Zoning Board of Appeals - Jan 26th, 2021
Meeting held via remote participation. Meeting materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1253.
Approval of Meeting Minutes
The board approved minutes from their Jan 12th meeting.
Approval of Decision for Docket 3641 - 69 Epping Street
The board approved their decision for Docket 3641 - 69 Epping Street.
Thorndike Place: Discussion of Architectural and Urban Design Aspects of Project Submission
Tonight, the board will discuss the architectural and urban design aspects of the Thorndike place project proposal. Project materials are available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/boards-and-committees/zoning-board-of-appeals/thorndike-place-comprehensive-permit.
(Stephanie Kiefer, Attorney for the Applicant) Ms. Kiefer introduces members of the project team who will be speaking tonight. These include architects Gwen Noyes and Arthur Klipfel.
Ms. Kiefer gives an administrative summary of recent events pertaining to the Thorndike place proposal. At the previous meeting, Scott Thornton presented a traffic impact assessment, and BETA group provided peer review comments. Ms. Kiefer says there hasn't been peer review on urban design aspects of the project. She lists documents submitted to the board since the last hearing. She notes that the project involves 176 units on a 17 acre site. This works out to approximately 12 units/acre.
(Gwen Noyes, Oaktree Development) Ms. Noyes thanks the various parties who've been involved with the project. She says that the Mugar family plans to deed the undeveloped land to the town, or to a community entity. She appreciates the traffic concerns and says that the team is trying to address them. She says this development will provide much needed housing, and will help to address Arlington's shortage of affordable housing. She points out that all 176 units will be countable on Arlington's subsidized housing inventory, which has historically been low.
The apartments will be close to the T and to Mass Ave. We will provide a blue bike station and a transit screen in the lobby. The building will be built to high energy efficiency standards. It will have lots of insulation, led lights, low-VOC materials, and a roof that retains water. The apartment will be built with modular units, which should reduce the construction phase by around 5 months.
The prior iteration of the plan had a more expansive footprint, with 219 units. The current iteration is smaller and has 176 units. The main building was moved closer to the street. It will be three stories tall next to the street, stepping up to 4 stories at the spine. The stepback is intended to respect the scale of the neighborhood. The length of the street will be landscaped.
The building will have four courtyards. The northwest courtyard will be paved, and serves as the building's main entrance. The southwest courtyard is just off the building's community room. The northeast courtyard is intended to be a quiet meditative space. They're planning a rain garden for the southeast courtyard, as it's partially within the floodplain.
There will be easy access to street level parking. Ms. Noyes acknowledges that there have been discussions about reducing the number of parking spaces. If they remove parking spaces, they'd take them away from the parking lot on the northwest corner of the property, to provide more separation from the abutter who lives on the corner. They'd also put in a tree buffer, between the abutter and the parking lot.
The main building will be 23' from the street, which is similar to the setback of the existing houses.
There's a walking and emergency access road around the building, which will be handicapped accessible. There's a children's playground to the southeast of the building.
There's a bicycle entrance on the east side of the building. They're open to negotiations about providing a direct connection to the minuteman bike path.
The development will use five acres, leaving 12 acres of the site for conservation and community use.
(Arthur Klipfel, Architect) Mr. Klipfel notes that they've reduced the number of units and shrunk the building footprint in order to minimize impacts to the floodplain. He says the rear of the front courtyards is set back 75' from the road, and that courtyards make up 50% of the building's front face.
The first floor will have a fitness center, a mail room, an indoor bicycle storage room, and outside short-term bike parking. The lobby will open to the southwest courtyard. The building will contain a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. Four units will be ADA-compliant. 25% of the apartments will be affordable; the affordable apartments will have the same design as the market rate units.
The building will be constructed from modular units which are 62' long and 16' wide.
The fourth floor of the building will step back at the spine. Tenants will be allowed to use 8' of the third-floor roof; the part which is furthest away from the street.
They're planning to have 205 auto parking spaces in the garage and 26 in surface parking lots. 20% of the parking spaces will be compact and 7 will be designated as ADA spaces. There will be 105 bicycle parking spaces in the garage, 36 spaces in a room off the lobby, and 16 bicycle spaces outdoors.
Some of the houses on Dorothy road have brick facades. They're planning to use matching brick elements on the front side of the apartment building. Some area in the basement will be devoted to flood storage, rather than for parking.
The chair asks there are questions from the board.
(Aaron Ford, ZBA) Mr. Ford asks if they've considered permeable pavement.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes said they've been discussing permeable pavement for the emergency access road.
(John Hession, BSC) Mr. Hession says the emergency vehicle access road will be pervious, but the surface parking lots will not be due to the stormwater infiltration system underneath. The new design iteration tries to limit the amount of paved surfaces.
(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford asked why they settled on 176 units for the project.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that reducing the number of units allowed them to achieve 2:1 compensatory flood storage.
(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford asks what sets the number of units in the project.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel notes that 25% of the units will be affordable. He says the Mugar family owns the land, and there's a threshold to the value of the land they're willing to deed over to the town. There's also the issue of economics. Lower interest rates made it possible to go from 219 to 176 units, and have the project remain economical.
(Christian Klein, ZBA chair) Mr. Klein asks how the foundation of the garage will be constructed.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says the garage will be 5--6' under ground. They'll need further analysis to determine whether piles will be necessary.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if they'd consider using drilled piles, rather than pounded ones.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says he's done projects with drilled piles before. They'd use that approach here, if at all possible.
(Christian Klein) Mr Klein asks how many pre-fabricated modules will be used in the construction.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel expects an average of 1.5 prefab modules per unit. The prefab modules are 62' by 13'. They don't have an exact count, but can provide one.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the prefab modules will be transported down Littlejohn street.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says yes.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says the project will use approximately 264 modules. These would be delivered and installed at the rate of 10--12/day.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says the manufacturer usually establishes a staging area, and modules are delivered from the staging area to the site.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if they've confirmed there's sufficient turning radius to deliver the modulars.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel believes they'll be okay.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks the applicants how the northeast courtyard will work.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession expects that courtyard to be a passive recreation area. They're planning to have a raised planter and some trees. It's not likely to get much use during the winter. It will be a shaded area during the summer.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein suggests lowering the building around the courtyard, to let more sun in.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says it wouldn't be practical to shorten the 4th story of the building's spine. He says it's a matter of balance.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the northeast courtyard will be a public space, or for residents only.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that's not definitive in the design. Perhaps it could be a neighborhood amenity.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says there will be people living around the courtyard, who will need their privacy and security. But it might be possible to carve something out.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks how trash pickup will be handled.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noise expects the trash truck to back down the driveway and cart the receptacles out. Trash will be stored in sealed containers in the building. Likewise for recycling.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks about bicycle parking. He asks if bicycles can be stored so that it's not necessary to lift them off the ground.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says that won't be a problem.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks where the air handlers will be located.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they'll be located on the roof. They're planning to use Mitsubishi mini-splits, one per unit. They're also planning to have an ERV (energy recovery ventilation) system. They're trying to make an all-electric building. None of the mini-splits would be installed on the third-floor roof.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks how this would impact the roof's rainwater retention system.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says the mini splits would be installed on metal stands. They wouldn't be sitting directly on the surface of the roof.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says they haven't worked out the specifics of the mini-split installations; that's one of the next things they'll have to do. She says they plan to use LED lighting throughout the building.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks how the apartment will impact the yard of the abutter at 58 Dorothy road.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that wing of the building will be pushed back and around the yard of the abutter.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if they've performed shadow studies.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they could perform shadow studies, but haven't done them yet.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the northwest wing of the building is three stories high.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says no, that section is four stories. That was part of the balancing act to provide economic value. They also needed to accommodate a stairwell to the fourth floor.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks about the angle of the front driveway entrance.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they wanted to make sure the driveway didn't look like an extension of Littlejohn. He says the town engineer requested a driveway apron. There's also a utility pole there; it would have to be moved in order to straighten out the driveway.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the applicants believe there's an interest in removing spaces from the northwest lot. He points out that Arlington does not allow overnight on-street parking, and wants to ensure there's enough guest parking available.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says they've discussed this. They'd need a waiver for parking requirements. If they were to reduce the number of parking spaces, they'd take them from the northwest lot and entry courtyard. She sees the number of spaces as a balance between the needs of the market and the community.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks the applicant what they feel would be a good number of spaces.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says it will depend on the tenants. She says that millennials seem to get along fine without cars, or with a single car per household. Older folks tend to want more cars. She thinks that 1.2 spaces/unit is likely to work.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein sees traffic and wetlands as being the two main concerns. He suggests that limiting the number of parking spaces might be a way to cap the amount of traffic. He recognizes the concern about the number of vehicle trips, but thinks that people who are less mobile will prefer to drive.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says that there's uncertainty about the long term of effects of COVID on commuting.
(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak asks if they've selected a manufacturer for the modular units.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they're looking at two or three different manufacturers. They recently worked with a Canadian manufacturer on a 68-unit apartment in Newton. KBS, Simplex, and DBC are others they'd consider. The contractor will make the final selection.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks about laundry facilities.
(?) Each apartment will have in-unit laundry.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks about the following scenario: suppose I were a tenant, and came home with a cargo bike full of groceries. What's the most likely path from my cargo bike to the fridge?
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes said that Mr. Revilak would likely park in the bicycle room of the basement. He'd access the parking room with a key fob. There's an elevator nearby, and he'd take the elevator to the floor he lives on. Ms. Noyes said they could provide carts for grocery transport.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if parking spaces would be numbered and assigned to specific units, or first-come first-serve.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says that's currently a moving target, but something they could do.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if tenants would be able to store bicycles in their apartments, if they wished to do so.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that's not something they'd want to encourage, due to wear and tear on the interior of the building. He'd prefer to have a good bike room instead. He says they want to encourage cycling.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak encourages the applicants to provide a bicycle repair and maintenance area, with or without a stand. Mr. Revilak says he's happy to carry his own stand and tools, but it's important to have a space where maintenance can be done.
(Art Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel thinks they could consider a bicycle repair stand.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says that reducing the number of parking spaces would leave more room for bicycle amenities.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has one final question. He asks if the proponent would consider raising the building. In other words, the garage floor would sit at a higher elevation, and the rest of the building would move up accordingly. As he's mentioned during previous hearings, Mr. Revilak is very concerned about having the building above the elevation of future sea level rise storm/surge events. Putting the garage floor at a higher elevation should mean that there's less chance of the building to interfere with ground water flows.
(Art Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says he's used to trying to keep buildings as low as possible. But it would be cheaper and easier to raise the building up. He's happy to consider the idea.
(Kevin Mills, ZBA) Mr. Mills says that the neighbors feel like there's large imposing structure being built. He's concerned about the fourth story on the northwest part of the building. He asks the applicants to consider another location for the stairwell. Mr. Mills asks about the displacement of the excavation for the basement.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes doesn't have a displacement volume handy.
(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks how far below grade the parking garage will be.
(Art Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says it will be around six feet below grade.
(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills is concerned that this will interfere with groundwater flowing from the neighborhood into the wetlands area of the property. He asks if the applicants can say something to the abutters about this. Lastly, where will water runoff from the roof go?
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that the groundwater is between 0--3' above sea level, and the garage floor will be 2.83' above sea level. He doesn't believe that will interfere with the groundwater flow. Mr. Hession says the rooftop detention system will drain to an exflitration system.
(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks if this will affect the house at the corner of Littlejohn.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that groundwater flows the other way, towards the wetlands.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks how they'd deal with flood water in the garage, during a disaster scenario.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that a `normal' flood would cause water to enter the garage.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he lives in a flood plain along the Alewife brook. He sees three risk scenarios related to stormwater.
First there are heavy rains that cause the groundwater level to rise, and water to seep into basements. One can deal with this by sucking the water up or sweeping it around. Over time, climate change will cause this condition to become worse and more frequent.
Second, there are the `normal' flood events that East Arlington sees every couple of years. This might leave a foot or two of water in the basement. This is addressed by pumping the water out, remediating and cleaning up. These events will become worse and more frequent over time.
Third, there's the sea level rise/storm surge event caused by ocean water flanking or over-topping the Amelia Earhart dam, and flowing backwards through the Mystic River and Alewife brook. This kind of event hasn't happened yet; but it will be very damaging when it does. Mr. Revilak thinks the best mitigation is to build above the 2070 depths of a 100-year SLR/SS event.
Mr. Revilak reiterates that storm events will become worse and more frequent over time, regardless of whether this apartment is built. But he wants to ensure that the project doesn't hasten the deterioration that's going to take place.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe says the development team hasn't used definite words when answering questions. He asks why they can't use definite words.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says that 40B involves the review of preliminary site plans. That's part of the reason for the cautionary language. There are things that we still don't know definitively.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe asks if there's anything that would stop the developers from adding on to the project at a later point in time.
(Paul Haverty, Attorney/Consultant for Arlington) Mr Haverty says that an applicant can come back to the ZBA and seek modifications to their comprehensive permit. The board is not required to approve these modifications, unless they're necessary for making the project economic.
(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith says this project is beyond the scope and scale of the neighborhood. She says it would be like adding a piece of city. She's concerned about the construction, and asks for a condition that piles not be driven into the ground. She says the developers need to survey everyone's basement first. She wants the developers to make sure they can get their modular units delivered to the site. When it rains, water flows into the flood plain. It's not a dry place. Sometimes Ms. Griffith will get a pond in her backyard after a heavy rain.
(Anna O'Driscoll) Ms. O'Driscoll asks about impact to the neighborhood during construction. She asks how the applicants plan to deal with rats, and what they'll do to keep children safe during construction.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says that every construction project begins with a rat management program. Rodent removal happens before construction starts. She says that they'll have police details, if it's necessary to ensure that construction proceeds safely. She's open to other ideas.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says it will be up to the manufacturer to chose a staging area, and coordinate the delivery of pre-fab units in a well-controlled manner. His firm did a similar project in Newton, and there were always police on duty. He says that prefab development is intended to be quick and tidy.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says the use of modular units will significantly reduce construction time, as well as the amount of waste generated on site. She says that factory construction is very efficient.
(Anna O'Driscoll) Ms. O'Driscoll reiterates her concerns about rodent management and the safety of children.
(Patricia Brown) Ms. Brown asks if rat management means `poison'.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes she's not familiar with the most recent techniques used by rodent control companies. They hire a rodent control company, and the rodent control company does the work.
(Patricia Brown) Ms. Brown asks about tree plantings.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says the trees shown on the architectural renderings are symbolic. She says they haven't determined the size and species of trees to be planted.
(Patricia Brown) Ms. Brown asks if the building can be stepped back further.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says this can be discussed.
(Patricia Brown) Ms. Brown asks a question about staging modulars.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that staging can be done on site or off site. Regarding rat control, most cities and towns require it during construction, and there are companies that do it.
(Patricia Brown) Ms. Brown asks how long construction will take.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel would expect this to take 18 months without modulars. Modulars shorten the construction cycle, and he'd expect 12--14 months. It will depend on the contractor.
(Erin Freeburger) Ms. Freeburger says that we're hearing vague statements. She asks if the applicants have experience building on wetlands.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes notes that the building is not being constructed in wetlands. She says they've done projects in wet areas.
(Erin Freeburger) Ms. Freeburger says she's done research about wetlands. One we start building, it will be too late. She says that wetlands are the most biologically diverse form of habitat. Half of bird species use wetlands, and they filter water from runoff. Wetlands also fight climate change. An acre of wetlands holds 1.5 million gallons of water.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says that none of the project is being built in wetlands.
(Erin Freeburger) Ms. Freeburger asks if there's been any consideration about wildlife.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says there was a habitat and vegetation study, done at the request of the conservation commission. To give a brief summary, the quality of the habitat is marginal, due to previous disturbances, the homeless encampment, and the presence of invasives.
(GM Hakim) Mr. Hakim says the project is almost universally opposed by everyone. He says we hear how much Oaktree cares about the environment. He says that affordable housing is necessary, but Oaktree would have chosen a different site if they cared about the environment.
(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz says it's kind of late to find out there will be piles installed during construction. He says there will be a risk of foundations cracking.
(Silvia Dominguez) Ms. Dominguez asks how many houses will experience increased flooding, and how rat infestation will be controlled. No matter what you say, this is not a good thing to do. She asks how much flooding and rat infestation there will be.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they're providing 2:1 compensatory flood storage, so there will be no impacts to localized flooding. This is in a low area.
(Silvia Dominguez) Ms. Dominguez asks how Mr. Hession can say that. She says there's already flooding in this area. She says that climate change is here. She doesn't buy the idea that the apartment will not worsen flooding.
(Matt McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon asks if anyone from the town or ZBA can point to similar projects.
(Christian Klein, Steve Revilak) Mr. Klein and Mr. Revilak give Arlington 360, Brigham Square apartments, and the Legacy as examples of large apartment developments.
(Matt McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon felt that having six town houses along Dorothy road was better. He asks if the subsidizing agency needs to perform another design review, because of how the project changed.
(Paul Haverty) Mr. Haverty says that subsidizing agencies do a cursory site plan review. At that stage, they're looking for ways to help the project move forward.
(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says that applicants have to go back to the subsidizing agency for final approval, after the comprehensive permit has been granted.
(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon asks if someone can show him, on a map, the route that trucks would take (when delivering modular units).
(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says they'll prepare a map.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks a question about affordable housing.
(?) 25% of the apartments will be affordable, but 100% of them will countable on Arlington's subsidized housing inventory.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says the company built a similar project in West concord. She thought there was a complete lack of imagination. She says that project ended up with a sea of blacktop and it's a heat island.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says that the Concord project required office space on the ground floor, which came with a high parking requirement. The project also resulted in the town getting an area of park land. Ms. Noyes says they've gotten many compliments on that work. Some people like the project, and some don't.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says that tree removal can cause flooding. When she lived in Carlisle, she had two willow trees taken down from her property, and wound up with two feet of water in the basement. She'd like to see calculations showing the effect of tree root removal on flooding.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that the stormwater management practices look at trees, but the calculations don't account for trees in that way.
(Nicholas Ide) Mr. Ide says we've heard a lot tonight. The developers say they're not sure about this, and the neighborhood won't look the same with a four-story monstrosity sitting there. He says he'll be able to see it from his house. He doesn't understand how anyone will be able to get modular units onto that site. He says it doesn't seem rational.
(Heather Keith Lucas) Ms. Keith Lucas is concerned about the health and safety of children who ride bikes in the streets. She thinks that construction will reduce air quality, and we'll need to deal with rats. She's concerned about the safety of the intended residents of this building. She asks why it's okay to build large housing near a flood plain when disabled individuals might live there. She says that disabled individuals can be trapped by flash flooding.
There are no further comments from the public.
Hearing continued to Feb 9th, 7:30pm.