Zoning Bylaw Working Group - Mar 4th, 2020

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Today, we discuss zoning articles submitted via resident petition. ARB hearings will continue through March, with final votes scheduled for March 30th.

Article 39/Upper Story Building Step Back. Christian Klein was unclear as to what the proposal was attempting to accomplish. Steve Revilak said he'd support the article, as long as it would allow increase options for commercial development. Ralph Wilmer felt the language should be "set back" rather than "step back".

The group moved to a discussion of the mixed-use articles passed in 2016. There was a small difference between the main motion passed at town meeting and the language submitted to the Attorney General's office. The warrant and legal advertisements said "at the fourth story" but the material sent to the AG said "at the third story". The ARB could bring a motion to go back to the warrant language from 2016, if the moderator rules it in scope.

Article 37/Accessory Dwelling Units. Christian liked last year's ADU article better. He felt that 50% floor area was too large for an ADU, and that 700--950 square feet would be a more appropriate limit.

David Watson understands the proponent's reason for bringing this forward. Since the ARB and select board have agreed to a community conversation around housing, he'd like to give that process time to play out first.

Ralph thinks it would be okay to bring individual housing proposals forward, if they can be carved out. He's not sure if this is the ADU proposal he'd like to see brought forward.

John Worden thinks homeowners should be required to provide a tenant parking space on premises. He's unsure how an ADU would work in a two-family home.

Article 38/Affordable Housing on privately-owned parcels of non-conforming size. This article would allow homes to be built on small lots (under 5000 square feet), if the homes met the affordability requirements of the ZBL's inclusionary zoning provisions. It would be kind of like an overlay district.

John Worden believes that the only housing Arlington needs is affordable housing. He also feels that Arlington needs open space more than it needs affordable housing. He thinks it would be a shame to jam homes into these small lots.

Steve Revilak believes there may be about 130 small lots that fit the criteria in this warrant article. This is based on his recollection of 1975 ARB materials, when the town passed zoning changes that prohibited development on small lots. Steve's neighborhood consists of houses on 3000 square foot lots, and he's completely comfortable with that size.

Several working group members are unsure of what the main motion would look like, and they can't form opinions without seeing the main motion.

Article 40/Sideyard Sky Exposure Plains. Steve is puzzled by several aspects of the proposal. The motion specifies different sky exposure plains for the R0, R1, and R2 districts. However, it also exempts single-family homes. Effectively, it would only apply to two-family homes in the R2 district. He goes on to say that the article is regulating a triangle. One side of the triangle is a vertical line that represents building height. Our bylaws already regulate this. The second side of the triangle is a horizontal line that represents side yard setbacks. This is also regulated. The sky exposure plain is attempting to regulate the hypotenuse. The hypotenuse would have a 3.5:1 slope under our current bylaws, and the proponent is proposing a 2.5:1 slope.

As a practical matter, it seems like this article would require a 2.5 story house to have the pitched sides of the roof parallel to the road, and prohibit roofs pitched perpendicular to the road. In terms of providing solar access, houses on roads running north to south would be in good shape. Houses on roads running east to west would have reduced solar access.

The group notes that one could accomplish the same thing by reducing maximum building height, or by increasing side yard setbacks. Those criteria might be easier for the building inspector to enforce.

Article 32/Improving Residential Inclusiveness, Sustainability, and Affordability by Ending Single Family Zoning. Steve Revilak worked with the article proponent, and offers to explain the intent.

Article 32 would allow two-family homes by right, in all residential districts. The main motion would consist of changes to the residential use tables (adding "Y"s to indicate that two-family homes are allowed in R0, and R1) and wording changes to the R0 and R1 district definitions.

There were three motivations for proposing this article. The first comes from our history of using housing policy as a tool for racial exclusion. 51% of Arlington's homes were built during 1934--1968, when the FHA was underwriting the vast majority of home mortgages, and had a policy of underwriting loans to white homeowners in white communities. Arlington's white population was 99% in 1970 and higher in previous decades; we definitely met the FHA's criteria of being a predominantly white community. We'd like to have a conversation about this aspect of our past, and what (if anything) we should do about it.

Environmental concerns are the second motivation. Single-family homes--particularly in car-oriented suburbs--require more land, generally use more energy, and result in more carbon emissions due to transportation. At this point in time, we should be thinking about building in and up, and not out; there's less environmental impact if we add housing on sites that are already developed.

John Worden disagrees, stating that turning single-family homes into two-family homes will entail tree removal. Steve counters by stating that the traditional pattern of suburban development involved clearing large sections of land, and building homes on quarter, half, or single-acre lots. You'll remove more trees by clearing a half-acre lot than by adding a second home to an already developed lot.

Third, greater Boston has added nearly 150,000 jobs during the last decade but only 32,000 homes. We have a housing shortage, and that's contributed to housing being more expensive. This article would affect new construction. A new single family home in Arlington typically costs for $1.2--1.5M, while half of a duplex costs $700k--1M. Those half-duplexes still expensive, but they're half-million less than the alternative.

Approval of Minutes. The group approves minutes from our last meeting.

Upcoming Events. A workshop for industrial zoning changes is tentatively scheduled for May 21st.

There are two workshops planned for the discussion of residential design guidelines. These are tentatively scheduled for April 9th and May 28th.