Zoning Bylaw Working Group - Jan 5th, 2022

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/28639/18.

Continuation of Zoning Audit, Zoning Bylaw Review, and Recommendations Discussion

Prior to the meeting, a set of suggested amendments from Christian Klein was distributed to working group members. We start with a discussion of this proposal.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein walks through the set of changes he's proposing.

First, Section 3.2.3 has a short paragraphs saying the ZBA will adopt rules and regulations. This is followed by a long paragraph containing rules and regulations. Mr. Klein recommends removing that paragraph. He points out that the ZBA is the only town board where a portion of the board rules and regulations are written into the town bylaws.

The second change is a clarification to the definition of half-story.

The third change proposes a new definition of "building wall". The term building wall appears several times in the ZBL but it's never defined. The ZBL also uses the term "foundation wall", which is also not defined. Mr. Klein suggests changing "foundation wall" to "building wall".

The fourth change involves the section on projections into minimum yards. Mr. Klein suggests a small wording change to clarify that the section applies to covered porches.

The fifth change involves the section on large additions. The large addition provision applies to additions over 750 square feet or 50% of the gross floor area. The bylaw doesn't say whether it's the lesser of (or greater of) those two measures. Mr. Klein suggests adding language to indicate the lesser of.

The final change involves section 8.1.5, Unsafe Structures. The bylaw doesn't say who is able to declare a structure unsafe. Mr. Klein suggests a requirement that the declaration come from a structural engineer, or the Director of Inspectional Services.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests moving a few words around in the large addition amendment, in section 5.4.2. Beyond that, things look good.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden has a question about what kind of porches are allowed within a front yard setback.

(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says that porches can be up to 25 square feet and project up to 3.5 feet from the foundation wall. Anything else requires a special permit.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden asks if someone can build a porch out, if they're tearing down and rebuilding an entire building.

(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says that new construction has to follow all of the dimensional regulations in the zoning bylaw. Any pre-existing non-conformities from the old building go away.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks why Mr. Klein would allow a structural engineer to declare a structure unsafe.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says that structural engineers have professional expertise and a professional duty to act in an honest and proper manner.

(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says that ultimately, the call is made by Inspectional Services, and they have the right to challenge an engineer's assessment if they disagree with it.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says he'd be okay with making the Director of Inspectional Services the sole party who could declare a structure unsafe.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson has a comment about the definition of building wall. He thinks the definition might exclude areas permitted by the definition of "sign", because the definition of sign uses the term "wall". He'd like to give a more thorough look at the sign section, to make sure we don't inadvertently limit the areas where signs can be installed.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein points out that most of the uses of "building wall" are in the sign section of the bylaw. He notes that Mr. Benson is concerned that the definition might cause some permitted signs to become non-conforming.

(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says he picked up on the same thing with respect to the definition of wall. Mr. Ciampa notes that the bylaw has a definition of "building", and that anything that supports anything else is considered a wall, even if it's only supporting itself.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is okay with using the term "building wall", but suggests removing the definition. That way, inspectional services can just refer to the building code.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says the issue is front porches that become enclosed, and then built upon so they become part of the building footprint. Technically, someone could add another porch in front of that.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests using language similar to the conditions that the ZBA has been imposing on front porches. He notes that anything with a roof can be enclosed by right.

(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa thinks the conditions the ZBA has been imposing are good. He suggests working on definitions for "enclosed" and "unenclosed".

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt asks Mr. Klein if he'd like to consider Mr. Ciampa's suggestion and take another pass.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein points out that there are terms in the Zoning Bylaw which aren't defined, and that some people have seen this as problematic. He thinks it's worthwhile to consider having definitions in the bylaw.

(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa thinks it's important for the public to understand what they're reading. A lot of builders are familiar with the building code. Mr. Ciampa thinks the definitions in the bylaw shouldn't be too different than what's in the building code.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests taking a parenthetical expression and offsetting it with commas. He thinks that would be clearer.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt asks Ms. Lynema to display the Planning Department memo that was presented to the ARB at their Dec 2nd meeting. The memo provided some of this group's recommendations to the board, and suggested a timeline for when things could advance. Four items could potentially be taken up at the spring town meeting. Others would be better left for a special town meeting in the fall (assuming the Select Board is amenable to scheduling one). For those, it's largely a matter of resources, and the time needed to get things together.

The four items are

  1. Large additions (ZBWG)
  2. Parking requirements for multifamily housing (citizen petition)
  3. Solar-ready recommendations (Net Zero Action Plan)
  4. Allowing two-family dwellings by right in all districts (citizen petition)

Item (1) is the only one where the ZBWG will work on drafting the main motion.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks the timeline is reasonable.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the Clean Energy Future Committee might not have the solar-ready proposal done in time for spring town meeting.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the Planning Department might propose a solar energy requirement, to be added to Environmental Design Review conditions.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden thinks this group should really discuss the citizen petition to allow two-family homes by right in all districts. He says that only 38% of Arlington's dwellings are single-family homes, and that some people expect to have their own piece of ground. If this is allowed, the Carneys and their ilk will build snout houses all over town. He says this will change Arlington into Somerville, and that it's just pretending to deal with the housing shortage.

He says that no one has talked about the effect on taxes and schools, and that even people who like 40B won't talk about it's effect on schools.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt stops Mr. Worden. She says that family housing is a protected class under federal fair housing law. As a town working group, we should not be discussing how to discriminate against families with children.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thinks the two-family proposal is worth considering. He attended a Cambridge Planning Board meeting last night. The Cambridge City Council adopted a policy order that asks their Planning Board to figure out the best way to eliminate single- and two-family zoning restrictions. It's not a far-out idea; other communities are having the same discussion.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt thinks the working group shouldn't dwell too much on a citizen petition, when we haven't seen the main motion yet.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema suggests picking a date, if the working group wants to meet again before the ARB meeting on Jan 24th.

We agree to meet at 8:30 on January 19th.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wonders if Mr. Klein and Mr. Ciampa could work on narrowing the building wall amendment.

(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says sure.

(Pam Heidell) Ms. Heidell says she's started to work on a memo regarding resiliency. Once it's ready, she'll present it to the working group for feedback. It might require a good deal of groundwork before going to town meeting.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden asks if this meeting was posted to the town website. He says he didn't see it listed.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the meeting is listed on the town calendar. Several working group members concur with Ms. Raitt.

Meeting adjourned.