Arlington Redevelopment Board - Dec 5th, 2022

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Meeting held at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from

Docket 3728 - 99 Massachusetts Avenue

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says that this docket involves the addition of one residential unit to a three-story office building in the B2 district.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the proposal is to convert a commercial building to mixed use, by turning an unfinished attic into a two-bedroom apartment. There will be no loss of commercial space, the renovations include the installation of an ADA ramp, and the applicants are proposing a building sign on the fourth floor.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says that staff's memo incorrectly stated that the building was on the town's list of historic properties. She says that 99A Mass Ave is on the historic buildings register, but 99 is not.

(James Risling, Architect) Mr. Risling says they're proposing to add one story to an existing building, which was built sometime around 1969. The apartment will be 1220 square feet, which includes the area for the front stairs. The apartment has a single means of egress, so it will be sprinklered. Mr. Risling says the owner has a number of building permits for building fit out, replacing windows, and installing an ADA ramp. There only here tonight for approval to add a dwelling unit on the top floor.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau notes they're adding a fourth story, and asks if they'll need an elevator.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they're not required to add an elevator for a single residential unit on the fourth floor.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thought they would have needed an elevator, but he'll defer to inspectional services. He says that one point of egress is fine, because the building is fully sprinklered. He thinks the proposal looks like a shoebox on top of the building; it reminds him of a Bob Gillis project that was done in Boston, around Kenmore Square. He'd like the fourth floor to be more integrated with the rest of the building. He wonders if the cornice could be raised, perhaps enough to remove the railing. Mr. Lau thinks the windows on the front look nice, and asks if the applicants can add more windows to the side.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says there's a bedroom on that side of the building, so it was designed with fewer windows.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that windows would look good in a bedroom. He asks about building mechanicals.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says that each floor is served by a separate set of mechanicals, and there's a parapet to disguise the mechanicals for the fourth floor.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks about HVAC for the lower floors.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they've done that with several mini-splits. The condensers are in the back of the building.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests lowering the parapet on the fourth floor, and putting the condenser on the ground.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson thinks the addition of a residential unit is worthwhile. He asks about the ADA ramp on the Lee Terrace side of the building. Mr. Benson notes that the ramp isn't finished at the bottom, and he asks where the drainage will go.

(Applicant) One of the applicants says the ramp was installed wrong. The contractors will have to break the concrete at the bottom and re-do it. She believes there will be a dry well under the slab, perhaps covered with a metal grill.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he tried to determine the size of the fourth floor step-back. He asks where the 7.5' is measured from.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he interprets the step-back requirement as being measured from the property line.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he interprets the 7.5' as being measured from the edge of the roof.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that the zoning bylaw is ambiguous here. It says 7.5', but doesn't say where the 7.5' should be measured from.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he couldn't tell where the property line between 99 and 99A is located, and he'd like to understand that. He also has a question about bicycle parking. He's not sure the bicycle locker will be usable, because cars would have to park right next to the bike locker.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they're planning to shift the automobile parking to the rear of the property, and there will be 4' between a parked car and the bike locker.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the short-term bike parking spaces in front of the building. He asks if those will be on town land, and whether the applicants will need permission to do that.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they'll need town approval in order to install racks in that location.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if it's possible to put the racks between the sidewalk and the building.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says there's very little room there. He'd prefer to have the bike parking in front of the sidewalk.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says one of the condensers is mounted on the side of the building. He asks about that.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they're likely to re-work the location of the condensers. They can try to position the residential unit's compressor somewhere near the unit. He says it's not practical to hang a compressor three stories in the air.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson has a question about the applicant's LEED checklist. He asks what they plan to use as a hot water source.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they haven't worked that out yet, but expect to use an on-demand hot water heater.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks the applicants to consider an air source heat pump hot water heater, and an induction stove. That will avoid the expense of piping gas to the fourth floor. He also suggests a level 2 EV charger in the parking lot, if it will fit.

Mr. Benson says he visited the site at around 2pm in the afternoon, and about half of the building behind 99 Mass Ave was shadowed. He'd like the applicants to provide a shadow study. He asks about the material on the fourth floor.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says it will be a metal cladding. Either aluminum or lead-coated copper.

(Melisa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis asks about the current building tenants.

(Applicant) One of the applicants says there are three tenants on the first floor. The basement is under construction, and they don't have a tenant for that space.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if the existing tenants are going to stay.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they've weathered the construction so far.

(Applicant) One of the applicants says the second floor is currently empty.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says she supports the idea. She asks if the front windows will be collapsible.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they'll be folding windows.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis wonders about the building sign on the fourth floor. She says that seems like an unusual area for a sign.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says the sign will contain the building's address, or a name, if the owners decide to name it.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks if the apartment will be rented or owned.

(James Risling) (I missed Mr. Risling's answer.)

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak understands the applicants are planning to install a new storm water management system. He asks if they can describe it.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says it would consists of structures underneath where the parking lot currently is.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak understands that the current building is pre-existing non-conforming with respect to landscaped open space. Arlington's landscaped open space requirements are based on gross floor area, and the new residential dwelling would add 1220 feet. He'd like to see the applicants find a way to add 122 square feet of landscaped open space. He suggests depaving one of the six parking spaces, which should provide around 150 square feet.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they can consider that.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a suggestion about the building sign. He doesn't think the proposed sign location will be visible to someone standing on the street in front of the building, and suggests locating it above the entrance.

Finally, Mr. Revilak agrees with the earlier comments about trying to integrate the appearance of the fourth floor with the rest of the building. He thinks there may be too much distinction between the two.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she likes the distinction. She asks the applicants to play with the depth of the cornice, and consider working with the scale and depth of the canopy over the front entrance. Increasing the projection of the canopy might make a good place for the building sign.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson believes the bicycle lockers should have separate locks for the commercial and residential tenants.

(James Risling) Mr. Risling says they will have separate locks.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests a change to the roof massing, and to the windows on the east side of the building.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming like the project, and asks if someone can explain the requirements for step-backs. He says the applicants are adding one residential unit, and he thinks this is a lot of process, especially since many of the board's comments were about aesthetics, heating, and hot water.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that one of the board's charges is to look at the building in context of the surroundings, and to require LEED checklists. She says that the step back is a requirement for pulling the building back at the fourth story, in order to provide a break in the vertical articulation.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says the applicant isn't just asking for relief to add a residential unit. He says they're not meeting usable open space, or landscaped open space requirements. He thinks the upper story step-back requirements should be clarified in the bylaw. He claims the town screwed up during recodification, and that this building should be subject to height buffer regulations. He says that usable open space could be met on a rooftop, as long as it's not more than 10' high.

There are no more comments from the public.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a comment about upper story step-backs. He says our bylaw exempts frontages along alleys from step-back requirements. "Alley" isn't defined in the bylaw, so the definition has to come from the state building code, or Websters Unabridged dictionary. He asked staff to provide the definition; one of Merriam Webster's definitions was "a narrow back street". Mr. Revilak measured the width of Lee Terrace at 13' 4", which is far narrower than what our board of survey regulations allow. He thinks this qualifies as an alley for the purpose of Section 5.3.17, and the applicants shouldn't be required to provide a step-back on that side of the building.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson disagrees; he doesn't think Lee Terrace should be considered an alley. He says he won't be able to vote in favor of this application because of the step-backs; he thinks they should be measured from the side of the building and not from the property line. Mr. Benson recalls that the board allowed the step back to be measured from the property line for 882--892 Mass Ave, but he thinks that was because the applicants agreed to move the building forward.

There's a back and fourth among the board members, about step-backs.

Mr. Benson suggests the chair see if any other board members are opposed to interpreting step-backs from the property line, as he plans to vote against the proposal. A second no vote would result in the denial of the special permit.

The other four members of the board indicate that they're comfortable with the step-backs proposed.

The chair summarizes what board members have asked to see during the next hearing. This includes:

  • Changing the location of the building sign
  • Adjusting the scale of the cornice
  • Changing the window pattern on the side of the building
  • Adding the dimensions of parking spaces
  • Reducing the size of the parapet on the top floor
  • Using an electric heat source
  • Looking at installing a level 2 EV charger
  • Providing a shadow study
  • Clarifying the type of cladding to be used
  • Changing the hexagonal window above the entry
  • Attempting to provide 122 square feet of additional landscaped open space

The hearing is continued to January 23, 2023.

Continued Preliminary Discussion of Zoning Amendments

Staff provided a memo discussing zoning amendments that the board has expressed in during the past several months.

Open Space and Rear Yard Setbacks in Business Districts

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that Arlington doesn't have many properties in the Business districts, and they comprise only a small portion of the town's land. Open space and setback requirements have made several of the B district redevelopment proposals challenging, and it would be good to look at them.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thanks staff for the thoughtful memo, and the options they've presented.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson pretty much agrees with staff's suggestions, but he's not sure about taking payments in lieu for open space. He thinks it may be worthwhile to add exemptions for pre-existing non-conforming lots.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis asks about payment in lieu.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema explains Somerville's approach. If a project is required to have a certain number of square feet of open space and aren't able to provide it on site, the applicants can pay a fee, which goes into a fund for acquisition and maintenance of open space. Ms. Lynema says that other communities have more flexible approaches.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that Somerville's rear yard setback requirements would need some adjustment to work for Arlington. He's concerned with eliminating height buffers, because nearby properties might have installed solar panels. He wants a way to deal with solar.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery doesn't believe that installing solar panels should effectively give someone air rights over someone else's property.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the height buffer offers some level of protection.

There's back and fourth about solar panels and air rights.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson cites a section of the housing production plan that advocates for adjusting setbacks and open space.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis likes the idea of accepting payment in lieu for open space requirements. She doesn't see a drawback to Somerville's approach.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak favors the open space recommendations in the staff memo. He's also in favor of removing the height buffer area. So much of our business districts are next to R1 and R2 that the dual-height regulations don't make sense. He like Somerville's approach to rear yard setback requirements.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he likes everything he's heard so far, but he's not sure about payment in lieu for open space. He's concerned this might lead to pockets with no open space at all.

(Clair Ricker) Ms. Ricker asks the board if vertical landscaping would be acceptable as open space.

Members of the board agree.

Step back requirements for business districts

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says we need to clarify where step backs are measured from.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that Watertown has step-backs in their design standards, but they're not part of the zoning bylaw.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that Cambridge measures step-backs from the property line. He agrees with only requiring step-backs on the principal facade.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he'd like to understand how the step-backs and set backs will interact.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that mixed use and commercial buildings don't require setbacks in the business districts.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson reads a passage from page 67 of the housing production plan. He notes there's a rationale for not providing step-backs on a street with a large right of way, but providing them on narrower streets.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says she likes staff's recommendations.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with the idea of exempting small parcels. Among non-condoized business parcels, the median size is just over 6300 square feet. He thinks it's important to accommodate these smaller parcels. He agrees with only requiring step-backs along one facade.

Height Minimums in Business Districts

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that staff is suggesting a minimum height of 25' or two stories in the business districts, with an exemption for parcels where this isn't possible, or where a single-story would be in the public interest.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with staff's recommendations.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis also agrees.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's like the second story to have as much square footage as the first, along with the ability to waive other requirements as necessary.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she's been measuring rear yard depths of business parcels; she's concerned that it might not be possible to require more than two stories.

Arlington Heights Business District Consolidation

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the recommendations were largely taken from the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan. The idea would be to consolidate the four or five business districts; this would effectively be a pilot for doing similar consolidations in other parts of town. Only the Business and Transportation districts in the heights would be affected.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says the narrow sidewalks in the heights are a drawback. He wonders if we could do something to encourage wider sidewalks in exchange for greater building height. He thinks the sidewalk needs to be wider.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that a number of parcels are fairly shallow, and that's a concern for her.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes there are picnic tables on the sidewalk in front of Del's Lemonade, because the sidewalks are wider in that part of town. He'd like to incorporate some of the earlier ideas we talked about. He asks why we wouldn't allow more open space on balconies.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema thinks it would be a good idea to make the open space requirements consistent with what we recommend for the other business districts.

(Melisa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis says she supports consolidating the districts. She asks if there are regulations about pervious payment, since open space requirements are often there to guarantee some amount of permeability.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak likes the proposed consolidation, but thinks the open space requirements should match what we propose for other B districts.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to review the allowed uses more closely.

Industrial Uses

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says this proposal comes from ideas that the board has discussed in the past. These include limiting the opportunity for more self storage facilities. Staff also recommends allowing fast food restaurants, and changing some language in the solar standards (if the attorney general approves the solar energy systems bylaw that we passed during the last town meeting).

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to encourage microbreweries. He spoke to the owners of Deep Cuts Deli, who were granted a special permit to put a microbrewery in the former Tango space, but decided to go with another location. One of the main reasons they balked was because of Arlington's "no more than two drinks without food" rule. He thinks we haven't cleared the way for microbreweries yet. Mr. Lau asks if we should allow more self-storage facilities, or cap the number.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery doesn't think it's useful for the zoning bylaw to be so prescriptive.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is okay with allowing more self-storage facilities. The one we approved at 34 Dudley Street was around 95,000 square feet. If built, it will be the second largest commercial building in Arlington. He says that Arlington's largest commercial building has an address on Acorn Park Drive; it's an office building in Cambridge, that happens to cross the town line. 34 Dudley was the biggest commercial project we've permitted since CVS put a pharmacy on Mass Ave by the High School.

Mr. Revilak understands the high aspirations for commercial projects, but says that Arlington has made a lot of policy decisions that put our town at a disadvantage. We are where we are because of the decisions we've made, and we'll have to deal with that.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to think about minimum size regulations for the I district. He believes that town meeting was concerned about residential development there. He thinks we have to clarify the stormwater requirements for the Industrial district; what amount of stormwater has to be treated for a site of a given size.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that Pam Heidell and David Morgan are working on a recommendation.

Ms. Lynema asks if projects in the industrial district should be subject to EDR.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks they should be

Open Forum

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming has comments about the staff recommendations for open space requirements in Business districts. He suggests a change to accommodate mixed-use that's all-commercial, without a residential component.

Regarding uses, when a new business comes into to town, some people will like it, and others will say "it's too much". He believes that being too prescriptive leads to lost opportunities, but businesses won't survive if there's not demand.

New Business

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the town has hired a new Economic Development Coordinator. Mary Musinski is moving into the role of CDBG Manager, and the department will be looking for a new administrator.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that inspectional services isn't doing a good job at enforcing the sign bylaw. He thinks it would be useful to have checks at some point.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that inspectional services was working with the former Economic Development Coordinator, and they were in the process of crafting letters to non-compliant businesses.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks when the board can meet the new Economic Development Coordinator. He'd like to have us invite the Chamber of Commerce too.

Staff will try to set up a meeting with this parties on January 29th.

Meeting adjourned.