Zoning Board of Appeals - Feb 16th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=1270&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda.

Approval of Minutes

The board approved minutes from their Feb 9th meeting.

Docket 3645 - 5 Forest Street

The board voted to approve the written decision for Docket 3645.

Thorndike Place Comprehensive Permit

This is a continued hearing for the Chapter 40B Comprehensive Permit of Thorndike Place.

(Stephanie Kiefer, Attorney for the Petitioner) Ms. Kiefer summarizes project updates that have been submitted to the board. These include changes to the architectural design, site layout, a proposal for handling the conservation parcel, changes to parking, and updates to the transportation plan. Ms. Kiefer notes that some responses to peer review comments are outstanding, and she expects these to be submitted in the near future.

The petitioners presented the architectural design for the apartment building on Jan 6th. They felt the feedback from the board and public was helpful, and are proposing revisions based on that feedback. They've changed the building's massing to reduce the impact of shade. They've also considered reducing the number of parking spaces.

(Scott Vlasak, Architect) Mr. Vlasak shows a 3D rendering of the proposed building. The three front wings will have roughly the same front setback as existing homes on Dorothy road. The petitioners have changed the way the building steps back. The previous iteration had a three-story facade that stepped back to four. The new iteration has two stories, which steps up to three, and then to four stories at the main spine. The additional step backs result in a small reduction to the number of apartments; 172 instead of 176. The front of the wings will be finished in a brick facade, to match nearby homes on the street. Other parts of the building will consist of cementaceous panels, with different colors and trims.

Mr. Vlasak shows a 3D rendering of the main entrance. The main entrance will have a monument sign, along with short-term bicycle parking. Walkways along Dorothy road will connect to the main entrance. They've added decorative Juliet balconies to break up the facade.

(Gwen Noyes, Architect) Ms. Noyes says the playground has moved from the southeast side of the building to the west side, just south of the surface parking lot. They've reduced the surface lot from 26 spaces to 10. The lot is intended to provide guest parking. They've reduced the overall number of parking spaces to 193.

They've reduced the number of parking spaces at the main entrance from eight to four. One of the four will be a handicapped accessible space.

Ms. Noyes says they plan to include a Blue Bike station on the north side of the surface lot. This will be approximately 30 feet away from the abutting property line. They've discussed this proposal with Blue Bikes, who liked the location.

Ms. Noyes says there will be an accessible path leading from the playground to the southwest rear courtyard (aka, the social courtyard). The southeast rear court is partially within the 100-year flood plain; it will be landscaped and tolerant of flooding.

Of the site as a whole, 5.1 acres will be developed and 12.5 acres will become part of a conservation easement.

The building will have 176 bicycle parking spaces. This will include a bicycle repair area, and spaces for larger cargo bikes.

(Arthur Klipfel, Architect) Mr. Klipfel says the ground floor's main lobby will open to the front of the building and to the southwest courtyard. They've added a short-term guest suite near the lobby.

The second to third floor step back will be 13', which will prevent December shadows from reaching buildings on the other side of the street.

Of the 172 apartments, where will be 88 one-bedroom, 55 two-bedroom, 18 three-bedroom, and 11 studios. Mr. Klipfel says that Mass Housing requires 10% of the units to have three bedrooms.

Mr. Klipfel shows floor plans of six apartment layouts. These range from 505--1085 square feet.

The third and fourth floors will be stepped back along Dorothy road. The building will be constructed of modular units, which are 13' by 62'.

The garage will have parking and two trash chutes; one for rubbish and one for recycling. The chutes will empty into a dedicated trash room. There will be handicapped parking spaces near the elevators.

The garage will be generally divided into three car bays. Each bay will be 25' by 26' and accommodate two full-sized vehicles and one compact car.

The bicycle parking room will be located in the southwest part of the basement, with 176 bicycle parking spaces. This includes several spaces that are large enough for three-wheelers and cargo bikes. There will also be some 4' by 4' storage spaces for tenants.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer shows a land plan that outlines the 12.5 acre conservation parcel. The applicants are willing to deed this parcel to the town of Arlington or to a non-profit. They are proposing a $100k contribution to assist with relocating the homeless population, cleanup, and invasive species control. In addition to the $100k, they're proposing to contribute $25k/year for ten years for improvements. They suggest having an oversight committee to prioritize improvements and manage use of the funds. Ms. Kiefer feels that trails can be added later, at the direction of the oversight committee. They'd like to have a representative on the oversight committee. Ms. Kiefer says the isolated vegetated wetlands and 25' no disturb zones are part of the conservation parcel.

(Scott Thornton, Vanasse) Mr. Thornton says that Vanasse has a further set of responses forthcoming. He gives a timeline of the process, which has been going on for approximately eight months. The number of parking spaces was reduced from 1.4 to 1.12 spaces/unit. He thinks this is consistent with general trends to reduce parking and encourage other forms of transportation. They've added 14 additional visitor spaces and are providing just under one bicycle parking space/unit.

The applicants are planning to have a 23 Dock Blue bike station. Blue Bike's preferred location was the west side parking lot.

Construction traffic review is still in progress, and the applicants are in talks with vendors and contractors. They've used software to verify the turning radius of the various vehicles being used. The construction staging area will be offsite but nearby, and not in the neighborhood. They plan to review routes with the fire department, police department, public works, and planning department. They expect to have police details, which will be paid for by the applicant. Mr. Thornton says they'll provide advance notice of any temporary parking restrictions.

Development of a transportation demand management program is in progress. They plan to offer one-month MBTA passes to new tenants that move in (up to two per apartment). There will be six EV and bicycle charging stations, with the potential to add more as demand warrants. The Blue Bike station will be solar powered. The applicants are currently in talks with ZipCar, and may provide up to two ZipCar spots on site.

Mr. Thornton says they're planning to have an on-site business center, to support co-working and tenants who work at home.

There will be an on-site transportation coordinator. New residents will receive a packet with transit information. They're planning to have a transit screen in the lobby, with real time information from different transit providers.

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein asks if inspectional services will be involved in planning for construction traffic.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says yes; they'd be the primary contact for the construction management plan.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if neighborhood residents can be present at construction planning meetings.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer suggests that primary coordination be done with inspectional services, the fire department, and police department. She says that planning meetings are generally very technical, and suggests holding informational meetings to keep the public informed.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says deliveries will be detailed in the construction management plan. She says it's a process, and inspectional service and the police would be involved.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon recalls previous discussion about ride sharing services and wonders if that's fallen off the list.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says they're still interested in ride sharing services. That just wasn't part of the slides he presented tonight. They may work with the Alewife TMA or 128 Business Council.

(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon asks if the applicants are considering a parking fee structure.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton prefers not to charge for parking, in order to discourage residents from parking on roadways. He says this can be discussed with BETA and the town.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says that Vox on Two does periodic surveys to monitor mode split. He asks Mr. Thornton if they'd consider periodic monitoring and assessment of transportation options.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says they haven't considered that. He says that Vox on Two performs these surveys as part of Cambridge's city goals, but he's not aware of similar goals for Arlington. The Vox reports show one view of mode splits, but driveway counters show another. Mr. Thornton expects a low trip generation rate.

(Roger Dupont, ZBA) Mr. Dupont asks how parking will be controlled -- through stickers, lease requirements, or some other means?

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says that some residents may not have vehicles. He expects that prospective tenants will be made aware that there's one parking space per apartment, with additional spaces on a first-come first-serve basis.

(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak has a question about the monument sign shown in the 3D renderings. He asks if the applicants are planning to have an illuminated sign.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says it would be indirectly lit.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks that they prefer indirect illumination to interior illumination. He's concerned about light spillover onto neighboring properties.

(Kevin Mills, ZBA) Mr. Mills asks how trash will be handled.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that trash will go from a chute to a compactor to containers. The containers will be wheeled out of the building.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks if the containers will be moved out to the street for pickup.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they'll be picked up just outside the garage door, not from the street.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says that no trash will be placed on the street. She says recycling will be handled in a similar manner.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills ask how long it takes to unload a prefab unit once it's arrived. He's wondering how long trucks will lay over on the street.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they'll have a crane on site. A delivery truck will park by the side of the street, and the crane will lift the unit off the truck. He expects 10--12 deliveries per day for 25 business days. He says there will be no more than two trucks on site at any given time, and they won't jam up the street.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks about the elevation of the parking garage.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that Dorothy road is at an elevation of 9' (above sea level). The first floor of the building will be 13' and the ground floor of the garage will be 3'. He says the surface grade around the building is 8--9', making the garage floor about 6' below grade.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills doesn't recommend white pines for screening, and asks the petitioners to consider some other form of coniferous tree.

Mr. Mills appreciates the 2/3/4 story stepback but thinks the front facade is too busy. He suggests the petitioners look at Arlington's residential design guidelines.

(Aaron Ford, ZBA) Mr. Ford asks if parking is allowed on Dorothy road.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says it's allowed during the day. He's not aware of any other restrictions on that street.

(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford asks about residents or visitors who need to quickly pick something up or drop something off. He believes people will prefer to park on Dorothy road, rather than the visitor lot, because it's closer.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says the main entrance is wide enough to function as a short-term pickup/dropoff area.

(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford suggests thinking about ways to better accommodate very short term parking.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says they can take a look at that.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says they'll need a process for educating people about parking protocols; tenants telling their visitors where to park, for example. There will be building management in the lobby, who can direct people when needed. It's a matter of getting people used to the processes.

Regarding parking security, residents will have key fobs which they'll use to access the garage.

(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont has a further comment on parking fees. He doesn't think the goal should be to fill 193 spaces. He suggests having a separate parking fee to discourage tenants from having unnecessary cars. Mr. Dupont suggests thinking about ways to discourage having too many cars.

(Art Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says he agrees with Mr. Dupont, and he'll look into this.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks about the distance between the storm water retaining area and isolated vegetated wetlands.

(John Hession, BSC) Mr. Hession says the compensatory flood storage is in the outer 50' or the adjacent upland resource area (AURA). In one area, they had to get slightly closer to an isolated vegetated wetland. He says the impacts will be temporary; grading followed by restoration.

(Emily Sullivan, Planning Department) Ms. Sullivan says that the conservation commission has asked people to place compensatory flood storage in AURAs in resource areas.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if this will be a temporary impact.

(Emily Sullivan) Ms. Sullivan doesn't think the distinction is important. With restoration, there will be permanent benefit either way.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession notes that the compensatory flood storage will be located in the building parcel and not the conservation parcel. He says this will allow maintenance without the need for an easement.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says the conservation land involves contributions, and there's remediation work to be done. He asks if the remediation work has been costed out.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer wants to explain the thought behind their proposal. She says there are many factors which go into a restoration project. They wanted to give the town the ability to prioritize mitigation and improvements.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon understands there's been no costing. He says the contribution is generous, but it has to be judged in terms of the work that needs to be done.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer points out that the town would be acquiring 12.5 acres of land at no cost. She compares this to Elizabeth Island which cost the town $270k for land and restrictions. Here, the owner is giving the land and $100k. She says they haven't priced out mitigation measures.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks about the elevation at the bottom of the foundation.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that will be 1' below the top of the garage floor, or about 2' elevation.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills says he'd like to know the volume of soil to be excavated for the parking garage.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says there currently talking with geotech consultations. She says they plan to use aggregate piles instead of driven ones. She says the water will flow around or underneath the parking garage; it won't act like a dam.

There are no further questions from the board. The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Matthew McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon thanks the developers for thinking about the children. He believes the apartment's garage will turn into a swimming pool. He asks why the children's playground was moved.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes said they originally wanted to put the playground on the west side of the building, where it's sunnier. The parking lot was larger in the previous design iteration, so they couldn't put the playground there.

(Matthew McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon comments on the 3D renderings. He feels the perspectives were distorted, and one of the houses is obscured by a tree. He says the rendering makes Dorothy Road look wider than it really is, and he asks for a real-life perspective.

(Scott Vlasak) Mr. Vlasak said the rendering was intended to show the features of the building, rather than the street. He acknowledges that it's a computer generated rendering and not a real-life picture.

(Matthew McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon says the street in the rendering is too wide, and the renderings are smoke and mirrors. He says he's curious about the donation and asks who the stakeholders are.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says her earlier comment about stakeholders was in reference to the composition of the oversight committee. She assumed it would consist of town planning staff, members of the Conservation Commission, and some residents.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says that the money is not a donation; rather, it's being proposed as part of a conservation easement.

(Matthew McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon asks how long the petitioners have owned the property, and if they've made donations in the past. He asks if they done anything or had any involvement.

(Stephen Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says she doesn't know about past assistance. She views the homeless encampment as a community concern. She says the property has been used without the owner's permission.

(Matthew McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon asks if the applicant would consider ditching this project and putting wind turbines there instead.

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz asks for the dimensions of the modular units that will be delivered down Littlejohn St.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that the truck plus modular is 13' high, and the modular units themselves are 11' high and 13' wide.

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz asks for the general dimensions of the apartment building.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says it will be 190' wide (north to south) and 450' long (east to west).

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz asks about piles.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says the building might have a perimeter foundation which involves no piles, or aggregate piles which are not driven. They'll have to do test borings to know for sure.

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz asks the applicants to elaborate on what they said about off-street parking restrictions. He thinks that sounds pretty scary.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says he was referring to temporary restrictions to accommodate vehicles making deliveries to the site. The restrictions would be related to construction, and they'd provide advance notice to the neighborhood.

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz says the neighborhood doesn't like this thing. He asks why we're talking about it as if it's a done deal.

(Brooke Olson Blair) Ms. Olson Blair says it's challenging to get out of her driveway if someone is parked across the street. She's concerned about parking. She says there was a lot of commuter parking pre-COVID and wonders if Dorothy Road could get a two-hour restriction.

She says that when two cars are parked across from each other, there's only enough room for one vehicle to get through. She believes there will be backlogs. She says there are a handful of younger kids who are used to playing in the street, and this will bring more traffic to a child-heavy area.

Ms. Olson Blair says the applicants are hoping to take advantage of public transit, but the building is a half-mile away from the train station and from Mass Ave. She says there's not a grocery store within walking distance.

She says that kids will have to cross the apartments driveway in order to get to the playground, and asks if the playground will be open to the entire neighborhood.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says there are liability concerns around having a public playground. She says that the proposed conservation land is already used as an informal playground. For example, someone has set up an ice rink. She believes the land can be improved under the terms of the conservation easement.

(Brook Olson Blair) Ms. Olson Blair asks how they plan to prevent neighborhood children from using the apartment's playground.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says that will be an issue for building management.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith thinks this is a perfectly fine apartment building, but she sees three problems with it. First, we're not in an urban area, and the building is not appropriate. Second, it's in a wet area where groundwater comes up. She thinks tenants should not store things in the basement, and that it will cause stormwater to head towards existing homes. She says the building isn't appropriate. The third issue is traffic and parking. She believes the building will generate a lot of auto trips. She says that Lake Street is unbearable, dangerous, nerve-racking, and scary. She says that Vox on Two residents complain about the lack of visitor parking. She asks why the property owner can't just build six townhouses and make millions doing that.

(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick appreciates the discussion about wetlands and asks if the applicant is going to address issues on the site, like debris.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says the applicants plan to address all issues on the development parcel. For the conservation parcel, the $100k is intended to assist with cleanup and prioritizing improvements.

(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick asks about 21E groundwater contamination.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says the site was never industrialized, and there's no evidence of any 21E contamination.

(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick says there's a huge range of costs involved in restoring freshwater wetlands. It could be $25k/acre.

(Brian Rehrig) Mr. Rehrig says this wasn't an industrial site, but it's been abused for decades and contains debris. He says these are illegal conditions and should be cleaned up regardless. The conditions should be rectified.

(The video-conference system froze up, and I missed the rest of Mr. Rehrig's testimony.)

(Nicholas Ide) Mr. Ide would like to speak regarding the new Arlington residents. He hopes that new residents are allowed the privilege to live in Arlington. He thinks that one parking space per apartment isn't enough, and they should have more room for cars. He says he doesn't want frustrated neighbors. He's concerned about tenants being frustrated and having road rage. He says this isn't Cambridge. He asks how many cars per household are in the existing neighborhood. He asks what the average square footage of the existing homes is. He's concerned about what new people will be subjected to in an apartment, as opposed to living in townhouses. He asks about an earlier remark about a hockey rink in the wetlands.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that approximately 25% of the parking spaces will be for compact cars.

(Dave Rogers) Mr. Rogers says this is an unpopular project, which presents a myriad of problems. He says that flooding is a concern and Lake Street's traffic problems are enormous. He thinks that adding this many cars will be a diminution to quality of life. He's says that lots of 40Bs happen throughout Massachusetts, and he's never seen one that's so universally opposed. This is a hostile 40B. He hopes that the Mugars and Oaktree can reach an accommodation that avoids an inappropriate development.

The chair ends public comment, with a few people still waiting to speak. Zoom will end our meeting at 10:30, and there are procedural actions that have to be taken before we adjourn.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the board can have a final set of waiver requests.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says they'll have to update the waiver list, for example, to add a waiver for minimum parking requirements. She says this can be delivered shortly.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks board members to submit any waiver requests directly to Paul Haverty.

The board votes to continue the hearing until March 11th at 7:30pm.

Meeting adjourned.