Zoning Board of Appeals - Oct 6th, 2020

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Meeting held via video-conference.

Update on Residential Design Guidelines Development. DPCD Senior Planner Kelly Lynema gives the board a presentation on efforts to develop a set of residential design guidelines. These guidelines will apply to single- and two-family districts: R0, R1, and R2. The goal is to address the needs of neighborhood residents, and the ability of property owners to make changes to their property. We don't want to impose a high cost burden. The guidelines address design, and are intended to be flexible. We're still working on what an appropriate review process will be.

The Residential Design Guidelines working group looked at existing conditions and conducted a visual preferences survey. Harriman (consultant for the project) has written a draft set of guidelines. The working group will provide feedback by October, which will be followed by public review. The project is scheduled to wrap up later in the year.

Harriman defined a set of fuzzy neighborhood boundaries, for the purpose of identifying architectural styles.

Issues that have been raised with residential construction: additions that look out of context, construction that's out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood, and parking that dominates the building facade.

The current intention is to provide guidelines that are visual and not too prescriptive. They'll address massing, siting, urban design principles, building design, and building elements.

The guidelines will be based on block categories. There will be pictures to show design elements that are encouraged and those that are discouraged. Harriman is working on identifying a suitable review process for applying these guidelines to residential construction projects.

These guidelines were presented to the ARB last night. Harriman can make a more detailed presentation to this board in the future.

Steve Revilak has a number of questions. First, he agrees with the idea of having visual guidelines that aren't too prescriptive. Arlington has a range of topographies, many non-conforming buildings and lots, and the results of the visual preference survey show a wide range of aesthetic sensibilities.

Mr. Revilak notes a chart on page 14 of the report which appeared in the packet for last night's ARB meeting. The chart shows how FAR and area/unit in new construction have changed over time. There's a pronounced upward trend in both, starting around 1980. He asks Ms. Lynema if this trend is specific to Arlington, or if it's occurred in other municipalities. Ms. Lynema says it's a larger trend, and basically nationwide. People want more room in their houses.

Mr. Revilak says that a project like this involves striking a number of balances. For example, there's the balance between a household that needs more space for their kids vs an abutter that may not like the way an addition looks. There's also a balance between trying to keep neighborhood aesthetics roughly as they are vs allowing them to evolve over time, as they've done for the last hundred years or so. He asks if the working group discussed how to weigh these tradeoffs, and how those discussions went.

Ms. Lynema says there are multiple goals, and multiple audiences. The intention is to express general community preferences. The visual examples are meant to express ideas, and perhaps to make homeowners aware of things they hadn't thought of.

Thorndike Place Hearing Schedule. Chairman Christian Klein provides an update on Thorndike Place. The petitioners have made significant changes to the proposal, which were recently presented to the Conservation Commission. BSC delivered updated design plans between 9/22 and 9/29; these will be put on the ZBA website soon. BSC will present the updated plans to the ZBA on Oct 13th. The traffic study is scheduled for review on Nov 10th.

The new design is significantly smaller than the previous iteration. When presented to the conservation commission, the discussion focused mainly on wetlands.

The ZBA requested an updated list of waivers and a delivery schedule for documents. The petitioners have provided this list.

Mr. Klein says a number of correspondences have been sent to the ZBA's mailing address. These will be distributed soon.

Docket 3594, 72--74 Grafton Street. Attorney Robert Annese presents for the petitioners. A family firm is redeveloping this two-family house at 72--74 Grafton Street. This special permit was originally approved in 2019, with a requirement that the roof pitch be 2:12 or steeper. During construction, someone realized that the stairway to the third floor lacked sufficient headroom to comply with the state building code, and added a small dormer to provide the required clearance. This small dormer wasn't in the plans approved by the ZBA in 2019.

The petitioner applied for a building permit in January 2020; once they obtained the permit, they proceeded to build. However, the roof was constructed with a pitch that was flatter than 2:12. One of the firm's principal builders contracted COVID and was hospitalized for several days. That's when the roof was built.

An abutter reported the non-conforming roof pitch to inspectional services. The building inspector noticed the small dormer over the staircase when investigating the complaint. As a result, inspectional services issued a stop work order. Mr. Annese was hired at this time. The project architect has inspected the site, and confirmed inspectional services's observations.

The petitioner seeks an amendment to their 2019 special permit. They're submitting a redesigned roof, which conforms to the 2:12 slope requirement, and satisfies the ZBL definition of half-story.

Kevin Mills asks about square footage on the third floor. The third floor is 757 square feet, and the second floor is 1518 square feet. The third floor has slightly less than 50% of the area on the second floor.

Pat Hanlon points out that one of the conditions in the original special permit was that there be no deviation from the approved plans without the express, written permission of this board. He thinks it's unacceptable to build first and then ask for permission afterwards. He asks how this happened (referring to the small dormer over the stairs to the third floor).

Mr. Annese says that everyone missed this detail. It was caught by a citizen, who reported the deviation to Inspectional Services. He reiterates that the builders are a family firm, and the matter was complicated by a principal in that firm coming down with COVID.

Mr. Hanlon says that at some point along the way, someone realized that the dormer was necessary to achieve the necessary height on the stairs, and must have noticed that it wasn't in the plans.

Mr. Annese agrees that mistakes were made. He doesn't believe there was devious intent on behalf of the applicant. Mr. Annese says that as an attorney, he normally doesn't make a habit of visiting his client's site to verify compliance. He says he may start doing this in the future.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Chris Loretti) Mr. Loretti says that he may have been the citizen who filed the complain with inspectional services, but doesn't know for sure. He thinks it's unfortunate that the matter wasn't remedied some time ago. He asks the board to take a look at the definition of half-story in the zoning bylaw. He says the measurement of 1500 square feet on the second floor seems too big. He asks that plans submitted to the board be more legible. Mr. Loretti is perplexed by the issue of the stairwell, and says that all of these houses have terrible clearance on the stairway to the third floor.

Mr. Loretti asks if there is a "permit set" of plans that the ZBA signs off when issuing approvals. Mr. Klein says that board has not traditionally done that, but he'll take the suggestion under advisement.

The board discussion the set of conditions to issue for the amended special permit.

Mr. Hanlon would like to put people on notice that builders must come back to this board if there's a need to change building plans from what the board approved.

Board approves the amended special permit, 5--0.

Docket 3605, 150 Summer Street. The petitioner is appealing the decision of the building inspector.

This is an interesting case. The parcel in question is a two-family home on summer street. There's a driveway along the side, and parking for four cars in the rear. The owner has always provided four parking spaces, two per unit.

The building inspector disagreed with the property owners request to repave the driveway and the parking area. Part of the parking area is currently paved, and part is broken up asphalt and dirt. A surveyor's plot plan shows this as "disturbed area".

The heart of the issue is our ZBL's requirements for residential parking. It states that driveways can be no more than 20' wide, and that residential parking can only be done in a garage, or on a driveway which leads to the required off-street parking. The wording is ambiguous. Read literally, one could have a driveway that leads to a four-car garage, but one can't have a driveway that leads to an unenclosed area with parking for four cars. Put another way, the parking regulations for residential uses do not allow for any form of parking lot.

There was discussion of having two rows of tandem parking (two cars each). Members of the board seemed to agree that this would not be in the interest of public safety. Summer street is generally busy, and it would be preferable not to have vehicles backing out into the street more often than necessary.

Ultimately the board decided that the use for four parking spaces was not changing; repaving would be permitted, as this was a pre-existing non-conforming use.

Board votes to allow repaving of the driveway and parking spaces, 4--1 (Kevin Mills dissenting).

Docket 3634, 21 Oakledge Street. Petitioner is seeking a variance, and relief from required side yard setbacks.

The petitioners would like to add a 3/4 bath to the first floor of their home. Their lot is very small and non-conforming (2,816 square feet in a district that requires a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet). The proposed 3/4 bath would extend 1.6' into the 10' required side yard setback.

Given the floor plan of the home, the size of the lot, and the shape of the lot, there's really no where else to put the proposed bathroom. The house currently has one bathroom. The family has several young kids, and the homeowners expect to need a second bathroom as the kids get older.

The petitioners submitted a letter from their neighbor, who support the addition of a small bathroom on the side of the house.

The board reviews each of the four requirements for granting a variance, and believes those requirements are met.

Variance approved.

Application Forms. The board reviews updates to the application forms for special permits and variances.