Town Meeting - May 26th, 2021
Tenth night of Arlington's annual town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting.
224 town meeting members present for the check-in vote.
(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher is a member of the Housing Plan Implementation Committee, which is the advisory committee for the housing production plan. The town is about to start the process of updating its five-year housing production plan. The goals are affordable housing production and increasing the amount of housing diversity. They also want to advance the affordable housing trust fund, and strategies for meeting local housing needs. The work will be done in conjunction with Barrett Planning Associates and Horsely-Witten. The first housing production plan public forum will be held on June 9th at 6:30pm. There will be addition surveys and public meetings coming through summer and fall.
Article 43 - Accessory Dwelling Units
We're back to Article 43, and still hearing proposed amendments.
(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans has two amendments. She supports accessory dwelling units but not article 43. Her first amendment would specify a time period for short term rentals. Anything less than six-months would be considered short term, which would make six months the minimum lease for an accessory dwelling unit. The second amendment will require owner occupancy. Nothing in Article 43 binds owners to the residence and Ms. Evans believes that will incentivize developers to make a profit on new ADUs. She lists the names of communities that have owner-occupancy requirements. She says that strict requirements don't inhibit people from building ADUs, and that few ADUs are built in communities with liberal requirements. Restrictions can be loosened later on.
(Beth Benedikt) Ms. Benedikt has a substitute motion that would refer the article to a study committee. She thanks Ms. Thornton for her work and says that ADUs are popular. She thinks there are too many amendments, and the real fix is Mr. Tosti's substitute motion. She wants to find a compromise and get resident input, especially for East Arlington. She also wants a real process for handling resident complaints.
That's the end of amendments and substitute motions.
(John Leone, Moderator) The moderator explains how he's going to handle the article. We'll have deliberations first, and then vote on the substitute motions and amendments. He's given some thought to the order amendments will be voted on, and explains this to town meeting. We'll vote on all of the amendments first, and then the substitute motions.
(Michael Brown) Mr. Brown supports article 43, and thinks it can be helpful in many ways. As an example of what's good, his dad moved into an in-law apartment, joined the council on aging, and did artwork for them. Inter-generational housing allows elders to live in Arlington. Elders can help with babysitting, and that can be very helpful when the parents need a night out. On the negative side, elders can be hard of hearing, and they like to listen to music they grew up with. They may end up playing Frank Sinatra very loudly in the late hours of the night. Mr. Brown would like to hear Phil Tedesco's thoughts about the amendments proposed for article 43.
(Phil Tedesco) Mr. Tedesco thinks the opposition is unfortunate. All of the setbacks in current zoning apply; Article 43 just allows ADUs as a use. At the very most, Arlington might produce 15 of these per year, which is less than 0.1% of our total housing units. Across Massachusetts, the average is 2.5 ADUs/year. He thinks the biggest risk is in being too restrictive, especially the Tosti amendment's prohibition of ADUs on non-conforming lots. There are many non-conforming lots in Arlington, and these would become ineligible for ADUs. The Tosti motion also makes any addition ineligible for an ADU. Article 43 has a special permit requirement for ADUs that are within six feet of the lot line. Article 43 would allow HCA to build detached ADUs in their R2 district properties, and the Tosti motion would not. The real question is whether we want a bylaw that allows ADUs on paper, or one that allows them in practice.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that rental properties are one of the ways that ADUs can be used. He'd like to say a few words about rentals and rental arrangements.
If someone had the money, they could purchase a few single- and two-family homes around town and rent them out. As far as Mr. Revilak knows, they wouldn't need to live in one of the units in order to rent them out. There's no owner occupancy requirement for landlords. And as far as Mr. Revilak knows, there wouldn't be any restrictions on who renters could be, or how long they'd have to stay. For example, if a renter wanted to do a tenancy-at-will -- a month-to-month self-renewing lease -- a landlord would be able to accommodate that request.
To reiterate, under normal circumstances, one could go out and buy a couple of homes, rent them out to whomever they wanted, they don't need to live in any of the buildings, and the length of the leases and rent would be up to the owner and their tenants. That's an ordinary rental arrangement, and Article 43 is simply trying to do that for ADUs.
Many of the amendments before us tonight are trying to put restrictions on the owner/tenant relationship. Most of these restrictions would be highly unusual in any other rental context. Mr. Revilak is concerned that some of these amendments are casting renters in a bad light, as if they'd create some sort of menace that the town needs to be protected from. He disagrees with that.
Other amendments are trying to add restrictions on where and how ADUs can be built, particularly Mr. Tosti's motion that would limit them to conforming lots only. As we discussed under article 38, Arlington has a lot of non-conforming lots. By passing article 38, we addressed an inequity that prevented these homeowners from building energy efficient homes. Mr. Revilak hopes we don't pass something that creates a similar inequity for homeowners that want to build ADUs.
Finally, Mr. Revilak wants to say a few words about East Arlington, since it was mentioned several times Monday night. He lives in East Arlington, on a street full of really non-conforming duplexes. His neighbor Chris -- two doors down -- had a basement apartment in her half of the duplex. It was as close to an ADU as you could get without having one. Some of her tenants stayed for short periods of time, and some stayed for longer. He was on a first name basis with several of them, they were his neighbors, and they were good people.
In the other half of that duplex, was another couple. They didn't have an ADU-like apartment, but they routinely rented their spare bedroom to boarders. In short, the house next door was a duplex, with two families, and extra renters living on each side. With that lived experience, Mr. Revilak has no concerns about the arrangement, and in fact, he really liked it. Having a few extra folks around led to some nice backyard conversations, the occasional pot luck dinner, and a stronger sense of community.
To Mr. Revilak's mind, Article 43 would take his experience living in East Arlington, and makes it legal. He's completely fine with that, and asks town meeting to vote for Article 43 unamended.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana supports article 43 and opposes the amendments. He loves the character of his neighborhood, but we've been waking up to the inequities that keep communities exclusive. Fear seems to motivate people more than anything else, but none of these fears reflect the realities of Article 43. Article 43 was researched and developed in public, over months. It was endorsed by the Redevelopment Board, the Select Board, and the Diversity Task Group. Sure we could go back and spend more time, but time has a cost to those that aren't privileged. He's sure the same arguments were made 50--60 years ago, and we look down on them now. There are more similarities than differences between homeowners and renters. He asks town meeting to support article 43, unamended.
(Josh Lobel) Mr. Lobel asks how many ADUs are likely to be built.
(Barbara Thornton) Mr. Thornton expects 3--5 per year. There might be a detached ADU built every 3--4 years. We've talked about affordable housing and how hard it is to create. Ms. Thornton sees this as a natural and obvious way to create housing that is more affordable. It's a small, but necessary change.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton is excited about ADUs. The Housing Corporation of Arlington could add these in their R2 district properties. Allowing ADUs would allow the creation of small rental units that are spread throughout town. He's excited about inter-generational living. ADUs add privacy and independence. He's against limiting who can build them and who can live in them. He thinks that detached ADUs are no more threatening than a garage with a car.
(Xavid Pretzer) Mr. Pretzer thinks the main motion creates options for homeowners. It will address the need for housing without really changing the character of the town. We allow people to build housing that's larger and more expensive; we should provide an option for smaller and cheaper. Put people over cars. This motion was developed in public, and it's time for town meeting to pass it. He thinks the amendments are too restrictive.
(Alex Bagnall) Mr. Bagnall motions to terminate debate.
Motion to terminate fails, 142--90 (two-thirds vote required).
(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman wants to speak in favor of the Benedikt motion, which will refer this article to a committee. He thinks there's too much to digest in this virtual medium, and that the article should be hashed out in person. Mr. Ruderman says "Don't tell me I'm afraid of ADUs". Real estate is a combination of rights and privileges, and we're about to confer a major change to that bundle of rights. You can have all the touching stories you want, but this all comes down to property and capital. How does conferring benefits to people with property and capital do anything to address diversity and equity? It requires a huge benefit to work for the social good. He asks town meeting to send article 43 back to committee.
(Jennifer Susse) Ms. Susse has talked to a lot of people about housing. People are excited about ADUs and the idea of being able to build one if their needs require it. Banks might not loan if there's too much uncertainty. She urges town meeting to pass a clean single proposal. The Select Board and Redevelopment Board supported this article. The Redevelopment board reviewed the amendments and reaffirmed their support for the original article.
(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson supports the article and plans to vote against the amendments. He has a question about one of the amendments, though. If we limit ADUs to one per parcel, will that create a legal problem if two condo owners each want to add an ADU? How would that be navigated?
(Lori Leahy) Ms. Leahy isn't a lawyer and can't address the legal question. She thinks that the condo association should be able to work this out. She doesn't want two-family homes turned into four-family homes.
(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says the right to do something under zoning doesn't trump a condominium agreement. He doesn't know if condominium agreements would address this situation.
(Phil Goff) Mr. Goff has concerns about what might result, but he's willing to try. He doesn't think this is a radical proposal, and it will only result in 5--10 ADUs being built per year. He feels that McMansions and overbuilding have done more to harm quality of life, and he'd like to see opportunities for smaller units.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham moves the question.
Motion to terminate passes, 187--53. We're on to voting.
Benedikt motion: would refer the article to a study committee. Fails, 53--187--2.
(Adam MacNeil, Point of order) Mr. MacNeil asks if this article requires a majority vote or two-thirds.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone says it's a majority vote, because it allows ADUs by right.
We start to vote on the Preston amendment. There's a loud lightning strike, which causes several people to lose their connection to the meeting. People eventually rejoin. There's discussion about whether to adjourn or to wait and continue. It's around 9:30, so we decide to take a recess, and try to get everyone back in the meeting.
After a 10--15 minute break, we take an attendance vote. Everyone seems to be back, so we'll continue voting.
Preston amendment: would require 15' between an ADU and any other dwelling. Fails, 56--173--1.
Heigham amendment: would require a special permit when a detached ADU is built within 10' of a lot line. Fails, 73--155--1.
Leahy amendment #3: would limit ADUs to single-family districts. Fails, 36--194--3.
(Joann Preston, Point of order) Ms. Preston says she wasn't able to vote on her own amendment. She asks the moderator if there's a rule about this.
(John Leone) Mr. Leone says we took a second attendance vote, and he felt everyone had returned. He's sorry that Ms. Preston wasn't able to vote, but notes that a single vote would not have changed the outcome.
Leahy amendment #2: would limit the number of ADUs to one per lot. Fails, 62--168--1.
John Worden amendment #3: would require off-street parking for ADUs. Fails, 47--182--1.
John Worden amendment #2: would require ADUs to be affordable if owned by a non-profit or corporation. Fails, 56--173--0.
John Worden amendment #1: would limit ADUs to 750 square feet, or 1/3 the size of the principal dwelling. Fails 40--187--1.
Gersh amendment: would prohibit detached ADUs. Fails, 47--181--1.
Leahy amendment #1: would require the owner to file an affidavit each year, attesting owner occupancy. Fails, 52--177--1.
Evans amendment #2: would require an affidavit of owner occupancy. Fails, 59--174--1.
Evans amendment #1: would require leases to be a minimum of six months. Fails, 69--161--1.
Patricia Worden amendment: would require ADU rent to be affordable at 60% AMI. Fails, 49--178--1.
Tosti substitute motion: a revised version of the 2019 ADU article. Fails, 62--175--1.
Vote on main motion. Passes, 189--48--2.
Article 54 - Collective Bargaining
(Charlie Foskett, Finance Committee) Mr. Foskett says that article 54 reflects collective bargaining agreements that have been negotiated by the town. It's also sets aside money in a reserve fund, to satisfy future collective bargaining agreements. Passing this article will appropriate funds and approve negotiated contracts, which town meeting is a requirement under state law.
(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says these contracts have a 1.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA). The library changed how their contract works: they'll have a lower COLA and a higher longevity payment. There are also benefits for Juneteenth. Mr. Pooler thinks this is a good settlement for the town, but there are still a few more contracts to negotiate.
There are no comments on Article 54.
Article passes, 203--4--6.
(Christian Klein, Point of order) Mr. Klein commends town staff for getting everything back in order after the lightning strike.
Meeting adjourned. Monday is a holiday, and the next town meeting night will be Wednesday, a week from today.