Arlington Redevelopment Board - Dec 17th, 2018

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Multifamily Housing Analysis and Recommendations. Alexis Smith, a planner with MAPC, gives a presentation on the town's multifamily housing analysis.

This effort focused on the R4--R7 districts, and development goals outlined in the master plan; particularly, the goals that encourage development in higher-density residential districts. Changes proposed here would affect R4--R7, as well as housing in the B districts.

We began with a parcel analysis and an examination of lot density. Residential lots in B districts were largely compliant with the ZBL; this was not the case for the R districts.

We performed a build-out analysis on four sites, to understand the effects of different zoning requirements.

The first recommendation is to eliminate usable open space requirements in these districts, and double the requirement for landscaped open space. The usable open space constraints are appropriate for residential neighborhoods, but not for townhouse or apartment districts. Landscaped open space provides much more flexibility.

Another recommendation is to reduce front and side-yard setbacks. Smaller setbacks are more appropriate for a commercial corridor.

The next recommendations involve reducing the minimum lot area per dwelling unit in higher-density districts (to 1000 square feet/unit), and reducing the distances where height buffers apply. Because these districts are so small, the height buffer is very constraining.

The remaining recommendations are: increase the allowable FAR in higher-density districts, reduce parking requirements to one space/unit, and allow six-unit developments by right, in order to trigger inclusionary zoning.

The ARB members discuss the proposal.

Andrew Bunnell states that the goal is to encourage development where these kinds of buildings already exist.

Andrew West asks if the 15' front-yard setback would apply to residential, mixed use or both. The setback would only apply to residential buildings.

Kin Lau would prefer not to have restrictive height buffers along Mass Ave. Those parcels aren't very deep, and there's still a rear yard requirement.

David Watson thinks that the term street wall (used in the multifamily housing report) is an unfortunate one. It doesn't sound very appealing. He wants to balance the pedestrian experience without creating an urban canyon. He'd like the ARB to think very carefully about the upper story step-back change.

Eugene Benson notes that Mass Ave has a mixture of residential and business districts. This makes it hard to have a consistent and nice-looking street. Mr. Benson wonders how much difficulty the special permit process adds to a six-unit development. For example, the town doesn't have very good bicycle parking requirements, but we've been able to address that via environmental design review. He's a proponent of cycling and public transit, but has concerns about the parking reduction. He asks what the benefits of an upper-story step-back change are.

Ms. Smith believed that three stories was a safe amount for a step-back, because the street is so wide.

Kin Lau likes the proposal to have step-backs above the third story. He believes it creates a better urban edge, with life and activity.

Andrew Bunnell says the housing plan implementation committee kept going back to Capitol square. That's a really good model for what we're trying to do.

Mr. Benson thinks that adding density is good, but we need to make sure we do it well.

Mr. Benson asks for more information on the decision to eliminate usable open space requirements, and to allow landscaped open space to be built on the roof.

The current ZBL allows landscaped open space on the roof, but only one story above the lowest inhabited floor. This proposal allows the same thing, but on higher stories.

David Watson believes the ARB has had constructive discussions with applicants for six-unit projects. He's hesitant to lose that. Our bike parking requirements aren't where they should be, and the permit process allows us to be more progressive than the current requirements.

Mr. Benson has two wishes: to improve bicycle parking requirements, and to have something for buildings that go up without residential units. He wonders if we're missing something by not making residential units a requirement.

The chair opens the meeting for public comments.

John Gersh asks if the board can articulate why this a benefit for the people of Arlington.

Rules imposed during the last 40 years have created roadblocks to developing the town's commercial centers. It's also impacted housing stock.

Carl Wagner appreciates the board's work, but believes that the ARB has a solemn duty to protect the town. He's here out of concern for mixed-use development on Mass Ave. He believes that Arlington does not want to increase its density.

Joanne Preston ask the ARB to consider the impact on the town, particularly for schools. Residents of Brigham Square send 40 kids to our public schools, and the costs far outweigh any potential tax benefits. Ms. Preston doesn't believe we have a scarcity of rental units. More apartments are a solution that will create more problems.

A resident of Silk Street (I think her name was Asha) said she was lucky to buy a two-family home here twenty years ago. There's no way she could do that now. She works with the Arlington Cultural Council, and believes the town needs revitalization. She's concerned about a garage that went out of business in her area. Density will ruin Arlington. Arlington needs artists buildings.

I spoke in support of the proposal, two areas in particular. First, I like having a by-right development option that triggers inclusionary zoning. We've never had that in this town. Second, I appreciate the dimensional changes made for townhouses. Arlington has a district, R4 -- the townhouse district -- that has the strictest dimensional requirements for townhouses. After doing some research, I discovered why: during the 1970's, a group of residents didn't want townhouses in the section of R4 at the end of Pleasant street. During the recodification, they pushed stricter dimensional regulations to prevent anyone from siting a townhouse there. In short, no townhouses in the townhouse district. I'm glad we're planning to fix that.

This is a modest proposal. To put it in contrast, I'd like to mention something Minneapolis recently did -- they did away with single-family zoning altogether. The rationale was that single-family zoning increased housing costs, and was responsible for segregation and economic inequalities. This is a modest proposal. I'd like to see it move forward to town meeting this spring.

Wynelle Evans notes that this proposal is largely focused on mixed-use. She'd like to see the ARB address requirements for housing. How many of the 185,000 units will be affordable?

(Note: the 185,000 units comes from a goal set by the Metropolitan Mayor's Coalition; to create 185,000 new housing units in 19 Boston-area communities by 2030).

The town's local goal is 10% affordable units. That would be 100 units/year for five years. We don't yet know what our share of the MMC's goal will be. Any affordable units would remain affordable for 99 years.

John Worden believes that teardowns are resident's main concern. Developers are tearing down small affordable homes. Mr. Worden asserts that the ARB's vote on the housing production plan was invalid. The ARB and planning director respond with a strong rebuke to that statement. Mr. Worden tells the board they should put their plans on a shelf.

A fellow named Mark speaks next. He'd like to discuss process. He sees a distressing pattern: people on the ARB make decisions without discussing them with people. You can't expect people to come to meetings. Holding a meeting is just a guarantee that people won't show up. He says the ARB should advertise these things before they start.

Chris Loretti believes that we're tweaking dimensional and density requirements to work around more fundamental problems in the zoning map. He doesn't know what street rhythm is. The map should be considered with this type of analysis. He's astonished that we're talking about changes for the spring town meeting during the second week of December. He feels there should have been much more public comment, much earlier.

Pam Hallet thinks the redevelopment board is brilliant. She'd like to see more bicycle parking requirements. Ms. Hallet believes the Planning department has done a lot of housing-related outreach, and lists of number of public forums they've organized.

The next speaker is a fellow named Ben, who recently moved to town. He's a huge supporter of increasing density; if Arlington turns into Somerville, that would be wonderful. He lives in a duplex that was rebuilt after a tear down, and it's nearly tripled the tax base for that lot. People have to live somewhere.

Neal Mongold is a big supporter of density, and considering how to manage it. He'd like to see more attention given to the juxtaposition of setbacks along Mass Ave. He thinks that one parking space/unit is fine, but the town needs to allow more flexibility at the street edge. He questions the usefulness of allowing landscaped open space on the roof.

A fellow named Larry supports increased density along the major corridors. Mass Ave is a mishmash. He'd like to see vibrancy where there is currently no vibrancy at all.

Charlotte is also a proponent of increased density. She agrees that these are modest changes. She asks the ARB to consider requiring less than one space per unit. She has two twenty-something children who don't have cars and don't want them.

The public comment period ends.

Jenny Raitt asks the board if it's okay for the planning department to move forward on this proposal.

Andrew Bunnell thinks it's okay to move forward.

Eugene Benson would like to see more graphics. He asks if there was a survey that looked at parking spaces.

David Watson thinks we're moving in a positive direction. He's a little concerned about the timing, given the amount of public interest.

Eugene Benson would like to see an analysis showing the maximum build-out under the proposed changes. He believes there are ways to address the cost of community services.

Andy West thinks there could be high density in Capitol square, the center, and the heights, with gradual shades in between. Perhaps that could be demonstrated with maps or graphics.

Mr. Bunnell states that zoning in the 1970s was a reaction to apartments, and for four decades, we've shut out development along the town's main corridors.

The planning department is holding another housing forum on Jan 10th, which will be at town hall.

Jenny Raitt would like to add a build out analysis, including changes to the tax base.

David Watson notes that the ARB cannot proscribe what developers will do.

Jenny Raitt wants to think about connectivity in the business districts, but that's more of a design issue than zoning.

Eugene Benson would like something to break up the street and create variety.

Andrew Bunnell asks the planning director to move forward with the additional analyses and work on the proposal.

Sign Bylaw Analysis. Erin Zwirko provides an update to the board.

We're working with Rodger Eastman of Lisa Wise Consulting on an update to the town's sign bylaws. The new bylaws will emphasize content-neutral regulation. DPCD staff provided significant input to the report, and conducted the stakeholder interviews.

Andy West felt the report was good overall. Separating temporary and permanent signs makes sense. Pictures will help. He didn't understand the section on commercial substitution.

Mr. Zwirko states that the commercial substitution section goes back to the idea of being content-neutral. Changes to a sign's text are outside the scope of the bylaw.

The current ZBL calls out a lot of specific uses; these rules will become district-based.

Andrew Bunnell likes the idea of consolidating the sign regulations in the ZBL.

Eugene Benson disagrees with parts of the interpretation of Reed v Gilbert. He thinks the town could exercise more authority. He notes that many residents have several signs: street numbers on two sides of the house, protected by American Alarm, and so forth. He'd like the sign bylaws to say something about murals, and have a clearer distinction of temporary vs. permanent signs.

The Zoning Recodification Working Group felt that the ARB should be in charge of special permits for signs, to keep the process consistent.

Kin Lau asks how we plan to address enforcement. That's something we should talk about, but perhaps outside of the ZBL changes.

David Watson suggests tailoring regulations to what we're able to enforce, or what we want to enforce.

Andrew Bunnell would like the bylaw to have some teeth.

Ms. Zwirko states that usability and readability are important parts of this effort. Enforcement came up during a number of stakeholder interviews.

Jenny Raitt states that the next steps are preparing a warrant article, along with the specific changes to the ZBL and town bylaws. Nearly everything sign-related will move from the town bylaws into the ZBL, with the exception of the Select Board's authority to issue temporary sign permits.

ARB Redevelopment Portfolio Updates. Jenny Raitt provides two updates.

The town is submitting a substantial capital request for renovation of the central school. We have a CPA request to offset repair costs, and are seeking additional sources of funding. The CPA won't be able to fund all of this year's proposals.

DPCD is looking at the town's overall lease portfolio. One of the 23 Maple street tenants has a lease that's expiring this year.

Meeting Minutes. The ARB approved minutes from their November 5th and November 7th meetings.