Zoning Bylaw Working Group - Aug 4th, 2021
Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/26125/18.
Planning Director Jenny Raitt gives a brief welcome and introduction to the working group. John Worden says he doesn't like remote meetings. Ms. Raitt explains that this group will not have a hybrid meeting option; we'll continue to meet remotely until all members agree to meet in person.
Introduce New Staff
Ms. Raitt introduces Erin Moriarty, the town's new Assistant Director of Planning and Community Development.
Update on recent plans completed and plans in progress
The town recently completed its Sustainable Transportation Plan Sustainable Transportation Plan which addresses mobility issues. The goal is to make transit safe, accessible, and easy to access. The recommendations include improved streets, parking suggestions, and programming funds for transportation. The Master Plan Implementation Committee endorsed the Sustainable Transportation Plan as an extension to the master plan; it's also been endorsed by the Select Board. There won't be a separate committee to oversee the plan implementation, since we already have several transit-related committees (e.g., the Transportation Advisory Committee, the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, and several pedestrian advocacy groups).
John Worden feels that bus transit is the most important ingredient. He thinks the MBTA moves bus stops for maximum rider inconvenience. Ms. Raitt says that the next Select Board meeting will have a discussion on bus network redesign, which will include looking at bus stops and amenities.
The Net Zero action plan will come before the Select Board for endorsement on Monday. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council provided technical assistance to Arlington, Melrose, and Natick to develop Net Zero best practices around buildings, mobility, and clean energy. Some of the practices can be implemented at the local level. Others will require state or federal action. Steve Revilak read an earlier draft of the Net Zero Plan. He thinks we have an intimidating amount of work to do. But mapping it out is a necessary first step.
The town has been working on a Fair Housing Action Plan. The goal is to look at housing issues through an equity lens. It's not simply zoning. The Biden administration is reinstating Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rules. Arlington has to look at fair housing because we receive Community Development Block Grant funds through HUD; otherwise, we risk loss of funding, or being penalized. The plan also provides a history of housing and mobility issues in Arlington. Steve Revilak like the recommendations and appreciated the history in the plan.
The town sponsored several Community Conversations, which were organized by our DEI director and Powerful Pathways. Ms. Raitt suggests reviewing the recording of the last event, which is available through ACMI.
Arlington's Open Space and Recreation plan expires next year, and we've hired a consultant to help us update it. There's an forum planned for the fall.
The town has kicked off a planning process for the Minuteman Bikeway. Goals include looking at the structure of long range legal agreements, and opportunities for additional connections to the bikeway. Connections are actually hard to do, because of the way the MBTA permits them. Ms. Raitt says she'd also like to have a better working relationship with other Minuteman Communities.
Ralph Wilmer says that Lexington has the Cross-Lex trail network, which includes connections with the minuteman. He thinks this might be a helpful model for the consultant. Ms. Raitt says the consultant will look at the legal agreements for bikeways in other communities. Kittleson is the consultant.
Eugene Benson has read some of the plans. Overall they're terrific, but he questions some pieces. Some of the plans overlap, and he asks how they'll be meshed together. For example, zoning changes made in response to the net zero action plan might increase up-front costs for housing construction, which could work against fair housing goals. Ms. Raitt says these kind of considerations will have to be evaluated when the specific policies are written. Sometimes there are conflicting goals and competing priorities.
Mr. Benson suggests that another example might be a policy that reduces parking requirements near MBTA bus stops; that might not work if the T reduces bus service. He thinks that some of the plans will depend on what we get from the T.
On the subject of parking, Mr. Revilak appreciates the way the pandemic has gotten us to repurpose space that would ordinarily be reserved for parking. He mentions some of the things that Mayor Anne Hildago has done in Paris -- replacing roadways and on-street parking with public green space. He'd like to have that conversation in Arlington.
John Worden says he's ridden the MBTA buses for 58 years, and every year they get worse and worse. He doesn't understand where they decide to put bus stops. It's planning for bureaucrats. He asks if there are any efforts to fix leaky gas lines. Ms. Raitt can't speak to the issues of gas leaks. Our long term goal is to get rid of the gas infrastructure altogether.
Upcoming potential zoning amendment projects
Ms. Raitt says that MBTA community requirements are likely to be the next zoning effort. State guidelines haven't been released yet, but may be coming later this month. This process is likely to dovetail with Town Meetings resolution for a Broadway corridor design competition. She'd like a broader planning effort across East Arlington, but can't move forward with that at the moment.
Ralph Wilmer says he's seen some of the interim updates from DHCD (re: MBTA community requirements). He knows people who work in DHCD, and they're being tight-lipped about it. They all say the guidance is forthcoming.
Mr. Worden asks if the bus yard in Arlington Heights is considered a bus terminal. Ms. Raitt isn't sure -- it will depend on what the state says. Mr. Worden says that parts of the town are already under threat of development. He doesn't think Arlington should need to do anything in response to the MBTA community requirements, as the area around Alewife already has a sufficient number of dwellings per acre. Ms. Raitt says, again, that the state guidance hasn't been issued.
Mr. Benson hopes that DHCD will have a public comment period for their guidance. Ms. Raitt says that MassDOT and DHCD have public comment processes. There are a range of communities affected by the MBTA requirements, and she can understand how it might take a while for DPCD to come up with guidance. Right now, it's a waiting game.
Ralph Wilmer says the turnaround in Arlington Heights is an example of where we don't know the answer, and really need guidance from the state.
Ms. Raitt says we're going to need community input after the guidance is issued. The Redevelopment Board plans to have a goal-setting meeting in September. There are a number of plan recommendations the board will work on, but they have to set priorities first.
Charlie Kalauskas thinks it's important to look at the zoning map, which is really based on what the built environment looked like in 1975. He thinks that has to be addressed in the next couple of years. Ms. Raitt agrees that the map will be important, both for housing and commercial properties. It will be a big effort.
Pam Hallet would like the town to look at height requirements in flood plains (i.e., raising buildings above the flood plain).
Christian Klein says parking is another area that deserves to be looked at. Steve Revilak suggests looking at the ZBA decision for 150 Summer Street as an example where our parking standards were really difficult to apply.
Mr. Worden says that the only kind of housing Arlington needs is affordable housing, and the best way to do that is by acquiring existing housing and making it affordable. He says that open space around houses is important.
Mr. Benson would like the ARB to be more aware of what's happening in this group.
Steve Revilak would like to make a few remarks about affordable housing. He's been leafing through several of Somerville's planning documents. Their city-wide master plan, Somervision, set a goal of producing 6,000 new dwelling units; 1,200 of these would be affordable via inclusionary zoning, at little cost to the city itself. While there's nothing wrong with producing affordable housing via acquire and repurpose, it would cost $600M to create 1,200 units that way. He thinks we need an "and, and, and" approach, using all of the tools available, as effectively as possible.
Review of Minutes
The group votes to approve minutes from their March 3rd meeting.