Town Meeting - May 3rd, 2023
Fourth night of town meeting. Materials are available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting/2023-town-meeting-warrant (annual town meeting), and https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting/2023-special-town-meeting-warrant (special town meeting).
- 1 Opening Remarks
- 2 Special Town Meeting
- 3 Announcements
- 4 STM Article 1 - Reports
- 5 STM Article 2 - Hybrid Town Meeting Study Committee
- 6 STM Article 3 - Police Recruitment and Hiring Civil Service Exemption from Civil Service
- 7 Article 9 - Stenographic Record of Town Meeting
- 8 Article 24 - Endorsement of CDBG Application
- 9 Article 25 - Revolving Funds
- 10 Article 26 - Industrial District Development Standards
- 11 Article 27 - Solar Bylaw in Industrial Districts
- 12 Article 28 - Building Inspector Enforcement
- 13 Article 29 - Downtown Business Parking Minimums
- 14 Article 30 - One and Two-Family Usable Open Space
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says that we'll take up the Minuteman Budget, Article 12 on May 8th, and then continue hearing articles in order. He reminds town meeting that all substitute motions and amendments must be submitted at least two business days in advance of when an article is heard.
(John Worden, Point of order) Mr. Worden says that 48 hours is two days, and not two business days.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says the rule is two business days, to ensure that he has time to give the motion adequate consideration, and address any possible issues.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says that two business days isn't right.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana informs Mr. Worden that two business days is the rule.
(Carl Wagner, Point of Order) Mr. Wagner asks why we didn't sing the national anthem.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says he did a survey after the last town meeting, and a good number of respondents felt we didn't need to sing the anthem each night. So, we're going to sing it once per week.
(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner says that he's a liberal, and he objects to not singing the national anthem each night.
Special Town Meeting
We adjourn the regular town meeting to move to special town meeting. This is a usual practice: embedding a special town meeting in the middle of the annual town meeting. Special town meeting typically involves a handful of articles, and takes a short period of time. Articles passed during special town meeting can go to the Attorney General's office immediately, without having to wait for the regular town meeting to adjourn.
Articles labeled "STM" are part of the special town meeting. Subsequent articles (not labeled STM) are part of the annual town meeting.
(Nancy Feeney) Ms. Feeney says her friend Julie passed away from breast cancer. She's holding a fundraiser to raise money for victims of metastatic breast cancer.
(Eric Helmuth, Select Board) Mr. Helmuth says the Select Board's report to special town meeting was distributed earlier tonight, and a copy was left on each of our chairs.
Also, there are two positions open for the Civilian-Police Advisory Commission. One position is open through the Diversity Task Group, and the other is open through the Select Board.
(Laura Wiener, Precinct 8) Ms. Wiener says that the Housing Corporation of Arlington (HCA) is having a fundraiser walk on May 21. HCA provides homes to people who make less than 60% of the area median income.
(Stephanie Ford-Weems, Precinct 8) Ms. Ford-Weems encourages people to participate in the fundraising walk. She says that HCA works with tenants who are at risk of losing their housing, and supports people who find themselves in that situation. She says that HCA also builds homes. She encourages people to come to the walk, to donate, and to volunteer.
(Sandy Pooler, Town Manager) Mr. Pooler informs town meeting that, with the passage of the Garber Amendment to the Capital Budget (Article 38), the town will not purchase Bola Wrap devices for the Police Department. Instead, they'll refer the matter to the Civilian Police Advisory Commission for discussion.
(Michael Ruderman, Precinct 9) Mr. Ruderman is Arlington's representative to the Minuteman School Committee. Town Meeting will hear Article 44, the Minuteman Budget, on May 8th, and a presentation will be posted to the town website.
STM Article 1 - Reports
Eric Helmuth submits the Select Board report to special town meeting.
STM Article 2 - Hybrid Town Meeting Study Committee
(Eric Helmuth, Select Board Chair) Mr. Helmuth says the Select Board recommends positive action on Article 2.
(Mark Rosenthal, Point of order) Mr. Rosenthal asks if we're going to take a test vote.
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christian thanks Mr. Rosenthal for the reminder.
Our test vote: True or false: there are more precincts in Arlington than keys on a stenographic keyboard.
The vote is 99--87--21. The answer, however, is false. Arlington has 21 precincts while a stenographic typewriter has 22 keys.
Back to STM article 2.
(Rebecca Gruber, Town Meeting Procedures Committee) Ms. Gruber says the purpose of the article is to form a study committee, to look at the feasibility of holding hybrid town meetings. This includes legal, technical, and financial considerations. If the committee determines that hybrid town meetings are feasible, they'll also provide recommendations for conducing them.
(Guillermo Hamlin, Precinct 14) Mr. Hamlin is interested, and he looks forward to seeing what the committee comes up with. He runs hybrid meetings at work, and hopes we'll invest appropriately. He asks that the committee please consider the costs involved.
(John Leone, Precinct 8) Mr. Leone says he's going to vote against this. As the former Town Moderator, Mr. Leone says he ran two town meetings via zoom, and it was a disaster. He says there was less participation, and less collegiality. It's hard to run zoom meetings with 252 people. Zoom also extended the meeting, and we lost a lot of town meeting members because they were worn out. Mr. Leone says we've been in-person for 215 years, with the last 100 as a representative town meeting. He says that people were using Slack and group texts to communicate during remote town meetings. He says this changes the culture of both town meeting and the town.
(Note: people are also using slack, signal, and group texts to communicate during our in-person town meeting.)
(Xavid Pretzer, Precinct 17) Mx. Pretzer favors the article. They think the core of town meeting is democracy, and we should remove barriers to participation. Not everyone who wants to participate can do so in person, but a hybrid option would allow them to. Mx. Pretzer thinks this would be the best of both worlds, and our best step forward. They note that other communities are considering hybrid town meetings too.
(Ben Rudick, Precinct 5) Mr. Rudick says he's been a member of town meeting for two years; the first year was remote, and this year is in person. He has three kids aged five and under. Mr. Rudick says he was late tonight because he needed to get his kids to bed at 20:00. He thinks a remote option would be an upside, and he's affected by this.
(Sanjay Newton, Precinct 10) Mr. Newton move the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes, 172--46--2.
(Adam Badik, Point of order) Mr. Badik has a question about the wording of the main motion.
Article passes 183--33--1.
STM Article 3 - Police Recruitment and Hiring Civil Service Exemption from Civil Service
(Diane Mahon, Select Board) Ms. Mahon says the Select Board voted 4--0--1 to support the article. She feels it's important for the Police Chief and the Town Manager.
(Mark Rosenthal, Point of order) Mr. Rosenthal didn't hear an announcement that the speaker queue was open.
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana asks to have the speaking queue cleared and re-opened.
(Sandy Pooler, Town Manager) Mr. Pooler says that the article would authorize the Select Board to file home rule legislation to change how police officers are hired in Arlington. Civil service hasn't worked well for hiring. The bill would allow the town to hire outside of civil service, and police officers would move into civil service once hired. This would only apply to the police department, and not the fire department.
The current laws require the town to hire officers in the order of their civil service exam scores, giving preference to residents and veterans. The home rule petition would allow us to create a town exam or assessment, and hire candidates in the order we choose. It would not give an automatic preference for Arlington residents, which will help diversify the department. It would also not give automatic preference to veterans; this should draw a wider range of people, with a less militaristic view of policing.
(Julie Flaherty, Police Chief) Ms. Flaherty believes the proposed legislation will have several benefits. During the past few years, there's been a decrease in the number of Arlington residents taking the civil service exam. Other communities haven't been seeing this decrease, and they have a wider range of applicants to draw from. We'd like to give exams or assessments three or four times per year. It would also allow us to bypass the civil service appeals process, when we'd prefer not to hire a high-scoring candidate. Ms. Flaherty says she'd like to increase diversity in the Police Department, and this legislation would allow a wider range of recruiting options. She says it's trying to fix a problem we're having right now.
(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says that civil service was created to clean up a patronage system, but it has issues today, and isn't adequately funded. More communities are getting out of civil service. Attleboro was the first community to adopt this hybrid approach, and Cambridge is also considering it.
(Brooks Harrelson, Precinct 16) Mr. Harrelson works for an agency that does testing for non-civil service communities. He asks if Arlington would give the same kind of test, and how we'd approach increasing diversity.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says we'd research and develop a testing policy. The goal is having the ability to choose from a wider range of candidates.
(Susan Ryan-Vollmar, Precinct 19) Ms. Ryan-Vollmar asks how many women serve in the Arlington Police Department.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says there are eight women out of 61 officers.
(Susan Ryan-Vollmar) Ms. Ryan-Vollmar asks how many police officers are BIPOC.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says five out of 61 officers are BIPOC.
(Susan Ryan-Vollmar) Ms. Ryan-Vollmar asks if the police department should mirror the characteristics of the population it serves.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty answers in the affirmative.
(There were more short questions and answers of this form, which I failed to keep up with.)
(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 9) Mr. Kaepplein says there are plenty of candidates listed on the state's civil service website. He asks what kind of interactions the police department has, where the demographics don't match the people they serve.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says the police department has 61 officers, five of which are BIPOC. She'd like the department to look more like the people it services.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks "where's the gap?".
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says that Arlington is more diverse than that, and we're attempting to match that level of diversity in the department.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks if the queue of candidates who applied through civil service will be reset.
(Julie Flaherty) Ms. Flaherty says there are 16 candidates that are Arlington residents, and candidates who aren't Arlington residents have a tendency to leave. She says we'd use a new list.
(Arthur Prokosch, Precinct 4) Mr. Prokosch moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes, 151--59--2.
Main motion passes, 199--17--3.
With this, special town meeting dissolves, and regular town meeting resumes.
Article 9 - Stenographic Record of Town Meeting
We began discussing Article 9 last week, the postponed it until this evening. We'll take Article 9 up now.
(Eric Helmuth, Select Board Chair) Mr. Helmuth says the Select Board voted to endorse Mr. Badik's substitute motion, keeping the requirement for record keeping, but giving the Town Clerk flexibility in how it's done.
(Adam Badik, Precinct 5) Mr. Badik says his substitute motion essentially keeps the current bylaw, but strikes the word "stenographic".
(Vince Baudoin, Precinct 1) Mr. Baudoin asks how the phrase "complete record" will be interpreted.
(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says the main difference is that the current bylaw requires a live stenographer. The substitute motion would allow for a combination of automated transcription and editing, or other mechanisms.
(Mark Rosenthal, Precinct 14) Mr. Rosenthal asks "what do we lose if the main motion passes?" He says we'll lose the requirement that town records be kept. He thinks we need these records to understand the intent of town meeting's decisions. He says there are legitimate problems with paper, but there are problems with computers too. Mr. Rosenthal says that clay tablets still exist, but digital formats change, and there's no way to interpret the data without the proper software. He says that Badik's substitute motion doesn't address digital storage formats, and he'd like the current bylaw left unchanged.
(Christopher Moore, Precinct 14) Mr. Moore says that article 14 is about the nature of the record, and not how they're stored. How records are stored is a separate issue. Mr. Moore advocates for voting in favor of Mr. Badik's substitute motion.
(Al Tosti, Precinct 17) Mr. Tosti moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.
Badik motion passes, 204--12--2.
Article passes, 184--40--0.
Article 24 - Endorsement of CDBG Application
(Sandy Pooler, Town Manager) Mr. Pooler says we're getting $1.058M in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. $402k will be spent on housing, and $302k for a new exhaust system in one of the Housing Authority buildings. There's money for the Housing Corporation of Arlington to upgrade their portfolio. There's also money to improve public facilities, like creating an accessible restroom at the Robbins Library, and improvements to Veterans Memorial Park. Finally, there are a number of service organizations that are receiving grants.
(Beth Elliot, Precinct 10) Ms. Elliot urges support. She wants to call attention to the fact that 1/3 of the CDBG funds are being used to improve the Housing Authority's Hauser building. She says that Housing Authority funding should come from the state, but the state isn't meeting it's obligations to fund local housing authorities. This year's state budget for public housing is level-funded at $92M, which is about half of what it should be.
(Daniel Jalkut, Precinct 6) Mr. Jalkut moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.
Article passes, 218--0--4.
Article 25 - Revolving Funds
(Alex McGee, Deputy Town Manager) Mr. McGee says that revolving funds involve user fees, which are used to fund operations.
(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7) Mr. Loreti asks why the balance of the white goods recycling fund increases each year.
(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says it comes from a change in policy that was implemented by Public Works.
(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti is concerned that we're taking in more money than we're spending. White goods also includes televisions. He'd like to request a balance of costs and fees.
(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 9) Mr. Kaepplein is concerned about the cleaning fees for town hall, and town hall not being used.
(Charlie Foskett, Precinct 10) Mr. Foskett has two questions: why has the Conservation Commission fund disappeared, and what's going on with the ambulance fund?
(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says the Conservation Commission's revolving fund was redundant with Chapter 53 funding, so it's no longer used.
(Alex McGee) Mr. McGee says that changes to the ambulance fund are largely due to how we use advanced life support and basic life support. He says we're getting more money from general fund revenue.
(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.
Article passes, 207--1--1.
Article 26 - Industrial District Development Standards
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says the goal of article 26 is to clarify a section of the industrial district development standards that Town Meeting adopted in 2021. We found an ambiguity in the storm water management standards when a project came up for review in 2022. The proposed changes were developed in conjunction with the Town Engineer and Conservation Agent. They establish contaminant loading standards, and design storm criteria. She says the change provides clarity, and doesn't alter the substance of the industrial standards.
No one wishes to speak on Article 26.
Article passes, 203--3--1.
Article 27 - Solar Bylaw in Industrial Districts
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says this article comes from a desire to better align sections 5.6.2 and 6.4 of the Zoning Bylaw. It doesn't alter the substances of the solar standards in the industrial districts.
There are no speakers for Article 27.
Article passes, 207--2--1.
Article 28 - Building Inspector Enforcement
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says this article removes a section of the zoning bylaw that was deemed unenforceable by the Attorney General. The section comes from a citizen petition where the ARB recommended no action, but town meeting adopted.
There's no discussion on Article 28.
Article passes, 203--1--5.
Article 29 - Downtown Business Parking Minimums
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says the Redevelopment Board supports this citizen petition to simplify non-residential parking regulations in the B5 zoning district.
(James Fleming, Article Proponent) Mr. Fleming describes what parking minimums are. This article would remove minimum parking requirements in the B5 district, in order to reduce the number of special permit requests for parking relief, and to reduce the amount of friction for starting a new business in the central business district. Mr. Fleming notes that our bylaw requires one off-street parking space for each 300 square feet in a retail establishment. A parking space plus half a drive isle is nearly 300 square feet, which means that the parking requirement is almost as large as the space it's serving.
Mr. Fleming says the central business district is on the Minuteman Bikeway, bus routes, and there's plenty of paid parking nearby. The lack of private off-street parking is generally managed by reductions via special permit, a process which takes at least two months. His article would allow staff to make these reductions. He'd like businesses to have the ability to open faster.
(Ben Rudick, Precinct 5) Mr. Rudick has a day job in commercial real estate, though he doesn't do any work in Arlington. A big part of borrowing money for commercial projects is parking and traffic, and feasibility is a big factor in what gets developed. He says there's a robust financing process to vet projects.
(Carmine Granucci, Precinct 21) Mr. Granucci moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate fails, 125--80--2 (2/3's vote required). We'll keep talking.
(Andrew Greenspon, Precinct 5) Mr. Greenspon supports the article. He worked with the Union Square Council when he lived in Somerville. He agrees that banks know how much parking is necessary for a business to succeed, and they won't lend money if they think the venture will fail. So, if there's not enough parking, the business won't be able to get a loan. He sees businesses struggling, and thinks we should do whatever we can to help.
(Ed Trembly, Precinct 19) Mr. Trembly has a question about municipal parking lots. He asks if a fair number of the spaces are leased.
(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says that some spaces are leased through the Select Board.
(Ed Trembly) Mr. Trembly asks how many spaces are leased.
(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler isn't sure, but he thinks it's a just a fraction of the spaces available.
(Joanne Preston, Precinct 5) Ms. Preston doesn't think banks should make these kinds of decisions. She says that seniors that live in Housing Authority properties shop, they don't ride bikes, and they need parking spaces.
(Xavid Pretzer, Precinct 17) Mx. Pretzer supports the article. They say the B5 district currently doesn't have private parking and it seems unlikely that any will be developed there. Shared parking is more efficient. They support local businesses, and more efficient shared parking.
(Guillermo Hamlin, Precinct 14) Mr. Hamlin moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes, 167--44--0.
Article passes, 177--29--2.
Article 30 - One and Two-Family Usable Open Space
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says this article proposes to eliminate the usable open space requirement for single- and two-family homes. She says the ARB supports this elimination of overlapping dimensional requirements.
(James Fleming, Article Proponent) Mr. Fleming says that the Zoning Bylaw's definition of usable open space is a 25' x 25' piece of land, which isn't required to be grass or trees. It can be a swimming pool or a patio. Removing this requirement would leave the amount of usable space up to the homeowner. Mr. Fleming says that Lexington, Belmont, and Winchester have no concept of usable open space in their zoning bylaws. Medford has something similar, but doesn't require it for single- or two-family homes. Mr. Fleming notes that our single-family districts have a 25' front yard setback requirement, which effectively guarantees that homes there will have usable open space. There's also a 35% lot coverage limit, which also guarantees space, and limits the size of homes.
Mr. Fleming says this change will mainly affect older single- and two-family homes, where the requirement create friction for homeowners who want to make small additions or changes to their home. He shows a number of slides to illustrate how this plays out.
(Wynelle Evans, Precinct 14) Ms. Evans says the zoning bylaw requires usable open space to be 30% of a home's gross floor area. She says the ZBA reviewed this article and most members wanted to retain the usable open space requirement. She thinks it acts as a guardrail. Lexington and Winchester have large minimum lot size requirements, and she says people can just apply to the ZBA for a special permit. Ms. Evans says that we could change the usable open space requirement to be a percentage of lot area, rather than gross floor area. She thinks the usable open space requirements should be amended rather than discarded.
(Judith Garber, Precinct 4) Ms. Garber has heard concerns about a house that sought a variance to build more parking in their backyard, and the applicant is waiting to see if this article passes. She asks if there are any safeguards against creating too much parking.
(Mike Ciampa, Director of Inspectional Services) Mr. Ciampa says the zoning bylaw already has a maximum driveway width of 20', and there are stormwater requirements in the town bylaws. He says that a property owner couldn't pave over their entire backyard by right, because of those factors.
(Kristen Anderson, Precinct 11) Ms. Anderson is concerned that this will incentivize the elimination of businesses, which would be replaced by single- and two-family homes. She says there have always been good businesses on Broadway, and they exist because we have room for them.
(Tania Hewes, 87 Varnum Street) Ms. Hewes is a resident who wishes to address town meeting. She says the owner of a two-family home on her street wants to turn the backyard into a parking lot. She's concerned that they'd be able to do this by right, if the article passes. She thinks that back and side yards could be eliminated on small lots, and most homes don't have sufficient space for a parking lot. She thinks that usable open space doesn't prevent homeowners from making additions and she opposes eliminating the usable open space requirement. She asks town meeting to consider changing it instead.
(Michael Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa is familiar with the house that Ms. Hewes referred to. He says they'd still need a special permit for their driveway, even if this article passes.
(Jennifer Litowski, Precinct 3) Ms. Litowski says we all value the idea of open space, but our usable open space regulations don't provide that. She thinks the term "usable open space" is a misnomer. It creates the need for a special permit when a homeowner finishes their attic. She thinks it would be better to regulate permeability.
(Jennifer Susse, Precinct 3) Ms. Susse is in favor of the article, due to the fairness aspects. She says someone who has a non-conforming lot with no usable open space can add a dormer by right, but there's a special permit required when the lot is barely conforming. She asks what would cause pressure for small business on Broadway to become single-family homes.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says the change only applies to single- and two-family homes. He doesn't see why that would incentivize the conversion of businesses to those uses.
(Aram Hollman, Precinct 6) Mr. Hollman opposes the article. The presentation referred to what homeowners want to do, but he thinks it will really be developers making the changes. He thinks it's a feature when the addition of space to a home would cause a non-conformity. He says that Arlington is already sufficiently dense.
(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15) Mr. Wagner says we are 250 people deciding for 40,000, and that we're talking about the ability to pave over backyards. He thinks that people should need a variance to do that. Mr. Wagner says the Master Plan talks about appropriate size, and most members of the ZBA oppose this.
(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein says that Mr. Fleming came before the ZBA to discuss his article. The board didn't make any formal recommendations, though a variety of opinions came up during the discussion. Mr. Klein confirms that there is a special permit case before the ZBA where a developer is seeking a special permit to add parking to the rear of a house. He says that the ZBA has made no statement of opposition to Article 30.
It's around 23:00, and town meeting adjourns until next Monday.