Town Meeting - May 5th, 2021

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Fourth night of annual town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from

Article 3 - Reports of Committees

(Joe Barr) Mr. Barr gives a report from the Master Plan Implementation Committee. The zoning bylaw working group has a proposal for industrial district zoning, we recently released a set of residential design guidelines, and the sustainable transportation plan is nearly finished. We are in the process of updating the Housing Production Plan (which expires later this year), and working on an update to the open space and recreation plan. Town staff performed a number of activities in response to the COVID pandemic, like implementing a shared streets program.

There are no further reports tonight, so Article 3 goes back on the table.

Article 24 - Ranked Choice Voting

Deliberations continue on Article 24.

(Elizabeth Carlton-Gyson) Ms. Carlton-Gyson moves the question.

Motion to terminate passes 199--36--3.

Friedman amendment passes, 204--29--4. This amendment would have the town clerk report on each round of voting.

Schlictman amendment fails, 33--204--1. This amendment would have limited RCV to single-seat elections.

Article as amended passes, 202--38--2.

Article 25 - Real Estate Transfer Fee

Article 25 proposes home rule legislation to establish a real estate transfer fee. Proceeds from this fee would be deposited into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

(Stephen DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey says the select board endorsed Article 25. It proposes home rule legislation. If that is adopted, the fee rates will be set by town meeting. Even if the legislature doesn't adopt our petition, it's important for them to know that municipalities are interested in a real estate transfer fee.

(Ben Bradlow, Housing Plan Implementation Committee) Mr. Bradlow gives a presentation via video. Real estate transfer fees are a sustainable way to fund affordable housing. They're assessed on transfers of title and deposited into the affordable housing trust fund. This has to be done via home rule petition because there's no local option legislation. If approved, the transfer fee will go before the voters.

Mr. Bradlow gives several reasons why this is a good idea. It's a continuous source of revenue. There's precedent for transfer fees in other states. Other municipalities have submitted similar home rule petitions. And, there's advocacy for establishing local option legislation at the state level.

The petition allows flexibility in several areas: the fee rate, exemptions, and who's responsible for paying the fee. The revenue will depend on the fee rates, and the total amount of property sales. The fee will be collected at the time of transfer. There are also requirements for annual reporting of fees collected, and how they're used.

(Bill Hayner) Mr. Hayner asks for an opposing video to be shown.

(Allan ?) In the opposing video, Allan says he's lived in Arlington his whole life. He's served on town committees and worked on several campaigns. He's happy to live here. He supports affordable housing but doesn't believe this is a good way to fund it. He believes we need a more regular source of funding and would prefer to see it paid through higher property taxes. He asks town meeting to consider a different funding source.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson thinks there are numerous toggles in the home rule petition, and he's surprised that the exemption level is fixed. His amendment would give town meeting flexibility in setting the exemption amount. He doesn't like the way the cutoff is applied. Mr. Jamieson asks if this will apply to commercial property transfers.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey says yes, it will apply to all property transfers.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson has a question about section 4B. He isn't married. If he died and willed his house to his nieces and nephews, would they have to pay the transfer fee?

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says no, there's no fee if a property is passed to heirs after an owner's death.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson suggests passing this, and considering a CPA mediated function. He believes that doubling the CPA tax would allow us to bond money and provide a jump start.

(Ann Ehlert) Ms. Ehlert supports the opposing video. She's concerned about the equity of a real estate transfer fee. She thinks there are other ways to fund affordable housing.

(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber supports the article. She asks if the town or housing plan implementation committee could propose a more progressive tax, perhaps based on the sale price of the property.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says theoretically yes. He says that certain parts of the petition are sacred and can't be changed -- the fee limits and exemptions. He believes a progressive tax would be doable, but he'd need more research to be sure.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton introduces Pam Hallet to speak.

(Pam Hallet) Ms. Hallet is the director of the Housing Corporation of Arlington. She says that 33 states already allow transfer fees, and it's time for MA to consider it. The housing plan implementation committee recommended a 1% fee, but that will ultimately be the decision of town meeting. The fee should be split between the buyer and seller. A 1% fee on a $1M sale is $10,000, or $5,000 each for the buyer and the seller.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton speaks in support of the article. He thinks it's a values decision.

(John Deyst) Mr. Deyst moves the question.

(Elaine Crowder, Point of order) Ms. Crowder believes the language in section 2 is ambiguous.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says that section establishes a fee range, and town meeting would set the specific fee.

Motion to terminate passes, 187--47--4.

Jamieson Amendment passes, 113--108--15.

Article as amended passes, 187--50--2.

Article 28 - Affordable Housing Requirements

Article 28 would make the zoning bylaw's affordability requirements apply to units built within a three year period, instead of units built within a two-year period.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery gives a short video presentation. This is an administrative change relative to affordable housing requirements. Section 30 of Chapter 219 of the Acts of 2016 extended the duration of a special permit from two years to three years. The ARB would like to extend the anti-phasing provision of affordable housing requirements to match.

No one wishes to speak on article 28.

Article passes, 235--4--2.

Article 29 - Apartment Conversion

Article 29 proposes to add a definition for "apartment conversion" to the zoning bylaw.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that apartment conversion is listed as a use in the zoning bylaw's use tables, but it's not defined in the bylaw. This article would add a definition. The definition itself is consistent with the way that the definition for R4 Townhouse District describes conversion to apartments.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman favors the article, but she's got a question about parking. She asks if there are requirements for parking.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the article doesn't change any parking requirements.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman asks what the current parking requirements are.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says that single- and two-family homes currently require one parking space per dwelling.

Article passes, 225--7--2.

Article 30 - Gross Floor Area

Article 30 would amend the zoning bylaw to clarify that usable open space and landscaped open space requirements are based on a percentage of gross floor area.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the purpose of this article is to clarify that open space percentages are based on gross floor area. This doesn't change the substance of the bylaw; it just adds clarity.

(Kevin Koch) Mr. Koch is confused about why our zoning bylaw allows open space on a roof that's no more than 10' above the lowest floor. He asks why.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that language is already in the zoning bylaw, and isn't being changed by Article 30. She defers to Michael Byrne to give an explanation of how that provision is used.

(Michael Byrne, Inspectional Services) Mr. Byrne says that provision can be useful for mixed use buildings and apartments.

(Beth Ann Friedman, Point of Order) Ms. Friedman believes she sees a clerical error in the bylaws.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the language that Ms. Friedman is referring to is already part of the zoning bylaw, and isn't being changed by Article 30.

(Lori Leahy) Ms. Leahy thinks that parts of section 5.3.22 are requiring more gross floor area and less open space.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt notes that this article adds subsection 5.3.22(C). The other subsections of 5.3.22 are already part of the bylaw and are not being changed by Article 30.

(Leah Broder) Ms. Broder wants to call attention to the unclear definitions of open space in the zoning bylaw, and hopes these can be addressed in the future. She hopes we can think about performance standards.

(Kirsi Allison-Ampe) Ms. Allison-Ampe moves the question.

Motion to terminate passes, 211--20--2.

Article passes, 222--14--1.

Article 33 - Zoning Bylaw Administrative Amendments

This article makes a set of administrative changes. These includes changing "Board of Selectmen" to "Select Board", changing gendered language to be gender neutral, adding a date, and fixing a section we failed to update in a 2019 update, when the definition of half-story was based on 7' rather than 7' 3".

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery summarizes the administrative changes.

(Zarina Memon, Point of Order) Ms. Memon asks why this article wasn't on the consent agenda.

(John Leone, Moderator) Mr. Leone said the ARB had presentations, and some town meeting members wanted to talk about it.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if the words "or more" should be crossed out.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says no.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if this will change the gross floor area of buildings.

(Michael Byrne, Inspectional Services) Mr. Byrne says this will reduce GFA slightly.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson believes the assessors will need to update their database because of the height change.

(Kevin Koch) Mr. Koch thinks this is more than just an administrative change.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray is stuck on the language.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt explains why "seven foot three inches" is being changed to "seven feet". In 2019, town meeting changed the definition of half-story, so that it's based on a seven foot height rather than 7' 3". This section in the bylaw should have been changed at that time, but it wasn't. So, the proposal is to correct it now.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray thinks the changes in this article conflict with those in article 30.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim explains that there isn't a conflict.

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

Motion to terminate passes, 207--13--2.

Article passes, 233--6--2.

Article 35 - Industrial Uses

Article 35 proposes zoning changes for Arlington's industrial districts.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the impetus for these changes came from the Master plan, which suggested modernizing the uses and regulations for the industrial district. The town worked with RKG and Harriman to perform an economic analysis. The industrial districts vary in size, and the uses allowed are either vague or hyper-specific. Based on the potential for growth in Middlesex county, we believe there's a market for 200,000 square feet of new development in Arlington.

The article expands what's allowed in the industrial districts with more contemporary uses. Restaurants will be allowed by special permit, and residential will be allowed as an accessory use. Analysis indicated that industrial-only developments may not be profitable; allowing residential as an accessory use will make it profitable. Residential must be accessory to a ground floor light industrial use; it can't be accessory to office space, and cannot be more that 50% of the gross floor area.

(Kristin Anderson) Ms. Anderson has an amendment that would remove the allowances for residential and artist live-work spaces. She runs a small business in one of Arlington's industrial districts. Very little space in town is devoted to industrial uses. Her business used to be located in a different city, and she had to spent 415 hours/year commuting to and from work. She likes being able to bike and walk to work now. Only a small percentage of Arlington residents work in town, and we don't need more high-end luxury rentals. Ms. Anderson believe that allowing residential will drive businesses away. She also believes that Article 35 will drive artists out of town. Most artists have already moved out of the Boston area because they can't afford it. She think the town should develop artists spaces through community grants, and that Arlington should be more welcoming to businesses.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman asks the moderator to play a video statement from Don Seltzer.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer believes that Arlington has a serious financial imbalance, and that we've lost property tax income from non-residential uses. There's a lack of decent jobs in town. Town meeting authorized a study of the industrial districts two years ago. Mr. Seltzer says he's been to nearly every meeting of the zoning bylaw working groups. For months, the focus was on new uses, businesses, and jobs, and there was no discussion of residential. The proposal to allow residential came very late in the process. Allowing residential uses in the industrial district will drive out businesses. This is a developer's dream. The industrial districts require minimal yard setbacks, and there's no minimum lot size. He expects to see 2--3 story apartment buildings with nominal industrial uses. He thinks that developers will subdivide lots, and we won't get any new growth. He urges a no vote.

(Lisa Reynolds) Ms. Reynolds introduces Aram Hollman, who will speak via a recorded presentation.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman opposes Article 35, and says it will be a big step in turning Arlington into a bedroom community. Article 35 goes in the wrong direction. It's got glib language, but the primary purpose is to allow expensive market rate housing, which will trump the needs of businesses. The proponents tried to sneak in housing, and there's a loophole that allows the ARB to allow more residential if 50% isn't financially viable. Why are these areas so underutilized? It's because Arlington's space is cheap, and the owners aren't interested in redeveloping them for business. Town government has only made a half-hearted attempt at business development. Being a bedroom community is socially and economically unhealthy, because it depends to much on residential property taxes. Most jobs in Arlington are low-paying retail jobs. Mr. Hollman urges a no vote, unless residential is removed.

(Annie LaCourt, Point of order) Ms. LaCourt says that some of Mr. Hollman's statements maligned town officials, and she objects to that.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden is a member of the zoning bylaw working group, who worked on this proposal, and he went to all of the meetings. He says we don't want residential in the industrial districts. If people want more residential, then let them build it in the other 98.5% of town.

We're coming up on 23:00, and town meeting adjourns for the night.