Zoning Board of Appeals - Dec 8th, 2020

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Meeting held via remote participation. Meeting materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1208.

Docket 3639 - 50--52 Newcomb St. This is a special permit hearing where the petitioner wants to add two dormers to a non-conforming two-family structure. One dormer on the rear, and one dormer on the site.

(Robert Annese, Attorney for the petitioners) Mr. Annese says his client seeks a special permit in order to add two dormers to an existing building. The building was built in 1920, and sits on a small 3,368 square foot lot. The dormers are intended to provide additional living space, and would add approximately 446 square feet of gross floor area. The roof of the dormer will be steeper than 2:12, and all alterations will take place within the existing footprint of the building. There is no usable open space on this lot.

(Christian Klein, ZBA chair) Mr. Klein says it's clear that there's no usable open space. He asks if there will be a window well on the driveway side of the property.

(Frank Rocci, Builder) No.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the rear dormer will be hipped, like the one in front of the house.

(Frank Rocci) Mr. Rocci says he could do hipped or gabled, if the board has a preference for one style over the other.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if there's sufficient headroom for the stairway leading up to the third floor.

(Frank Rocci) Mr. Rocci says there's sufficient clearance.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks about the number of windows proposed for the shed dormer on the side, and how they'll be aligned.

(Frank Rocci) Mr. Rocci says he can align the dormer windows with those in the second story.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks the petitioner to provide a written statement of the roof pitches, since they're not indicated on the plans.

Conditions will include (a) the rear dormer matching the front dormer, and (b) reducing the number of windows in the shed dormer from three to two; with one window aligned to the bay on the second floor, and the second window placed symmetrically to the first.

Special permit approved.

(Alan LaRue) Mr. LaRue lives on Newcomb street. He asks if the house will have three units or two.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says it will continue to be a two-family home. This is a two-family district, and three-family homes aren't allowed.

(Miriam Stewart) Ms. Stewart asks if this is a run-of-the-mill kind of request.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says that houses of this vintage were commonly built with unfinished or semi-finished attics. Turning them into finished space is a common improvement.

(Rick Valarelli, ZBA administrator) Mr. Valarelli estimates that 80% of the ZBAs special permit requests involve dormers.

(Miriam Stewart) Ms. Stewart says there's been a lot of construction on Newcomb Street, especially at this house. She asks if the board has any idea how long that will continue.

(Rick Valarelli) Mr. Valarelli says that dormer additions like this typically take around three months.

Continued Hearing - Thorndike Place Comprehensive Permit. The board continues the hearing of Arlington Land Realty's 40B comprehensive permit application for Thorndike Place. Tonight's discussion will focus on wetlands and environmental impacts.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer states that the applicants submitted new site plans at an earlier hearing. BSC has also submitted wetlands data, a stormwater analysis, additional plans, and a statement of compliance with Arlington's Master Plan.

(John Hession, BSC) BSC is providing civil engineering and environmental consultation services to this project. Mr. Hession would like to begin his presentation by walking through the new site plan.

The proposed building would have 176 apartments. The front of the building will be three stories high, stepping up to four. There will be a total of 239 parking spaces; 204 in a garage underneath the building, 27 in a surface parking lot, and 8 in a front courtyard. There will be a patio in the rear of the building and a children's play area. Paths will provide pedestrian access to the play area, and street access for cyclists. There's an emergency access road around the perimeter of the building for fire department access. Auto traffic will enter and leave the site near the corner of Dorothy and Littlejohn.

Mr. Hession summarizes the list of materials submitted to the town on Nov 3rd. He acknowledges receipt of a new letter from the conservation commission, and a letter from the DPW concerning isolated vegetated wetlands (IVWs).

Per FEMA maps, the base flood elevation of a 1% storm is 6.8 feet. BETA has reviewed BSC's wetland delineations and agrees with them. The DPW raised questions about isolated wetlands on the east side of the property, behind Dorothy Road. Mr. Hession says that BSC's wetland scientists examined the area and found no evidence of IVWs.

BETA concurs with BSC's placement of the floodplain border. The project will provide 2:1 compensatory flood storage, as required by Arlington's local regulations.

BSC surveyed the site to document current conditions for wildlife and habitat. They believe there's not much value for wildlife, and portions of the site are overgrown with invasives.

Mr. Hession is confident that the project will meet MassDEP stormwater standards.

Mr. Hession points out that the project has changed dramatically since the 2016 plan submission, especially with respect to avoiding impacts to wetlands and resource areas. The project will impact 3,614 cubic feet in the flood plain, and will provide 7,228 cubic feet of compensatory storage. Work in the 100' adjacent upland resource area (AURA) is limited to the emergency access road and patio. This area is approximately 2,700 square feet.

BSC and BETA had a working session with the conservation commission several days ago, where the commission requested several pieces of additional information. They'll check again for the presence of IVWs behind Dorothy road. Mr. Hession feels that BSC has already done due diligence in this area, and notes that their findings were supported by BETA's peer review. Second, the conservation commission wanted to discuss placing compensatory flood storage in other locations. Mr. Hession thinks it would be appropriate to walk the site with members of the commission, for the purpose of identifying other locations. The Conservation Commission requested more details regarding floodplain restoration; Mr. Hession suggests that could be a condition of this permit.

With respect to climate change, BSC looked closely at Cambridge's modeling and data. Cambridge's 2030 projections have no significant change in the size of the flood plain. Their 2070 projections have little change for precipitation-based flooding, but they do show greater impacts due to sea level rise and storm surges (SLR/SS). The SLR/SS events are about 4' above the current base flood elevation. The building's first floor elevation will be 13', which is above Cambridge's modeling of a 100-year SLR/SS event in 2070.

During the working meeting, the Conservation Commission asked about newer precipitation models, which may become the basis for future state regulations. They also asked about total suspended solids (TSS) removal. Mr. Hession says the project is being designed to current regulations, and he estimates about 88% TSS removal. The stormwater plan was based on Cornell precipitation data, which complies with Arlington's local regulations.

BSC's habitat study concluded that the area had limited value to wildlife. The conservation commission asked for an inventory of trees to be removed from resource areas; Mr. Hession suggests making that a condition of the permit.

Finally, the commission discussed conservation easements. Mr. Hession says there are a number of vehicles available, and believes they can find something that meets the goals of the conservation commission.

(Marta Nover, BETA) Ms. Nover says that Todd Undzis and Julia Stearns will present the results of BETA's peer review.

(Julia Stearns, BETA) Ms. Stearns says she reviewed the wetland boundaries, and agrees with the four main delineations. She's agreed to collect additional data in the area suspected of having IVWs.

(Todd Undzis, BETA) Mr. Undzis says there are two subsurface infiltration systems to collect stormwater. Roof runoff calculations are still being worked out, but the intent is to have the rooftop detain up to a 100-year event.

Mr. Undzis says he's reviewed BSC's stormwater calculations, and believes the infiltration systems will function to a 50-year storm. The site grading scheme may need to be adjusted, to ensure that runoff doesn't enter through the garage.

One infiltration system is on the lower west side, to handle water from a trench drain near the garage entrance. Mr. Undzis says there's a small discrepancy between the proposed location of the drain and the ground elevation; the applicant is reviewing this configuration.

Mr. Undzis says that utility tie-ins should be coordinated with the department of public works.

BSC provided calculations for compensatory flood storage. Mr. Undzis believes the area and volume are consistent with the calculations. He's comfortable with the 2:1 compensatory flood storage proposed.

Mr. Undzis suggests showing turning radius on the emergency access road.

(Marta Nover) Ms. Nover realizes that the design will continue to change. For example, providing compensatory flood storage in a different part of the site might impact AURAs. BETA agrees with the findings in BSC's wildlife assessment. She says the site has a lot of opportunities for restoration and improvement.

(Susan Chapnick, Conservation Commission Chair) Ms. Chapnick says the working session with BSC was very informative, but believes that the Conservation Commission's comments with respect to vegetation, wetlands, and stormwater are still valid.

Ms. Chapnick acknowledge that BETA agreed with BSC's delineation boundaries. But the conservation commission disagrees with the conclusion that there are no IVWs behind Dorothy Road. BSC's report says there was an area with hydric soil and invasives; Ms. Chapnick says that's not enough to conclude there's no IVWs. BETA will perform further investigation here.

Ms. Chapnick says that BETA agrees with BSC's compensatory flood storage calculations, and the Conservation Commission is happy they're providing 2:1 compensatory storage. She believes that floodplain restoration would be a way to improve the resource area.

Ms. Chapnick says that BSC is using FEMA floodplain boundaries from 2010, and asks that the base flood elevation be validated. She says that Section 23 of our local wetlands regulations allows the conservation commission to ask an applicant to redetermine floodplain boundaries. She asks the ZBA to consider the effects of climate change, and suggests using the Mass Coastal Flood Risk Model and Cambridge's CCVA model.

Ms. Chapnick says that the Cornell precipitation data is similar to the NOAA model, but not NOAA-Plus, which MassDEP is moving toward. She says there is a difference of several inches between the models. Ms. Chapnick's suggests using future/pending MassDEP regulations for stormwater and runoff, though she's happy to see 88% TSS removal.

Ms. Chapnick says the commission is pleased with the wildlife report, but would like an inventory of trees to be removed from the AURA and floodplain. She agrees that this could be a condition of the permit.

Regarding the conservation restriction, Ms. Chapnick recommends a conservation stewardship, to manage the land that won't be developed.

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein asks if there are questions from members of the board.

(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak has five questions, based on the Stormwater Report and assessment of wildlife and vegetation. First, Section 3.10.7 of the stormwater report mentions inspections to ensure that best management practices are followed during construction. Mr. Revilak asks who will perform the inspections.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the construction company would hire the inspector.

(Steve Revilak) Second, Mr. Revilak refers to the "Replacement" paragraph in section 4(B). The paragraph ends with the sentence "Old Forge shall have a pre-established budget allowance ...". He asks what "Old Forge" is.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that's a Scribner's error.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thanks Mr. Hession for the clarification. In a moment of levity, Mr. Revilak says that where he grew up, Old Forge was where everyone went to get pizza.

Third, Mr. Revilak asks Mr. Hession to explain the meaning of the transients in hydrology calculation graphs.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the graphs show precipitation rate, where the area under the curve represents the total amount of precipitation. (so, the transient represents the period of heaviest precipitation).

(Steve Revilak) Moving to the wildlife report, Mr. Revilak has a question about section 3.3.1. Section 3.3.1 makes reference to snags $>$ 4" DBH. Mr. Revilak asks what that is.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says a snag is a fallen tree. So, this is referring to fallen trees with a diameter of at least four inches.

(Steve Revilak) Finally, Mr. Revilak asks for elaboration of the statement "evidence of highway impact" under AU-D18. He's curious what impacts were noted.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says he'd have to get back to the board with an answer.

(Aaron Ford, ZBA) Mr. Ford has a few questions for BETA. He asks about the rules regarding construction in resource areas.

(?) Work within the 100' buffer zone is allowed but restricted; the function and value of the AURA has to be considered. BETA could advise the ZBA on these kinds of matters.

(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick says that under the 2015 regulations (which apply to this project), the AURA is treated as a resource area. Before doing work in the 100' buffer, an applicant has to analyze the alternatives, and demonstrate that they're neither reasonable nor practical. The wetland regulations have additional details on the considerations involved. In general, disturbances are more allowable further away from a resource area.

(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon notes the disagreement over which precipitation model to use. There's the Cornell model, several NOAA options, and a set of data from Wood's Hole. He asks if it would be possible to provide inputs to several models, and look at the range of consequences.

(Todd Undzis) Mr. Undzis says that some models are endorsed by regulations. There are newer standards in the works, but those aren't regulations yet. The Cornell and NOAA-14 standards have big rainfall numbers, and usually require a lot of mitigation. Designing to these models generally requires more best management practices and a higher cost. One can run inputs against any model, and regulations usually say which models are acceptable to use.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks what would happen if MassDEP adopts new regulations before ALR comes before the conservation commission for review of compliance with state regulations. Would new state regulations apply?

(Todd Undzis) Mr. Undzis says that their application would be under regulations present at that time.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if new regulations would apply, or if they'd be grandfathered.

(Susan Chapnick) Mr. Chapnick believes it will be regulations in affect when ALR applies for their MassDEP permit. The 2015 conservation commission regulations reference the Cornell precipitation data, so the ZBA is locked in to that. She says that new MassDEP regulations would apply, if MassDEP changes them before ALR comes before the Conservation Commission.

(Kevin Mills, ZBA) Mr. Mills has a question about the subsurface infiltration area on the west side of the site. He asks if that could impact the neighborhood by changing the water table.

(John Hession) In response to comments, Mr. Hession says they'll be moving that infiltration system further south, away from the neighborhood. He says that it's a groundwater recharge system; the goal is to mimic what happens on the site today.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if there would be subterranean groundwater flow to the south.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says yes.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the garage will obstruct groundwater flow and create a backup.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says there will be foundation drainage and gravel backfill. Water will follow the path of least resistance and the backfill will be more permeable than what was there before.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if compensatory flood storage will fill at a faster rate, and if that could cause water to flow into the neighborhood.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the compensatory flood storage is being provided at the upper elevations of the floodplain. The proposed area has a direct hydraulic connection to the floodplain. Regarding stormwater, that will be captured on site and allowed to discharge to the south and west, away from the residential neighborhoods.

(Shawn O'Rourke) Mr. O'Rourke acknowledges the petitioner's efforts to accommodate Arlington's local wetlands regulations. The sticking points seem to be the floodplain boundary and rainwater standards. He asks if the applicant will be able to accommodate those.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the answer is part engineering and part regulatory. This is a 40B project, which requires adherence to state standards. Arlington has more stringent bylaw regulations, and this project meets many of them. Regulations have associated performance standards. For example, the state regulations for precipitation are based on TP-40, but we used the Cornell model specified in the local regulations. Evaluation of multiple scenarios is outside the scope of what a town can ask an applicant to do. He says they're trying to be responsive to regulations in effect when the application was submitted. 40B also has a reasonableness requirement, and too many studies in not in the spirit of creating more affordable housing. And there are no specific regulatory requirements for dealing with climate change.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says that 40B offers a one-stop permitting process. When a town hasn't met the safe harbor thresholds, the law assumes that the need for affordable housing outweighs local concerns. She says they've narrowed their list of waiver requests, and BSC has tried to meet local standards as much as possible. Climate change wasn't mentioned in local regulations until 2018, but this project is subject to the 2015 regulations. She says that climate change also includes footprint, and things like transit oriented development.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak prefaces his comments by saying he lives along the Alewife Brook, in a 100-year flood plain. When Cambridge produced their Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Alewife Handbook, Mr. Revilak read those documents with great interest. The CCVA has a picture of Alewife station, marked up to show different flooding elevations. A 100-year sea level rise/storm surge event that over-tops or flanks the Amelia Earhart dam will flood that area to about 11' above sea level. One of his concerns was seeing Thorndike place built above that elevation, which is what they're doing. The building's first floor elevation is 13', and Mr. Revilak appreciates that.

With no further questions from the board, the Chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(John Sanbonmatsu) Mr. Sanbonmatsu says he's familiar with the imperiled wildlife habitat and species that will be evicted in the name of greed. He says this 40B is about creating profit for the Mugars. He says that two-thirds of all animals have died in the last 40 years, and there's no reason for it. He believes this project will destroy 40% of the wildlife habitat on the site. Animals are conscious beings, and they'll have no place to go. This project will raze their families, so the Mugars can make more money. He opposes the project and is very disappointed. He says Mr. Hession made a comment about this not being a vital ecosystem. Developers destroy ecosystems.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith says that habitat is important, particularly in upland areas. She appreciates the wildlife. She says that groundwater in this area is high, and asks if that's been considered. She asks if there will be leakage where water flows into adjoining areas. She believes this will impact neighbors and their basements.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks what BSC has done to confirm groundwater heights.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says there are several historic test pits on the property, and that they've gathered additional data near the proposed stormwater infiltration sites. They haven't packaged up this information for submission yet.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith says that was done in a drought, and not very relevant.

(Robert DiBiase) Mr. DiBiase says he's a direct abutter, and that plans don't show the elevation of his backyard which is below street level. He says the parking area looks like it will drain towards his home, and doesn't believe that will be mitigated. He's not sure about the wildlife assessment, because he's seen deer in his backyard. He says we've been in a major drought, and believes this makes test pit data irrelevant.

(Silvia Dominguez) Ms. Dominguez says she's upset at hearing about all of this. She thinks it's ridiculous to build in this area. Traffic is ridiculous and we had a flood about thirteen years ago. She thinks this is an incredibly vulnerable area and doesn't understand why this is necessary. She says it's clear that the Mugar family doesn't need the money, and that bastardization of affordable housing is not a sound plan. She does not support the project.

There are no more comments from the public.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon believes there are two issues to discuss. First, he'd like to understand how groundwater was done during a period with little rain. Second, he'd like a response to the concerns about water flowing to Mr. DiBiase's house. He'd prefer to have these questions answered in writing, rather than answered in the heat of a public hearing.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein summarizes future hearings and meeting dates. TAC has a meeting tomorrow; it's a working session to discuss the traffic impact assessment. The ZBA will have another hearing on Dec 22nd to discuss stormwater. We'll discuss the traffic impact study on Jan 12th, architecture and urban design on Jan 26th, and outstanding issues on Feb 9th.

Hearing continued to Dec 22nd at 7:30pm.