Town Meeting - May 6th, 2024

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Night four of town meeting. Materials were available from


(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana reminds us that a special town meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, and there's been a lot of attention to special town meeting article 5. Mr. Christiana asks us to please consider this a dress rehearsal for good behavior. There should be no cheering, shouting, applause, signs, or flags.

Mr. Christiana says that Town Meeting is not a game; we are an elected body, and not sports fans. Gloating after a vote breeds bad blood from people who disagree with you. Also, terminating debate has a legitimate function.

Mr. Christiana recognizes Boy Scout troop 306, who is joining us tonight in the balcony.

We take a test vote: Was Arlington's first annual town meeting within 30 years of the signing of the declaration of independence? Vote was 68--103--18. (Arlington's first town meeting was 31 years after the declaration was signed).


(David Levy, Precinct 18) Mr. Levy says he attended the Conservation Commission hearing for the Turf field at Arlington High School. The permit was extended and the field will be built as planned. He says the hearing didn't start until 9:45 pm, and he was concerned about the hearing being based on old laws.


(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7, Point of order) Mr. Loreti asks if slides can be projected full screen when they're shown.

(Asia Kepka, Precinct 1, Point of order) Ms. Kepka asks if anyone has seen John Worden's clicker.

Article 39 - Town Budgets

(Jim Feeney, Town Manager) Mr. Feeney introduces the department heads who are attending tonight's Town Meeting. They'll be available to answer questions about their respective departmental budgets.

(Liz Homan, School Superintendent) Ms. Homan thanks the residents of Arlington for their support in the recent override vote. She says the Arlington school district has 1000 employees and 6000 students. They have a vision for belonging, growth, joy, and learning.

Ms. Homan says that birth rates have been declining, and our elementary school enrollment has been declining too. The success of the school's strategic plan hinges on all students thriving and closing opportunity gaps. Arlington is becoming more diverse, and the needs of students and families re increasing. She anticipates a +5.89% budget increase from all sources. During the last three years the district has added positions for higher grades. There was a big jump in elementary enrollment a few years ago, and those students are moving into upper grades. Teachers in higher grades have different licensing requirements than at the elementary school level.

(Greg Christian, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana reads through the list of sub-budgets; town meeting members may hold individual sub-budgets for discussion.

The budgets held are:

  • Board of assessors (Steve Revilak, Precinct 1)
  • Department of Planning and Community Development (Chris Loreti, Precinct 7)
  • Public Works (Gordon Jamieson, Precinct 12)
  • Education (Beth Ann Friedman, Precinct 15)
  • Health and Human Services (Carl Wagner, Precinct 15)
  • Retirement (Gordon Jamieson, Precinct 12)

Board of Assessors

(Steve Revilak, Precinct 1) Mr. Revilak says the assessor's office plays a important role, in that they are responsible for recording new growth. As background, Massachusetts has a law called proposition 2.5, that limits tax levy increases to 2.5% per year.

New growth generally comes from construction; for example, when someone replaces a building with a more valuable one, which generates more tax revenue. New growth is not subject to the limits of proposition 2.5. Mr. Revilak says this is important for a community like Arlington, whose expenses can increase more than 2.5% each year. Having enough new growth means being to make up the difference between 2.5% and the actual increase in costs. Without enough new growth, we have to go to the voters every few years and ask for an override.

According to Mass DOR's Division of Local Services, Arlington's new growth rate was 0.95% for FY2024. Mr. Revilak asks if that's typical for Arlington.

(Dana Mann, Director of Assessments) Mr. Mann answers in the affirmative.

(Steve Revilak) Arlington ranked 270 out of 351 communities for new growth -- we're towards the top of the bottom quartile.

86.12% of Arlington's new growth came was classified as residential. Mr. Revilak asks what kind of properties this came from, and how the assessor's office goes about capturing and recording it?

(Dana Mann) Mr. Mann says the assessor's office gets a feed of completed building permits. If someone were to (say) add a deck, the assessors would come out and measure the deck, and provide a new assessed value for the property. The difference between the old value and the new value is new growth.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the next biggest contributor to new growth was personal property, at 12.7% of new growth. He asks what personal property is.

(Dana Mann) Mr. Mann says it's property owned by a business. The type of property and how it's recorded varies with the type of business. There isn't a single answer.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the last contributor to new growth was commercial properties, which came in at 1.2%. He asks if there's anything remarkable about that.

(Dana Mann) Mr. Mann says that Arlington has very little commercial property, so we tend to see very little commercial growth.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to conclude with a budget question. He asks if the assessor's office has the staffing and support it needs to do this work?

(Dana Mann) Mr. Mann answers in the affirmative, noting that they can outsource work when necessary.

Department of Planning and Community Development

(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7) Mr. Loreti has two questions. First, who decides whether special permit applications are heard by the ARB or ZBA? Second, who is responsible for publishing legal notices for special permit hearings? He feels that a recent applicant was inappropriately referred to the ARB rather than the ZBA. He also says the Attorney General found a defect in the advertisements for last fall's special town meeting.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the responsibility lies with her.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti thinks the town needs to come to clarity on which board hears which special permits.

Public Works

(Gordon Jamieson, Precinct 12) Mr. Jamieson asks how much trash the town sends for incineration, and the costs associated with that.

(Mike Rademacher, DPW Director) Mr. Rademacher says the amount of trash sent for incineration was down last year, but he believes that was an anomaly. He says it's usually consistent from year to year.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks about the hauling budget.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the hauling contract will be up for renewal next year.

(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 7) Mr. Kaepplein says he was crossing the street in front of town hall, and a driver failed to slow down for him. He wonders if crosswalks can be repainted more often.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the DPW doesn't have a separate line item for crosswalks. Most of the repainting is done by DPW staff. They can use better quality markings on newly paved roads.

(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks if the old paint can be ground down before it's repainted.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that makes the process significantly more expensive.

(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15) Mr. Wagner says he's been asking to have Mill Street restriped, and it recently was. He suggests that Grove Street could benefit from restriping too. Mr. Wagner says the pot holes on Pleasant Street are very bad and asks if they can be filled.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that portions of Pleasant Street are beyond patching. There's water main work scheduled in the area, and the street will be repaved after that work is complete.

(Ed Tremblay, Precinct 19) Mr. Tremblay asks how much salt we used last winter.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says we used 3800 tons of salt.

(Ed Tremblay) Mr. Tremblay says that Feeney Brothers digs up streets to replace gas lines. Afterwards, the pavement is usually patchy and bumpy. He asks if we can get Feeney Brothers to do a better job at compacting soil and patching.

(note: Feeney Brothers is a utility contractor)

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that some settling is expected. Utility contractors usually patch their work, wait a year, then mill it down and install a permanent patch.

(Ed Tremblay) Mr. Tremblay says that Feeney Brothers tends to repave half the street; it's never flat and it's never smooth.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the DPW works with its contractors to repave entire roads, when it's appropriate to do so.

(Ed Tremblay) Mr. Tremblay say that several intersections have been narrowed by the installation of pedestrian bump-outs. He says it's hard to drive commercial trucks through them, without driving over the curb.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the pedestrian bump-outs are intended to make the streets safer for pedestrians.

(Asia Kepka, Precinct 1) Ms. Kepka is concerned about the number of trees being removed. She asks about how much money the town spends on tree care.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the DPW typically plants over 300 trees per year. He says the town worked on a tree inventory over the last few years, so we have a better understanding of what kind of trees there are, as well as their condition.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka says she found the tree survey on the town website, and she thinks the number is too high.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the town lost approximately 150 street trees last year, due to storm damage. The goal of the planting program is to have a net increase.

(Asia Kepka) Mr Kepka thinks that a lot of trees are lost to pests.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the DPW has a process to treat trees for emerald ash borers.

(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee Chair) Ms. Deshler says the FY25 budget has a considerable amount of money designated for tree care.

(Beth Melofchik, Precinct 9) Ms. Melofchik asks why some of the tree pits in front of town hall were bricked over.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that several of the tree pits were covered over because they'd become tripping hazards, but this can be reviewed in future years. Several trees were lost in this area, due to gas leaks.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik says a tree fell down in Arlington Center. She'd like to have it replaced.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher advises Ms. Melofchik to use the tree request form on the town website.

(John Worden, Precinct 8) Mr. Worden says there are lots of tripping hazards on the sidewalks along Jason Street, but several of these have been addressed by Public Works. He says the gas company installed new gas lines, but didn't do a good job at repaving. He asks if we can get the gas company to do their paving work properly.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that DPW works with the gas companies to ensure that repairs are made adequately.

(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman motions to end debate on the Public Works budget.

Motion to end debate passes by a voice vote.


(Beth Ann Friedman, Precinct 15) Ms. Friedman noticed that the school budget report said that 28.9% of students were identified as high needs. She asks why that number is so high.

(Liz Homan, School Superintendent) Ms. Homan says that number is an aggregate of several categories.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman asks why the line item for the Friends School increased from $3.99M to $5.23M.

(Liz Homan) Ms. Homan says the school district is trying to move more special education resources into the community schools.

(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7) Mr. Loreti believes the school district's budget has increased 30% over the past four years, and 8.5% this year alone. He asks if that's sustainable.

(Paul Schlichtman, School Committee) Mr. Schlichtman says that an 8.5% increase is unusual. However, the town voters adopted a budget override that included specific spending targets. One of those targets involved making teacher's pay more competitive. He says this was necessary due to challenges in hiring and retaining staff.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti thinks that Arlington spends more per pupil than Winchester and Belmont. He asks how much of an increase we'll see next year.

(Paul Schlichtman) Mr. Schlichtman says the Finance Committee report includes a three-year spending plan.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says that former Select Board member Charlie Lyons made a commitment to cap budget increases, outside of health insurance.

(Paul Schlichtman) Mr. Schlichtman says that caps are part of every override and fiscal plan.

(Kirsi Allison-Ampe, School Committee) Ms. Allison-Ampe says the caps are listed in the long range plan. There's a 3.5% growth cap on general education and a 7% cap on special education. There's also a growth factor to account for enrollment changes.

(Beth Benedikt, Precinct 21) Ms. Benedikt has a question about line item 3302 in the 504 budget. She asks why it doubled from FY23 to FY24.

(Liz Homan) Mr. Homan says that figure was from FY24 -- last year's budget. She'd have to go back to last year's budget to explain the change.

(note: this change represented a $11,192 increase, in a budget of $96.9M).

(Pi Fisher, Precinct 6) Mr. Fisher moves to end debate on the education budget.

Motion to end debate passes by voice vote.

Health and Human Services

(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15) Mr. Wagner notes that the Health and Human Services budget has $250k allocated to DEI. He asks how many staff that includes.

(Colleen Leger, HHS Director) Ms. Leger says that covers three full-time employees.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner asks why we need three people working on DEI.

(Colleen Leger) Ms. Leger says they have different responsibilities. One focuses on diversity, one on ADA issues, and one is an outreach coordinator.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner expresses concern over having three DEI employees. He thinks that one employee would be more appropriate.

(Beth Melofchik, Precinct 9) Ms. Melofchik asks how much money we received from the Sackler settlement.

(Colleen Leger) Ms. Leger says we received approximately $250k, which was distributed over the last few months.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik asks where Narcan is available in town.

(Colleen Leger) Ms. Leger says it's available through Health and Human Services, and the Police Department. HHS also plans to install Nolox boxes.

(Beth Melofchik) Mr. Melofchik is concerned that Narcan needs to be available. She asks Ms. Leger to think outside the box on how to make it available.

Retirement Board

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says that retirement accounts for 7.5% of the town's expenditures. He hopes the Retirement Board will provide reports to town meeting in the future.

(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15, Point of order) Mr. Wagner asks if anyone has found Mr. Worden's clicker.

(?, Staff) One of the folks running the voting equipment says that Mr. Worden will be give a new clicker, which will be activated during the break.

Town meeting takes a ten minute break.

Vote on Article 39 passes, 194--7--0.

Article 40 - Capital Budget

(Christopher Moore, Capital Planning Committee Chair) Mr. Moore says that the capital budget includes money for both acquisitions and debt service. The report includes a list of items we're asking to spend money on, as well as a five-year plan.

This year's budget proposes to spend $16.9M on acquisition, and that money will be paid from cash, bonding, and other sources. DPW is the largest source of expenditures, for things like water, sewer, and roads. The school accounts for one-third of the capital budget. The facilities and recreation departments account for 5% each. $6.6M of this spending will be paid for via bonds, and that will incur debt service.

This year's budget for debt service is $20M, which is funded mostly via cash. This includes both exempt and non-exempt debt. We have a long-running practice of limiting the capital budget to 5% of the general budget. The capital budget is capped; if something is added, something else has to be taken away.

(James McSweeney, Precinct 16) Mr. McSweeney says we had a freak storm on January 11th, which flooded his basement with raw sewage. There was four inches of rain, along with snow melt. He's concerned that the town's infrastructure is not up to handling severe weather events. He says a similar thing happened two years ago to the house next door. Mr. McSweeney hopes our infrastructure budget considers the effects of climate change.

(Mike Rademacher, DPW Director) Mr. Rademacher says that DPW makes annual repairs to the water and sewer systems each year, and the majority of the work focuses on keeping ground water out of the sewer systems. We typically spend $1M/year on sewer maintenance. Mr. Rademacher says that sump pumps are more likely to be the cause of a sewer backflow like the one Mr. McSweeney described. Some homes have sump pumps that discharge into the sewer, though that isn't legal to do.

(James McSweeney) Mr. McSweeney asks if the pipes are getting bigger.

(Mike Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the pipes don't need to be enlarged, just repaired. We also need to address storm floor drains and sump pumps that drain into the sewer lines.

(James McSweeney) Mr. McSweeney says that the town is liable for damage caused by this kind of backflow.

(John Leone, Precinct 8) Mr. Leone asks about the item labeled trash totes".

(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore says the goal is to outfit each resident with trash and recycling totes, to facilitate automated collection.

(Jim Feeney, Town Manager) Mr. Feeney says we'll move forward with the tote system only if it would be beneficial for automation. He says that extra trash can be handled with a second bin.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks about the item for agenda and minutes modernization.

(Patricia Sheppard, Chief Information Officer) Ms. Sheppard says we currently use Novus Agenda, but the vendor is retiring that system. Her department has been looking at other platforms, and ways to provide better public access.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks if that will speed up the timeline for getting minutes posted.

(Patricia Sheppard) Ms. Sheppard says that will depend on how the minutes are generated.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks about the item for repairs to town hall.

(Jim Feeney) Mr. Feeney says that money will go towards the repair of the Lyons hearing room.

(Adam Lane, Precinct 3) Mr. Lane moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 158--47--5.

Article 40 passes, 205--4--1.

Article 29 - Reduced Height Buffer

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says this article applies to districts and uses when two heights are listed in the Zoning Bylaw's dimensional tables; it would reduce the distance at which the lower height applies. Ms. Zsembery says that height buffers are used to minimize the effect of shadows, and the current buffer reflects heights that are no longer allowed. She says it would add greater clarity to the size of the buffer area, and the conditions when the taller height would be allowed. Ms. Zsembery says that the current setbacks can prevent buildings from being built to the full height allowed -- heights which Town Meeting approved. Ms. Zsembery notes that the ARB retains the ability to allow the taller heights if they are not detrimental to the surrounding R0, R1, R2, or OS district properties.

(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15) Mr. Wagner says we're still waiting for the state to approve last fall's density articles. He says that buffer areas are like demilitarized zones around North Korea, and there will be a loss of sun exposure and the shading of open space. He thinks this article is unnecessary.

(Aram Hollman, Precinct 6) Mr. Hollman says he tried to read this section of the bylaw several times, and has no idea what it means. He asks if someone can explain it to him.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak says that height buffers are intended to manage the effects of shadows. Arlington is in the northern hemisphere, so we get southern exposure -- shadows on the north side of a building will be taller than shadows to the south.

Mr. Revilak suggests picturing a circle, that's cut into four pieces with an X. The quarter circle that falls south-westerly to south-easterly represents the southern side of a building. The part that falls north-westerly to north-easterly represents the north. The buffer distances on the north are larger than the buffer distances on the south, because we have southern exposure. Mr. Revilak says the east and west sides are defined similarly, with distances in-between the north and south.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman say he tried to find a definition of "height buffer" in the bylaw, but wasn't able to. He asks why there isn't a definition.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says there is not a definition. Instead, there is a section of the bylaw devoted to explaining height buffers.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman doesn't think town meeting should vote in favor of this article.

(John Worden, Precinct 8) Mr. Worden says that no one had heard of solar panels in 1975, when height buffers were added to the bylaw. He says that solar panels are sustainable, and give us independence from fossil fuels. He says it's important not to block light, and some buildings in town are taller than five stories. Mr. Worden says this has worked for fifty years.

(Sanjay Newton, Precinct 10) Mr. Newton asks if this could lead to more commercial development.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks this could lead to more mixed-use development. Mixed use buildings generally have commercial space on the bottom floors, which would not be affected by the height buffer. Mr. Revilak says this change may make it easier to develop the upper stories, which are more likely to be residential. Mr. Revilak says that applicants that come in front of the ARB are generally more interested in building residential.

(Pi Fisher, Precinct 6) Mr. Fisher moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 151--50--5.

Article 29 passes, 131--70--1.

There are questions about why article 29 required a majority vote, rather than a two-thirds vote.

(Mike Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham says the majority vote requirement comes from changes to MGL Chapter 40A section 5, which lists specific kinds of zoning changes that are subject to a majority vote.

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana asks what happens if we make an incorrect determination about the voting threshold.

(Mike Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham says the Attorney General's Office would nullify the vote in that case.

(Aram Hollman, Point of order) Mr. Hollman would like to have the voting thresholds announced in advance.

Article 30 - Shaded Parking Lots

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says that the Redevelopment Board was split on whether to support Article 30. They recommended favorable action by a vote of 3--2.

(Elisabeth Carr-Jones, Precinct 14) Ms. Carr-Jones is a member of Green Streets Arlington, and her group worked with the ARB to craft the recommended vote. She says the article is intended to improve livability and climate resilience, as climate change is driving global temperatures higher. Using Google Maps, she counted over 70 parking lots with more than 25 spaces.

(Susan Stamps, Precinct 3) Ms. Stamps says this article will require shade trees in new parking lots with more than 25 spaces, including parking lots that are expanded to more than 25 spaces. Our bylaw already requires 8% of these parking lots to be landscaped. There are requirements for heat mitigation in the industrial districts, and this article extends them to the business and residential districts. The requirement is to have trees or solar panels. Every parking space must be within 32 feet of a shade tree, or the lot must be 50% covered with solar panels. There is language, developed in conjunction with the Tree Warden, to ensure that trees are cared for after installation. Ms. Stamps shows a picture of a Whole Food parking lot, with the trees and solar panels that this article would require. Ms. Stamps introduces a small amendment, to change part of the main motion's wording.

(Nancy Bloom, Precinct 18) Ms. Bloom asks if this would apply to existing parking lots.

(Elisabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Jones answers in the negative. The article would apply to new parking lots, and parking lots being expanded.

(Sanjay Newton, Precinct 10) Mr. Newton asks if the Redevelopment Board has an opinion about the Stamps amendment.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board has not met to discuss the amendment.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says that the parking lots shown in the slide presentation had a lot of empty spaces. Not having parking lots that large would be better. Reducing parking requirements would also be better.

(Grant Cook, Precinct 16) Mr. Cook has a comment about the mock-up of the Whole Foods parking lot, where the middle section was covered with solar panels. He asks if the proponents have seen how delivery trucks pull into the parking lot, and whether they've considered accommodations for large vehicles.

(Elisabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr-Jones says their mock-up is just one of many possibilities. She says it was easy to visualize where the trees would go.

(Gordon Jamieson, Precinct 12) Mr. Jamieson asks if these requirements would apply to parking lots that were repaved.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps answers in the negative.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson ask if it would apply to a 75 space parking lot that was reduced to 50 spaces.

(Mike Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham answers in the negative.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says he's in favor, as long as the new requirements don't reduce the potential for new growth.

(Judith Garber, Precinct 4) Ms. Garber has a question about the ARB's report. She asks if the Board will be able to work with developers to find solutions that comply with these requirements.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that the board members who were not in favor felt these requirements were too restrictive, and would make it more challenging to come up with solutions.

(Judith Garber) Ms. Garber asks what would make it more difficult.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that Arlington's parking lots tend to be tight. She feels this is a prescriptive requirement that makes the lots more cut up.

(Asia Kepka, Precinct 1) Ms. Kepka thinks this is wonderful. She sees parking lots with solar panels as a great revenue source. People like to park in the shade. She says that Arlington does have empty parking lots, and she could see having beer gardens in the shade of a solar canopy. She thinks the Redevelopment Board will be lenient with developers. She says there was a mixed-use development near Stop and Shop that had one tree, and now it has none.

(Alan Jones, Precinct 14) Mr. Jones says he's part of the team that worked on this article. For new parking lots, he think this will be like starting with a blank sheet of paper. He thinks it will be easy to arrange trees, and says this can be done within the existing 8% landscaping requirement. He says that shade makes parking lots better.

(Engjellushe Mozina, Precinct 15) Ms. Mozina moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes by a voice vote.

Stamps amendment passes, 185--12--5.

Article 30 passes, 184--18--1.

Meeting adjourned.