Arlington Redevelopment Board - Feb 27th, 2023

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Meeting held at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from

Docket 3650 - 190--200 Mass Ave

The applicant is proposing a four-story mixed use building at the corner of Mass Ave and Lake Street. This is their second hearing before the board.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema tells the board that the applicants submitted new application materials for this hearing, along with a document responding to each of the items that the board raised during the first hearing. They are providing more bicycle parking than required, and have proposed two measures for their transportation demand management plan. Ms. Lynema suggests administrative review for the rest of the plan, which would be done after the commercial tenants are identified. The applicants have also held two meetings with abutters.

(Robert Annese, Attorney for the Applicants) Mr. Annese says his clients have tried to respond to the issues the board previously raised. He says they've had meetings with the abutters; although they weren't able to give the abutters everything they wanted, Mr. Annese felt the meetings were productive.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau thanks the applicants for removing the arch, and the tandem parking arrangements. He thinks the building is still a bit heavy-looking, and asks the applicants if they can lighten up some of the material, like the siding or aluminum panels. He's just suggesting a change in color.

(Applicant) The applicant's architect says there are two tones of gray in the rendering. He suggests keeping the dark overhang above the retail spaces, and using lighter colors above.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the front facade can be lighter, more like the rear.

Regarding solar panels, the current drawings show the solar panels running to the edge of the roof. Mr. Lau says that railings are required when roof equipment is placed within 10' of the roof's edge. He'd prefer not to see guardrails up there, and asks if the applicants can move the panels away from the roof's edge.

(Applicant) One of the applicants agrees to Mr. Lau's request.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests flipping the layout of one of the corner rooms, so the living room is in the corner of the building, rather than a bedroom.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson wants to start with the basement. He notes the plans show 18 bicycle storage spaces. He asks if they can be surrounded with something like a bumper, to ensure that the bicycles aren't struck or damaged by cars.

(Applicant) The applicant says they're planning to enclose the storage area, similar to what's shown for the ground floor. They want to have a secure facility for storing bicycles.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if they're proposing a cage.

(Applicant) The applicants answer in the affirmative.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if there are any sections of the basement where the ceiling height is 6' 7".

(Applicant) One of the applicants says he knows they can accomplish a height of 7'. He explains some of the options available for adjusting headroom, once they get to the structural design phase.

There's back and fourth discussion about the parking garage layout.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wants to discuss the first floor. He asks about the location of the parking garage door.

(Applicant) One of the applicants says it will be a rolling door.

There's back and fourth about lighting and they layout of the garage door.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that parking table on sheet C-102 uses an older set of residential parking requirements; current zoning requires one space per dwelling unit, and he believes they need to provide a total of 36 spaces. The applicants are proposing 30 spaces, and Mr. Benson says the board can waive the six commercial spaces via a TDM plan. He says there's another way to get a parking reduction: by providing one additional affordable unit. He doesn't believe the three extra long-term bicycle parking spaces should qualify as a TDM measure.

Mr. Benson says he's done some research on unbundling parking, and isn't convinced it will work, so he's not sure about that element of the TDM plan. Due to these factors, Mr. Benson isn't sure about granting a parking reduction in exchange for a TDM plan, but he would be okay with granting a parking reduction for an additional affordable unit. He notes that Section 8.2.4 of the zoning bylaw gives the board the ability to do this.

Mr. Benson asks about the stackable bicycle racks.

(Applicant) One of the applicants says that cyclists would need to lift their bicycles up onto the top rack.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if they could use racks with a mechanical assist. He notes that racks that require lifting a bike without assistance don't meet the requirements of the zoning bylaw.

Mr. Benson asks about shade trees. He thinks there should be one more tree on Chandler street, and suggests payment to the tree fund in lieu of a tree.

Mr. Benson asks the applicants to explain their GFA calculations.

(Applicant) The applicant says their GFA calculations were measured from outside wall to outside wall.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about the usable open space calculations.

(Applicant) One of the applicants shows the location of open space on the plans. They're proposing the front patio area as usable, and the spaces around the building as landscaped. There's 14' between the edge of the building and the property line, and 30' between the edge of the building and the curb.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak wants to note a mistake in the application. The applicants submitted materials saying this project fell under the category of "mixed use > 20,000 sq ft". Mr. Revilak says that "> 20,000 square feet" refers to lot area, so this project falls under the "<= 20,000 square foot category. He says the difference is significant because mixed use over 20,000 square feet has a lot area per dwelling unit restrictions, which mixed-use on smaller lots do not have. The end result would be a substantial reduction in unit count.

Mr. Revilak would also like to talk about the stackable racks. He says there are two types: ones that have mechanical assists, and ones that do not. Mr. Revilak looked at the manufacturer listed in the spec sheets, and says their web site has models of the mechanical assist type. He'd like the applicants to use the mechanical assist racks, and asks if they'd feel comfortable having that as a condition of the special permit.

(Applicant) One of the applicants answers in the affirmative.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak appreciates the removal of the tandem parking. He thinks the ground floor parking area is more functional now. He also appreciates the additional commercial space on the Mass Ave side of the building.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery also appreciates the removal of the tandem parking spaces. She suggests some changes to the rear of the building, and asks if the applicants have done any photo-metric calculations to assess light spillage from the parking area.

(Applicant) One of the applicants talks through the exterior lighting treatment. They're planning to use a combination of wall sconces and low-intensity LED light.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery wants to know more about the lighting plan in the parking area, to understand its impact on abutters. Ms. Zsembery suggests a more prominent sign band on the Lake Street side of the building. She'd like to make sure that commercial tenant has enough room for signage.

(Applicant) One of the applicants indicates they'd like the signage to go to the side of the door, perhaps illuminated with low-intensity lighting.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks the applicants to consider blade signs, since this is a very pedestrian-oriented area.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau has a question about the roof garden. He asks who'll maintain it.

(Applicants) One of the applicants says the landlord will maintain the roof garden. They'll have access from the roof of the building.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson expresses his appreciation for the rooftop garden.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if there will be any kind of audible warning or strobe for the garage door.

(Applicant) The applicants say there won't be a warning device. The garage door is set back from the sidewalk, and they believe there will be enough visibility so that a warning device won't be required.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks about the location of the exhaust louvers for the parking garage.

(Applicant) The applicants indicate the location of the louvers. They'll face the parking lot of a nearby apartment building.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks the applicants to double-check the distance between their egress points.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Rachel Roth, Chandler St) Ms. Roth says there aren't many people here tonight, and she asks the board to consider hybrid meetings. She appreciates that the garage will be quiet, and says that no one reached out to her about the abutter meetings. Ms. Roth says she has concerns about construction and about compressor noise. She asks if there can be a noise study. She'd also like to hear more about the demolition and construction process, and what that will mean in terms of vibrations. She says she read an article in the Boston Globe where a developer asked residents what kinds of businesses they wanted to see in a commercial space, and they got a bookstore.

(Peter Ferguson, Chandler St) Mr. Ferguson also has questions about construction and demolition. He's also concerned about having the construction entrance on a one-way street, and asks the applicants to consider moving it to Mass Ave.

(Steve Moore, Piedmont St) Mr. Moore sees that one tree along Mass Ave will be retained, but didn't see a tree preservation plan in the applicant's materials. He thinks that would be helpful to have. He's not sure the street tree will survive, but says we can still protect it. He suggests adding an irrigation system for the street trees, and isn't sure hand-watering will be sufficient.

There are no more comments from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests the applicants use a wider notification list for future abutter meetings. She asks if they can provide demolition details, and speak to the question about compressor noise.

(Applicant) The applicant says all of the mechanicals will be on the roof. The building will be 100% electric, so these will be air source heat pumps.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests adding tree protection detail to the construction plans.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about EV chargers.

(Applicant) The applicants say they're planning to have six chargers.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the board should have a discussion about step-backs.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema would like to make a remark about the applicant's desire to have a loading area on Chandler Street. She says such a request will have to be approved by the Select Board. Ms. Lynema also notes there's a Bus Rapid Transit lane on Mass Ave, which would preclude the applicants from having a loading area there.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the board is authorized to approve up to 20% compact parking spaces, and he thinks the board can allow that.

Regarding open space, Mr. Benson acknowledge the applicants are providing more than currently exists, but less than what the bylaw requires.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the board wants to talk about the distinction between side yards and rear yards.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks this is a hole in our regulations; the bylaw doesn't contemplate three front yards. Mr. Benson thinks the building setbacks are appropriate, and he's okay with allowing five compact parking spaces.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak points out that one of the bylaw's yard definitions says that in lots having no frontage or irregular shape, a yard that isn't a front yard or a rear yard shall be considered a side yard. He thinks the bylaw contemplates the absence of a rear yard, but for different reasons. He agrees this is a gap in the regulations.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson believes the 7.5' upper-story step back should be measured from the building facade, but acknowledges that the rest of the board thinks it should be measured from the property line. He says he won't vote against the project for that reason, however.

Mr. Benson says he appreciates that the proposal has more open space than there currently is.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak appreciates that the applicants are using the front plaza to open up the public realm. He thinks that's appropriate for a pedestrian-oriented business district, and fits well with the EDR standard for open space.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would prefer to see the applicant add one affordable unit in order to get a parking reduction. He thinks there should be one TDM plan for commercial, and one for residential.

There's discussion among board members about parking. Mr. Benson would like another affordable unit. Mr. Lau would give a parking reduction because the board asked them to remove the tandem parking spaces, and they did. Mr. Revilak would grant the reduction due to unbundling, and because the building is in an area that lends itself to non-automotive forms of transit. There are bike lanes, the Minuteman, and the site is reasonably close to Alewife. In addition to being a T station, Alewife is a hub for a number of shuttle services that serve commercial corridors on routes 3 and 128.

Members of the board are okay with payment to the tree fund, for two trees.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would like to summarize the open items. These include:

  • Providing samples of lighter-colored building materials.
  • Moving solar panels away from the building edge, so a guard rail isn't necessary.
  • Swapping the living room and bedroom in one of the units.
  • Enclosing the bike parking in the garage.
  • Using stackable racks with mechanical assist.
  • Payment to the tree fund, for two trees.
  • The addition of one more tree, near Chandler St.
  • Providing specifications for the lighting fixtures around the parking areas.
  • Sign bands.
  • Having a larger brick return on the rear facade.
  • Providing a tree protection plan.
  • Using a wider radius of abutters for future abutter notices.

The applicants agree to all of these items, and the board is willing to let them be handled via administrative review.

The board approves the application by a vote of 3--1 (Mr. Benson voted in the negative).

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wishes to explain his vote. He thinks this is a good project, which will help the town. Mr. Benson says he voted no because he didn't think the TDM proposal fit the bylaw, and because he believes that an additional affordable unit would have been better.

Open Space and Recreation Plan Update

Wendy Richter is the ARB's appointee to the Open Space committee. Ms. Richter is here to provide the board with an update on the Open Space and Recreation Plan.

(Wendy Richter) Ms. Richter says the Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) was approved by the state, and there are several action items that potentially have ARB involvement. These are:

  • Continue to implement strategies from the Mill Brook corridor report,
  • Identify opportunities to protect private lands adjacent to and near the Town's most distressed natural resources, such as Mill Brook, Alewife Brook, and Spy Pond,
  • Enforce the conditions of the ZBA's 2021 decision on Thorndike Place, regarding the establishment of a perpetual conservation restriction on the designated 12-acre conservation parcel,
  • Use native and pollinator-friendly vegetation appropriate for an urban environment in Town landscaping projects, including more curbside rain gardens,
  • Implement Arlington's design standards along the Mill Brook Corridor to enhance and protect the river bank and water quality, and
  • Review town policies and regulations to ensure that they include climate impact considerations on natural systems and their ecological functions.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees that it's important to make open space usable for residents.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks we should encourage more parklets. One of his pet peeves are brick sidewalks that create a tripping hazard.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks there's a question as to whether Arlington's open spaces are doing a good job for different ethnicities. He's seen groups playing cricket, and notes that the town doesn't have a cricket field.

(Wendy Richter) Ms. Richter thinks that public open space will become more important as the town becomes denser.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak recently read Somerville's Curb Use Study. This was a comprehensive inventory of Somerville's curb space, how it's used, and who its users are. Although curb space is largely used for vehicle parking, there are other things it can be used for -- like bicycle lanes, green space, trees, and enhancing the public realm. Mr. Revilak thinks Arlington devotes too much curb space to parking, and he hopes we can do a similar study at some point.

EDR Application Review

Ms. Lynema has been working on a set of revisions to the application forms for environmental design review, and she's presented draft copies to the board.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she's trying to make the forms clearer, to ensure that materials aren't left out of the application process. She's expecting to have a primary application for new construction, and smaller applications for signs and changes of use.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to have applicant's renderings show more of the surrounding buildings in context.

Schedule for 2023 Annual Town Meeting

The board reviews and discusses their meeting and hearing schedule, leading up to town meeting.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema lists the dates we have so far.

  • March 6th. Four warrant article hearings. Three are administrative changes, and the fourth is a resident petition. 99 Mass Ave has a continued hearing this evening.
  • March 13th. Three warrant article hearings; all are citizen petitions.
  • March 20th and March 27th had been held as hearing nights but they won't be necessary, with many of the zoning articles being deferred until the fall.
  • April 3rd. Board votes on their recommendations to town meeting.
  • April 6th. Approval of the ARB's report to town meeting.

There's a question about whether the board can vote earlier than April 3rd. Ms. Lynema will have to check with Town Counsel, as the voting date was specified in the legal notice for the hearings.

The March 20th meeting will probably be eliminated. March 27th may be used to meet with the town's new Economic Development Coordinator, and perhaps the Chamber of Commerce.

Open Forum

(Steve Moore, Piedmont St) Mr. Moore asks why the board isn't conducting hybrid meetings.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that she's a member of the remote participation study committee, and they've identified that hybrid meetings work well for some boards but not others. She says there are challenges with the acoustics in the room, and that the board would need a third staff person to effectively conduct hybrid hearings. She says that the board continues to meet in person because of staff and technology challenges.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore thinks that public participation is higher when there's a remote meeting option. He says the ZBA has been doing well with hybrid meetings.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery believes that in-person meetings tend to encourage more empathetic reactions, and she believes that's important for cases that come before the ARB.

Meeting Minutes

The board approves minutes from their Jan 23, 2023 meeting, 4--0.

The board approves minutes from their Feb 6, 2023 meeting, 4--0

New Business

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that the Clean Energy Future Committee is sponsoring a public forum on March 1st, to discuss Massachusetts's new optional stretch code.

The MBTA Communities working group will conduct a visioning session on March 9th, with the hope of better understanding community goals and priorities. They're also working on a companion survey, and meeting in a box materials.

March 15th will be the final day for public comment on improvements to the intersection of Mass Ave and Appleton Street. The planning department is asking for the Select Board's support to move ahead with the final design work.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes the recent addition of Section 5.4.2.B(8) to the zoning bylaw. This section allows a property owner to rebuild a home on a non-conforming lot, as long as the new home meets certain energy efficiency criteria. Mr. Revilak recently learned that a duplex on Palmer Street was recently rebuilt under this provision, and wished to share that good news with the board.

Meeting adjourned.