Zoning Board of Appeals - Aug 25th, 2020

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Approval of Meeting Minutes. The board voted to approve minutes of their August 11, 2020 meeting.

Thorndike Place Comprehensive Permit. Continued public hearing. ZBA chair Christian Klein summarizes the history of this permit application.

Chapter 40B gives Zoning Boards 180 days to render a decision on comprehensive permit applications. There's discussion on where we are in that 180 day period. John Witten (Special Counsel for the town of Arlington) believes that nothing substantial was presented during the prior hearing in 2016, whereby the 180 day period should start this evening. Stephanie Kiefer (Counsel for the petitioner) disagrees with Mr. Witten's assessment, but is amenable to starting the 180 period today.

Board votes 5--0 in favor of starting the 180-day period on Aug 25th.

The next phase of the hearing involves a completeness review of the comprehensive permit application. Again, the attorneys are in disagreement. Mr. Witten refers to his July 7th memo, which cites a number of missing items. Ms. Kiefer refers to her March 18 memorandum, and believes that Mr. Witten is glossing over her statements. After some back and fourth, Chairman Klein wishes to move on to the plan submission, but he would like to understand which items are still under revision, for the purpose of scheduling subsequent hearings.

Mr. Klein asks if the Transportation impact assessment will be updated. Ms. Kiefer says it will.

Mr. Klein asks Mr. Witten if he'd like to cite specific areas where the permit application is lacking. Mr. Witten states that the board's regulations must be followed, but it is up to the board to push back. He states that materials cannot be peer reviewed if they haven't been submitted. Ms. Kiefer suggests that topical materials could be submitted in advance of topical hearings. Mr. Witten believes that there's a difference between compliance and submission of materials in advance of public hearings. He states that ZBA regulations require materials to be submitted up-front. Ms. Kiefer believes the applicants have submitted materials in a way that complies with 40B regulations.

Patrick Hanlon believes these hearings will be an iterative process. The board has received two peer review documents from BETA, and BETA has cited instances where they lack the information necessary for a proper peer review. Mr. Hanlon would like to ensure that documents are submitted with sufficient time for peer review.

The hearing moves on to a project presentation. John Hession (BSC, Civil Engineers) shows slides while Ms. Kiefer presents. The project site contains a little over 17 acres. It abuts Dorothy Road, which is predominantly single-family homes. The portion closest to Dorothy Road will consist of a row of townhouses. A large multi-family apartment building will be behind the townhouses. The main apartment building will have four stories and two wings. 5--6 acres will be developed while the rest remains open space. The site will have 304 parking spaces. The applicants believe this will be sufficient to avoid on-street parking.

Gwen Noyes (Oaktree Development) speaks next. The current plans are mostly the same as prior submissions. 10--11 acres will remain open space and there will be paths for recreational walking and connectivity to the Alewife T station. The six townhouses are similar in scale to existing houses on Dorothy Road. The town houses will provide screening for the main apartment building. Most parking will be underneath the apartment building. The apartment building and townhouses will be constructed with modular units. The modulars are energy efficient, and will provide a shorter, less disruptive construction cycle.

John Hession (BSC, Civil Engineers) speaks next. BSC performed a site survey during December 2019 and January 2020 where they mapped topography to 1' intervals. They used the same vertical data that FEMA bases its flood insurance policies on. The 100-year base flood elevation is 6.8 feet.

BSC performed a wetland delineation on Jan 15, 2020. The final wetlands delineations used two sets of survey data: one from 2009, and one from 2020. BSC based their delineations on the more conservative of the two.

Since 2016, we've eliminated a walkway that would have gone through the 25' no-disturb zone, and modified one of the buildings to keep that out of the 25' no-disturb zone. We eliminated pervious pavement over an existing sewer easement and modified the placement of water and sewer lines.

The recreational trails are intended to be a site amenity. BSC proposes walking existing trails on the property and determining which ones to retain and which ones to restore.

BSC has performed preliminary flood storage calculations and will provide these to BETA for peer review. The applicants will request 1:1 compensatory storage (per state regulations) rather than 2:1 (per Arlington regulations).

BSC has received BETA's peer review report. They agree on working with DPW to coordinate the sizes of water and sewer lines, as well as their connection points. BSC will work with BETA to confirm boundaries and quantify the impact of the proposed work.

Scott Thornton speaks next -- I believe he's the applicant's traffic engineer. Mr. Thornton intends to perform a study of build/no-build scenarios. The 2014 traffic impact study looked at six areas; the new study will consider an extended set of areas. Mr. Thornton notes that the pandemic will make it challenging to obtain accurate traffic counts. BETA suggested a number of additional study areas, which Mr. Thornton things are appropriate. They'd like to work with the DPW and Arlington's Transportation Advisory Committee to assess the amount of queuing at nearby traffic signals. They plan to work with BETA on the study area and methodology, and to give more consideration to the effects of multi-modal transportation. They hope to produce a revised traffic study next month.

Mr. Klein asks if the new traffic study will look at ride-sharing and delivery services. Mr. Thornton says they have trip data and expect to incorporate that into the study. They'll also consider pedestrian and bicycle trips.

Mr. Hanlon asks how the traffic study will be conducted, as the pandemic has made traffic patterns very atypical. Mr. Thornton says that they're not planning to collect data now; he'd prefer to use historic data in combination with directives and protocols from MassDOT. TAC indicated that they have more recent trip data, which might be useful to the study.

Greg Lucas (BETA group) says that traffic engineers (as an industry) are looking at how to conduct studies, because data collected during a pandemic really isn't usable. He states that additional data sources would be useful for extrapolation.

Conservation Commission Chair Susan Chapnick speaks next. Ms. Chapnick says the Conservation Commission is normally charged with administering state and local wetlands protection bylaws, and they also have a duty to protect natural resources and the watershed. For this project, the Conservation Commission will review for compliance with state laws, and the ZBA will have the job of upholding local regulations. She asks that the ZBA consider their comment letter. Ms. Chapnick states that a winter wetlands delineation is not compliant with local bylaws and that not all of the wetlands areas were identified. Wildlife habitat and tree replacement were not discussed. Stormwater storage calculations are missing from the application, and there's no explanation for limited environmental impact considerations. Ms. Chapnick believes flooding is a valid local concern and urges the ZBA not to waive local regulations.

Steve Revilak was glad to see Mr. Hession provide the 100 year base flood elevation during his presentation. Mr. Revilak describes Cambridge's Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, their Alewife district handbook, and how that work affected Cambridge's Alewife district plan. He'd like to see us obtain Cambridge's estimates for the 2070 100-year base flood elevation, and see where the project sits in relation to that. Todd Undis (BETA) says they can look into what Cambridge is using for their 2070 projections.

Mr. Klein asks if BSC's study has considered the culverts that run underneath route 2. Mr. Hession says they haven't inspected the culverts. The site is very flat, and Mr. Hession expects the base flood elevation to be the same throughout the site.

Mr. Hanlon believes that waiver requests have to be justified; the board needs facts in order to accurately assess the impact of the waivers. Waivers should be earned by a showing of facts; they shouldn't be a way to avoid such a showing.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Dave Rogers) Mr. Rogers says the project is universally opposed. Traffic on Lake Street is already gridlocked. Most of the property is within the flood plain, and this will lead to greater flooding. A lot of information hasn't been provided yet. The town will have to bear the cost of this project. Mr. Rogers says he's never seen a 40B project so universally opposed. He hopes that Oaktree can reach some kind of agreement with the town, to prevent this project from going forward.

(Brian Rehrig) Mr. Rehrig believes we should give great consideration before waiving local bylaws. This is the most sensitive site in Arlington. Our Zoning bylaw prohibits any construction in a FEMA floodway. He believes the site has been abused for 70 years under its current ownership, and claims that landfill and dumping have taken place over decades. He believes that dumping has had the effect of filling in the wetlands, and its impacts should be thoroughly investigated.

(Joanne Preston) Ms. Preston is concerned about the extrapolation of traffic data. The Hardy school recently added six classrooms, and that should increase traffic in the area. There's also flexible enrollment between the Thompson and Hardy schools, so school traffic could be coming in from the other side of town.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says that town meeting has voted against this project three times in the last 15 years. She says it's a sensitive site, and that Arlington Land Trust has a video showing footage from the last four flooding events. She says the FEMA designation is very important to the neighborhood.

(Patricia Brown) Ms. Brown says there are 234 houses in this area, and this project will double the size of the neighborhood. She's concerned about traffic and flooding. She asks if there will be an exit ramp from Route 2.

Mr. Hession says that a route 2 ramp is not included in the current application.

Ms. Brown asks what will happen when the apartment residents have overnight guests, and the parking lot fills up.

Ms. Kiefer says they're providing 304 spaces, and they believe this satisfies Arlington's parking regulations.

Ms. Brown doesn't think 304 spaces is enough parking. She says the streets are very narrow, and she's concerned about emergency vehicle access.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith says that flooding is a huge problem, and this project will make it worse. She believes that the sewer lines don't have the capacity to handle this development. She asks if the construction will require pilings, and what that might do to the foundations of nearby homes. She asks what the total height of the building will be. She says the neighborhood is quiet now, and there's not a lot of traffic. She asks if there can be traffic calming. She wishes the applicants could build townhouses and not the apartment building. She says it's a disaster.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman says that zoning is intended to balance the rights of property owners. He says there's been a history of flooding in this area, and that the proponent should prove they won't worsen flooding conditions in the neighborhood. He says he'll post photos on the Arlington Residents for Responsible development website. In 2016, Oaktree said they'd solve the flooding problem, but never described how. He says it's impossible to build without exacerbating flooding and traffic.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer believes the plans show a major terrain transform. He claims that 2.5' acres of the site will have to be raised 3--5', which would require 1000--2000 dump trucks worth of fill. He wants to know how much soil is being brought in.

(Emma Murphy) Traffic is Ms. Murphy's primary concern. This project could double the number of vehicles in the area. Lake street is the only artery in and out of this area. She'd like the board to wait until a traffic study could be done under normal conditions.

There are no more comments from the public, and the public comment period closes.

Tentative Schedule. The board and applicant discuss a tentative schedule for upcoming hearings.

Shawn O'Rourke suggests the board follow Mr. Witten's suggestion, and take a vote on the incompleteness of the application. He asks the board to consider a motion that the application is incomplete, and a requirement that it be made complete within 30 days.

Mr. Witten agrees that the application is incomplete, and a vote reflecting that would be a helpful part of the record. He agrees with Mr. O'Rourke's motion.

Paul Haverty (whom I believe was an attorney with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development) says that the applicant will have to comply with local regulations, or request waivers from those regulations.

Ms. Kiefer states that her earlier response to the completeness review noted that some documents would be provided during the hearing process. She says that applicants have made a good-faith response.

Mr. Witten says that the application is not complete yet. A vote would only indicate that the application is incomplete as of this evening.

Mr. O'Rourke would like have the remaining materials submitted in 30 days.

Ms. Kiefer believes a 30-day imposition is unreasonable.

Mr. Hanlon doesn't feel comfortable supporting Mr. O'Rourke's motion, and doesn't want to have further unproductive discussions. He would like to take the waiver requests into consideration.

Mr. Haverty says that most towns don't have such detailed submittal requirements. DHCD has less stringent regulations, and usually doesn't get into waivers until the end of the process. He says that Mr. Hanlon made a good suggestion: produce materials, say when materials will be produced, or request waivers.

Mr. O'Rourke accepts that amendment. His motion is now: state that the application is not complete yet, whereby the applicant should provide materials, provide a delivery date for those materials, or request waivers.

Unanimous vote in favor.

Hearing continued to 7:30pm on Tuesday October 13th.