Town Meeting - May 19th, 2021

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


(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar expresses thanks to the Capital Planning Committee, department heads, the Finance Committee, the Permanent town building committee, the Community Preservation Act Committee, and other groups that contributed to the town's capital planning efforts.

Article 53 - Positions Reclassification

Deliberations continue on positions reclassification.

(Matthew Reck) Mr. Reck moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 195--25--1.

Article passes, 213--8--3.

Article 45 - Increase Percentage of Affordable Housing Units

Article 45 received a no-action recommendation from the ARB. The petitioners have filed a substitute motion, which would increase the inclusionary zoning requirements from 15% affordable to 25% affordable.

(Judith Garber, petitioner) Ms. Garber is proposing to increase the inclusionary zoning requirements from 15% affordable to 25% affordable. Arlington is far behind state goals for affordable housing production, and we'll need bolder measures to reach them. We have 1,100 affordable units and over 5,000 families on the waitlist for them. She feels this is a modest change, and says that Cambridge saw an increased amount of development after they increased affordability requirements. We need to consider doing something similar. She introduces Arlington resident Laura Kiesel to speak further.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says we had housing issues even before the pandemic started. This proposal is modeled after Boston's Coalition for Truly Affordable Housing. Their proposal recommended 33% and we are only asking for 25%. She attended the last National Low Income Housing Coalition conference, where speakers said we have to center the experiences of the most marginalized people in society. Article 45 received the most letters of support during the ARB's hearing process.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is sympathetic to the article proponents. Arlington added affordable housing requirements 20 years ago. In 15 of those 20 years, we've produced no affordable housing at all.

Mr. Revilak is interested in how this article might interact with Chapter 40B. If Article 45 were adopted, both 40B and our ZBL would require 25% affordable units. 40B would require affordable units to be priced for 80%AMI; our zoning would require the same units to be priced for 60% AMI. 40B would seem to be advantageous there.

40B projects are generally subsidized, but projects done under our zoning bylaw are not, non-profit developers like the Housing Corporation of Arlington notwithstanding.

Finally 40B projects can request waivers, and negotiate over zoning requirements -- for example our restrictions that discourage multi-family housing. Projects under inclusionary zoning have to comply with our zoning bylaw.

This article is really about whether we want to keep future multi-family housing development under our ZBL, or steer it towards the 40B route and negotiate on a project by project basis.

Mr. Revilak asks if the passage of Article 45 might encourage developers to take the 40B route.

(Eugene Benson, Redevelopment Board) Mr. Benson wants to point out that several surrounding communities, like Somerville and Newton, have looked at affordable housing production. Both communities concluded that 25% was too high. Mr. Benson thinks a 25% requirement would discourage multi-family production.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if that's a "yes, it would encourage developers to take the 40B route"?

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says it's a yes.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if the Select Board has a position on how 40B applications will be treated, once Arlington meets one of the safe harbor provisions. Will the board oppose new projects by default, or would they be willing to consider each new project on its merits?

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim doesn't believe the Select Board has ever discussed this, and he's not aware of any position. He notes that the ZBA is the body that chooses whether to assert safe harbor.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if it's possible to do mixed-use development under 40B.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says yes, mixed use projects can be done under 40B.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak points out that this year's Community Development Block Grants include $79,700 for the Department of Planning and Community Development to perform a nexus study. He asks if nexus studies have anything to do with affordable housing.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt say yes, they do. Nexus studies examine the nexus of housing and income. They're used to determine the number of people in each of various income brackets, and the amount of housing available to each bracket. They can more precisely identify what a community's affordable housing needs are.

(Guillermo Hamlin) Mr. Hamlin supports the article and asks for an affirmative vote.

(Elizabeth Carlton-Gyson) Ms. Carlton-Gyson asks how many projects meet the six unit threshold, and how big these projects typically are.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt lists the projects that have been subject to affordable housing requirements. They vary in size -- from a nine-unit mixed use building on Summer Street, to large apartment complexes like Brigham Square and Arlington 360. Altogether, they've generated 59 affordable units.

(Elizabeth Carlton-Gyson) Ms. Carlton-Gyson asks if there are any new projects on the horizon, and if the number of large developments might increase.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt expects new projects to be proposed at roughly the same rate as prior ones. She's not aware of any plans for new large apartments.

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

Motion to terminate debate passes, 165--70--0.

Vote on the substitute motion fails, 71--164--1.

Vote on the no-action recommendation fails, 195--42--1.

(Ian Goodsell, Point of order) Mr. Goodsell asks what would happen if town meeting voted no on a no-action recommendation.

(John Leone, Town Moderator) Mr. Leone says that would mean town meeting hasn't disposed of the article. Someone would have to propose a new substitute motion that passed, or we'd have to continue taking votes on the no-action recommendation until that passed.

Article 35 - Industrial Uses

We started hearing Article 35 on May 5th, but tabled it in order to get through the financial articles. We'll come back to Article 35 now.

(Kristin Pennarun, Point of order) Ms. Pennarun asks when the "waiting to speak" queue is cleared.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says it's cleared at the end of each article. However, the list we're seeing now was preserved from the other night.

(Elaine Crowder, Point of order) Ms. Crowder asks the moderator to announce which report has the authoritative recommendation for each article.

(Kristin Anderson, Point of order) Ms. Anderson says she's received new information about Article 35 in the last few days, and would like a legal clarification from Town Counsel.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says we'll get to that when we return to debate. Mr. Leone believes that the recorded statements we saw last week violated town meeting's rules on civility, in the way that they attacked the intentions of the redevelopment board. As a result, he's giving the redevelopment board an opportunity to respond.

(Rachel Zsembery, Redevelopment Board Chair) Ms. Zsembery says the ARB would like to refute the claims that it was "sneaky and underhanded" in the handling of this article. Ms. Zsembery shows a slide with the timeline of the industrial zoning project. Limited residential was a recommendation from the Master Plan, and the zoning bylaw working group discussed it as early as 2019. She emphasizes that the article allows only limited residential uses, and those will not change the industrial zone to a primarily residential district.

To make her point, Ms. Zsembery shows excerpts of ARB and ZBWG minutes, highlighting the evolution of the proposal. She also points out that Arlington's commercial tax rate is similar to adjoining towns, like Belmont and Winchester.

(Peter Gast) Mr. Gast introduces an amendment to Article 35. It would allow five story buildings, in order to make development more viable (the current limit is four stories). He thinks a mid-sized office building would be a great fit for the industrial district.

(Dganit Cohen, Point of order) Ms. Cohen says she's seen the words "RKG/Harriman" on several slides related to article 35. She asks who RKG/Harriman is.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says they're consultants who were hired by the town.

(JoAnn Preston) Ms. Preston would like to exclude residential uses from the industrial district. She asks town meeting to vote no, unless the Anderson amendment is passed. She doesn't support market rate live/work studios for artists. Arlington needs more commercial development. Developers are doing commercial development in all of the nearby communities. Arlington's tax base is 95% residential. Cambridge, Waltham, and Watertown all have over 50% commercial. Arlington has a serious tax revenue imbalance, and we need to provide better jobs in the fields of computers, financial services, and biotech.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says he received several emails today, asking whether artists mixed use would be the only residential use allowed. The use table has a section for residential, and the only thing Article 35 adds is a row for Artists Mixed Use, which would be allowed by special permit. He believes that sections 5.6.4(A) and 5.6.4(H) are bound together.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein is a member of the Zoning Bylaw Working Group (ZBWG) which worked on this proposal. The ZBWG is a subgroup of the Master Plan Implementation Committee. The master plan recommends limited residential in the industrial zones, and that recommendation was made 4.5 years before we started working on this article. Why is it so hard to develop in the industrial district? For starters, the town doesn't own the land. Normally, places with a lot of businesses are close to mass transit or highways; our industrial districts are located in the middle of town, and only accessible via secondary roads. There not nearly as accessible as commercial areas in other cities and towns. Our bylaw has lots of sticks, and we're proposing one carrot. Mr. Klein asks if artist mixed use will be the only residential use allowed in the industrial district.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says yes, artists mixed use will be the only residential allowed.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the ARB can provide any assurances that artists mixed use will be the only residential use allowed in the industrial districts.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that artists mixed use is the only residential use that this article allows.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says that right now, 40B is the only way to build residential uses in the industrial district. He thinks article 35 provides incentives for balanced development, and believes the ARB is in a good position to negotiate. He asks town meeting for a yes vote.

(Adam Badik) Mr. Badik is one of the town meeting members who sent questions to Attorney Heim because he was confused about the scope of 5.6.4(H). He asks if "artist mixed use only" could be constrained/clarified by a floor amendment.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says that anything more complicated than a cross-reference would not be allowed from the floor, and would require tabling the article.

(Betty Stone) Ms. Stone introduces Thomas Davidson, a resident who'd like to speak on Article 35.

(Thomas Davidson) Mr. Davidson is a member of the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture (ACAC). He supports artists mixed use. The Arts Action Plan made a number of recommendations to the town, and article 35 makes good on several of them. The ACAC will develop standards for who's eligible to live in artists mixed use, and they'll advocate for affordable options. Boston and Somerville have established artist live/work programs. The cultural sector is not exclusive to economic growth.

(Kevin Koch, Point of order) Mr. Koch asks what the red sox score is.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks Mr. Schlictman to address the question.

(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman says the current score is Boston 6, Toronto 1.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim and Ms. Raitt have been working on a minor change to address Mr. Badik's concerns. He's transmitted a written copy of the changes to the moderator and town clerk. The use table states what uses are allowed, but it doesn't provide standards. He suggests two cross references: one in section H, and one in a table footnote.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she approves of the change.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone is willing to take this as an administrative correction.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka objects to the point of order about the Red Sox scores. She thinks that's a strange thing to ask during town meeting.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says that red sox scores are a town meeting tradition.

There's back and forth between Mr. Leone as Ms. Kepka. Ms. Kepka had raised her had to speak, but Mr. Leone thought she was trying to make a point of order. Ms. Kepka says she raised her hand to speak on the article, and the moderator asks her to speak.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka has been an artist for over 30 years, and she urges a no vote. She's lived in many artist communities. Developers don't create affordable spaces for artists. She wants to know what the rent for these spaces would be. She says her property taxes have doubled while her income has plummeted, and that Arlington relies too much on residential property taxes. Arlington is a bedroom community for hundreds of workers with high paying jobs in Cambridge. We'll no longer have a good commercial district once the industrial district is converted to residential. Arlington is has become less affordable for artists and families on mixed income. Parents move away as soon as their kids are grown up.

(Deborah Butler) Ms. Butler says Arlington's industrial districts are where the mills originally were. There's a reason why the districts are a long skinny necklace along Mill Brook.

(Stephanie Ford-Weems) Ms. Ford-Weems asks if the artists housing will be rentals or condominiums.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says there wouldn't be any restrictions on rental vs ownership.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says it could be either -- rentals or condos.

(Stephanie Ford-Weems) Ms. Ford-Weems supports commercial mixed use but thinks our industrial zones are precious. She feels that mixed use condos would further divide parcels and make them harder to reclaim.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps thinks this has been a confusing discussion. She understands that artists live/work space is the only form of residential being allowed, and she doesn't understand why an artist would object to that.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt refers to 5.6.4(A) which explains how artists mixed-use will work, including engagement with the ACAC. That engagement process will allow us to dig deeper.

(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe makes a motion to terminate debate.

(Kristin Anderson, Point of order) Ms. Anderson is confused about the process. She urges town meeting to ...

(John Leone) Mr. Leone cuts her off, saying that it's not appropriate to use a point of order as a way to continue debating after a motion to terminate has been made.

(Zarina Memon, Point of order) Ms. Memon says that the administrative correction says "notes", and there aren't any footnotes in the article.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim shows how one of the corrections applies to a footnote at the bottom of the use table. He also explains how that correction emphasizes the restrictions on residential uses.

(Elaine Crowder, Point of order) Ms. Crowder thinks there needs to be another footnote in the table.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim explains the footnote again.

Motion to terminate passes, 181--53--0.

(John Worden, Point of order) Mr. Worden asks if the Gast amendment is the one that would allow five stories.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says yes.

(Nancy Bloom, Point of order) Ms. Bloom asks to have the amendments shown as we vote on them.

Gast amendment passes, 125--94--4.

Anderson amendment fails, 58--166--1.

Article (as amended) passes, 201--41--1.

Article 38 -- Energy Efficient Homes on Non-conforming Lots

(Elizabeth Dray, Point of order) Ms. Dray is concerned about the tenor of the exchange that the moderator had with Ms. Kepka. She thinks the moderator should have used language that was more inclusive.

The moderator is unhappy with Ms. Dray for taking him to task, and says as much. The two go back and fourth about this.

(John Maher, Point of order) Mr. Maher takes exception to Ms. Dray's comments. By the way, the Bruins have just won in overtime.

(Daniel Jalkut, Point of order) Mr. Jalkut thinks the previous discussion was uncivil.

(Sanjay Vakil, Point of order) Mr. Vakil wants to withdraw his amendment to Article 38. He thinks it's largely duplicative with Mr. Levy's amendment.

Article 38 would allow homes on non-conforming lots to be rebuilt, provided that the new homes met certain energy efficiency standards.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that Article 38 intends to address a limitation of homes on non-conforming lots. It was sponsored by the Clean Energy Future Committee (CEFC). The CEFC performed a greenhouse gas inventory, which identified buildings as a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in Arlington. This article gives owners of non-conforming lots the same opportunities to construct energy efficient homes as owners of conforming lots. It applies to non-conforming lots of 5,000 square feet in size, or if the new home is in the same footprint, with no more than a 750 square foot addition. It's only applicable to non-conforming lots in the R0, R1, and R2 districts.

(David Levy) Mr. Levy is a member of the CEFC, and he's filed an amendment. The amendment would strike the provision that allows homes to be reconstructed on lots of more than 5,000 square feet, so that homes have to be rebuilt within the existing foundation footprint.

Mr. Levy says the CEFC didn't know if they could find solutions to address building GHG emissions, but this article gives him hope.

(James DiTulio) Mr. DiTulio is a strong supporter of the article and the amendment. He feels that Article 38 is an absolutely essential step to take, if the town wants any hope of reaching Net Zero by 2050. By not passing it, we'll say that we're not ready. The CEFC has done years of research and work on the net zero action plan. 60% of Arlington's GHGs come from buildings, and 50% of our lots are non-conforming, which means that buildings can't be rebuilt to be highly efficient. Current zoning allows these homes to be renovated, but they have to retain the existing basement. We need to address heat loss in basements, and he's not concerned about teardowns. It's time to make our zoning match our values.

(Flynn Monks) Mr. Monks says his precinct has lots of non-conforming homes, and this article is a great opportunity. The cost of high efficiency buildings is coming down, and this step is absolutely critical to meet net zero.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson has a question about setbacks. He asks if an owner can rebuild a home on a conforming lot by right.

(Michael Byrne, Building Inspector) Mr. Byrne say yes.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson continues: if the lot is less than 6,000 square feet, then it couldn't be rebuild by right.

(Michael Byrne) Mr. Byrne says that's correct.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if this article would allow homes on 5,000 square foot lots to be rebuilt by right.

(Michael Byrne) Mr. Byrne says yes.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if lots under 5,000 square feet could be rebuilt with a special permit.

(Michael Byrne) Mr. Byrne says yes.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson wants to talk about non-conforming setbacks. He shows several slides of houses with non-conforming setbacks that were rebuilt. He's concerned about houses that would retain their non-conforming setbacks.

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