Arlington Redevelopment Board - Feb 6th, 2023
Meeting held at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=1763&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda.
Schedule, Outreach, and Engagement for 2023 Town Meeting Zoning Amendments
(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says that we've been assuming 12 warrant articles from the ARB and another four from citizen petitioners. Ms. Lynema informs the board that the Town Manager requested that all zoning amendments be postponed until fall, to be heard at a special town meeting. She says the Town Manager indicated a desire to limit the annual town meeting to finance articles, and things that would be suitable for a consent agenda. The board can vote on postponing articles until the fall. In doing so, the fall special town meeting would have zoning articles for economic development, along with multi-family zoning for MBTA communities.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says he's okay with that.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks about articles submitted by citizen petitioners.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she's planning to reach out to each of the three citizen petitioners, to see if they're willing to postpone. She envisions something like the process we used in 2020, where finance articles were heard in the spring, and the others were deferred until fall. Ms. Lynema notes that citizen petitioners could choose not to defer, and have their articles heard at the spring town meeting instead.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that two of the four citizen articles could be considered as economic development, but the other two would not.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema said she's planning to ask Tom Perkins if he'd be willing to work with the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Trustees on their Affordable Housing Overlay initiative. She says the Town Manager wanted to delay substantive articles until the fall.
(note: Mr. Perkins submitted a warrant article that proposes to allow the creation of affordable housing in all zoning districts.)
(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak doesn't object to the town manager's request, but he'd like to know more about the reasoning behind it.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that last year's articles weren't organized around a theme. She believes the intent was to keep the spring town meeting short. It would also give new town meeting members time to get familiar with the process before having to consider complex zoning articles.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak recalls a point during the last town meeting, when we were concerned about getting through all of the articles in time to submit the budget. A shorter spring meeting would avoid that situation.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery sees pros and cons to delaying. She says the board has been very deliberate in proposing articles that affect the business and industrial districts, and she'd like to avoid possible confusion between commercial and residential zoning. On the other hand, she thinks it will be important to have visuals to illustrate what the proposed changes will and will not do. Delaying should give us more time to put visuals together.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema would like to propose a schedule for engagement. The MBTA communities zoning has to be submitted to DHCD by November 10th, in order to make us eligible to participate in the fossil fuel pilot. She says we could issue a press release and start outreach efforts after town meeting. She suggests it could be beneficial to have a joint meeting with the ARB and Select Board.
Ms. Lynema says we can hold community workshops and use surveys to gather input on specific proposals. She'd also like to engage other departments, like the Finance Committee and Assessor's office. Staff would work on materials during town meeting, and the board would hold hearings in September.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery expects that the board will have its fifth member by then.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau notes that we have a consultant to help us develop an MBTA district, and asks if we have funding to hire someone to do graphics and renderings. He thinks that sketches and renderings would help get the feeling across.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says we also need to explain how slowly changes occur.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak recalls an ADU article that came before town meeting in 2019. One of the concerns raised was: Arlington has around eight thousand single-family homes, and the homeowners could potentially build 8000 ADUs in no time at all. We passed a different ADU article in 2021, and there have been very few ADUs permitted in the last two years.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema indicates that four ADUs have been permitted so far; two by right and two with special permits.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests we try to find funding.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she'll talk it over with the director.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson is a little disappointed at having to wait. This means we'll have a big agenda during the fall, between the commercial zoning, MBTA communities, and potentially an affordable housing overlay.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema believes that clarity of message will be extremely important. She thinks we should be clear that the articles the board are proposing are priorities for the town.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks whether citizens petitioners will need to gather 100 signatures, if their articles are deferred until fall.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she needs to get clarity here. She plans to talk with Town Counsel before reaching out to the petitioners.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wonders if we can run legal notices in YourArlington, rather than the Advocate and Star.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that state law still requires us to post legal notices in a newspaper of general circulation. She says the Metro Mayor's Coalition has been lobbying for an update to that requirement.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would like to talk about articles that could go on the consent agenda. She feels that two of the industrial zone articles could be consent agenda items -- the ones dealing with stormwater management and solar standards. The intent of those articles is to clarify what the bylaw means.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with recommending the solar standards article for the consent agenda. He's less sure about stormwater standards, and isn't sure that designing for a particular storm level is the right approach.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery expects the stormwater article's main motion to come from the expertise of town staff and the Conservation Commission.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with Ms. Zsembery.
This leaves us with three articles for the consent agenda: solar standards, stormwater, and removing a sentence from the section on administration, that the Attorney General said was unenforceable.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if board members can receive a copy of the citizen articles.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that the board will have to take a vote at the next ARB meeting.
Members of the board express general agreement for doing so.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to start the hearings in August.
DPCD Administrative Approvals
At a prior meeting, the board had requested a summary of administrative approvals made by the Department of Planning and Community Development.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema tells the board she went through the department's administrative reviews for 2020--2022.
There were 11 EDR applications in 2020, with four administrative reviews. Two of the four involved TDM plans. There were also administrative reviews for signage and affordable housing.
There were another 11 applications in 2021. Four of these had administrative review, for TDM and bicycle parking.
In 2022, there were 13 applicants and nine administrative reviews. Three administrative reviews involved TDM, three involved bicycle parking, and four involved signage.
Ms. Lynema says that review for affordable housing requirements typically doesn't happen until the building is almost ready for occupancy. She says that TDM plans often depend on who the commercial tenants is; some TDM elements may work for certain business and not others. In general, TDM plans require a survey of the tenants; while the department can make recommendations to applicants, it's not always possible to finalize them right away.
For signs, Ms. Lynema says that administrative review sometimes involves waiting for tenants. The department tries to encourage compliance with Section 6.2 of the bylaw. In the case of Tatte, staff reviewed a proposed vinyl door sign, to verify that it was within the square foot limits allowed in the bylaw.
Ms. Lynema says that the applicant for 1500 Mass Ave came back to the department about a revision to parking spaces. They went from four spaces plus one compact to five compact spaces, along with more bike parking. Perhaps that kind of change is something the board would want to hear.
Finally, Arlington Animal Clinic ran into supply chain issues with their building renovation, and weren't able to get the type of awnings that were originally approved. They had to work with staff on a suitable replacement.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he wasn't aware that the 1500 Mass Ave applicants had come back to the department about parking. He says he's also gotten questions about the administrative review of siding for 455 Mass Ave. Mr. Benson thinks it would be helpful if the board gave some direction for administrative reviews. He's also interested in getting updates as administrative approvals take place.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks Mr. Benson if he had something like monthly updates in mind.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson replies by saying "monthly, or whenever they happen". He thinks that would close the loop. He's also unsure that any board has the authority to allow all compact parking spaces.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that, going forward, the department can treat that kind of changes as substantial.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that DPCD did more follow up on decisions before Ms. Zsembery was on the board. He though that worked well.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that staff has done a nice job. He's just looking for a feedback loop.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks a feedback loop would be okay.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema notes that the 455 Mass Ave applicants had to go before the Historical Commission, after they'd received approval from the ARB. She thinks it would be helpful for the ARB to be in alignment with other boards.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he'd be willing to defer to the Historical Commission on things like finish materials on historical buildings; he thinks the finishes would be more in their jurisdiction. He doesn't want to see the case where an applicant has to go back and fourth between two boards.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he periodically checks in on projects that the ARB has approved. When the board approved the daycare on Broadway, Mr. Lau said he was concerned about traffic congestion at pickup and drop-off times. But in his observation, that hasn't been a problem.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to avoid administrative review when an applicant has not submitted materials. LEED checklists for example.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema describes a set of updates that she's making to special permit application forms, noting that the existing forms don't ask for a LEED checklist. She says that a summary of administrative reviews can be added to the board's agenda.
Business Districts, Lot Size, and FAR
This item comes in response to an earlier board meeting, where there were questions about what "> 20,000 square feet" meant in the dimensional tables for mixed use. Ms. Lynema reviewed earlier copies of the zoning bylaw, and says that provision was always attached to the square footage of parcels. She agrees that it could be clarified, though.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he went through earlier versions of the bylaw, to see if upper-story step-backs were measured from the lot line or building face. As far as he can tell, the bylaw has always been silent on that matter.
Approval of Meeting Minutes
The board approves four sets of meeting minutes, as amended. These cover meetings from November 7, 2022; November 21, 2023; December 5, 2023; and December 19, 2023. Each set of minutes was approved by a 4--0 vote.
No members of the public were present to speak during tonight's open forum.
Staff informs the board that they've submitted an MBTA communities action plan to the Massachusetts Department of Planning and Community Development.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that the board will have to update its rules and regulations, to account for the new solar standards bylaw.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema informs the board that the 190, 192 Mass Ave applicants are scheduled for another hearing on Feb 27th. She also says that Sustainability Manager Talia Fox is working with the Clean Energy Future Committee on adopting the state's new stretch energy code. There will be a public forum about this on March 11th.
(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if the Atwood house is still in limbo.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that the Historical Commission disagrees with the state law about when demolition delay starts. She believes the Atwood house may have been eligible for demolition as of last summer. She plans to follow up with Inspectional Services.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if there's any news about the Hotel Lexington.
(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the owner has been having trouble finding a purchaser. She notes that the special permit will lapse after three years.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about what happens if the ownership of the old VFW post reverts to the town.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak wants to provide an update about the town's equity audit. He's a member of the audit's advisory group; the group got a presentation about the findings last week, and the full report is on the Select Board's agenda for this evening.
Mr. Revilak says the goal of the audit was to assess equality of opportunity and access in three areas: civic engagement, town employment, and housing. He'd like to summarize the housing findings, along with the recommendations.
Housing is associated with two findings. Finding number one is that Arlington is racially segregated, which restricts housing options for BIPOC residents. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the use of racial covenants, discrimination in programs like FHA loans, and in our zoning. Finding number two is that renters feel unsupported by the town.
The report makes three recommendations in the area of housing. They are: establish and hire a housing specialist or housing liaison; develop a community fund for rental assistance, rental housing improvement programs, and a centralized system for funding; and, address restrictive zoning districts to allow for desegregation.