Zoning Board of Appeals - Mar 23rd, 2021
Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1285.
Approval of Minutes
The board approved minutes from their March 16th meeting.
1165R Mass Ave Comprehensive Permit
At the request of the petitioners, the Comprehensive Permit hearing for 1165R Mass Ave was continued to April 13, 2021.
Docket 3651 - 190--192 Mystic Valley Parkway
At the request of the petitioners, the hearing for Docket 3651 was continued to April 13, 2021.
Docket 3652 - 41--43 Fairmont Street
The petitioners are seeking a special permit in order to finish an unfinished attic, and add a pair of shed dormers. The special permit is required because the property has a pre-existing non-conformity with respect to open space.
(Bill Nolan, Architect) Mr. Nolan says the home is an existing 2.5 story building with an unfinished attic and basement. All of the work will take place within the existing building footprint, except for the covered porch, whose size will be reduced by sixteen square feet. They plan to renovate the existing attic and and basement. They'll construct a new porch with a small office above. Mr. Nolan says they're here because the property is non-conforming, particularly in the requirements for usable open space.
(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon asks about the usable open space figures provided on the application's dimensional worksheet.
(Bill Nolan) Mr. Nolan says he's done work in surrounding towns, but Arlington's zoning bylaw is a new one for him.
(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak says that Arlington's zoning bylaw recognizes two types of open space: landscaped and usable, and their percentage requirements are based on the gross floor area of the building rather than the area of the lot. Mr. Revilak says that usable open space has to be relatively flat, free of parking and vehicular traffic, and have a minimum horizontal dimension of 25'. Mr. Revilak believes that this lot doesn't have any usable open space. He asks about the square footage of landscaped open space, to ensure that the 10% requirement will be satisfied, and it is.
(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein asks if the applicant's were aware of Arlington's residential design guidelines. Mr. Klein says these guidelines are intended to advise homeowners, builders, and architects of community design preferences. He displays the dormer guidelines in Section C-1.
(Bill Nolan) Mr. Nolan says he wasn't aware of the design guidelines.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein points out that the changes would add massing to the front (office over the porch), and to the third story (shed dormers). He says there are nearby houses with shed dormers on both sides, but they're more limited in scale. He asks Mr. Vallarelli if there are any issues with the addition above the porch.
(Rick Vallarelli, ZBA Administrator) Mr. Vallarelli says that the second story bump out over the porch is okay, because it's within the existing footprint. If the owner wanted to expand outside the porch footprint, then it wouldn't be okay.
(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon points out that the planning department's memo suggested moving the dormers back, and aligning the windows to the story below.
(Bill Nolan) Mr. Nolan believes they can change the window alignment to stack above the existing ones. They can also change move the front of the dormer back on the Northeast side of the building.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer wishes to speak about ZBL section 5.3.9, Projection into Minimum Yards. He feels that steps are an acceptable projection, but a second story office above is not.
(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli says the second story office is okay because the existing covered porch is a pre-existing non-conformity. He says it wouldn't be permissible if the non-conforming porch wasn't there.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer asks if the house's deck could be counted as usable open space.
(?) No, the deck is too small, and too high to qualify as usable open space.
(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore asks if one can add a second story addition above a porch that was just stairs.
(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli says no; if the porch isn't enclosed, then you cannot build above it.
(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore says he knows of a property in town where someone added a second story addition above an open porch.
(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli advises Mr. Moore to bring this to the attention of the building inspector.
There are no further comments from the board.
(Roger Dupont, ZBA) Mr. Dupont thinks that the pair of shed dormers would make the building appear substantially larger, and be more like a full third floor. He understands that the proposal meets the technical definition of half-story, but would like to think more about how it changes the character of the building.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon points out that the residential design guidelines and planning department memo were not made available to Mr. Nolan prior to this hearing. Procedurally, the board should ensure that applicants have access to these documents.
(Aaron Ford, ZBA) Mr. Ford asks about the gross floor area on the third floor.
(Bill Nolan) Mr. Nolan says it's 554 square feet.
(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford doesn't understand where that number comes from. He added up the dimension of each room on the plan and arrived at a higher figure.
(Bill Nolan) Mr. Nolan says there is a twelve-foot wide strip in the middle of the building that exceeds 7' in height; the area of that strip is 554 square feet. The sum of room dimensions is higher, because they include areas where the ceiling is less than seven feet high. Areas where the ceiling is less than seven feet high aren't counted as gross floor area.
(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford says he wants to consider it.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says the question for the board is whether this would be substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says that several of the existing homes have dormers.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak feels like there's a variety of homes and building heights on this street. For example, the homeowner a few doors down came before the board several months ago to build an addition; that was a 1.5 story home. There's a triple-decker next door to that, another triple-decker down the block, with numerous 2.5 story homes in between.
(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford says that if the homeowners weren't adding dormers and kept the existing roof ridge, then he'd be okay with this.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks Mr. Nolan if they'll be changing the roof ridge.
(Bill Nolan) Mr. Nolan says they would increase the ridge height, but stay within the 35' height limitation. The says the challenge comes from meeting new energy codes for roofs. One typically needs 2x10 or 2x12 rafters to accommodate the required insulation; older 2x6 or 2x8 roof framing isn't sufficient.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein would like to continue the hearing, so the applicant has time to consider the residential design guidelines and planning department memo.
Hearing continued to April 13th.
Docket 3653 - 59 Mount Vernon Street
The proponent owns a single-family home in a two-family district; they're proposing to add a large addition in order to convert the single-family dwelling into a duplex.
(David Whitney, Architect) Mr. Whitney says the applicants would like to expand their single-family home into a two-family home. They're before the board tonight because the proposal involves an addition of more than 750 square feet, which requires a special permit under the Zoning Bylaw.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the rear yard is large enough to qualify as usable open space.
(David Whitney) Mr. Whitney say the rear year in 72' feet deep, which more than meets the 25' requirement for usable open space.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak visited the property a few day ago, and noticed that the elevations drops off behind the garage at the rear of the building. He asks where the drop off and retaining wall are in relation to the usable open space.
(David Whitney) Mr. Whitney says the usable open space is located behind the existing retaining wall.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to confirm that the addition will be two stories, and that the front facade is remaining the same.
(David Whitney) Mr. Whitney indicate that's correct.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak likes the proposed addition. He thinks it will look a lot like the building next door, at 51 Mt. Vernon.
(Rodger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks a few questions about parking, and figures provided in the dimensional worksheet.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore said he looked at aerial photographs of the property, and asked if the project had a tree plan.
(David Whitney) Mr. Whitney indicates there isn't a tree plan.
(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore suggests the applicant get in touch with the tree warden regarding a tree plan.
(Mark Rosenthal) Mr. Rosenthal says the house next door was built 15 years ago, and he's unhappy that it's being used for justification of this project. He believes that two-family homes should have a single door in the front, or two doors side by side at the front of the house. This house will have one unit behind the other, and he believes that's not in the character of a two-family district. He says the neighborhood was unhappy when the house next door was converted from a single-family to two-family.
(Alice Drummond) Ms. Drummond lives next door. She's concerned about parking, and believes that the parking requirements should be doubled in order to accommodate the new dwelling.
(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli notes that Arlington's zoning bylaw requires one parking space per unit in a single-family or two-family dwelling. The proposal satisfies that requirement.
(David Whitney) Mr. Whitney says he had trouble locating the parking requirements in Arlington's Zoning Bylaw.
(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli says he'll send the relevant sections to Mr. Whitney.
(Amy Goldstein) Ms. Goldstein says the proposed addition is not in character with the neighborhood. Just because the front of the house isn't being changed, that doesn't mean it's in character. She says that the rear addition will still be visible from the street, if someone is driving up the road. She says the street has several large lots with single family homes, and she's concerned that other homeowners will want to convert their homes to duplexes. She thinks that other homeowners shouldn't be able to do that, just because one homeowner did.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer comments that the plot plan lacks elevation markers. He says the land slopes and the grade changes. He asks how building height is supposed to be measured in this case.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks Mr. Vallarelli how building height would be measured in this case.
(Rick Vallarelli) Mr. Vallarelli says it's measured from the average grade adjacent to the house.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer believes there will be more than sufficient parking. He says they'll need two parking spaces and there will be probably be enough room for eight.
There's a lot of back and fourth between members of the board and members of the public. Mr. Revilak cites a section in the Residential Design Guidelines that suggests flexibility be given to rear yard additions, because they're not directly visible from the street. Ms. Goldstein says the board should not focus on that; rather they should realize that the applicant is proposing to add an entire new dwelling unit behind the existing one. Ms. Goldstein thinks that one should not be able to build an entire house behind an existing one (i.e., converting a single-family into a duplex). Mr. Rosenthal says that despite the addition being entirely behind the existing building, there will be a point where someone driving up Mount Vernon Street will be able to see it. Mr. Rosenthal says that additions like this will make Arlington look more like Boston or Philadelphia. Mr. Revilak asks what, specifically, would make the proposed addition out of character. Ms. Goldstein and Mr. Rosenthal indicate that it's the size, and the fact that they're adding a whole other dwelling unit, which would allow an additional family to live in the neighborhood.
Mr. Hanlon asks if the applicants would be able to build what they're proposing by right, if they tore the existing house down first. Mr. Vallarelli says they wouldn't be able to do that, because the lot only has 49.22 feet of frontage, and not the required sixty feet.
Public comment ends.
The board reviews the seven criteria for a special permit. There seems agree that requirements one through five and seven are met. Requirement six probably requires more consideration, owing to objections raised by the public. One board member questions whether the addition of a dwelling unit will result in an increase of traffic while another believes any difference will be de minimus.
Mr. Revilak notes that the property currently has a garage, which will be demolished as part of the renovation. He asks where the rear of the addition will be, in relation to the rear of the existing garage. Mr. Whitney says the rear of the proposed addition will be in the same place as the rear of the existing garage. Mr. Revilak feels that the board has to take the net change into account; the proposal involves a large addition, but it also involves the removal of a fairly large garage.
Several board members are interested in meeting with the architect on site, in order to better understand the proposed changes. Mr. Whitney is amenable to this, and Mr. Klein will work with Mr. Whitney to set up a time. He'll also consult with town counsel, to ensure that board members can meet with Mr. Whitney on site in a way that won't violate open meeting laws.
Hearing continued until April 13th.
(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore wishes to show his appreciation for the board. He's attended several ZBA meetings, has seen that some of the decisions the board has to make are not easy. He appreciates their thoroughness.