Zoning Bylaw Working Group - Jan 6th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Meeting materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/26109/18.

Debrief on Economic Analysis and Industrial Zoning

Consultants Emily Innes and Eric Halvorsen join us for a debriefing discussion of the industrial zoning effort.

The town's contract with RKG/Harriman is expiring, but this project will continue with staff support. The industrial zoning presentation was given to the ARB on December 21st; they spent 1.5 hours on the subject, including the public comment period.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak thought the economic analysis was very interesting, and he learned a number of things about the town that he was previously unaware of. He notes that the industrial district is small; it constitutes about 1% of the town's land area and is responsible for about 1% of the tax levy. From a tax perspective, any additional revenue generation will be a tiny fraction of the town's overall tax levy. There can be an opportunity to attract new kinds of businesses, which is a positive point.

Mr. Revilak has been thinking about what success would look like for this effort. He'd be happy to see one or two properties redeveloped according to the new zoning, over the next 5--10 years.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden states there was a lot of grumbling when town meeting considered the appropriation for this study. He believes there should not be any residential uses allowed in the industrial zones. He says that "we all know what the redevelopment board will do with mixed use". He says any mixed use will be all residential, and those who lust for more residential should be happy about the Mirak's 40B, which will "eviscerate the industrial district" with hundreds of residential units.

(note: the Miraks are proposing a 130-unit apartment building for one of their industrial district properties).

The planning director informs Mr. Worden that he's made his point, which puts an end to his rant.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that Arlington had an anti-growth period which lasted from the mid 1970s until the early 2000s. He says that effort was successful -- the town's population decreased, and there's been very little commercial development during those decades. Today, our challenge is to dig ourselves out of that hole.

(Ralph Wilmer) Mr. Wilmer was happy to learn from the economic analysis. He thought the information and the proposals were good. He likes the addition of modern industrial uses, the opportunity to incorporate sustainability standards, and the choices for amenities. Mr. Wilmer isn't against residential uses, and sees them as a way to supplement growth in the industrial district. He says this won't happen overnight, but he hopes we can have more than 1--2 redevelopments in 5--10 years. He thinks we may need to tweak the zoning changes over time, depending on how they work out.

(Charlie Kalauskas) Mr. Kalauskas says the analysis showed that land can be transformed over time. He thinks the study should have paid more attention to the Mirak site, because it's larger than the Park Avenue site. He believes that changes in transportation may change the nature of car dealerships over time. He notes that "health club" isn't an allowed use in the I district, and believes it should be.

(Erin Zwirko, Planning Department) Ms. Zwirko says she'll check the amendments to make sure that health clubs will be allowed in the industrial district.

(Pam Heidell) Ms. Heidell thinks the consultants produced a good quality study, and she learned from it. She believes there's a need to more narrowly describe what's allowed. She likes the environmental considerations, and believes that the provisions for flex space and breweries are likely to be used. The says that communities are more successful when they change zoning to meet developer interests.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson says this effort has allowed him to learn about the industrial districts. They're currently underutilized, and adapting the bylaw to 21st century businesses is exciting. He feels a sense of sadness about how we've lost business districts over the decades, because this kind of study hasn't been done before. He'd like to see us take advantages of opportunities now, out of concern they'll vanish forever.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein believes the consultants brought new and interesting ideas. Arlington's industrial zones are not located along highways or near transit. They're underutilized. He cautions against allowing too much residential, in order to limit friction. He says we should also consider what industry might look like in the future.

(Erin Zwirko) When this project started, Ms. Zwirko had an inkling that residential would be a decision point. She says the last RKG study showed that allowing residential helped to make the finances work. We can lessen the stagnation in these districts and create opportunities. She thinks that residential restrictions should be tight, and that RKG's efforts were helpful in figuring out how the zoning could work.

(Eric Halvorsen, RKG) Mr. Halvorsen says the group's comments were helpful.

(Emily Innes, Harriman) Ms. Harriman says she can review the residential allowances, to make sure the restrictions are tight.

(Jenny Raitt, Director of Planning) Ms. Raitt appreciates the group's work, and the flexibility of the approach. She believes we've really probed what's possible, and the types of growth that are possible.

(Charlie Kalauskas) Mr. Kalauskas asks why the Mirak site wasn't studied.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the planning department wanted a representative sample of the zoning districts. She notes that the Mirak site has four different owners, who all happen to be Miraks.

(Eric Halvorsen) Mr. Halvorsen says they were aware that the Miraks planned to bring a 40B development forward, and that the owners have ideas about what they want and don't want to do. He notes that the Gold's Gym site is large, and believes that most of the observations pertaining to that site would apply to the Mirak site.

(Charlie Kalauskas) Mr. Kalauskas remarks on the height bonus. He'd like to see a larger bonus for more industrial use.

(Emily Innes) Ms. Innes says that industrial uses are usually one floor, which necessitates different uses on the upper stories. That could be office space, or it could be residential.

(Charlie Kalauskas) Mr. Kalauskas says he was thinking of lab space as an industrial use.

(Emily Innes) Ms. Innes agrees that lab space could take up three floors.

(?) The redevelopment board is interesting in moving forward with the industrial zoning proposal. Pasi Mietinen is proposing a change to encourage energy efficient structures on non-conforming parcels. It would allow a foundation to be reconstructed in order to create a highly energy efficient building. The ARB or Mr. Mietinen may file this article. Barbara Thornton is refiling her article on ADUs, and is taking the lead on that effort. The planning department is filing a list of administrative corrections. They'd also like town meeting to adopt the zoning map as a whole. Finally, the Cannabis Control Commission is looking at regulations for marijuana delivery, and that may warrant zoning updates.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that proponents with articles that were deferred from the spring 2020 town meeting will be asked if they'd like to re-file for spring 2021.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson says the ARB also discussed their process for hearing citizen zoning articles. He believes this group could play more of a role in developing zoning proposals. The redevelopment board would like to improve the quality of proposals, and streamline the process.

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says the ARB also discussed ways to make the warrant article submission process more intentional when the warrant opens.

(Ralph Wilmer) Mr. Wilmer thinks that's a good idea. He says that other communities have working groups like this one, and they often serve as a way to vet ideas.

Approval of Minutes

The board approves minutes from their previous meeting, as amended.

Public Comment

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer would like to give his own presentation on the industrial districts. He says that 30% of the land in the industrial district is already residential, or owned by the town or state. He says that the Harriman report never highlighted the success story of our industrial districts which is a commercial condominium building at 22 Mill Street. He says that life sciences are booming in Cambridge's Alewife district, and companies are moving there because it's less expensive than Kendall square. He'd like to attract that kind of industry. To him, the goal is to create more jobs in Arlington, and he agrees that we shouldn't expect to see much additional tax revenue from the industrial district. He says that only about 1700 Arlington residents work in town. He suggests trying to attract emerging high tech jobs.