Zoning Board of Appeals - Jun 29th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1362.

Comprehensive Permit: Thorndike Place

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein recalls the last hearing, where the applicants offered to have their senior living consultant appear before the board.

(Stephanie Kiefer, Attorney for the Applicant) Ms. Kiefer summaries the conceptual plans that her team presented during the last hearing. We ended by charting out future hearings, which includes tonight. Her team received two peer review documents from BETA in the last two days, and will provide written responses in time for the next hearing.

Ms. Kiefer says they've been in consultation of Alan Zimlicki of ASZ Associates, who specializes in senior housing development. Mr. Zimlicki is a former Cambridge city planner who's worked on a number of senior housing developments in the area. The parameters are to provide older residents with the ability to live independently, in a community setting. The range of services is typically defined after a project has been approved.

(Scott Thornton, VAI) Mr. Thornton provided an updated traffic impact assessment, which compared traffic generated by a senior living facility to the previous multi-family apartment. He received BETA's peer review today and will send written responses in advance of the next hearing. He's happy to see BETA concur that the new proposal will generate fewer trips, and agrees with BETA's finding that the number of parking spaces is sufficient. He notes that the number of spaces provided exceeds Arlington's zoning requirements for senior housing and is confident that 96 spaces will satisfy the demand for all components of the senior housing. The applicants will commit to providing transportation services for residents, per BETA's recommendation. It will be an amenity for residents.

(Alan Zimlicki, ASZ Associates) Mr. Zimlicki started working in assisted living in 1990. He's worked on a number of projects including Concord Park in West Concord, Forestdale Park in Malden, Central Boston Elder Services, Volunteers of America, and the City of Cambridge. He's seen the community concerns about traffic and parking; it's a common concern. Mr. Zimlicki looked at the amount of parking provided in four of the projects he's worked on, and this one has more than any of them. 0.5 spaces/unit is generally typical for senior housing, and this one will have over 0.7. He thinks parking is a solved problem for this building. It will be an independent living facility, which won't need as much staffing as assisted living -- cooks, nurses, cleaners, etc.

The van will be a wonderful amenity to run to and from Alewife station. This area has good transit connectivity to Boston, which will benefit workers. If there's a train available, people will generally use it.

The residents of independent living facilities are generally healthy but may need some help around the house, or may simply be tired of doing household tasks. It's good that this site is so close to the bike path.

Mr. Zimlicki says he'll work with the team to shape the staff and set of services offered.

The pandemic hit assisted living facilities, but independent living is a different market, and it appears to be coming back. The need great.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein has a question about the parking ratio that Mr. Zimlicki cited earlier. Is that for residents and staff, or residents only.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says the ratio covers both residents and staff.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks about commuting hours for the staff of an independent living facility.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says they're generally the same as other business (i.e., during the day). Independent living facilities require less staff than other forms of senior living. They'll need people during the say for meal prep, particularly around lunch. Only a few staff are needed in the evening.

(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon asks if the van will be available to all residents, and if there'll be a charge to use it.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says that transportation services is generally part of the facility, and available to all residents. Residents in affordable units might pay 30% of their income towards rent, which leaves them 70% for other things. The van would be part of the rent package.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon feels that the more services that are available to all residents means there will be less discrimination to affordable housing residents. He suspects that a lot of ala-carte services would lead to a class-based structure.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says it's against the law to discriminate, by offering different sets of services to different tenants. This is a no-no, especially in Massachusetts. Our prospective property manager currently manages 18 facilities for seniors. Mr. Zimlicki sits on several senior housing boards, and this kind of discrimination has never been raised as an issue.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Regarding the cost of services, Ms. Kiefer thinks this will be the same as any other apartment, where someone might avail themselves to services -- a private yoga instructor for example -- while others do not.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if Mr. Zimlicki could describe the age structure and health of independent living residents. He's sure he'd qualify on age, but he's healthy and gets around fine. He'd like to understand the demographics.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says the demographics are all over the place. Assisted living residents are generally in their late eighties or older. Independent living residents are generally in their late sixties to early eighties. They're generally a healthy demographic. They have lost a spouse, or want to move on from the big house they've been living in. They still have active interests. There aren't a lot of independent living facilities in the area. They could be some of the same people that go to Florida for the winter.

(Kevin Mills, ZBA) Mr. Mills notes that Mr. Zimlicki provided some information about parking at other sites. "How about this site?" he asks.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki thinks it's a good site, in a good location.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks how close the other sites are to public transit.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says that Concord Park is near the West Concord commuter rail station. Nashoba Park is a mile from the town center. Forestdale Park in Malden is kind of out of the way, near an elementary school. It's about three-quarters of a mile away from the orange line. None of these are as convenient to public transit as this site.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks if other sites have a jitney service.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says yes. Central Boston Elder services does not, but it's right in Dudley square, next to the bus station.

(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak wishes to ask a question that was raised at the last hearing: how does one accommodate residents whose needs for services change over time?

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says that kind of thing is fine in an independent living facility, as long as residents can still get around on their own. Assisted living is for residents who can no longer fully take care of themselves. When a resident's needs become too great, they're encouraged to find an assisted living or nursing facility that can handle their kind of disability.

(Roger Dupont, ZBA) Mr. Dupont wants to get a better feel for the population. It seems to start with residents who are 65--80 years old. People age, and their abilities deteriorate over time. He asks what happens when they need more services. Over time, the population might develop such that more residents need more help. As the group ages, how many emergency vehicle visits per week are typical?

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says that people will get older and age. If a resident gets to the point where independent living no longer meets their needs, then they'll have to consider assisted living. There are options for people who can't afford assisted living on their own.

(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks: what about affordable housing residents that need to transition to assisted living?

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says that supplemental social security helps. Sometimes you'll need to piggy-back different sources and programs for assistance. People who manage these facilities are generally very good about coordinating assistance.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz recalls that when this development was proposed, the state said we didn't have enough affordable housing. Does that mean this project can just get built?

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says the board has three options: to approve, to approve with conditions, or to deny. The applicant has the right to appeal the ZBA's decision to the housing appeals committee.

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz asks if anything changes, because the applicants are now proposing senior housing.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says no, the senior housing proposal doesn't change the fact that Arlington hasn't met the threshold for affordable housing.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore compliments the applicants on the addition of Mr. Zimlicki to their team. He's glad there will be a process to help seniors transition. He hopes such transitions can take place easily, so this can remain an independent living facility. Regarding parking, will residents allowed to bring and store vehicles?

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says that decision hasn't been made, but it will have to be dealt with. He assumes there will be a separate rent for parking.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore thinks that extra rent for parking is a great idea. He asks if the jitney service will be available to all residents.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein note the applicants said that was their intention.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore asks if the jitney service will be available to the duplex owners, as well as residents of the independent living facility.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Mr. Kiefer says her team hasn't discussed making the jitney service available to the duplexes. They'd intended it as a service for independent living residents.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore asks if the jitney service will be available to staff.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says the applicants have already expressed that it would be.

(Matthew McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon said he quickly researched some of the senior housing that Mr. Zimlicki mentioned earlier. He asks Mr. Zimlicki if he can provide examples of facilities that are located in existing neighborhoods.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says that Concord Park is right next to the West Concord village center. The one in Cambridge is in a neighborhood. The one in Malden is in a residential neighborhood, surrounded by houses and a school. And one is right in the middle of Dudley Square.

(Matthew McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon asks if any of these facilities are located on streets that are similar in size to the streets here.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says the one at 411 Franklin Street in Cambridge is located on a narrow street.

(Marci Ide) Ms. Ide is a social worker, and the people living in the apartment building will be her people. Ms. Ide says that Arlington has five independent living sites, and she doesn't think this is the right place for one. Nothing should be built in the wetlands. Picture a large building behind a row of houses. Some people will be over 60 and as old as 99. Some will walk through the neighborhood. Some won't walk, because it's too far.

(Note: both state and local laws prohibit construction in wetlands, including on this site.)

Ms. Ide gives what she feels is a partial list of the traffic that will come through the neighborhood: social workers, Peapod, meals on wheels, Uber Eats, food pantry vehicles, nurses, Amazon deliveries. That's who will come through the neighborhood.

Ms. Ide believes there isn't enough parking, and there will be a waiting list for parking spaces.

There will be other sources of traffic: The Ride, the jitney service, taxis, Uber, Lyft, volunteer drivers. We need a full picture of these things. There will be lots of coming and going, and the majority won't go to Alewife to take the T.

(Heather Keith Lucas) Ms. Keith Lucas notes that at the last meeting, the ZBA asked for a better definition of the senior housing proposal, and the applicants have not provided one in writing. She feels that Mr. Zimlicki's remarks were helpful, but not informative. She wants the ZBA should make a well-informed decision. There should be a substantive definition of the project and a substantial public comment period.

(Suzanne Shoesmith) Ms. Shoesmith thinks this is not an ideal location for a senior living facility. Residents will not walk to Alewife, especially if they are in wheelchairs. An independent living facility should be in a more accessible space, like Mass Ave. She's concerned about pedestrian safety. Increased traffic will make her concerned about her children's ability to get to school safely.

(Shona Gibson) Ms. Gibson thanks Mr. Zimlicki for his remarks at tonight's hearing. She works for the Cambridge Health Alliance's PACE program. Ms. Gibson says the neighborhood has a lot of amenities but it's primarily located near a wetlands. Look carefully at the location of all of the independent and assisted living facilities in the area. They're not tucked in the back of a neighborhood. She advises Mr. Moore (an earlier speaker) not be be reassured that residents will be given help in transitioning from independent living to other settings. People are hesitant to move to other arrangements. She thinks this project will eventually become an assisted living facility.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer asks if four handicapped parking spaces will be sufficient.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says that they are guided by the building codes, but will take a further look at the number of handicapped spaces.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says that given the amount of parking, four handicapped spaces are required. He thinks that seniors might require more.

(Robert DiBiase) Mr. DiBiase is concerned about traffic. There's the potential for multiple emergency vehicle trips. He thinks that people will park on both sides of the street, and that will prevent emergency vehicles from getting through. He hopes the board will consider this information.

(Alan Zimlicki) Mr. Zimlicki says they'll meet with the appropriate authorities to verify that there is sufficient access for emergency vehicles.

(Lisa Fredman) Ms. Fredman says that her dad was invited to move into a dementia unit, but her family tried to keep him in his apartment. He needed 24-hour home health care. He had regular visits -- 6--7 cars per day for one person. We can't support this. It's not a good idea for our neighborhood.

There's no further comment from the public.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein notes the next hearing for Thorndike place is scheduled for July 13th. There are still questions about emergency access and the level of care provided by the facility. He asks the board members if there are other questions they'd like to see addressed.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon would like to see responses to BETA's most recent review comments. He thinks the board has an understanding of how groundwater flow works in this area. He'd like to know if there are any reasons why ITE's parking and trip generation numbers aren't applicable to this site.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to see a written statement that defines the project. He'd also like to see responses to BETA's peer review comments, and an updated waiver list. He thinks we're nearing the end of the process, but would like to move towards closing the public hearing and making a decision.

(Roger Dupont) With the flexibility that the applicant has shown, Mr. Dupont would like more information on the number of traffic trips. He wants to make sure the board has enough information to make a decision. We've been at this for a long time, and Mr. Dupont would like to see all of the information taken into account.

(Shawn O'Rourke) Mr. O'Rourke thinks this is a new project, and doesn't want to rush. He thinks we'll need a substantially longer time to make a decision.

Hearing continued until July 13th, 7:30pm.

Docket 3659 - 55 Sutherland Road

The applicant wishes to replace the front stairs of her two-family home with a covered porch. This requires a special permit for projections into minimum yards.

(Adam Glassman, Architect) Mr. Glassman summarizes the proposed work. The house is an existing, non-conforming two-family home. They'd like to remove the existing front stairs and replace them with a covered porch. There are nearby homes with similar covered porches. As the owner has gotten older, the stairs have become a challenge. The home has non-conforming yard setbacks. They also plan to add low-voltage LED lighting.

(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak asks why the permit is under 5.3.9(A), which covers enclosed porches.

(Rick Vallarelli, ZBA Administrator) Mr. Vallarelli says the precedent is to use 5.3.9(A) for covered porches, even if they're not fully enclosed. If there were no cover, this would fall under 5.3.9(B).

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a question about the application's dimensional worksheet. The sum of landscaped open space, usable open space, and the gross area of the first floor is larger than the size of the lot.

The front yard is too small to be usable open space, so the porch won't remove any usable open space from the property. However, he wants to be certain that the porch won't create a non-conformity with respect to landscaped open space. This house requires 242 square feet of landscaped open space. He asks Mr. Glassman if he can show a portion of the lot that contains 242 square feet of open space.

(Adam Glassman) Mr. Glassman indicates an area on the plans.

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein would like to know more about the easement shown on the surveyor's plan.

(Ravitha Amarasingham, Owner) Ms. Amarasingham says the area is a paved walkway. She doesn't know the history behind the easement.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore asks if Sutherland Road is a public way.

(Adam Glassman) Mr. Glassman believes that it is.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore points out that there's a street tree in front of the house, which would be a protected street tree. He asks that the tree be protected while the work is being done.

(Ravitha Amarasingham) Ms. Amarasingham says she's requesting a covered porch because she has trouble opening her front door when it snows. Regarding the tree, she's a plant, bird, and butterfly lover and has planted many native plants all around her neighborhood. She says they'll protect the tree.

There's no further public comment.

(Christian Klein) In addition to standard conditions, Mr. Klein suggests a condition that the covered porch cannot be considered part of the foundation.

The board is okay with this suggestion.

Permit approved, 5--0.

Docket 3660 - 10 Sunnyside Ave

10 Sunnyside Ave is the site of a former auto body shop. The new property owners would like to covert the building to office space. This requires a special permit, for offices greater than 3,000 square feet.

(Robert Annese, Attorney) Mr. Annese says this property has been an auto shop since 1920. It's currently blighted, and has been that way for a while. There have been two mixed-use proposals for the site. The first was for a mixed-use building with 22 apartments. The second was a proposal for a smaller mixed-use building, by the same clients that are here tonight, but that didn't work out.

The proposal is to change the automotive use to office and conference space. Mr. Annese notes that the bylaw encourages the conversion of automotive uses in the B4 district to non-automotive ones. This is not a mixed-use proposal, and it doesn't fall under the ARB's jurisdiction for environmental design review. All of the work will be done in the interior of the building. Mr. Annese thinks this conforms to the objectives of the master plan, and the planning department provided a favorable report. Based on the planning department's memo, they've revised the plan to add four indoor bicycle parking spaces. This won't be an intrusive use.

(Will Chalfant, Architect) Mr. Chalfant describes the property as a garage with several additions, surrounded by a sea of gravel and asphalt. They plan to remove about 800 square feet at the rear of the building, in order to redo the ramp to the basement level. The renovations will add approximately 4,400 square feet of open space. They plan to install solar panels on the roof. Mr. Chalfant describes this as adaptive reuse.

They're providing more than the required number of parking spaces, to ensure adequate parking for Column Health's executive staff, who will be working out of this building. The basement area will be used mostly for storage. They plan to utilize the building mostly as-is. They'll replace the stairway that goes from the ground floor to the basement, because they're not up to code. They'll re-use an automotive paint booth as a conference room and will replace the garage doors at the front of the building. They'll apply to inspectional services for a sign permit, and probably repaint the exterior of the building.

Column Health has another office at 339 Mass Ave, which is well landscaped. They plan to do nice landscaping here. The company needs more office space.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks how the interior bike parking is accessed.

(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says it could be accessed through the front or side doors.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks which entrance will be the main entrance.

(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says the front garage doors will be the public entrance, but he expects staff to enter through the side door.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein ask which entrances will be accessible.

(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says they plan to make all of the entrances accessible.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein points out that the sign permits are not within the ZBA's jurisdiction.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese is aware of this.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if the basement is entirely below ground level.

(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says that it is.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak points out that Arlington's zoning bylaw makes a distinction between basements and cellars, and this would be considered a cellar. Cellars in a non-residential use don't count towards gross floor area; this is significant because open space, automotive parking, and bicycle parking are all based on the amount of gross floor area. He says the applicants are providing more bicycle and automotive parking than required, but that's okay.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks how many employees the company has.

(Jim McIntyre, Column Health) Mr. McIntyre says that Column Health has eleven sites. This site will be for a four-person executive team.

(Note: Mr. McIntyre also stated the number of employees, but I missed that part of his answer.)

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills asks what they plan to store in the basement.

(Jim McIntyre) Mr. McIntyre says it will be office supplies, medical records, and the like.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills would like some assurance that the site will not be used as a clinic.

(Jim McIntyre) Mr. McIntyre says the building will not be designed or used as a clinic. It will not be accessible to patients.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if clinics and offices are treated as different uses.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says the zoning bylaw considers clinics and offices to be different uses. The property is not equipped to treat patients. Treating patients at the site would be a violation of the special permit conditions, and the building inspector could shut the site down.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills thinks it will be an aesthetic improvement.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore applauds the applicants for adding open space to the site. He asks if they plan to use pervious surfaces.

(Will Chalfant) Mr. Chalfant says they'll probably use pervious pavers for the walkways. He's not sure about they parking lot -- they'll have to test the groundwater level first.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore wants to encourage the use of permeable surfaces and the planting of large shade trees.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer believes this is a huge improvement for the site, and he compliments the applicants. He believes the handicapped space in the parking lot needs to have an 8' isle rather than the 5' shown on the plans.

Mr. Seltzer says the applicants have provided little information about how the basement will be used. The thinks the ramp is not wide enough to be used as a loading space. He asks if the basement will be used to restore automobiles.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says no, that will not happen.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says the applicants built a garage behind their office at 339 Mass Ave. Abutters are saying it's being used for private vehicle restoration. There are neighbors who've reported seeing automotive lifts in the garage. He says that garage is being used for other uses, and not just parking.

(Robert Annese) Mr. Annese says the basement will not be used to restore automobiles. He feels that Mr. Seltzer is introducing heresy, and doesn't appreciate it.

Permit approved, 5--0.

Approval of Minutes

The board approves minutes from their March 23rd, April 27th, and May 11th meetings.

Upcoming Meetings

The upcoming dates for the board are

  • July 13th. Thorndike place.
  • July 16th. Close of public hearing for Thorndike place.
  • July 19th. 1165R Mass Ave.
  • July 23rd. Close of public hearing for 1165R Mass Ave

Meeting adjourned.