Zoning Bylaw Amendments Neighborhood Meeting - Mar 28th, 2019

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The planning department is holding a series of neighborhood outreach meetings, to inform town meeting members about the proposed zoning bylaw amendments. This meeting was held at the Pierce school.

Erin Zwirko presents. There are many amendments this year. They fall into the categories of housekeeping, procedural changes, compliance, and changes to meet the goals of the master plan. The master plan has a range of goals, including healthy neighborhoods and a strong local economy. The master plan recommends mixed use, more multi-family housing, and more affordable housing. It contemplates taller buildings along the town's main corridors, in order to provide more commercial and residential space. The master plan also recommends protecting existing residential neighborhoods.

Ms. Zwirko moves on to the housing production plan. We are an economically diverse community where the cost of housing is increasing faster than wages. We need a diversity of housing options, and housing that is more affordable. One-third of Arlington residents are housing burdened, which means they spend 30% or more of their income on housing.

The town adopted mixed use zoning in 2016. So far, it's had limited results.

This year's zoning amendments were developed by the Arlington Redevelopment board, the Master Plan Implementation Committee, the Department of Planning and Community Development, with consulting services provided by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. The amendments affect the town's B (business) districts, and R4--R7, which are the higher density residential districts.

Two pathways emerged during the ARB hearings. Articles 6--14 could be considered as originally written, or their provisions could be incorporated into article 16 as density bonuses. The ARB unanimously preferred the density bonus approach.

Article 16 focuses on affordable housing. Our current inclusionary zoning requirements are for 15% affordable units, in developments containing six units or more. Under the proposed amendment, we'd have a 15% affordability requirement for 6--19 units, and a 20% affordability requirement for 20 units or more. Projects that produce more affordable units than required will be eligible for these density bonuses. Smaller projects of 4--5 units would also be eligible.

Question: will affordable units be affordable in perpetuity?


Question: What criteria makes a balcony eligible for usable open space?

The balcony has to be of a certain size.

Article 9 (Townhouses) expands the number of units permitted in a townhouse structure.

Article 10 (Upper story step backs) was incorporated into article 16.

Article 11 proposed a change to height buffers. The ARB decided to leave the height buffers as they are. The ARB can reduce the buffers, if the applicant performs shadow studies and demonstrates that their design will have negligible shadow or glare impacts on abutting properties.

Article 12 (Corner Lots) received a no-action vote. The ARB felt the existing regulations were fine.

Article 13 (Parking requirements) was incorporated into article 16. The ARB recommended a tiered parking requirement, rather than one space per unit.

Article 14 adds R7 to the list of districts where transportation demand management is applicable.

Some of the benefits of these articles include: creating more diversity of residential and mixed-use buildings, providing options for downsizing, and providing options for younger families. All projects under article 16 will still be subject to review by the appropriate boards. The review processes are not changing.

There are no projects waiting for these changes to go through.

Question: when will the final language for article 16 be posted to the town's website?


Question: the properties that the affordable housing article applies to -- how were they selected?

The selection was based on zoning district. The changes apply to districts, rather than to individual properties.

Comment: I commend you on your command of the material. Town meeting starts in a month, and this is a lot of change to absorb in that amount of time. Can you talk about the process under which these articles were developed?

The ARB began discussions of these articles in February. One board member wanted density bonuses instead of changes to multi-family zoning. So, we considered how to achieve that result by amending article 16.

David Watson (of the ARB) says that the board received a lot of public comments, and made a number of changes to the articles as a result.

Comment: perhaps taking a year to discuss and finalize these changes might make more sense.

Joanne Preston has two comments: the environment and low-to-moderate income tenants. She believes there are 200 rental units currently available in Arlington, and 800 available in Cambridge. Ms. Preston claims that she does Google searches for apartment availability every day, and Google shows 200 apartments available. She believes we need to plug loopholes in the zoning bylaw before these changes can be adopted. She states that apartments on Mass Ave aren't luxury apartments, and is concerned about displacement.

David Watson notes that Ms. Preston made the same comment at an earlier ARB meeting, and a realtor pointed out that MLS listed only 36 units on that particular day. Ms. Preston responds with "Google says there are 200".

Comment: To me, density is a bad word. Building to get affordable housing would hurt our quality of life. I'd like to look at the impact to schools and taxes. Building less expensive units will shift the tax burden onto single-family homeowners.

Ms. Zwirko states the zoning bylaw can't make considerations based on the number of school-aged children in a family. Doing so would be a violation of fair housing law.

Steve McKenna states that he generally sees 50--75 apartments available for rent on a given day. We've only built 54 affordable units in Arlington because the ZBL restricts what can be built. The Housing Corporation of Arlington is the biggest developer in town, and they build 100% affordable housing. Mr. McKenna talks about the redevelopment on Time Oldsmobile on the corner of Mass Ave and Mill Street. The developer originally wanted to build 46 units with seven affordable, and that proposal was shot down. So the developer had to subdivide and build single- and two-family homes instead.

Carl Wagner is very concerned about the amendments, and the process through which they were developed. He believes the process was done incorrectly, using outside groups. He states that affordability is important, but so are tall buildings, shadows, and large buildings.

Question: was there a change to the lot size in R1?

No, none of the proposed changes affect R1.

Question: How do the changes to the height buffer work?

The buffer distances aren't changing. However, the ARB can permit smaller distances if the applicant performs shadow studies and demonstrates negligible impact from shadows and glare.

We move on to Article 15, Accessory Dwelling units. ADUs diversify housing options, but without changing the character of buildings. ADUs must be wholly contained within the house, and they will only be allowed in the R0 and R1 districts. Homes containing ADUs must be owner occupied, and the units can't be sold separately from the primary house. The ADU must be completely contained in a building footprint, as the building existed on Feb 14, 2019.

Joanne Preston points out that the residential study group unanimously voted against the ADU article. Ms. Zwirko acknowledges this, and states that the building inspector can obtain an administrative warrant to inspect these units if necessary. By having a special permit requirement, we'll know where all of these units are. Today there are houses with apartments, legal or not. ADUs are expensive to build, and we expect to see relatively few of them.

Question: Is there a limit on the number of occupants that an ADU can have?

No, but they are limited to 750 square feet.

Carl Wagner states that the RSG was created by town meeting to get resident input on housing issues. He believes that ADUs will degrade R0 and R1. They will bring strange people into town, and will effectively turn our single-family districts into two family districts.

Ms. Zwirko states the bylaw requires year-long leases, and prohibits ADUs from being subletted.

Question: What will be the mechanism for bringing illegal units into compliance?

Ms. Zwirko says the town plans to create an amnesty program for this purpose. This will happen through the town manager's office.

Question: What about air BnB?

Ms. Zwirko states that ADUs can't be subletted, and have a minimum lease of one year. She also notes that a property owner can be forced to remove their ADU, if they're found in violation of the bylaw.

Next, Article 17, Signs. Article 17 completely rewrites the sign bylaws. This project started in September. Ms. Zwirko goes over the Reed v. Gilbert case, and explains the idea of content-neutral sign regulation. The new sign bylaw has a lot of graphics, and tries to be clearer about the process for obtaining a sign permits.

Question: What about digital signs?

The proposed bylaw will prohibit electronic messaging centers, but existing ones will be grandfathered.

Articles 18 and 19 contain changes to the Inland Wetlands and Floodplain districts. Many of the changes are corrections. These articles do not affect conservation commission regulations, or their review process.

Article 20 deals with the Dover amendment. The Dover amendment prohibits certain educational and religious uses from being subject to special permit requirements. This article is currently tabled by the ARB, pending further input from town counsel.

Article 21 deals with bicycle parking. The big change is to decouple bicycle parking requirements from automobile parking requirements. It also establishes standards for bicycle racks, and adds a distinction between long-term and short-term parking.

Article 22 contains a set of administrative corrections.

Articles 23, 24, and 25 are citizen petitions. Article 23 requested the ZBA post supplemental material for their hearings. The ZBA plans to use Novus agenda going forward.

Article 24 changes the definition of half-story to match what's in the state building code.

Article 25 deals with driveway slope. The ARB recommended no action, but this article will likely be resubmitted in the future.

Question: Article 34 deals with dark skies and lighting. Why doesn't the ARB deal with lighting.

Ms. Zwirko states that lighting standards are in the town bylaws, rather than the zoning bylaws. However, the ARB's environmental design review will consider lighting.

Carl Wagner asks Ms. Zwirko how she feels about the article to make the ARB and elected body. Ms. Zwirko responds by saying that a number of towns in Massachusetts have appointed ARBs; it's really a matter of community preference.

Question: About townhouses. Article 9 allows a townhouse structure to be increased from 6--8 units. Where is the land for this?

Ms. Zwirko states that the land would come from redevelopment or infill development. Many of our townhouses are non-conforming, and don't comply with current zoning requirements.

Question: Is there anything in our bylaw to prevent a property owner from selling to a developer?

No, the bylaw does not dictate who you can sell your property to.

Question: Why not wait a year?

Our zoning bylaw is changed by warrant articles, which come before town meeting. The processes used this year is just like the process used in past years.

Question: Are you coordinating with the traffic department?

The planning department is working on a mobility initiative. Bus Rapid Transit will come back permanently, later this year. There's also an appropriations request for further traffic and mobility studies.

David Watson states that just getting a small percentage of cars off the road can make a big difference in terms of traffic.

Comment: If we have more housing, then we're going to have more traffic.

Question: Could you go over article 16 and the related articles one more time?

Most of the material is in article 16. Related articles have nominal changes; mostly footnotes and references.

Joanne Preston asks what will happen during Monday's ARB meeting. Ms. Zwirko states that the ARB will discuss the Dover amendment and an early draft of the ARB's report to town meeting. The ARB will finalize their report on April 8th.