Zoning Recodification All Boards Meeting - Jan 28th, 2017

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Judi Barrett from RKG did most of the presenting.

The ZRWG has had an initial kickoff meeting with RKG, and RKG has done two days of zoning interviews. The next steps will involve a review of interview material, and the proposition of a work timeline. Right now, we expect the first reading draft to be done in late spring, and the second reading draft to be done in the summer. RKG will also make recommendations regarding what should be codified in the ZBL vs what should be departmental policy.

A zoning audit examines the structure of a ZBL, and ease of use. How clear is the document? Are there internal inconsistencies? Unifying ZBL language is a key part of the process. Where is the ZBL inconsistent with the master plan? What needs to change in order to bring the ZBL into compliance with 40A and case law?

In this phase, our goal is to clean up the ZBL, without making major policy changes. We'd like the end document to be systematic and logical.

Here are a few examples of inconsistencies in our current ZBL.

  • Our ZBL requires a special permit for houses of worship in the R0--R4 districts, and the B districts. 40A exempts religious institutions from this requirement.
  • We have special permit requirements for group homes, and these conflict with the Fair Housing Act.
  • We have different treatments for "assisted living facilities" and "nursing homes".

In resolving inconsistencies like these, we'll need to answer the question "is this a big change, or a modest change".

Issues for Arlington

Arlington's ZBL can be difficult to navigate and interpret. This is partially due to piecemeal updates over time.

The ZBL would benefit from an index and cross-references.

The ZBL would benefit from visual improvements. For example, using shading on alternating table rows. Or using color to distinguish between business districts and residential districts.

Arlington should attempt to separate administrative regulations from zoning. For example, the number of plan copies needed for a special permit application should be an administrative regulation.

The ZBL, submission requirements, and submission packets should be consistent with one another.

Many people commented about dimensional and density regulations during interviews. Diagrams could be helpful here.

We have a lot of (and arguably too many) districts, especially business districts. This may (or may not) be something for the town to tackle during recodification. In the commercial areas, we have buildings that span business districts.

Arlington's sign regulations are a bit of a mess. There are different sign regulations for different B districts.

Why does Arlington have an environmental design review, rather than a site plan review?

Parking is also an issue. The town may want to address parking requirements after recodification, since it's such a big policy issue.

Does Arlington's ZBL go too far in limiting the ZBA's ability to issue variances? Variances are a very distinct creature in 40A.

Perhaps we should remove references to town meeting articles where the ZBL was amended. There are a lot of them.

Positive Sides

What's working well with Arlington's ZBL?

Our ZBL encourages conversion from B4 to other uses. That's produced some good results.

Arlington has three commercial centers, and the ZBL has helped to keep them vital. It's encouraged diversity and small businesses.

Inclusionary zoning.

What's not working well

People understand special permits, but don't understand variances. (What are the three variance criteria in 40A?)

You can't just read 40A; you also have to read what the courts say that 40A says.

Our sign bylaws are split. Some are codified in the ZBL, while others are codified in the general town bylaws.

Section 9.00 (which deals with pre-existing non-conformities) should be clearer.

Our open space laws are hard to understand.

There are conflicts between our ZBL and state building code.

It would be nice to clean up the table of uses. Some of the terms have fallen out of common use. There are uses that should be consolidated.

Our ZBL needs more, and clearer definitions. Regulatory definitions should not contain policy.

We don't clearly spell out a process for cases where several boards have to review a proposed project. For example, one can have a project that needs to be reviewed by the ZBA, the conservation commission, and the historic districts commission. Who do you go to first, and how do you find out who needs to review your proposal?

It would be nice to have a systematic staff review of permits, even if only to tell applications which boards have to review their application. We'd also need enough staff to make the process consistent.

Administrative and Enforcement Improvements

The EDR submission requirements in the ZBL have been amended six times. We should be able to change submission requirements without town meeting approval.

It would be nice to have more coordination between boards. Ideally, there'd be one way in to the permitting process.

Anything Else?

The public should be able to understand the review process, so they know what boards and commissions to talk to.