Town Meeting - May 24th, 2021

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Ninth night of Arlington's annual town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from 222 town meeting members present for the check-in vote.


(Ann LeRoyer) Ms. LeRoyer says the Open Space committee is about to start work on a new open space plan, which will cover the next seven years. The first public meeting is on June 10th.

(Phil Goff) Mr. Goff says the League of American Bicyclists just awarded Arlington a silver-level designation, and we're one of about 100 communities to receive that recognition. Arlington was formerly a bronze-level community. The certification came with a number of recommendations for reaching gold level.

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

We pick up with deliberations on Article 38, which would allow the complete reconstruction of homes on non-conforming lots, provided they met certain energy-efficiency standards.

(Amos Meeks) Mr. Meeks feels that energy-efficient homes are necessary, but they're expensive to build. This article will remove one barrier, and people could still retrofit if they don't want to rebuild. He doesn't expect a wave of reconstruction. The Levy amendment was endorsed by the clean energy future committee. Rebuilding gives larger efficiency gains than renovation. Up to 80% of a building's energy use comes from operation rather than construction.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has questions about the Levy amendment. Without the amendment, Article 38 would allow homes to be rebuilt on non-conforming lots by right, as long as the lot had 5,000 square feet. He asks if one would have to conform to zoning regulations for setbacks and open space if a house on one of these lots were rebuilt.

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

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that residential lots can be divided into three areas: structures, parking and driveways, and open space. He asks if open space would limit the size of the building, given the smaller lot size.

(Michael Byrne) Mr. Byrne says it would.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is very supportive of the Article 38, but he plans to take a pass on the Levy Amendment. He sees the amendment as adding an unnecessary restriction, and thinks we should minimize barriers to building energy efficient homes.

(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore moves to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 192--37--1.

Levy amendment passes, 122--107--5.

Article passes as amended, 226--8--2.

Article 39 - Clarification of Definition of Mixed Use

Article 39 proposed to limit the definition of mixed-use, so that uses within a mixed-use building must be individually allowed in the district. The redevelopment board recommended no action, but there's a substitute motion to bring back the petitioner's main motion.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka moves an amendment offered by John Gersh, and introduces Chris Loreti to speak on it.

(Chris Loreti, Petitioner) Mr. Loreti would like to clarify the definition of mixed-use such that uses in a mixed-use building must be allowed as standalone uses in the district. He plays clips of ARB members addressing town meeting in 2016, where they stated an intention to treat mixed use in that way. Mr. Loreti is submitting this amendment because they Redevelopment Board hasn't abided by what they said in 2016. He thinks the ARB should propose warrant articles if they want to change the set of uses allowed in individual districts, and get town meeting to approve them. He says that mixed-use isn't unusual, but the redevelopment board's interpretation of it is. He says that town meeting should regulate land use, not the master plan.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden supports the substitute motion, and said he voted for it in 2016, as an amendment to the mixed use article. He says the way the redevelopment board permits mixed use is improper, and that we are a nation of laws, not of men. He says that one of the ARB's permits was challenged in court, but dismissed on procedural grounds.

(Kristin Pennarun) Ms. Pennarun asks if this article about the Hotel Lexington? She asks if the proponents can come up with an example, other than the hotel Lexington.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the Hotel Lexington straddled two zoning districts; it was a case where flexibility was needed. She thinks that town meeting was clear that it wanted flexibility in the environmental design review process. She feels that limiting the applicability of mixed use will make it difficult to creatively repurpose parcels.

(Kristin Pennarun) Ms. Pennarun thinks the amendment comes down to trust. She's not against the hotel, and understands the need for flexibility. But she doesn't want the ARB to go too far.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says there was another case in the B1 district, where the ARB permitted more apartment units than the district would otherwise allow. His amendment is intended to prevent these things from happening in the future.

(Daniel Jalkut) Mr. Jalkut motions to terminate.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 167--64--1.

Vote on substitute motion fails, 106--125--6.

Vote on the ARB's recommendation of no action passes, 174--58--3.

Article 40 - Conversion of Commercial to Residential

The redevelopment board recommended that no action be taken on Article 40. John Worden has a substitute motion that would prohibit conversion of commercial to residential, unless the residential units were affordable as defined by the ZBL's inclusionary zoning provisions.

(John Worden, Proponent) Mr. Worden says that this article is a litmus test for affordable housing. Our zoning bylaw allows a commercial space to change to residential. There's a mixed use building on Summer street, with nine apartments. He says that was an excuse to build apartments with only a small amount non-residential use. If you believe in affordable housing, you should vote for this. The Summer Street building had nine apartments and only one of them was affordable. He asks town meeting to please pass this litmus test.

(Brooks Harrelson, Point of order) Mr. Harrelson says he doesn't see any difference between the article and the substitute motion. He asks if that's in order.

(John Leone, Moderator) Mr. Leone says it's in order.

(Elizabeth Carlton-Gyson) Ms. Carlton-Gyson favors affordable housing and understands Mr. Worden's focus on moving to action. She doesn't see the connection between his substitute motion and the creation of affordable housing. She asks how it will achieve affordable housing, and help developers with the financial incentives they need to create it. She asks why this should be done during a use change, rather than the original project review.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says he's not proposing that all new units be affordable, just conversions from commercial to residential.

(Elizabeth Carlton-Gyson) Ms. Carlton-Gyson understands Mr. Worden's concern about mixed use being used as a back door. But she thinks the project composition should be addressed when it's permitted. She asks how the substitute motion addresses the financial aspects of affordable housing.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says we'll get apartment buildings with only a small amount of commercial space. He says people have to get after the ARB.

(Elizabeth Carlton-Gyson) Ms. Carlton-Gyson doesn't see how the motion addresses affordable housing concerns -- she doesn't see the connection. She asks how it provides a financial incentive.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says he's not interested in how much money developers make.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar says that town meeting has heard from the redevelopment board and from Mr. Worden. He opposes the substitute motion and asks town meeting to vote no. Mr. Yontar summarizes the ARB's rationale for recommending no action. He think that a substitute motion implies that something must change. This substitute motion is identical to the original article -- there's no attempt at improvement or trying to address the ARB's concerns. He supports the ARB's no-action vote and opposes the identical substitute motion.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says that a substitute motion is treated as a separate entity. The way this article was worded doesn't allow for much change.

(Charlie Foskett, Point of order) Mr. Foskett believes that Mr. Worden has the right to offer this substitute motion.

(Paul Schlictman) Mr. Schlictman motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 184--40--0.

Vote on substitute motion fails, 68--167--0.

Vote on the recommended vote of no action passes, 191--40--4.

Article 41 - Definition of Foundation

The redevelopment board recommended no action on Article 41. Patricia Worden has filed a substitute motion with her original definition.

(Patricia Worden, Proponent) Ms. Worden says her substitute motion will add a definition of foundation to the zoning bylaw. It's required because of the broken promises that the ARB made in 2009. The redevelopment board and planning department oppose this definition. The building code doesn't have a definition, but that doesn't mean we don't need one. Dishonest developers are the reason she submitted this article. Mega-mansions are enabled because we don't have a definition of foundation. On Webcowett Road, a developer chased people down the street because they were taking pictures of him. The lack of a definition of foundation allows developers to build mega-mansions. Inspectional service is too busy to enforce the laws. Large homes harm abutters and raise taxes. Having a definition of foundation will protect the path to affordable home ownership. We need a definition of of foundation to preserve affordable homes, trees, and open space.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says this article speaks to what he noticed last night. He's concerned about porches that turn into interior area of houses. He suggests voting against this, and hopes the redevelopment board can bring a better-vetted definition to the next town meeting.

(Phil Goff) Mr. Goff motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 171--53--0.

Substitute motion fails, 70--162--2.

Vote on the recommendation of no action passes, 183--42--3.

Article 43 - Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Article 43 proposes to allow accessory dwelling units in the town of Arlington.

(Rachel Zsembery, Redevelopment Board Chair) Ms. Zsembery asks for 10 minutes to present Article 43, and town meeting grants her request.

Ms. Zsembery says the ARB voted in favor of Article 43, 5--0. The board discussed the article and amendments last Monday, and reiterated their strong support for the original article. They prefer to allow ADUs by right, in order to align with the housing choice bill and provide equity to homeowners. The board worked with the article's proponent for months, and feels this article is more appropriate than the one proposed in 2019. She says they've learned a lot since then.

(Barbara Thornton, Proponent) Ms. Thornton says that someday, people will need to chose between life care and aging in place. Article 43 doesn't change the rules for the kind of buildings you're allowed to build; it just allows Accessory Dwelling Units as a use. She introduces Arlington resident Joe Solomon to speak.

(Joe Solomon) Mr. Solomon grew up in Arlington. As his mom was getting older, he tried to get her a condo, and that got into bidding wars. Then, he started working with an attorney to build an addition onto his house, where is mom could live. The ZBA approved the addition, but it took about a year. Approval and construction took a year and a half. It would have been a lot easier if this could have been done by right. He needed a special permit for the addition, which required lawyers, surveyors, and design plans before the work was approved. It cost $10k just to get the project approved, which is a significant risk in money and time. People considering this might want to downsize, and $10k is a big risk. His family preferred this in-between option, rather than mom having to leave the community.

Mr. Solomon says it's been wonderful having three generations under one roof. Very positive impact. Grandma has been an on-site teacher for the kids. There was a time when she fell down the stairs, and we were able to get to her within seconds. Having a clear way to do this within the rules would be a gift to people.

(Phil Tedesco, Proponent) Mr. Tedesco only has a few seconds of speaking time left in the ten-minute presentation period, so he thanks town meeting and looks forward to answering questions.

(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti has a substitute motion. He found Article 43 in early April and assumed it would be similar to the 2019 ADU proposal. He realized article 43 is very different, and he's submitting the 2019 proposal as a substitute motion. He thinks the ARB's recommended action is a radical proposal developed by the proponents. The R1 district definition discourages intensive uses. Article 43 will turn the single-family district into a two-family district, and the two-family district into a four-family district. What about neighbors? He's concerned about population density, and says that Arlington has the 11th highest population density of any community in Massachusetts. The population was higher in the 1970s, but there were fewer dwellings, larger families, and fewer cars. It was very different than it is today. He's amended his substitute motion to allows ADUs by right in the single-family districts, so the article could be passed with a simple majority. The redevelopment board claims that ADUs will be built by homeowners, but does anyone believe this? Article 43 has no restriction on owner-occupancy and no definition of short-term rental. There are plenty of houses in East Arlington where accessory dwelling units could be added. If we pass this, we'll no longer be a neighborhood of families. We'll be a neighborhood of people who want to walk to the T.

(Kristin Anderson) Ms. Anderson is submitting an amendment on behalf of John Gersh. The amendment will prohibit ADUs in accessory structures. She supports aging in place, but is concerned about abutters and people in East Arlington. Lots of home have detached garages near the property line. That's not just in East Arlington, it extends to other parts of the town. The proposed bylaw would allow two stories and up to 900 square feet in a detached structure, regardless of what's on the other side of the property line. She believes the review process for detached ADUs will be insufficient, because the ZBA approves most special permit applications. She thinks people should be good neighbors and respect setbacks.

(Joann Preston) Ms. Preston urges support of Mr. Tosti's substitute motion, but she has an amendment as well. She believes that her amendment supports neighborhoods and the ARB version doesn't. She wants detached ADUs to be at least 15' from any neighboring residential structure. Garages can be built up to the property line, and sometimes there are garages on either side of the property line. Most special permits are granted, and the wording will make it hard for the ZBA to deny a special permit to build an ADU within 6' of the property line. She urges town meeting to support her amendment, in order to protect neighborhoods.

(Gordon Jamieson, Point of order) Mr. Jamieson notes that Mr. Tosti's substitute motion has three different dates, and asks if that's in order.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone said that Mr. Tosti re-filed his substitute motion in order to make corrections; it was corrected but not re-dated. Mr. Leone believes it's in order.

(Lori Leahy) Ms. Leahy has three amendments.

First she wants an annual requirement for homeowners to submit affidavits affirming owner occupancy. The 2019 ADU article was good, but article 43 seems to be a combination of the most extreme measures from all across the country. It's a radical proposal, and the town needs a more moderate approach. We need yearly affidavits for protection. Article 43 doesn't require owner occupancy. ADUs should be for seniors or caretakers. They're meant to be built by homeowners. Yearly affidavits are common in other communities.

The second amendment would create a limit of one ADU per lot. She says this is a common restriction and will keep East Arlington from becoming extremely dense. We're the eleventh-densest community in Massachusetts and this article has a lot of loopholes that will allow developers to create profitable ADUs. Ms. Leahy doesn't like the idea of allowing non-profits to create ADUs. She thinks the bylaw should specifically name the Housing Corporation of Arlington if we want to help them.

The third amendment would restrict ADUs to single-family districts, which is what the 2019 article did. She says that article 43 is a citizen proposal, and she thinks they haven't gathered any public input. She says that town meeting has no right to enact article 43 without more resident input.

(Patricia Worden, Point of order) Ms. Worden thought there would be seven minutes given to each amendment.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says no, that wouldn't be allowed under our rules for town meeting.

(Elizabeth Dray, Point of order) Ms. Dray also thought speakers would be given seven minutes per amendment.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says that town meeting rules give a speaker seven minutes the first time they speak on an article, and five minutes the second time they speak. So, speakers have seven minutes regardless of how many amendments they're proposing. Or, they can ask for additional time before beginning their presentation.

(Christopher Heigham) Mr. Heigham also has an amendment. He says that a garage is not a house. His amendment will make detached ADUs require the same setbacks as houses.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden also has an amendment. She says that most ADUs were made for family members or service workers. If we want modest rents, there should be a requirement to make them affordable. She's had relatives live with her in the past and thinks that's a thing that families should do. But if you move away, you enable developers to purchase the house, tear it down, and build luxury ADUs. She says we have a horrendous proposal before us, and that no other community would submit to this kind of damage and exploitation.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden has three amendments. In all his years, he's never seen so many amendments to an article, so you know there's got to be something wrong with it. This is a totally radical proposal from the ARB. Tosti's substitute motion has protections. The zoning bylaw working group didn't see article 43 before it went to the ARB for a hearing. There's been no community conversation. This shouldn't be rammed through. His amendments would reduce the size of ADUs, require off street parking, and require the ADU and primary structure to be affordable, if owned by a corporation. He says town meeting should meet in the middle. Don't do crazy, radical things, and be respectful of the neighborhood.

At this point, it's time to adjourn. We'll pick up with Article 43 on Wednesday evening.