Zoning Bylaw Working Group - Mar 2nd, 2022
Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/29148/18}.
Zoning Warrant Articles
The group has one item on it's agenda today, and that's a discussion of zoning articles that were proposed for this year's town meeting.
This article proposes the addition of street tree standards to our zoning bylaw.
(Steve Revilak, ZBWG) Mr. Revilak asks if the definition of "public shade tree" could be broadened. As written, it's limited to trees planted in the sidewalk area. He wonders if "public right of way" might be more appropriate. Mr. Revilak would also like to understand how this part of the bylaw would be administered, and what would happen in areas where trees may have a low change of survival (in the vicinity of gas leaks, for example).
(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says that contractors would install the trees in conjunction with the tree warden and town engineer. Effectively, the requirement to plant a tree would just be another part of developing a building and doing the landscaping.
(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says that section 6.3.4(D) is intended to give the ARB some flexibility for situations where street trees might not be able to thrive. But she'd be interested in alternative suggestions.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks about payment to the tree fund as an alternative.
(Eugene Benson, ZBWG) Mr. Benson asks Mr. Revilak why he suggested "public way" instead of "sidewalk".
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak wants to allow some flexibility in how we use public space. For example, suppose we had the option to replace a few parking spaces with trees. Those trees wouldn't be in the sidewalk.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he was thinking about tree planting on the inside of the sidewalk. He'd like the ARB to have flexibility to alter the location, outside the planting strip. A different location might help with mitigating urban heat island effects, while expanding the tree canopy. He'd like to have the option of putting trees in other reasonable locations.
(Charlie Kalauskas, ZBWG) Mr. Kalauskas wants to consider ADA requirements, where sidewalks are a minimum of four feet wide with no impediments to mobility. He'd like to make sure that 6.3.4(A) allows a choice of locations that won't interfere with ADA compliance.
(John Worden, ZBWG) Mr. Worden thinks the bylaw should be as flexible as possible, with respect to where the tree is planted. He thinks the goal should be to put up more trees.
Mr. Worden says that the lower end of Jason Street has approximately four gas leaks and trees on the gas line side of the street are dead. Some of these were replaced with different species and they seem to be doing better. Trees further away from the gas line are okay.
(Christian Klein, ZBWG) Mr. Klein notes that section 6.3.2 requires a tree every 25 linear feet. He wonders if there should be a provision for fractional lengths. For example, if there's 60 linear feet, you'll definitely get two trees, but what about the case of 45 linear feet? Should that be one tree, or should it be rounded up to two?
Mr. Klein would like to ensure that our definition of "public shade tree" doesn't conflict with the definition in state law.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that Town Counsel asked for a reference to the state definition. She'll follow up with him, to see if there's a conflict.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein notes that the state definition makes no reference to sidewalks.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks our bylaw's definition should be consistent with the state definition, unless there's a reason to do otherwise. He points out that the main motion uses both the terms "shade tree" and "public shade tree". Ultimately, he thinks we should ensure that the definition doesn't constrain or conflict with the standards.
Enhanced Business Districts
This warrant article proposes standards for ground floor commercial spaces.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like an overview of why the planning department proposed this amendment.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the ARB has often talked about activating spaces, and ensuring there are no dead spaces in our streetscape. Town staff looked at some of the things that other communities are doing. The new requirements focus on transparency, access, and the treatment of lobbies. She says the transparency and access standards were inspired by last years changes to the industrial district zoning.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema points out that the 60% transparency requirement is greater than what's required for the industrial district.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson likes the general idea, but he's struggling with the pieces that cover entrances and lobbies. He thinks the bylaw is assuming one principal entrance, but some buildings have multiple entrances. He's seen buildings where a commercial space was accessed through a lobby, and isn't sure we should prohibit that. He also recalls a project where the commercial entrance was in the front and the residential entrance was in the back. The proposed main motion is silent on that case.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt believes that staff can work on the language. For example, by saying "when a lobby is located". The intent wasn't to be limiting.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the aim is good. He wonders if there should be a section that reads "the goal of this section is to ..." to make the intention clear.
(Charlie Kalauskas) Mr. Kalauskas notes the main motion covers Mass Ave and Broadway, but not Medford or Summer Streets. He wonders if the area could be extended.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says she's open to that.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests making it consistent with the areas where the ARB has authority.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says he's pleased to see this article, and that he basically agrees with it. He says that a lot of commercial-looking storefront have shades in the window so you can't see inside. He thought there was something in the bylaw which prohibited that.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says she's not familiar with any zoning provision to that effect, but she'll defer to Mr. Ciampa.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that window transparency is a factor for our sign bylaw, but there's nothing about shades.
(Mike Ciampa, Director of Inspectional Services) Mr. Ciampa doesn't believe that shades or blinds are covered, only permanent screening.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that some places have put up transparency screens, and for good reason. Day cares, pre schools, and dance schools for example. Marijuana establishments are required to have window screening. He doesn't think there's anything that stops someone from putting shades in their windows.
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says you can't tell someone that they can't block sunlight from coming into their business.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema notes that the Arlington Heights Action Plan Committee is talking about ways to improve the appearance of storefronts.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein says the main motion doesn't seem to limit inactive uses, which is something the warrant article language talks about.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she'll discuss this further with Ms. Raitt.
Two Family Construction Allowed by Right
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says this is a fundamental question, this doing away with single-family districts. He thinks that's a fundamental change. He says there are already plenty of non-conforming two family dwellings in the single-family districts, and that it's unnecessary to have any more. If this article is adopted, Mr. Worden believes that developers will sweep through the single family district and put up big two-family houses by right. He thinks that's unfair to people who've paid for single-family homes, and we shouldn't be depriving them of their investment. He says that Arlington is a small town, and our master plan says the only types of housing we need are affordable housing and housing for seniors. He'd only support this if there were deed restrictions for affordability.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that he and Mr. Worden live a few blocks apart, and there are a number of two-family homes nearby which pre-date our zoning. He says that some of those homes have been sold, and the sale price wasn't depressed. He doesn't see any impact to property values. Mr. Benson says it's clear from several Supreme Judicial Court cases that there is no expectation that a town's zoning will always be the same. He says the Housing Production Plan recommends allowing two-family homes by right in our single-family districts, and it suggests the town consider looking at whether deed restrictions could be done in a way that allows them to be economic. He doubts that will be the case.
Homes in the R1 district are torn down now, and the question is whether a single-family or two-family will be built in their place. Mr. Benson has been thinking about putting a size limit on one of the units. He suggests 1850 square feet, which comes from 40R's starter home districts. The size limit may reduce the price of one of the units and may help address our need for missing middle housing.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak sees this as a way to help reduce sprawl. Arlington is located near job centers in Cambridge and Boston. Allowing people to live closer to where they work should reduce vehicle miles traveled which in turn will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He thinks system changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be on the table for discussion; they're a tool we can use to our advantage.
Mr. Revilak likes Mr. Benson's idea about limiting the size of the dwellings.
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa thinks that a size restriction would be reasonable. However, in an R0 district the building could be quite large. Mr. Ciampa wonders if there's an equity issue in that.
(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein likes the idea of an 1850 square foot restriction. To Mr. Ciampa's point, both units are likely to be condos. He's also concerned about equity, and wonders if this could be done through an overlay district. For example, allowing two-family by right in areas that are within 1500' of a bus stop.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden thinks locating an overlay around bus stops would be a joke. He says the buses that went to Alewife Station were eliminated, and all we have left is the 77. He feels that by allowing ADUs by right, we've already given people the ability to have two-family homes in single-family districts. Mr. Worden doesn't care what the Housing Production Plan says. He believes that the Master Plan and town meeting have declared that affordable and senior housing are the only types that we need. He thinks the whole idea of this article is flawed, and that it should be thrown out completely.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to respond to Mr. Ciampa's question about the R0 district. Arlington's R0 district was created in 1991, after a property owner on Ryder Street subdivided their lot, and allowed a second home to be put up. The purpose of the district was to discourage subdivision, by increasing the minimum lot size. Regardless of whether single- or two-family homes are allowed, that discouragement to subdivide will still be part of the district.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that another approach would be to limit both dwellings to 1850 square feet. This would also prevent houses that are overly large.
(Charlie Kalauskas) Mr. Kalauskas asks if any other town in Massachusetts has done this. He asks what an 1850 square foot house typically sells for these days.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema doesn't believe any other community in Massachusetts has done away with single-family zoning.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that an 1850 square foot home wouldn't be affordable, but it would cost less than new homes are currently selling for. Mr. Benson notes that a 1400 square foot cape in his neighborhood recently sold for around $900k.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has seen new single-family homes selling for over $2M. The most expensive was $2.6M.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak had asked to discuss this article. He'd like to get Mr. Ciampa's opinion, and whether Mr. Ciampa had any thoughts about the number of days, which the petitioner had left blank.
(Mike Ciampa) As for the number of days, Mr. Ciampa says that violations generally have to be addressed within 30 days, depending on the violation. Inspectional Services's ability to do this depends on resources. He says there can't be a bylaw that requires building inspectors to neglect their obligation to prioritize safety violations. He believes that what the warrant article is proposing is redundant.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the enforcement article is predicated on Section 3.1(B) of our zoning bylaw, which the attorney general has declared to be unenforceable. He notes that there's another warrant article which would create an enforcement position in the Department of Planning and Community Development. He thinks that might be an indication that we need more resources.
(Note: the other warrant article Mr. Benson mentioned is scheduled for hearing by the Select Board, rather than the ARB.)
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says he hasn't seen that article. Inspectional Services is already responsible for enforcement. If there were an enforcement position in the planning department, they'd have to work closely with Inspectional Services. He doesn't think that would be a fundamental change in how things work.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden wishes the petitioner were here to explain her article. He says the issue is that bylaws are ignored, even after enforcement occurs. He says there doesn't seem to be a vehicle to compel compliance, so people keep violating the laws.
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa says that's not quite accurate. During the last two years, enforcement has been a resource issue. A lot of this comes from the pandemic, and Inspectional Services has to prioritize safety.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak wonders if we should ask town meeting to give Inspectional Services a larger budget, so they can hire more building inspectors and enforcement officers.
(Mike Ciampa) Mr. Ciampa doesn't think that will be necessary. Inspectional Services is getting back up to staff capacity and he thinks things should be better going forward.