Zoning Board of Appeals - Sep 9th, 2021

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Meeting conducted via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1394.

Comprehensive Permit - Thorndike Place

The comprehensive permit proposal for Thorndike Place has gone through numerous revisions. At the ZBA's last hearing, we asked the applicants to provide a "resubmission", which consolidates all of the material for the final proposal. That's what we'll review tonight.

(Stephanie Kiefer, Attorney for the Applicant) Ms. Kiefer outlines the set of documents submitted by her team. The project really hasn't changed, they've just provided updated plans, an updated stormwater report, an updated traffic analysis, and several refinements to respond to earlier feedback.

Ms. Kiefer summarizes the history of this project. The 2016 submission consisted of a 219-unit apartment building and 12 duplex units. In the fall of 2020, this changed to a 176-unit multi-family building. In May 2020, the ZBA asked for the duplexes to be reintroduced and the project was changed to 12 duplex dwellings and 124 units of senior housing. The applicants are still amenable to providing a conservation parcel to the town, which would be about 12 acres of the site. They're planning to perform woodlands restoration in the rear of the development parcel.

(John Hession, BSC) Mr. Hession says there's been little change to the site plan during the last few months; the latest documents are to satisfy the board's request for a restated application. Plans have been updated to incorporate feedback from the Board, BETA, and town staff. The senior housing proposal always had a bicycle storage area; it will be 60' long with enough space to hold 28 bicycles. There are also two exterior bike racks. BSC provided updated layout, drainage, and materials plans.

There's an updated landscaping plan, based on the current building configuration. There's a woodlands restoration plan which involves removal of invasives, etc, within the limits of the proposed development parcel. They'll remove downed timber and revegetate with native species; this will provide more diversity to the revegetated area. Much of the area is void of vegetation due to trampling and the homeless encampment.

They've provided a turning analysis of the fire department's ladder truck, and shown it will be able to circumnavigate the building. They've also provided turning plans for the jitney van, an ambulance, and a trash truck. The fire truck will need to make a three point turn to back out of the turning circle in front of the main entrance. There's still green space planned for the western part of the site, which is currently programmed as a garden area.

Mr. Hession believes all of the outstanding items have been addressed, and suggests certain things be made conditions of the project: test pits to monitor groundwater, a construction management plan, a snow storage plan, and a maintenance and operations plan.

(Derek Roach, VAI) Mr. Roach says that VAI has updated trip generation estimates for the current version of the project. For mode split, they've taken census data, and reduced the non-auto share by half. The analysis is basically the same as the previous one. Town staff agreed with the mode split methodology. Mr. Roach says they've received a final set of review comments from BETA earlier today, and he believes all the outstanding issues have been addressed.

(Scott Vlasek, Architect) Mr. Vlasek describes changes to the colors and materials for the duplexes and independent living facility. They've also made layout changes to the garage.

Mr. Vlasek shows which duplexes will tentatively be affordable. If numbered 1--12 (west to east), the affordable ones would be #2, #6, and #11. They've varied the finish color of the duplexes, noting the variation in existing homes on the street. The duplex landscaping has been revised with more lawn and fewer shrubs. They've also added color variation on the middle two floors of the independent living building.

There are additional accessible spaces in the garage. The new plans label 10 EV spaces and ten more that will be EV ready. EV ready means that wiring will be in place, but the charging stations won't be installed until there's demand for them. There are 28 bicycle parking spaces in the bike shed, and a bike parking area in the garage for staff. There will be 84 parking spaces in the garage and 11 surface parking spaces in the front of the building. The new plans show tentative locations for affordable units. They intend to distribute them throughout the building. Mr. Vlasek notes that the subsidizing agency has final say over which units are the affordable ones.

(Kevin Mills, ZBA) Mr. Mills asks how a fire truck will reach the northeast face of the building.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession displays a diagram showing how a fire truck will access the front of the building, near the entrance. He says the fire department needs access to the full perimeter of the building, but not necessarily truck access; it has to comply with the fire code. The building will be fully sprinklered and alarmed, and that changes the exterior access requirements.

(Bill McGrath, BETA) Mr. McGrath believes the latest stormwater design will be able to manage all surface runoff on site. Grading changes will prevent runoff to Dorothy Road. The applicants still need to make a final determination of the seasonal groundwater height. They should do test pits, but it's really a question of when to gather the data. With the amount of rain we've gotten, this could be done sooner rather than later. He suggests that the applicants provide a draft construction management plan for the board's review. The draft should show basic details like construction access, phasing, and where workers will park.

(Tyler de Ruiter, BETA) Mr. de Ruiter reviewed VAI's trip generation calculations and vehicle circulation drawings. He points out that the jitney van will have to cross the driveway, but he believes the property managers can manage this by owning the van. He asks if the applicants could clarify whether cul de sac will be raised in the middle or flush with the driveway. Fire truck access to the perimeter of the building will be provided by a 6' paved path and 14' of reinforced grass. He'll defer to the fire chief with respect to whether this is adequate.

(Susan Chapnick, Conservation Commission Chair) Ms. Chapnick notes that BETA felt the project complied with several regulations for which waivers are being sought. She'd like to know if the applicant can remove those waiver requests.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer asks Ms. Chapnick to clarify what she meant by "removed". She'd like to know if Ms. Chapnick is asking for the waiver requests to be withdrawn or denied. Some of the waiver requests involve process, while others are more substantive. Ms. Kiefer believes the process waivers are just a belt and suspenders approach (i.e., reflecting how the comprehensive permit subsumes all local permits).

With respect to land subject to flooding, Ms. Kiefer agrees that they've meet the substantive requirements; they are asking for a process waiver.

For vegetation removal (Section 24 of the town wetlands bylaw), Ms. Kiefer felt that BETA's recommendation was ambiguous.

With respect to Section 25, BETA's comments noted that the work will provide benefits to the resource area. She's unclear if BETA is suggesting the waiver request be denied or withdrawn. Ms. Kiefer asks if BETA can provide a clarification.

(Marta Nover, BETA) Regarding Section 24, Ms. Nover doesn't recommend granting the waiver because there will be significant restoration in the conservation parcel. BETA believes the adjacent upland resource area (AURA) waiver shouldn't be granted because the project meets the standards of the local bylaw, and a waiver would eliminate the presumed significance of the resource area. She also wanted BETA's recommendations to be consistent with the other 40B project in town.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer feels that a presumption of significance isn't a performance standard. This project will go before the Conservation Commission to verify compliance with the state wetlands protection act. Although the Conservation Commission recommended withdrawal, Ms. Kiefer would like to see the sections waived as necessary to complete work shown on the plans.

(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick says the Conservation Commission recommended withdrawal for the other 40B, because their restoration plans were more detailed, and there were conditions that addressed vegetation requirements in Section 24.E. She says the Conservation Commission agrees with BETA's suggestion to deny the waivers for Sections 24 and 25.

Regarding the rain gardens and woodlands restoration, Ms. Chapnick doesn't feel the Conservation Commission has enough information to tell if the restoration will be viable. She'd like the Conservation Commission to review the woodland restoration and invasive management plans.

(Steve Revilak, ZBA) Mr. Revilak has a question about the bicycle shed in front of the building. He'd like to know if it will be covered, secured, and suitable for storing bicycles during inclement weather.

(?) Yes, the bike shed will be covered and secured.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak reviewed the traffic impact assessment. He thinks it looks like the project will generate one addition trip every 2--3 minutes during peak hours. He asks if that's correct.

(?) Yes, that's correct.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak's final question deals with bonding under Title V, Article 8, Section 11 of the town bylaws. He asks if the Conservation Commission could offer a suggestion on what the bonding amount would be.

It appears that Ms. Chapnick might have stepped off the call; no one offers an answer. Mr. Revilak believes we don't need a dollar amount tonight, but the board should have this information when we're deliberating the decision.

(Pat Hanlon, ZBA) While the project summary states that the independent living facility is for residents 62+, Mr. Hanlon is interested in a projection of the average age. Earlier in this process, there was talk about residents being in their 60--70's, and another person said 80--90's. He asks if the applicants have a better estimate.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer estimates mid-70's through 90's. Age restricted housing is usually 55+ or 62+, and this is a 62+ design.

(Gwen Noyes, Architect) Ms. Noyes says they've been working with a potential operator to get a sense of the market. She believes the averages will be in the 70's or 80's, but that's a marketing evaluation.

(Bob Engler) Mr. Engler believes the average will be in the mid 80's, but there will be a range. It also depends on people's health. Some people in that age range can be frail, while others can be quite healthy.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon asks if the ITE trip estimates are based on age 55+, noting the projected age here is different.

(Derek Roach) Mr. Roach says the ITE estimates are based on age 55+, so he believes they're a conservative estimate for trip generation. In reality, there's likely to be fewer trips.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon agrees that it's a conservative estimate. He asks if the assumption is that not everyone will drive.

(Derek Roach) Mr. Roach says yes, that's correct.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon gets the sense that this project really won't move the needle on the total number of trips in the area. He asks if that's a fair statement.

(Derek Roach) Mr. Roach believes the facility won't make much difference to the number of auto trips in the area.

(Pat Hanlon) On the subject of waivers, Mr. Hanlon believes the current proposal is generally in compliance with local bylaws. He asks if someone could highlight areas that are not in compliance.

(Susan Chapnick) Mr. Chapnick agrees with Mr. Hanlon, and that's why she suggested several waiver requests be withdrawn. Our bylaws allow work in the outer 25' of an AURA, subject to certain conditions. She feels that the Conservation Commission doesn't have enough information to tell if the applicants will meet the conditions in Section 25. She says the board could ask for more information now, require more information as a condition, or grant the waiver request. She recommends not granting the waiver.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer believes the board can consider waiver requests. She's not sure that denying and imposing conditions serves much purpose. She notes that the board cannot impose a condition subsequent.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon thinks it's more important to understand what we're dealing with, and he thinks the two parties aren't very far apart. Over the course of the hearing, we've touched on the question of why this project won't exacerbate flooding in the neighborhood. He wonders if the applicants can provide a summary document; basically, just a finding of facts. He thinks that would be very helpful. The summary could involve groundwater and the town's stormwater system. He's not looking for new information; just to have the existing information marshaled together.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Hanlon -- a summary memo would be helpful.

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein has a question about the rain garden. He thinks that more definition will help in understanding its function. He asks what the common area in the garage level will be used for.

(Scott Vlasek) Mr. Vlasek says that area isn't fully defined yet. It could be used as a common area, or as overflow parking, or for tricycle storage.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein notes that Lake Street is signed "no heavy trucking". He asks if there's any concern about being able to operate the facility without heavy trucks.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says there's no concern; building management should be able to address the matter.

(Arthur Klipfel, Architect) Mr. Klipfel says they'll be able to control the size of delivery trucks, along with the timing of deliveries.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein has suggestions regarding the finish color of the townhouses. All of them have the same three colors. He suggests keeping the gray and red, but varying the yellow.

(Art Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they'll be happy to do that.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says that three test pits were installed last year. He asks if they've been monitored, or if they were for one-time use.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they were one time pits; monitoring wells weren't installed.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein summarizes the differences between Arlington's inclusionary zoning and 40B. He asks how inclusionary zoning is handled by the subsidizing agency.

(Bob Engler) Mr. Engler acknowledges that the town has different rates than the state. He believes that using the town's rates would make the project uneconomic, given that they've reduced the size of the building.

(Paul Haverty, Council to the town) Mr. Haverty says that 40B sets eligibility at 80% AMI, but believes units are priced at 70%.

(Bob Engler) Mr. Engler says the state allows rental units to be priced at 80% AMI.

There are no further questions from the board, and the chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Patricia Browne) Ms. Browne is in the process of putting her parents in assisted living. She didn't understand the care and management model. She asks whether the independent living building will be just apartments, or if meals will be served.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says the development is independent living with services. There will be an operator on site, and they'll provide scheduling assistance and so on.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says there will be an organized dinner each night, with wait staff. Dinner will be available to any resident that wants it. There will be two staff on site all day. Also activities, and a jitney van for transport.

(Gwen Noyes) Ms. Noyes says this is based on advice from an experienced operator, who also suggested having an exercise rooms and exam rooms. Ms. Noyes says they haven't selected the operator yet.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says there's also a lot of common space.

(Patricia Browne) Ms. Browne says she didn't see a dining room shown on the plans. She asks if she's missed this.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they haven't yet detailed how the common spaces will be used. He expects that different operators will want to do things differently, but the area by the back porch is a likely spot for the dining room.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore's two main issues are traffic and flooding, and perhaps diversity. She suggests that the building be over-designed. We're moving trees and vegetation, which helps to control flooding. He wants to make a pitch for over-designing to control flooding.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein points out that the applicants used a model with higher rainfall amounts (NOAA14+).

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that under 40B, projects are only required to comply with Massachusetts stormwater standards. The stormwater management was originally designed to local regulations (i.e., Cornell rainfall model), and then to NOAA14+. The state standard for compensatory flood storage is 1:1. Local regulations require 2:1 compensatory flood storage, and they've met that requirement. They've also looked at Cambridge's flood modeling for the Alewife area, and their estimates for a 100-year sea level rise/storm surge event in 2070. The first floors are above that elevation. Mr. Hession thinks there's been a lot of effort to design to a higher standard with respect to stormwater management.

(Larry Krupp) Mr. Krupp says that anyone who knows the area knows how congested Lake Street is. He asks how many additional vehicles there'll per day, and what kinds of vehicles are included in that amount.

(Derek Roach) Mr. Roach expects a total of 400 additional vehicle trips per day, based on ITE trip generation standards.

(Larry Krupp) Mr. Krupp asks if the trip estimate is applicable for this population.

(Derek Roach) Mr. Roach says they used a senior living code that generates a higher number of trips than they're actually expecting. He believes that 400 trips a day is a conservative (i.e., high) estimate.

(Larry Krupp) Mr. Krupp asks if this considers all vehicle uses.

(Derek Roach) Mr. Roach says yes, the ITE trip generation considers all trips.

(Larry Krupp) Mr. Krupp says that means nearly 3000 additional trips/week onto Lake Street. To him, that's a huge number.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel expects the majority of trips to this facility to happen outside of peak commuting hours. Most residents won't commute, so they'll have the option of traveling off-peak hours.

(Derek Roach) Mr. Roach says that ITE estimates anticipate that most trips will happen during peak hours. What Mr. Klipfel is saying is that that in reality, this facility will be different.

(Larry Krupp) Mr. Krupp doesn't think the applicants will have any control over when people travel. "Yikes" is all he has to say.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks if there's a waiver request for the town's tree bylaw.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says they've requested a waiver.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks how many trees they plan to remove from the site.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the applicants can speak to the different areas of the project: the building, the areas for compensatory flood storage, the conservation land, and so on.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer notes that the tree bylaw only applies to trees in the 10' property setback.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks how many trees.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they don't have a number yet. The waiver request says the applicants agree to submit a tree plan to the board. They'll do this, but they don't have the numbers now. He believes it will depend on the final boundary of the development parcel, which is 5.66 acres.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks if they'll essentially replace the trees.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they'll replace them with 2.5" caliper trees, or pay $500/tree into the town's tree fund.

(Note: these are the requirements of the 2016 town tree bylaw, which is when the application was filed.)

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks if there will be a watering plan, and she objects to a waiver if the applicants are complying with the bylaw.

Ms. Stamps refers to a sketch of the building entrance, and asks if there will be an overhang, awning, or any form of shade.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says the entrance is on the north side of the building, which means it will be shaded most of the time.

(Scott Vlasek) Mr. Vlasek says they could potentially place benches near the entrance. They hadn't conceived of the entrance as a gathering area.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith is all about water and flooding. When there's a lot of rain, the municipal stormwater system can't handle all that it gets. She asks if the site will put any water into the municipal stormwater system.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says there will be no stormwater runoff from the site to the municipal stormwater system. The garage is designed so that it won't flood. There will be no pumping of water from the garage to the municipal stormwater system.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith says she's concerned about on-site storm retention ponds.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says there are subsurface infiltration systems, and groundwater mounding analysis shows no impact off site. At an earlier hearing, a geotechnical engineer from McPhail also stated that offsite properties wouldn't be affected.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith is also concerned about the capacity of the sewage system. She says there have been issues with the sewage system during flooding. She asks if anyone can assure her the system will have adequate capacity.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says this has been addressed in earlier comments. It's our responsibility to deal with local deficiencies. He understands the town has been undergoing and inflow and infiltration study, but he's not sure where that stands.

(Jennifer Griffith) Ms. Griffith has serious concerns about the capacity of the sewer system, and thanks the ZBA for all of their work.

(Nicholas Ide) Mr. Ide is concerned about the number of vehicle trips, which could be as high as one trip every two minutes. Lake Street is the only way out of the site. Mr. Ide says the turning analysis for the trucks delivering the modulars shows them brushing the curb, and snow removal won't allow for that. Clearing snow mounds from the road will block his driveway. He asks who will clear snow for the trucks, and says this development is too big for the neighborhood.

(Stephanie Kiefer) Ms. Kiefer says she doesn't know that winter is the optimal time for construction. Regardless, delivery of the modulars will be coordinated with the fire department, police department, and DPW. This will be covered in the construction management plan. She believes these questions can be best addressed when they have a contractor on board. She says they'd be amenable to doing a website to show the construction schedule.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel says they won't do modular construction during the winter. He says that modular delivery will take a matter of weeks, not months.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon notes BETA's point about starting with a draft construction management plan, and filling it in over time. He hopes the board can discuss this over the next few weeks.

(Sarah Augood) Ms. Augood has three comments. First, she'd like to thank the ZBA for the time they've put in to review this application, and she thanks Mr. Hanlon for requesting a memo on flood mitigation. She says her neighborhood has had excessive basement flooding in the last 7--10 days. Her primary concern is flooding. She's had surface water inches below her driveway opening, and Mary Street was completely flooded. She asks if compensatory flood storage considers the amount of water absorbed by large and small trees.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says these are two different things. Compensatory flood storage and floodplain capacity aren't related to the number of trees. They're providing 2:1 compensatory flood storage, which indirectly provides a margin of safety. Stormwater management recharges groundwater to pervious areas, which isn't the same thing as trees drinking rainfall.

(Sarah Augood) Ms. Augood thinks there will be a difference if the applicants build nothing at all, but replace one large tree with a 2.5" tree. She asks if the amount of water trees consume is taken into consideration. She believes that many of the trees are larger than 10", and replacing some of these with 2.5" trees won't absorb the same amount of water.

(Lisa Friedman) Ms. Friedman wishes to speak about traffic. Between 4pm and 7pm, you can only enter the area via Burch St. She sees lots of cars coming down Mott Street, and believes lots of them turn onto Thorndike Street. She thinks there will be no parking available, and that this lovely family-oriented community can't handle an additional 400 vehicle trips. She thinks that development is inevitable. Townhouses would be fine; she's only concerned about the senior housing. She thinks that many aspects of her neighborhood will be jeopardized.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if there are trip counts for the existing uses.

(Derek Roach) Mr. Roach says he doesn't have daily volumes for all of the side streets, only peak hour volumes. Mr. Roach says he could count up all of the homes in the area and try to do an ITE trip generation analysis of that.

(Lisa Friedman) Ms. Friedman says the board also has to consider the dog park, Thorndike Field, and people who park their cars to take the T at Alewife.

(Arthur Klipfel) Mr. Klipfel believes that senior housing will generate fewer trips than the prior proposal.

(Pat Hanlon) Mr. Hanlon thinks there's a certain degree of people talking past one another. He says he's hearing an argument that daily counts might matter in a way that's different than peak counts.

(Shona Gibson) Ms. Gibson is a nurse practitioner. She asks if there will be one or two-way traffic on Littlejohn and Dorothy Road.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says the senior housing will have one main entrance, on the corner of Littlejohn and Dorothy.

(Shona Gibson) Ms. Gibson says there will be emergency vehicles. She's concerned that fire trucks will have to back up. We're talking about folks in their 70's through their 90's. One of her patients was hit by a garbage truck, and she's worried about folks congregating in front of the building near traffic. When people get older, their abilities diminish, and she's concerned about older residents not getting out of the way. She says the independent living facility will dwarf her neighborhood, and there will be lots of unintended consequences.

(Martha Ingols) Ms. Ingols says that the idea that you'll have this population that doesn't go anywhere during rush hour seems like bait and switch. She says it's not moral. There's no retail in this area. She suggests including a convenience store on-site.

There are no further comments from the public.

The board and applicant discuss the feasibility of having a set of draft conditions to discuss on September 28th.

We'll plan to have an updated draft decision on September 28th.

There's a motion to extend the public hearing period to Oct 8th. Passes.

There's a motion to continue the hearing until Oct 5th at 6:30pm. Passes.

Upcoming Dates

  • Sep 14. Three hearings.
  • Oct 5. Review draft decision for Thorndike Place.
  • Oct 12. Five hearings.
  • Oct 26. 2--3 hearings.

Meeting adjourned.