Zoning Board of Appeals - Oct 27th, 2020

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Meeting held via video-conference. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1164.

The meeting opens with the Chair informing the board that Docket 3594 (86 River Street) has been referred to the Arlington Redevelopment Board and Docket 3636 has been withdrawn by the applicant.

The board approves minutes from their Oct 13th meeting.

The board approves the decision for 150 Summer street.

Residential Guidelines. There are two guests attending this evening to give the board a presentation on residential design guidelines. They are Emily Innes and Phillip Hu of Harriman.

Pat Hanlon is the ZBA's representative on the residential design review working group. He thinks it's been a constructive and cooperative process.

Kelly Lynema gives an introduction. She provided the ZBA with an update on the residential design guidelines process three weeks ago. The recommendation to have design guidelines came from the residential study group's report on replacement homes. The guidelines apply to single- and two-family homes in the R0, R1, and R2 zoning districts. The goal is about achieving balance between property owners and members of the community. The project has tried to be sympathetic to market needs, and to minimize the impact to approval processes. Tonight, the ZBA will see the final review copy. Feedback can be sent to Kelly Lynema by the end of next week.

Emily Innes begins the presentation. These design guidelines are intended to serve multiple audiences. For homeowners, they're a pattern book of design best practices. They're also guidelines for builders (and several builders provided feedback on them), and standards for town staff and boards. For example, the ZBA could refer to these guidelines during special permit hearings, and the building inspector could use them when reviewing building permits. The guidelines are a supplement to zoning.

Phillip Hu presents next. The design guidelines are divided into three sections: streetscape design, building design, and building elements (categories A--C). Each section contains a set of principles with examples of things to be encouraged and discouraged.

The guidelines are based on neighborhood block categories. Different areas of town have different lot sizes, and the guidelines try to be cognizant of the different neighborhoods and styles. The guidelines don't express a preference for traditional or contemporary architecture. Rather, the goal is to have houses (and alterations) that fit in with the surroundings.

There are four block categories: two-family town core, single-family small lot, single-family medium lot, and single-family large lot.

Ms. Innes and Mr. Hu ask the board if there are any questions.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks about the ZBA's role in this process.

(Emily Innes) Ms.Innes acknowledges that most projects don't come before the ZBA.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the guidelines are a statement of aspirations for what the zoning bylaw is asking for.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if planning department memos to the ZBA will include commentary that's based on the design guidelines.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says yes.

(Roger Dupont) Mr Dupont thinks the guidelines are intuitive to understand, and may be helpful with special permit hearings. He points out that a street can have several styles of homes; sometimes the differences are what contribute to "neighborhood character".

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon thinks that 3.3.3(F) is the special permit criteria that will be most applicable to these design guidelines. They may be a useful tool for resolving conflicts that arise in the hearing process.

(Aaron Ford) Mr. Ford asks if these are guidelines or requirements. He asks under which conditions would a builder have to change their design.

(Emily Innes) Ms. Innes hopes that builders who work in Arlington will become familiar with these guidelines. They're not part of the zoning bylaw, which means they're advisory.

(Kevin Mills) Mr. Mills believes that community outreach and education will be important. By the time people get to inspectional services, they already have blueprints for what they plan to do.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the planning department might want to do an annual primer on zoning, perhaps in conjunction with inspectional services. That's one way to do outreach and education.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if other communities have residential design guidelines.

(Emily Innes) Ms. Innes says that not many communities do. Here, part of the motivation was to minimize the cost of interventions (i.e., to minimize the cost of having an improved design).

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak believes that Watertown has a set of residential design guidelines. He's not aware of any other communities that do.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon says that the decisions of a lot of people will affect how well this works. It's an exercise. 4--5 years after the guidelines have been in effect, he'd like to see an evaluation of how effective they were. It would be nice to know when we'll come back to revisit these.

(Roger Dupont) Mr. Dupont agrees that education will be a challenge. Ideally, we'd want a way to refer architects to these guidelines.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein thinks it would be helpful to have links to the design guidelines near links to the zoning bylaw.

(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans states that outreach will be critical to the success of this effort. She suggests adding links from the inspectional services and ZBA pages on the town website. She says that Arlington no longer has a centralized source for local news, and suggests using the billboard in front of town hall.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says we need to figure out the right outreach strategy. ACMi is a good resource. One of the goals is to reach property owners and inform them about better design options. Land use attorneys may be another group to reach out to.