Zoning Board of Appeals - May 13th, 2021
Meeting conducted via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=1335&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda.
Thorndike Place Comprehensive Permit
(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein briefly summarizes the prior hearing, where the applicant was asked to consider reintroducing the duplexes along Dorothy Road. They have a new design which does so, and we'll see it presented tonight.
(Stephanie Kiefer, Attorney for the Applicant) Ms. Kiefer says her team has revised concept plans to present. They plan to reintroduce the six townhomes as ownership units; 25% of these will be affordable via deed riders. The apartment had to be pulled back from the road. They've reduced the size of that building, and stepped it back further. The apartment will be 103' to 140' feet from Dorothy Road, so it's almost like a back lot to the duplexes.
In the new proposal, the apartment building will be senior housing; a combination of independent and assisted living. The apartment will be rental units, and provide residents with a way to age in place. A tenant will be able to go from independent to assisted living while staying in the same community. Senior housing reduces the parking need, and should result in less traffic. The current plan uses 96 parking spaces; 86 in the garage and 10 on the surface. What was formerly a surface parking lot on the western side of the property will become open space.
Ms. Kiefer summarizes the history of the proposal. The first iteration had 219 apartments and 12 units in duplexes. This was reduced to 176 apartment units, and then to 172. The current proposal has 126 units of senior housing and 12 ownership units in duplexes. 25% of the units will be affordable. The garage floor elevation will be raised fro 2.83' to 6', and the first floor elevation will go from 13' to 16'. The duplexes will have first floor elevations of 12' and no underground parking.
(Gwen Noyes, Architect) Ms. Noyes says the proposed duplexes are slightly smaller than the ones across the street on Dorothy Road. The driveways will be at elevation 11'.
The driveway for the apartment is in the same location. There will be a planted buffer between the open space on the west lot and the abutter on Little John Street. There are various ways to program the open space, including garden plots. Guests will have surface parking near the main entrance to the building. The garage floor will be at 6' elevation, and have 86 parking spaces for staff and residents. The apartment building could have a blue roof or solar panels. They're still planning to have an energy-efficient green building.
The emergency access road is still in the same place. There are minimal changes to the building's relationship to resource areas. They're planning to do woodland restorations in the area behind the apartment and will add street trees along Dorothy Road.
(Scott Vlasek, Architect) Mr. Vlasek says they're planning to vary the exterior of the duplexes, so that they don't all look identical. They're planning to add a lot of landscaping along Dorothy Road, and this will help to screen the 4-story apartment building.
(Arthur Klipfel, Architect) Mr. Klipfel says the duplexes will be 2.5 stories with side-by-side units. There will be back decks on the third level, with main entrances on the side.
(Scott Vlasek) Mr. Vlasek says they're planning to have car ports between the duplexes, and they'll be finished in cementaceous siding. A person standing on the other side of the street wouldn't be able to see the apartment building over the top of the townhouses. The whole apartment building will be raised in order to move the garage floor from 2.83' to 6' elevation.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says there will be a large porch in the rear of the apartment. The apartment will have a commercial kitchen, dining area, and common spaces. They're planning to work with another architect who has a lot of experience with designing senior and assisted living. Deliveries and trash pickup will happen in front of the building. The apartment building will have a footprint of 32,708 square feet. The assisted and independent living units will be the same size, but the assisted living portion needs more common areas. There will be mostly studios and one-bedroom apartments, with a few two-bedroom.
(Scott Vlasek) Mr. Vlasek says there will be 86 parking spaces in the garage and 10 surface spaces. The garage layout is generally similar to prior iterations.
(John Hession, Civil Engineer) Mr. Hession says they've treated the emergency access road as a limit of work. No work was proposed in bordering vegetated wetlands (BVWs) or isolation vegetated wetlands (IVWs) during the last iteration, and none is proposed for this iteration. There are no new improvements planned for the 100' adjacent upload resource areas (AURAs). There will be limited work in the 50' AURA, in order to provide compensatory flood storage.
The spine of the building moved to the rear, causing 544 cubic feet of impact to the flood plain. Mr. Hession believes they'll be able to expand the compensatory flood storage and maintain a 2:1 ratio. In this iteration, the garage doesn't extend beyond the footprint of the residential portion of the building. The reduction in impervious surface should make stormwater management easier, by providing more flexibility.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they moved to senior housing after hearing repeated concerns about traffic. Assisted and independent living facilities generate less traffic. Assisted living tenants won't be driving. Independent living tenants will generally have the option of traveling off-peak hours, especially if they're no longer working. Staff will have the option of using the redline. Overall, this should result in less impact on traffic.
(Scott Thornton, Transportation Engineer) Mr. Thornton says that 126 units of senior housing will have less traffic impact than 172 apartments. They're still working through the parking, but according to ITE standards, the apartment should need 64--83 spaces. They're proposing 86, plus 10 surface parking spaces for visitors.
The apartment building would have relied on a transportation demand management (TDM) program, and those programs work. This kind of development would not use a TDM program. Senior travel has more time-of-day discretion. The peak may be in the middle of the day, rather than the morning or evening.
(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says that reintroducing the duplexes helped her team to go back and re-think the project. She believes this iteration is more consistent with the neighborhood and provides buffering for the apartment building. The senior building will be above the water table. She'd like to get a straw poll from the board by the end of this meeting, so they know whether to continue with this design, or go back to the 172 unit apartment.
(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) Mr. Hanlon asks how changing to assisted and independent living will work with the reservation of affordable units. He asks if three of the duplexes will be affordable.
Yes, three of the duplexes will be affordable.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks what the affordability level will be.
It will be 80% AMI, for both the rental and ownership units.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if 25% of the independent and assisted living units will be affordable.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if 25% of both the independent and assisted living units will be affordable.
(Bob Engler, Architect?) Mr. Engler says there will be 25% affordable in each category.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if the units will remain affordable in perpetuity.
For all practical purposes, yes, they'll remain affordable in perpetuity. By statute, the units have to remain affordable until local regulations change such that 40B isn't required to make this project economic.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if the half-stories (of the duplexes) are generic half-stories, or if they comply with our zoning bylaw's definition of half story.
They're generic half stories. The applicants will request waivers if they don't meet the letter of the bylaw.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if the ridge-line of the duplexes is 40' high.
Yes, it's 40'.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if the duplexes are a little narrow and taller than the ones across the street.
Yes, that's correct.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon thinks this is a positive change.
(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak asks what the elevation of Dorothy Road is.
It's about 9.5'
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that assisted living facility is not a permitted use in the Planned Unit Development district. He asks if the applicants plan to submit a waiver request for the use.
Yes, they plan to submit a waiver.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks where the rear property line of the duplexes will be located.
The duplexes will have 10' rear yards, and the property line will be at the edge of the yard.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks what kind of planting, buffering, or screening is planned between the duplexes and the senior building.
It will be a landscaped buffer, most likely with trees and various forms of plantings.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak said he was going to ask a few questions about the drainage and stormwater management plan. He notes Mr. Hession's comment that less impervious surface will make the job easier, and asks if BETA concurs with that assessment.
One of the BETA engineers says that's generally true: more pervious surface makes it easier to manage stormwater.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak ask if they're still planning to use aggregate piles.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says they'll use aggregate piles, if they need to use piles at all.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if the blue bike station will be contemplated in the new design.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes isn't sure. She'd like to provide some adult tricycles, for independent mobility.
(Aaron Ford, ZBA) Mr. Ford thinks this is a positive change. He's concerned about construction in the 100' AURA, and asks if the senior building can be moved.
(Art Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says the challenge comes from the dimensions of the parking garage below. They can look into this, but there's not a lot of room with the townhouses on the other side.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says the rear is basically the site plan from the previous iteration, and they'd like to keep it.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the impact to the AURA is a couple of hundred square feet -- about two living rooms worth. He notes that construction in a 100' AURA is not prohibited by local bylaws. They're planning to do wetland restoration behind the building, which will consist of debris removal, invasive removal, and AURA improvements.
(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford says that's fair. He thinks the concept is significantly better, but he's concerned about losing wetland buffer.
(Kevin Mills, ZBA) Mr. Mills thinks this is an excellent revision. It was a good idea to avoid underground parking in the duplexes. The building has been raised, and that should be intuitively better for the underground flow of water. This also addresses a need for senior housing.
(Roger Dupont, ZBA) Mr. Dupont says he's trying to get a sense of the dimensional changes. He notes that the senior building is smaller than the previous apartment. He asks about the footprint of the duplexes.
Each duplex will be 40' x 40', with a 1,600 square foot footprint. With six duplexes, that's a total of 9,600 square feet.
(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks about the height of the main building.
The main building will be 50.5' above the elevation of Dorothy Road.
(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks if the building will be divided into separate independent and assisted living sections.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says yes. Roughly, the independent living space will be on the west and the assisted living on the east. But this needs further fine tuning.
(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks what will happen if someone needs to go from independent to assisted living.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they expect this to happen. They'd move to the other side of the building.
(Bob Engler) Mr. Engler says the resident would move into the first unit that opens up. If they were in an affordable independent living unit, their assisted living unit would be affordable too. The goal is to keep the ratio of affordable to market-rate units at 25% throughout the year.
(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont says he's interested in seeing the traffic calculations.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel expects more deliveries than an ordinary multi-family building would have. But he expect those to happen in the middle of the day, outside peak traffic hours.
(missed a bit here)
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says they did an assisted living project in Lower Mills. They chose that location because it was close to the T.
The chair opens the hearing to public comment.
(Susan Chapnick, Conservation Commission Chair) Ms. Chapnick appreciates the attempt to avoid wetland resource areas and floodplains, but would like to review the revised 2:1 compensatory flood storage. She says the conservation commission sometimes allows work in AURAs, but with mitigation. She believes that the earlier plans didn't encroach on the AURA. She's disappointed but understands that there's give and take.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that the garage level of the previous iteration encroached on the AURA, but the upper stories did not (there was a courtyard, with underground parking below). The garage footprint hasn't change; there's just living space above it now.
(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick questions whether the AURA was properly shown on earlier plans.
(Marta Nover, BETA) Ms. Nover says that earlier plans showed the building outside the AURA, but it was clear that there was parking below.
There's more back and fourth about this. We'll come back to this topic, after Mr. Hession has had an opportunity to pull up the earlier plans.
(Matt McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon asks why there are no basements or underground garages in the duplexes.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says that in previous hearings, residents talked about water flowing down into underground garages, and they wanted to avoid that.
(Matt McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon says this seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors. He says there's still a parking garage for the main building, and asks why they haven't raised it. He asks if basements are optional for the duplexes.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says yes. They're contemplating half or full basements.
(Matt McKinnon) Mr. McKinnon asks if basements would be installed only at the owner's request.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says they're still deciding on the basements. The storage space is useful, but they don't want them to flood.
There's more back and fourth, with Mr. McKinnon asking questions, then interrupting the applicants when they try to answer. Mr. Hanlon asks Mr. McKinnon to let the applicants answer without interruption.
(Heather Keith-Lucas) Ms. Keith-Lucas appreciates the concessions, but she's still concerned about flooding. This proposal is still in its infancy, and she hopes to get more information about drainage. She thinks the first floor of the proposed duplexes is lower than existing homes, and asks how water will flow across Dorothy Road. She's concerned about underground parking, and asks if there's a time limit where the senior building will have to be independent and assisted living. She asks how meal preparation will be handled for assisted living residents.
(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says the use will be built into the permit, and can't be changed without approval of the ZBA. The interior of this building will be different than a typical multi-family apartment. Earlier, Mr. Klipfel showed the general areas where kitchen and dining facilities would be. This can be shown in more detail during later iterations.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer is pleased to see these changes. He thinks senior housing is an improvement, but the duplexes on Dorothy Road are too tall and not in keeping with the neighborhood. Traffic will be better, and this use will avoid overcrowding at the Hardy school. He's concerned about the impact of street flooding on Dorothy Road, and asks if the bonding requirement for flood damage is being waived.
(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says she doesn't have a copy of the waiver list in front of her, and will have to get back to Mr. Seltzer.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein points out that family housing is a protected class. He advises against remarks that could be taken to discriminate against families with school-aged children.
(Marci Shapiro-Ide) Ms. Shapiro-Ide is not in favor of having anything built on this site. She's glad to see the townhouses, but thinks that 40x40 is too large. Just because people have built large homes doesn't mean we should build more of them. She works with senior housing and wonders if they can increase the number of affordable units. She thinks there's not enough affordable housing for seniors, and would like to see 100% of the assisted living units be affordable. She asks if preference can be given to local residents.
(Paul Haverty, Counsel for the town) Mr. Haverty says the board can impose a condition for local preference, but the decision is ultimately up to the subsidizing agency.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says that local preference in a community without much racial diversity is essentially giving a preference to white people. Arlington isn't that racially diverse, and he thinks the board should think long and hard before asking for a local preference requirement.
(Nicholas Ide) Mr. Ide appreciates the new draft and the senior housing. He thinks that remarks about staff taking the redline to work are making an assumption that the staff will live in Cambridge and Boston. He says it's a 16 minute walk to the train station, and thinks workers are unlikely to walk that far, especially in the winter. He asks where the workers will park. Potentially traffic patterns will shift. He's concerned about the scale of the building, and thinks the applicants are trying to push the limits. He thinks the emergency access road is too small for an ambulance, a fire truck, and a police car. He thinks the delivery area is too small. He thinks the renderings are misleading, and make the townhomes look like they're set back 300' from the road. The car in the renderings doesn't appear to be drawn at full scale, and the building's massiveness appears to be hidden.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the emergency access path is 6' wide, with reinforced earth on either side, wide enough to accommodate a fire engine. They've received turning specifications from the Arlington Fire Department and ran them through modeling software to ensure that a fire engine can navigate the road.
(GM Hakim) Mr. Hakim thanks the applicants. He thinks this more closely approaches a reasonable plan. He's concerned about fire truck access, but thinks a senior facility will be beneficial in terms of traffic. He wants to make sure we don't lose sight of all of the garbage that's accumulated on the site. He'd like to see that cleaned up before construction starts.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe asks what kind of apartments will be in the building.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they'll be a combination of studio, and one-bedroom apartments, with a few two-bedroom. There won't be any three-bedroom apartments in the senior building. The duplexes will have three bedrooms.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe asks where they plan to store snow.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the green space on the west side of the property can be used for snow storage.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe asks where the water will go when the snow melts.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the area would be graded so that snow melt flows away from abutting properties.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe thinks there are a lot of assumptions being made about vehicle use, and asks why the applicants haven't provided exact numbers.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says they're still working on an updated traffic impact assessment. They don't expect everyone to take the T, but expect that some people will. More accurate numbers will require more research, and that hasn't been done yet.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe says he doesn't understand how the applicants can come and show these diagrams when there are so many questionable things about the project.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says the preliminary parking figures were derived from the Institute of Transportation Engineers Parking Generation Manual, Fifth Edition. It's an industry-accepted source for parking estimates.
(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe says he's upset with Ms. Kiefer, because she threatened to take a 172 unit apartment building and shove it down our throats if the ZBA didn't like this plan.
(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer said her intent was to ask the board for direction about which design to pursue -- the senior housing or the previous multi-family proposal. She doesn't think that's an unreasonable think to ask.
(Anita Gyron) Ms. Gyron says that most of the discussion has been about the view from Dorothy Road. She asks how the site will look from the east.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes would like to have a conversation with the town about how to restore the wetlands in that area. She thinks it could be a wonderful prospect, but it has to be done in conjunction with the town. In the future, she hopes it could be unrecognizably beautiful.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks how they plan to clad the senior building.
(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they're planning to use panels, and go for a residential type finish, as opposed to an institutional look. He says they can take a look at the townhouse height. They'd like to construct the townhomes with modular units, to allow a faster construction time.
(Diego Gianolio) Mr. Gianolio agrees that a lot of time and effort has gone into this. He's not clear on how deep the basements will be. His garage is 4' below street level, and it gets water. He wants to make sure the applicants understand water. He asks how the modulars will be delivered, and how they'll handle overhead wires.
(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says that utility lines have to be 16' above the roadway at a minimum. The trucks delivering the modulars will have a maximum height of 13.5', so power lines shouldn't be an issue. During the pre-construction phase, they'd have an arborist selectively prune tree limbs to ensure clearance for the trucks.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they'll look at water coming into and out of the site. He says they have to accept water coming onto their site, but have the responsibility not to cause runoff onto other sites.
There's a discussion about the use of NOAA+ vs Cornell rainfall data.
There's another question about basements.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says there will be 22' feet between townhomes, and that will provide passage for groundwater. She's not sure if they'll have partial or full basements, but wouldn't want them built in a way that allows water to flow in from the outside, like the underground garages with ramps down.
(Martha Ingols) Ms. Ingols thinks there would be be more room for emergency vehicles if the applicants gave up one of the duplexes. She thinks the outdoor space is too close to route 2, and suggests a roof garden on top of the assisted living facility instead.
(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes believes the distance to route 2 is fairly considerable. There's a tract of state-owned land between route 2 and their property.
(Lisa Friedman) Ms. Friedman says she was hopeful there'd be a compromise. She's thinking about the environmental impact, and believes that any new building will cause flooding. She thinks that compromise is very important, and the new building should be as minimalistic as possible. She'd prefer the townhomes without the senior housing. She says that assisted living requires one visit a day. People's families will visit, and this will affect traffic and parking. She wants a compromise that truly benefits the neighborhood, which is just the townhomes.
No one else has their hands raised, and we go back to Ms. Chapnick's questions about the AURA.
(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the November 3rd drawings show a portion of the parking garage being built in the AURA. This was show in on the materials and building plan, but not on the drainage and grading plan. They submitted the drainage and grading plan in response to peer review comments, and that drawing tried to focus on addressing those comments.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon believes the conditions haven't changed, but there are elements the conservation commission may not have considered. They'll need to consider them now and comment. He assumes that all of this has taken place in good faith.
(More discussion about this).
End of comment period.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein encourages the applicants to think about the necessity of basements, and how to ensure they won't be a problem for new owners. We'll also need to understand the natural flow of water and how that will interact with the street drains.
(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon believes we still need more research on traffic and stormwater.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak lives in a 100-year flood plain along the Alewife Brook. Sometimes it floods; it's overland flooding as opposed to a water table that rises up into the basement. Living in a floodplain has really made him warm up to the idea of houses on pilings, and he asks the applicants consider that configuration, forgoing the basement altogether. He says there aren't many raised buildings in East Arlington, but you can find a few of them by walking along Alewife Brook.
During the public comment period, no one said "let's stick with the 172 unit apartment", so Mr. Revilak favors pursuing the new direction.
The board votes to continue the hearing until June 10th.
The board votes to extend the 180-day hearing period until June 25th.