Zoning Board of Appeals - Apr 8th, 2021

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Meeting conducted via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1310.

Comprehensive Permit Hearing for Thorndike place

Tonight is a continued hearing of the 40B/Comprehensive Permit Hearing for Thorndike Place.

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein notes that the 180-day hearing period is scheduled to conclude on April 23rd. On March 8th, the applicant filed a notice of revision with MassHousing. On March 12th, the ZBA requested an expedited review of the notice of revision. On March 18th, the Select Board sent a comment letter to MassHousing. On March 22nd, there was a conference call with MassHousing. On March 23rd MassHousing issued a determination that the applicant's changes were not substantial. MassHousing will review the final plans when they are submitted.

The Select Board was very vocal about their desire to bring back the duplex homes along Dorothy Road. Mr. Klein asks the applicants if they would consider bringing that element of the project back. He recalls they were removed when the project was redesigned to minimize wetland impacts, and asks if this is something the applicants could consider.

(Stephanie Kiefer, Attorney for the applicant) Ms. Kiefer points out that the current plan revision dates back to September 2020, and that the project has since been revised so that the three front wings are only two stories tall, to resemble the scale of the 2.5 story duplexes originally proposed. She says it's hard to provide an answer -- this is a significant revision being requested late in the process. Ms. Kiefer points out the planned unit development district allows five floors of residential, and asks if that's what the board is contemplating. She'd like more feedback from the board.

(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak is okay with bringing the duplexes back. He recognizes that there are tradeoffs on both sides of the building: making room for duplexes in the front and what the neighbors want to see, vs the resource areas behind the building. He's happy that we've been able to reduce resource impacts and provide 2:1 compensatory flood storage. Moving the building back could complicate those achievements. As Ms. Kiefer notes, the PUD district allows five stories of residential. Mr. Revilak realizes that unit count is a consideration for the applicant, and going up five stories to make up the difference seems reasonable.

(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon thinks we're looking at a three-way balance: townhouses, massing, and wetlands. There's no point in making a smaller project. We've come a long way with the wetlands, flood plain, and water issues; he believes those are more important.

(Kevin Mills, ZBA) Mr. Mills thinks that townhouses would be a good fit for the neighborhood. He wouldn't object to making the main building five stories. He suspects that moving the main building farther back could reduce the risk of flooding.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks Mr. Hession if he has a sense of the amount of space available, and if this is likely to fit.

(John Hession, BSC) Mr. Hession says it may be possible to re-introduce the townhomes by eliminating the three wings. The main spine might have to slide south, which would mean shortening the wings on the south side (rear) of the building. They'd need to look at the number of units lost, and the number that could be made up via the addition of a fifth floor.

There's discussion about having duplexes on Dorothy Road, vs townhouse structures. Mr. Revilak suggests townhouse structures, where parking is accessed by a driveway or service road in the rear. Mr. Hanlon says he's lived in townhomes, and there's nothing wrong with them.

(Roger Dupont, ZBA) Mr. Dupont thinks that townhomes would be a better fit, but he does not endorse a larger main building. He thinks it's incumbent upon applicants to respond to concerns without the board having to make concessions.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says his team will take the townhouse concept into consideration, along with Mr. Dupont's comments.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon agrees with Mr. Dupont. He doesn't think the applicants should take the board's discussion as an endorsement. All we can do is engage in conversation.

(Art Klipfel, Architect) Mr. Klipfel says we're trying hard to get to a happy ending. He's willing to look at bringing the townhomes back. He asks how this will fit into the process, because it could take 2--3 weeks of revision. The original townhomes were intended to be condominiums, but they wouldn't be as easy for the applicants to maintain. He thinks they might be able to use them to meet the 10% three-bedroom requirement. Having a mix of rental and owned units would complicate the marketing. He notes the need to establish a time-frame.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz says his neighborhood has fought development on this site for decades and won. He says the only way they'll get a happy ending is if nothing gets built. Five stories is unacceptable. He thinks the main building shouldn't be more than three stories tall, and that the applicant can live with 130 units or so. He says the neighborhood doesn't want anything, but can live with six townhomes that are three stories, with two egresses.

(Matt McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon agrees with putting the townhomes back, as long as they're all owner-occupied. He thinks that affordable housing should provide a path to home ownership. Greenstax puts modular blocks in because it's more efficient. He thinks a local builder should build it, and the town shouldn't sell out.

(Linda Medway) Ms. Medway says the elephant in the room is how and why this project can be allowed to move forward. It's an environmental issue, and the water increase will be too absurd to think about. Residents often have water in their basements. She doesn't understand how this can be thought of. She asks how many ZBA members have been to the area during a rainy day. She says we have a problem with five stories, and the applicant needs to deal with our concerns.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith says that townhouses should be the only thing that's built here, not a big giant building. She says that access via Burch and Edith streets is the worst idea. Traffic is dangerous. The November changes made a lot of sense. Ms. Griffith thinks that two things which were beyond our control helped move this project along: traffic and the pandemic. The board would see this if it wasn't for the pandemic. In 2020, we were down 7" of precipitation, so we're not seeing the real situation. It's crazy to think you can put a giant building here. The corner of Little John and Lake Street needs a traffic light.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks Ms. Griffith if she was referring to townhouses or duplexes.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith says she's okay with something three stories tall, and just on Dorothy Road.

(Susan Chapnick, Conservation Commission Chair) Ms. Chapnick wants to reiterate that the September 2020 revisions greatly reduced impacts to resource areas. The Conservation Commission was please to see the building moved outside the resource area, and flooding impacts being mitigated with a 2:1 compensatory flood storage ratio. She thinks that moving the building will make it hard to provide that level of compensatory flood storage. We need to understand that this shouldn't be a tradeoff between what's appropriate for Dorothy Road and protecting resource areas. She says the Conservation Commission would not approve of increasing the footprint of the building.

(Patricia Brown) Ms. Brown is okay with either townhouses or duplexes, but she'd like them to be owner-occupied. She says that town maps show the roads as being 40' wide, but they're only 25' from curb to curb. She asks what kind of legal options the neighbors have.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says we're still in the fact-finding stage of this project, and there's no decision in place at this time.

(Paul Haverty, Attorney) Mr. Haverty says that any aggrieved party can file an appeal to the land court or superior courts. Generally, abutters to abutters within 300' feet are assumed to have standing; other parties would have to prove that they were aggrieved.

(Diego Gianolio) Regarding flooding, Mr. Gianolio has two sump pumps and a french drain; the pumps will run for 72 hours after a rain storm. The pumps have a hard time keeping up with the water. He thinks that traffic will be horrible. You need a car to live in this area. The flooding and traffic will be very bad.

(Elaine Lyte) Ms. Lyte says that MA is experiencing a drought. She asks if this is the new normal or a climate swing. She's not willing to risk her home to water and increased flooding. She says that sump pumps aren't working in drought years.

(Martha Ingols) Ms. Ingols thinks that nothing in the new construction should be below grade. She likes the idea of townhomes with parking at grade, and a driveway in the rear.

(Nicholas Ide) Mr. Ide prefers duplexes to townhouses. He appreciates what Mr. Hanlon and Mr. Dupont said. This is a three-way compromise, and everyone needs to give a bit.

(Sarah Augood) Ms. Augood strongly objects to five-story buildings. Her driveway is 39" below grade, and her basement flooded due to a rise in the water table. She thinks that's hugely concerning. She's concerned that trees will be removed in order to create compensatory flood storage. She's concerned that the roads are narrower than what's on the town plans. She asks how the modulars will be delivered.

(Sarah ?) Sarah says that she had a french drain installed because of past flooding. She's concerned that there will be more traffic accidents, and the developers haven't considered this. She wants a safe project. She says we have to keep it to a minimum in order to keep the neighborhood safe.

(George Hakim) Mr. Hakim is opposed to only having a large building, and says a little compromise can go a long way. He thinks the units should be owned rather than rented. He says there's only one entrance and exit driveway to the property, and anything that backs traffic up will be like a death trap. He thinks the ZBA should require a second exit, preferably on Route 2. The Mugars have a responsibility to clean up the woods, and a complete cleanup must be a precondition.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore says the edge of the property is a mess. Lots of residents have problems with water flooding. He doesn't understand how flooding can be mitigated. He asks if the newer townhomes on Dorothy Road required a special permit. He thinks that just owning a property doesn't give you the right to develop it.

(Brook Olson Blair) Ms. Olson Blair says she gets flooding with a minimal amount of rain. There's so much trash on the Mugar property, and the fire department had to come because there was a fire at one of the homeless encampments. She thinks neighbors shouldn't have to worry about a homeless population, especially if they have kids. She'd be fine with just duplexes.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith says that everyone is fine with townhouses and duplexes, but a big giant building is not okay.

(Matt McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon had his house renovated in 2016 in order to install a basement. He never had flooding before, but once he put the basement in, his sump pump was constantly running. Now he needs to design a catch basin to deal with this, which will cost tens of thousands of dollars to do. He's afraid of flooding and groundwater.

(Sarah Harris) Ms. Harris is concerned about trash and the homeless encampment. That needs to be addressed first. There's a rat infestation. She doesn't want rats flushed out, and she doesn't want them killed with pesticide.

(John Callinan) Mr. Callinan says he's been here for 35 years, and there's serious flooding. Basements fill up with feet of water. The homeless and trash are a problem, and even the town manager got involved. They filled up two dumpsters, and that didn't even make a dent in the level of debris. The site has to be cleaned up before construction. It's the Mugar's property and they should be held accountable. There are piles of garbage.

(Eva Bitteker) Ms. Bitteker wants the conditions to address concerns about water, traffic, and health. The last draft decision had a bunch of holes.

(Laura Leibensperger) Ms. Leibensperger supports the people who are opposing this project. No one wants it, and it doesn't benefit anyone. She asks why the town can't just buy the property.

(Anna Kukharskyy) Ms. Kukharskyy agrees with her neighbors. Duplexes are the only reasonable thing to build, and the rear building shouldn't be any higher. Traffic will increase because you can't do anything in this area without a car. She asks if the Route 2 egress can be put back in. She'd like to know what legal recourse there is if a kid gets hit by a car because the apartment brought more traffic into the neighborhood.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks Ms. Kiefer about a Route 2 egress.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says the won't have the ability to get access from Route 2.

(Scott Thornton, Vanasse) Mr. Thornton says that Route 2 access is no longer contemplated. Access would involve issues of weaving and merging that can't be addressed.

Regarding the traffic study, Vanasse collected count data at some intersections during the pandemic, because there was no existing data for those intersections. Those counts were adjusted to pre-pandemic volumes. Some of the adjustment data came from MassDOT permanent counting stations; that was taken pre-pandemic and adjusted for seasonal considerations. BETA peer-reviewed the traffic study, and agreed that the volumes and adjustments were appropriate.

(Greg Lucas, BETA) Mr. Lucas says the study was done with pre-pandemic and pandemic data, and that counts from a MassDOT permanent counting station was used to provide adjustments. The study and assumptions were all based on pre-pandemic conditions. The study tries to describe post-pandemic conditions.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon as if traffic at Lake Street is currently problematic.

(Greg Lucas) Mr. Lucas says it is.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the applicants have verified their ability to move modular units onto the site.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says he worked with a few modular vendors to obtain sizes, and the types of vehicles they use for delivery. They've done a circulation study for getting the vehicles from Route 2 to the site for delivery. Trucks would pull into the site and unload. Littlejohn Street is 24' or 25' wide curb to curb. We programmed those widths into modeling software, and confirmed that vehicles will be able to get in. They expect to need police details at several intersections. They plan to have deliveries during the middle of the day. Trucks would go in and out on Littlejohn, one at a time.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a question about owner-occupied affordable units. Suppose a household buys an affordable unit -- they'd probably pay somewhere between $300k and $350k. Does the affordability requirement apply when they sell, or can they sell for market rate.

(Paul Haverty) Mr. Haverty says a subsequent sale would also have to be at an affordable price. A person selling an affordable home might be able to make a little bit of money, but nowhere near what someone selling at market rate would make. The sale price would depend on the what the area median income was, and the interest rates in effect.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if street trees have been taken into account for the delivery route.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says there are trees which impinge on the roadway. Their planned path steers clear of one tree in particular, but they haven't looked at every single tree. That would be done as part of the construction management plan. If trucks come up the middle of the street, they can avoid contact with the branches.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks how high the delivery vehicles are.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says they'd be less than 14' tall. 14' is the height limit on Massachusetts roadways.

(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks how many trips will be required to deliver the modulars.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton expects 250--290 modulars to be delivered over a six week period. They're planning on 2/hour between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:00 pm, Monday though Friday. He says that's an estimate.

(Art Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel believes they'll deliver around 10 modulars per day. The modulars will be staged a few miles away. He says that modulars allow for more rapid construction, and that will enable them to get the pain of construction out of the way more quickly.

(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks if the delivery truck will be able to make the turn from Lake Street unimpeded.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says the turn would be unimpeded. They expect to work with police to establish a clear zone, and the delivery trucks will stay within the curb to curb width.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon is aware of the flood studies that have been done. He asks the applicants if they can say why they're confident that the flooding will not get worse.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says there's been a lot of discussion about what the neighbors experience with groundwater flooding. Their building incorporates a design to keep the water out of foundations. When you build in an area with high groundwater, that has to be part of the design.

Groundwater will follow the path of least resistance, and they've tried to account for that in the stormwater design. It will allow the flow of both surface and groundwater. The project has done a lot since September 2020 to minimize resource area impacts. The compensatory flood storage will be provided in an upland area, and not a resource area.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks how the building will address high groundwater. He notes that the floor of the garage is a little below the high groundwater level.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the garage will be fully waterproofed to prevent seepage. Water that does enter will be treated and filtered before being pumped out.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills thinks the building will act as a dam, and the foundation will provide resistance to water flows. It seems like the foundation will act as an impediment.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they plan to have the water flow around the building. There will be a layer of gravel around the basement wall so that water will flow through it.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks how thick the gravel backfill will be.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says it will probably be around 5' thick, with a perimeter drain pipe that's sized appropriately.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak said the board and applicant discussed the option of raising the entire building, so that the garage floor was at a higher elevation. The thought was to avoid the water table, and reduce the amount of excavation required. He asks if that idea is still open for consideration.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says he's discussed this with members of the team, and they've made a commitment to confirm the groundwater height; they'll make a decision when they have that data.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon thanks Ms. Keith-Lucas for her letter to the board, which he thought was a very constructive way to recommend conditions.

Turning to the danger of having a single access point, Mr. Hanlon asks if there will be a way to get people out of the building in the event that the driveway becomes blocked.

(Greg Lucas) Mr. Lucas says there will still be access, even if the main driveway is blocked. The site is served by street access, and the driveway is wide enough for one vehicle to pass another.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the rent vs own decision is completely up to the applicant.

(Paul Haverty) Mr. Haverty says the decision rests with the applicant, and that the board cannot dictate the ownership category.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks the applicants if they feel they have enough information to understand what the board and neighbors want.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer appreciates the input. She says they'll need to meet as a team in order to evaluate it. She'd like to have a week so they can discuss it internally. Ms. Kiefer asks her team if a week is enough time.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession thinks a week to ten days should be adequate.

(Art Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel thinks they'll be able to do concept drawings in that amount of time, but not engineered plans.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says we just need enough to decide whether this will or will not fly.

Hearing continued until April 20th at 6:00 pm.

Meeting adjourned.