Zoning Board of Appeals - Oct 13th, 2020

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Meeting held via video-conference. Meeting materials available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1161

Approvals. The board approves their Minutes from Oct 6th, along with decisions for 21 Oakledge St. and 72--74 Grafton St.

Thorndike Place Comprehensive Permit. Chair Christian Klein begins with a review of the 180-day hearing schedule. We are currently on day 49, and the 180th day would occur on Feb. 21, 2021. Since we've recently received a new set of design drawings (and since more detailed plans have yet to be drafted), Mr. Klein asks Arlington Land Realty if they'd like to stay the hearing until Nov 24th. Stephanie Kiefer (attorney for the petitioner) will have to consult with her clients before providing an answer.

The board received Attorney Kiefer's update on the petitioner's completeness review. The board will suspend the completeness review until the petitioner submits updated materials, corresponding to the new design plan.

Patrick Hanlon notes that the board has a lot of information left to address, and that information will need to be provided soon.

Peer Review funding. Mr. Klein says the board will need additional funding to cover the cost of peer review. Mr. Kiefer would like copies of BETA's invoices and written details on how the funds have been spent so far. The board motions to request an addition $30,000 to cover additional peer review fees, and the motion carries.

Next, a presentation on the updated design plan.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says the petitioners have worked on a new conceptual design, based on comments received so far. New design drawings were submitted on September 28th, and they had a working session with the conservation commission on Oct 1st. They'll present the new design to the ZBA tonight. The new design tries to minimize impacts to adjacent upland resource areas (AURAs); they reduced the building footprint, moved it forward on the property, and eliminated the townhouses. They'd like the process to be iterative.

(John Hession, BSC) Mr. Hession walks the board through the new concept design, which tries to minimize impacts to resource areas. BSC plans to do fieldwork on Thursday, where they'll adjust their wetlands delineation. They'll complete their field data sheets and send copies to BETA for review, hopefully by EOD on Friday.

Mr. Hession shows the March 2020 plan (previous iteration), and points out the wetland resource areas, the 25' no-disturb zone, and the 100' buffer zone. He also shows a table depicting the number of square feet of impact to different types of regulated areas.

Mr. Hession goes on to show the September 2020 plan (current iteration). The main building has been pulled forward, closer to Dorothy Road. There are places where the building footprint intersects with the FEMA 100-year flood plain. These intersections are at the upper end of the flood plain's elevation, and Mr. Hession believes they'll be able to provide compensatory storage.

They're still refining the design, but expect to have 175--180 units total. Surface parking is almost entirely eliminated. The current plan has a guest parking lot in the northwest corner, but that may not be needed. That area could also be used for compensatory flood storage.

Mr. Hession talks about the tradeoffs between providing 1:1 compensatory storage (per State Law) vs 2:1 compensatory storage (Arlington Bylaw). He believes they can provide 2:1 compensatory storage, but that would involve disruption to some AURAs. The current condition and value of the AURAs will influence that decision. He'd like feedback in this regard.

There are three "tabs" on the front of the building. These will be three stories high, while the spine and rear of the building will be four stories. Mr. Hession notes several courtyard areas near the street.

(Scott Thornton, VAI, traffic engineers) Mr. Thornton provides an update on the traffic study. They have a mix of traffic data to work with, including traffic counts at a number of intersections that BETA recommended including in the study. Traffic volumes have started to come back, and these counts were recently gathered. September traffic is approximately 26% below normal for the month of September. VAI and BETA need to agree on some of the study parameters, and the study should be available shortly after that agreement has been reached.

(Susan Chapnick, Conservation Commission) Ms. Chapnick would like to make a few comments regarding the Conservation Commission's letter to the ZBA. Overall, the Conservation Commission was pleased with the new site plans, but there are several issues she'd like to point out. She says the current wetlands delineation in not a legal delineation under state or town bylaws. The applicant will need to provide storage and runoff calculations for the new design. Ms. Chapnick reiterates the Conservation Commission's preference for 2:1 compensatory flood storage. She says there should be a review of the habitat and vegetation in the AURAs, because that will affect the options for providing Compensatory flood storage.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has questions in three areas: flooding, transportation and parking.

Mr. Revilak asks what the first floor elevation of the building will be. Mr. Hession says 12'. Mr. Revilak is happy to hear this. He's been examining Cambridge's Alewife CCPR handbook, and believes that 12' falls above their modeling for a 100-year SLR/SS event in 2070.

Mr. Revilak asks if the traffic study will consider other forms of mobility. The development is close to the Alewife T station (a major transit center) and to the Minuteman bikeway. He asks how those proximities will be factored in to the traffic study. Mr. Thornton says that proximity will be incorporated as a reduction to the estimated number of car trips.

Finally, Mr. Revilak asks about parking. From BSC's working discussion with the conservation commission, he recalls them thinking about providing 1.4--1.5 parking spaces per unit. Mr. Revilak says the intent of 40B is to promote the construction of low to moderate income housing in cities and towns where local restrictions hamper such construction, and he believes our ZBL's parking requirements stray into that realm. For example, we require a minimum of 1 parking space/unit for 1--3 family homes, regardless of the number of bedrooms. On the other hand, we require 1.5 spaces per two-bedroom apartment. He thinks it would be reasonable for the board to require fewer spaces, particularly if that made it easier to provide 2:1 compensatory storage. Mr. Revilak would like to see how the other board members feel about this.

(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford would like to see drawings showing the building elevation in context with the surrounding neighborhood. He's personally hesitant about reducing parking requirements too much. Mr. Hessian says they're going to try to meet the parking requirements in the ZBL. He doesn't think they'll need a waiver.

(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks if the traffic studies have considered peak usage at Thorndike field, because that affects the traffic on Lake Street. He says the standard practice is to take an average month, and identify periods of peak traffic. These peaks are generally between 7:00--9:00 am and 4:00--6:00 pm.

Mr. Thornton asks if the town has done any sort of mitigation for traffic to and from Thorndike field. Mr. Dupont isn't aware of any. Mr. Thornton says he'll check with the planning department staff.

(Shawn O'Rourke) Mr. O'Rourke asks when the board will discuss the conservation commission's requests. He'd like a clearer picture of the process for doing so.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks Mr. Hession about the conservation commissions request for a habitat and vegetation study.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says BSC plans to perform that study, as the commission asked.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says their next submittal package will have enough information to perform a review of stormwater management. However, if there's back and fourth during that hearing, the discussion may carry over to the following hearing. We may have two topics during some of the hearing nights.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the traffic studies will take delivery services into account. Mr. Thornton says yes, to the extent that those trips appear in traffic counts.

Mr. Klein asks if BSC will perform the wildlife and habitat study the conservation commission has requested. Mr. Hession says that the will.

Mr. Klein asks how space outside of the building will be utilized. Ms. Kiefer says they want to preserve the open space. She'll be able to provide a more concrete description of what that means at the next meeting.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills notes that the March 2020 plans had footpaths in the open space, but they were removed in the September 2020 plans. He suggests having one path between the building and the Alewife T station. Mr. Hession acknowledges the removal of the paths. He says they can work with the Conservation Commission on a path design, provided that it won't cause too much disruption to resource areas.

Mr. Mills suggests that without a path, people will just tramp through and create their own. Mr. Hession says he'll see what they can work into the design.

There are no more questions from the board, and the Chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe expresses her appreciation for the care that the ZBA is putting into this process. She's concerned about the open space portion of the land, and where the money to care for it will come from. There's a lot of debris on the property (from the homeless population that lives there) and Ms. Rowe thinks the owners should be responsible for cleaning it up. She says that Arlington Land Trust is willing to work with the property owner in this regard.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says he's found differences between the 100-year flood plain shown on the plans, and FEMA's floodplain maps. he believes that 50,000 square feet of the project will lie within the 100-year flood plain.

(John Yurewicz) Mr. Yurewicz would like to know the lowest grade of the parking lot. He asks about the number of parking spaces. He says that traffic in the area is very backed up, outside of COVID.

Mr. Hession says the first floor elevation is 12'. Dorothy road is 9'. The lowest level of parking will be at 1', or 8' below Dorothy Road.

Mr. Yurewicz asks if the neighborhood will have the opportunity to comment at a public meeting.

(Erin Fruberger) Mr. Fruberger is concerned about two safety issues. She says there have been fires on the property, and occasional visits from the Fire Department. She says there are also rats in east Arlington, and the Board of health thinks they're a significant issue. She believes the rats are coming from the Mugar property, and asks at what point is the property owner is responsible. She believes the owners won't be responsible landlords.

Public comment ends, and discussion moves back to the board.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes the small road shown around the perimeter of the building. Although we didn't discuss it tonight, the Conservation Commission discussed it during their meeting on Oct 1st. The road is intended to provide access for emergency vehicles, like fire trucks. Mr. Revilak mentions this in response to an earlier public comment.

(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont asks if the board should take a vote on asking the applicant to address concerns raised in the Conservation Commission's letter. Mr. Dupont says he wouldn't be surprised if the undeveloped property is a habitat for rats. He wonders if they'd be displaced by construction, and if anything could be done about that.

(Rick Valarelli) Mr. Valarelli says that inspectional services and the health department handle rodent issues.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein urges that petitioners to review Cambridge's CCPR handbook for the Alewife district. Although that document was written with the other side of route 2 in mind, he believes it's applicable to the project here.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes the earlier question about elevation of the garage floor. He'd like to see pumping infrastructure shown on more detailed plans (i.e., how water would be removed from the parking garage after a flood).

The board discusses motions.

There's a question about whether the traffic study can be done in time for Nov 10th. The study may be complete by then, but BETA might not have sufficient time for peer review.

(Marta Nover, BETA) Ms. Nover believes that BETA will need two weeks to review the study and draft a written response. The board entertains the idea of discussing the traffic study on Dec 8th, rather than Nov 10th.

(Paul Haverty) Mr. Haverty was concerned about the discussion about compensatory flood storage and parking. He thinks it would be beneficial to minimize the amount of paved surface, and wonders if the applicant could do a parking study.

(Scott Thornton) Mr. Thornton says that, in general, developments are providing less parking than our ZBL requires. They've been more interested in complying with those provisions, rather than seeking a waiver.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon suggests the applicants treat the parking issue as one of competing values. There may be a tradeoff between parking and environmental concerns.

(Paul Haverty) Mr. Haverty notes that the number of parking spaces is a moot point, if the applicant is able to provide 2:1 flood storage.

Hearing continued to Nov 24th.