities, like Cambridge or Somerville? If so, how is our agreement different?

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that Arlington pays the same cost as other communities.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that the sign areas in Arlington's docking stations typically say "Blue Bikes" on one side and have docking instructions on the other. In Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston, the sign areas have maps on one side, and some sort of sponsorship on the other; sort of the visual equivalent of an underwriting spot on public radio. Now that we have codified a sign type for these stations, is it likely that we'll be able to offset some of the costs with sponsorship revenue?

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that Bluebikes works on a sponsorship model, and that Arlington would follow that model. The sponsorships would be used to offset costs.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if we have any information on Bluebike trips that started in Arlington and ended in other communities?

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the town recently obtained access to usage data, which includes trip origin and destination. She says there were many trips from other communities into Arlington. Also, many of the trips were short.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if there are potentially people using Bluebikes to come into Arlington, and say, spend money at our restaurants or businesses?

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says we'd need to look further into the usage data.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that DPCD didn't have an opportunity at the last meeting to tell town meeting why they proposed this article. He asks Ms. Raitt if she could say a few words about that.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says this was part of a town-wide goal to improve transit and the quality of life. It's also about connecting to a highly successful transit network that serves several communities in the region.

(Roderick Holland) Mr. Holland thinks the principal value of the program is that it makes Arlington a part of a larger metro network. Riders can put the bikes in a docking station, and they don't have to worry about locking them to street furniture. He thinks the bikes compliment other public transport facilities, and the structure of Arlington's contract is not remarkable. The Bicycle committee urges passage.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik is concerned about the expenditure in the context of declining override funds, and the cost of future overrides. She thinks many things are nice to have, but isn't sure this is something we need. The 2019 debt exclusion and budget override were a lot of money. She asks if someone from the Select Board can speak to why this luxury is necessary.

(Len Diggins, Select Board Chair) Mr. Diggins says the select Board didn't weigh in, but the Transportation Advisory Committee was supportive. He says it's vital to fight climate change and provide safe forms of transportation. He's personally supportive of the article.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik asks if the Select Board had a recommended vote.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says that the recommended vote came from the Finance Committee, rather than the Select Board.

(Charlie Foskett, Finance Committee Chair) Mr. Foskett says the Finance Committee supported the article, 11--5.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik is concerned about the expenditure, in light of looming future overrides. She doesn't think the town should support this without a plan for cutting expenses.

(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti is also concerned about the taxpayers, between the debt exclusion for the high school, the last override, and the next override. He says overrides provide funding for necessary services, but this service is not necessary. Lime Bike fell apart. When we first got the Bluebikes stations, $80k came from a grant and $20k came from the town. Now they're asking for another $100k. Mr. Tosti says that providing subsidies to a private corporation is not the mission of the town. He urges a no vote.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana wants to take a straw pool, to see if town meeting wants to continue deliberating. If 75% of town meeting members raise their hand via Zoom, he'll call on one to make a motion to terminate.

There are hands raise, but well below 75%. So, we'll keep debating.

(Carl Wagner, Point of Order) Mr. Wagner says he continues to be concerned about the moderator's use of a straw poll.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana notes that Mr. Wagner has made this point before. He understands that Mr. Wagner doesn't trust the government, but there's nothing he can do about that. Mr. Christiana says he considers the matter closed.

(Charlie Foskett, Point of order) Mr. Foskett asks a question about the speaking queue.

(Charlie Foskett) As a Town Meeting member, Mr. Foskett sees this article as providing money to a private corporation that can't support itself. There aren't many users, and this is an example of living beyond our means. The School Committee made a significant reorganization in order to reduce expenses. Mr. Foskett thinks town meeting should vote no.

(Michael Quinn) Mr. Quinn is a bike commuter, and he appreciates the money that the town has spent on cycling. But he doesn't think this is the way to do it.

(Adam Auster) Mr. Auster is puzzled by the railing against giving money to a corporation. He says it's akin to waiving the proverbial bloody shirt. He notes that Arlington buys a lot of goods and services from a lot of different corporations. Mr. Auster considers this an experiment, and he thinks we need to give this a shot to see if it works. The benefits accrue mostly to commuters, but not exclusively to cyclists. He favors continuing to fund the program for two years.

(Charlie Foskett, Point of Order) Mr. Foskett resents that his argument was discredited as waving the bloody shirt.

(Michael Quinn, Point of Order) Mr. Quinn shares the same concern that Mr. Foskett raised, and he doesn't understand how this could happen.

(Xavid Pretzer) As someone who owns a bicycle, Mx. Pretzer says that Bluebikes enable them to ride more, especially on one way trips. They note that we support people who commute by car and they encourages support for people who commute by bicycle.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener supports the article. The Bluebike network connects Arlington to many communities, and Arlington is known for a great bikeway. She says the program is expensive to the town, but very affordable to riders. She thinks it's worth the investment.

(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore asks what portion of the $100k would go towards new stations vs supporting the existing ones.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that about 60% would go towards expanding the number of stations.

(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore thinks this is a sensible thing to do.

(Josephine Babiarz) Ms. Babiarz thinks we have insufficient data to analyze who's using these bicycles. She thinks the amount of money spent doesn't reflect a broad swath of residents. She says it doesn't benefit elders or children, and asks town meeting to vote against the article.

(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber supports the article. She says we're paying for a service, and it's very cheap when compared to other forms of transit. She thinks that more docking stations will make it more convenient, especially if some of them are in the heights. She hopes we can continue the service and is a longtime Bluebikes user.

(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 189--28--3.

Article passes, 144--76--4.

Article 62 - Community Preservation Fund

This article involves the town's expenditures under the Community Preservation Act.

(Clarissa Rowe, Community Preservation Act Committee Chair) Ms. Rowe says that CPA funds have to be spent on affordable housing, historic preservation, or open space and recreation. At least 10% of funds have to be spent in each category.

This year's CPA funds will go towards 14 different projects, which include

  • Menotomy manor window replacement ($600k)
  • Homelessness prevention ($16k)
  • The Affordable Housing Trust Fund ($250k)
  • Hurd field renovations ($664k)
  • Robbins Farm Park playground ($998k)
  • Mt. Gilboa feasibility study ($57k)
  • Cookes Hollow ($70k)
  • Javis House ($190k)
  • Dallin Museum Collection ($32k)
  • Covenant church accessibility improvements ($100k)
  • Historic Planning records preservation ($25k)
  • Old Schwamb mill ($20k)
  • Jason Russell House ($150k)
  • Hauser Building electric upgrades ($203k)

The total cost is $3,444,904, plus $68k for administrative costs.

(Nancy Bloom) Ms. Bloom asks if the electrical system issue at the Hauser building is an emergency.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says it's not an emergency, but it was an emergency application.

(Michel Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman asks about the current state match for CPA funds.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says the current state match is 44%.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman asks if the state is planning to increase their match rate.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe doesn't believe the state has any plans to do so.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman asks how accessibility retrofits to a church fit into the criteria for CPA funds.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says the Old North Church might be a good analogy. The historic building provides a resource to the town, but it needs to be accessible to be treated as a public resource.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman doesn't think the church is an appropriate recipient of CPA funds, and it's inclusion in the CPA is a mistake.

(Lori Leahy) Ms. Leahy says it seems like the church should be out of scope. She doesn't practice religion. The believes the church houses a daycare, and asks why they can't raise the money themselves.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says this is the first church that's applied for CPA funds. Churches apply in other communities, and this church is located in a historic district. She doesn't know why they weren't able to raise the money themselves.

(Zack Phillips, Pastor of the Church) Mr. Phillips says the church is non-denominational and not part of a chain. There is no daycare. There used to be a school in the church, but that was spun off as a separate entity. Mr. Phillips says they applied for the reasons Ms. Rowe stated. It's a small church, and the funds won't be used to evangelize. They want to serve the public with a historic building.

(Lori Leahy) Ms. Leahy says she lives in a historic district, and she has to pay for her own maintenance.

(Michael Quinn) Mr. Quinn notes that last year, town meeting approved CPA funds to install ground source heat pumps at the Jason Russell house. He'd like some information about how that's going.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says it was a very successful project.

(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 164--55--3.

(Angel Mozina, Point of Order) Ms. Mozina was wondering if someone could make a substitute motion, but she suspects it's a moot point.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana notes that town meeting has voted to terminate debate on the article. So it is a moot point.

(Leba Heigham, Point of Order) Ms. Heigham notes that there is a 48 hour rule for proposing substantive amendments to warrant articles.

Article passes, 194--25--8.

Article 65 - Design Standards

This article involves a $50k appropriation to fund the development of design standards for Mass Ave and Broadway.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says the Finance Committee voted in favor of Article 65, so that architects and developers will be able to understand what the town wants to see in development.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman says we've had a lot of consultants talk about how to bring more economic development to Arlington. She asks how this will help.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett hopes the suggestions in the design guidelines will help.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair, via video) Via a recorded video, Ms. Zsembery says this appropriation would update the design standards for commercial and industrial districts. The 2015 design standards have been lacking. The new standards would cover all of the commercial districts. The current standards have limited applicability in some areas, and assume larger lot sizes than we tend to have. The current standards also provide limited guidance for things like facades.

Arlington has a set of residential design standards that suggest different treatments based on lot size and configuration. The new commercial design guidelines would apply to Mass Ave, Broadway, and the Minuteman Bikeway -- areas that are subject to Environmental Design Review by the Arlington Redevelopment Board. She notes these design standards were one of the ARB's goal for 2022.

(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans asks if the work would constitute an update to the existing standards, or a replacement.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says it would be a brand new process, and not just an update.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if the standards will be developed in conjunction with a working group, through a public process.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there would be a working group, a consultant, and public participation in the development of the new design standards.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak was a member of the ZBA for a year and a half. While he can't speak for the ZBA as a whole, he found the residential guidelines helpful. They helped when reviewing special permit applications, and also provided guidance to architects. They helped make projects better.

Mr. Revilak says he can't speak for the ARB as a whole, but as a member of the Redevelopment Board, he'd hope commercial design standards would provide a similar benefit. And since there would be a public process, members of the public will have a chance to weigh in on what the standards should be. He thinks this is a good idea.

(Max Palmer) Mr. Palmer motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 189--29--2.

Article passes, 199--27--1.

Article 71 - Free Cash

This article basically covers money that was budgeted in a prior year, but not used.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says this is unspent money from FY2021. Those funds hang over for a year while the state certifies our financial statements. There was a total of $11,078,431 dollars. The article proposes to put 50% into the general fund for this year, to be used in setting the tax rate, and the other 50% in the long term stabilization fund. We're voting to use 50% for FY2021.

(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate debate passes.

Article passes, 219--1--0.

Article 72 - Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund

This articles proposes to take $3M from the fiscal stability stabilization fund (aka override stabilization fund), and instruct the board of assessors to use this in the determination of the tax rate.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett notes that there was an administrative correction to the amount in the finance committee report. The amount is $3,046,037. Although Article 49 is still on the table, the overall amount in Article 49 won't change as the result of the union negotiations. Mr. Foskett says this article requires a 2/3's vote, and that we'll need a substantial override when the Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund is depleted.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asked why there was a change from the $2.9M listed in the finance committee report.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says it was an oversight. The assessors allocated $730k from the override surplus, and $100k of that was used during the special town meeting. So, there's less available as a general revenue source, and we need to take another $100k out of the stabilization fund.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says there were no fewer than fourteen reports provided to town meeting this year. He says these are volunteer boards, and their work should be applauded.

(Beth Melofchik) (Ms. Melofchik was called on to speak, but we're not hearing her. The moderator suspects Ms. Melofchik might be having technical issues, and he'll move on to the next speaker.)

(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore makes a motion to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 196--24--3.

(Asia Kepka, Point of Order) Ms. Kepka is concerned that there are town meeting members who want to terminate debate before everyone has spoken. She's concerned we're not getting a full debate.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that's not a point of order.

(Jo Anne Preston) Ms. Preston is concerned that we're not hearing a full debate.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that's not a point of order. He notes there was a motion to terminate debate, and two-thirds of town meeting voted in favor of that motion. That is the right of those two-thirds, and the decision of the meeting.

Article passes, 213--5--3.

Article 17 - Conversion of Gas Station Dispensing Pumps to Self Service Operation

Arlington's bylaws prohibit self-serve gas stations. Article 17 seeks to remove this prohibition.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak introduces Richie Elkhaouli and Robert Annese to speak on the article. Mr. Revilak says that Mr. Elkhaouli is a business owner in Arlington but not an Arlington resident, and Mr. Annese is an Arlington resident.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana notes that residents of other communities can address town meeting if town meeting approves. Mr. Christiana conducts a straw poll, and Mr. Elkhaouli will be allowed to speak.

(Note: I was mistaken about Mr. Annese; he's not an Arlington resident, but that gets corrected later on.)

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese notes that he is no longer a resident of Arlington, but owns a business at 1171 Mass Ave. He's here to represent Eli's Service Station. The station owners feel that having an attendant on site to pump gas is a problem. It's hard to retain people to do that. Arlington is one of the last communities to prohibit self-service gas stations, and the prohibition goes back to 1975. Full-service gas stations will be able to continue; this article is asking town meeting to allow self-service. Mr. Annese says he understands the need for fire suppression and so on. Eli's Service Station has a button at the pumps to request an attendant. There will always be an attendant on site, even if customers are allowed to pump their own gas. The gas station is located on a main thoroughfare, under the jurisdiction of the ARB; so there is supervision. During COVID, Eli had customers requesting no people contact. Mr. Annese thinks it's time to let people pump their own gas.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak apologizes for his mistake; he was under the impression that Mr. Annese was an Arlington resident.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson wants to make sure Mr. Benson's substitute motion is discussed.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson has filed a substitute motion. Like the Select Board's main motion, the substitute would allow self-service gas stations. The substitute motion makes it explicit that these stations have to comply with the fire code, the American Disabilities Act, that that an attendant must pump gas if requested. Mr. Benson says these provisions were taken from a Cambridge ordinance and the ADA. The call button was his own idea.

(Gordon Jamieson, Point of Order) Mr. Jamieson says he looked at the warrant and sees it was submitted by one of the station owners. He asks if the article was submitted by someone from out of town.

(Juli Brazile, Town Clerk) Ms. Brazile says the Clerk's office checks every signature at the time of warrant article submission.

(Xavid Pretzer) Mx. Pretzer asks town meeting to consider who works at gas stations. Gas stations provide work for people with limited options, and they're concerned about having that option taken away.

(Michael Quinn, Point of Order) Mr. Quinn says he looked at a resident list and didn't see Mr. Elkhaouli's name on it. He'd like to get assurance that the article was submitted by a town resident.

(Kristin Pennarun) Ms. Pennarun is in favor of the substitute motion. She loves the help she gets at gas stations. She asks if there was feedback from other owner/operators in town, or from a trade association.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese isn't aware of any objections from other station owners. He hasn't spoken with any members of a trade association.

(Kristin Pennarun) Ms. Pennarun asks if there were other supporters.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says that some station owners want to continue full service. But station owners can also offer self-service.

(Kristin Pennarun) Ms. Pennarun is concerned about the case where all of the stations convert. She asks how much construction would be necessary for all of them to convert.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says we're only talking about adding pumps. He doesn't think the impact would be any different from what we have now.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says that articles can be submitted as long as they're signed by ten registered voters, and there are 12 Arlington signatures for this article. The person who submits the article and gathers the signatures does not need to be an Arlington resident.

Motions for Reconsideration

Charlie Foskett gives a motion for reconsideration on Articles 65, 71, and 72.

Kristin Pennarun gives a motion for reconsideration on Articles 60 and 65.

Peter Gast, Michael Ruderman, Elizabeth Carlton-Gyson, and Ezra Fischer give motion of reconsideration on Article 60.

Mark Rosenthal gives motion of reconsideration on Article 62.

Meeting adjourned.