Arlington Redevelopment Board - Jun 7th, 2021
Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=1357.
These notes cover a subset of agenda items.
Docket 3650 - 190, 192 Mass Ave
This hearing was continued from April 5th. The petitioner owns a parcel at the corner of Lake Street and Mass Ave; they'd like to do a new Mixed use development on the site.
(John Murphy, Project Manager) Mr. Murphy reviews major changes made since the prior hearing, which include removing one floor and reducing the residential unit count to 24. They're coming to the board with what they think is their best final plan. The building will have 14 off-street parking spaces. The commercial space is extended around the corner onto Lake Street, and the parking garage shifted to accommodate the additional commercial space. They relocated the residential entrance to the bank building door. Mr. Murphy believes the building fits in much better with the surroundings.
(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery appreciates the applicant's effort. Right now, the biggest obstacle is that the building FAR (floor area ratio) is double what's permitted in the district. Ms. Zsembery feels that the board really can't move forward with other elements of the review until the FAR is addressed. Before commenting on other aspects of the project, she wants the applicants to reduce the FAR from 3.1 to 1.5, or to seek a variance fro the ZBA, or consider doing the project under 40B. Ms. Zsembery's preference would be to have the applicants stay within the zoning bylaw, and bring a proposal with less than 50% residential.
(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt agrees that FAR is the primary issue. It's lower than the previous submission, but still double what's allowed under the bylaw. There are additional questions about parking and circulation, but it doesn't make sense to get into those until the FAR issue is addressed. She suggests the applicants need to listen to the people in East Arlington and consider their feedback.
(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau is disappointed that the project was able to get this far along with the FAR issue? He's frustrated that the board spent time reviewing a project that they aren't able to permit.
(Melissa Tintocalis, ARB) Ms. Tintocalis is also confused. At the previous hearing, the applicant's attorney made an argument for why the board could approve the proposal.
(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson agrees with Ms. Raitt and Ms. Zsembery. He thinks that the FAR regulations in this district are a problem. The corner should not be limited to a FAR of 1.5. Mr. Benson reads a memo from Town Counsel. Section 5.3.6 of the zoning bylaw allows a FAR Bonus, but this project doesn't meet the requirements of that section. Mr. Benson thinks the FAR regulations on this corner are unfortunate.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt explains that 5.3.6 allows FAR bonuses in certain districts, but not the B3 district where this property is located.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks there needs to be a better screening process; projects shouldn't come before the ARB if the board doesn't have the power to approve them. The board is trying to get more commercial development in town, but we won't even be able to get to a vote on this design.
(Bob Annese, Attorney for the Petitioner) Mr. Annese agrees that the FAR regulations are an issue. He's familiar with section 5.3.6 and agrees that B3 isn't in the list of districts where the bonus is allowed. He thinks the ARB has more power than they're exercising in this case. Why would the zoning bylaw give the ARB authority over projects on Mass Ave if they didn't have the ability to grant relief?
This particular site will never have open space. Now the question is what to do, without the ability to get relief from the FAR regulations. 40B would be a total change, and might not fit in as well with the surrounding area. Like Mr. Lau, he's frustrated. His clients will have to talk more, and come up with a different plan for this site. Mr. Annese says they held a meeting for neighbors; 124 were invited, 20 attended, and it was a successful meeting.
(Kelly Doherty) Mr. Doherty believes the FAR is a really big issue. This building keeps being discussed as if it's a Mass Ave project, but it's really a project on Chandler street. All of the impact will be to Chandler Street. We will have to look at the building, and we want a new one that works better.
(Cathy Peterson) Ms. Peterson believes that abutters were not adequately notified. She only found about this project through a neighbor, and didn't receive any kind of notice in the mail. She says the neighborhood was not informed.
(Elaine Maynard) Ms. Maynard says her home is adjacent to the proposed structure, and she takes issue with the statement that the neighborhood meeting was successful. She thinks the building will create numerous quality of life issues for the people who live behind it. It doesn't address the needs of the Chandler Street community. Ultimately, it's a quality of life issue for this community. She says "selfishly, it's about me and what I have to look at". This is about the impact to the Chandler Street Community.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt notes that the developer's meeting was not organized by the town, and no one from the town was in attendance.
(Jonathan Joseph) Mr. Joseph only learned about this project from concerned neighbors. He thinks neighborhood concerns should be the board's biggest metric. We have zoning for a reason. He appreciates that the applicants shortened the building by one story, but he'll still have to look at it from his home on Chandler Street.
(?) The speaker agrees that FAR is an issue, and the developer really needs to build a three story building. Interior and exterior lighting may be an issue. A number of people are concerned about the garage; any beeping will be disruptive to the neighborhood and would not be appropriate for a residential district. She's concerned about light pollution and asks if there's a legal definition of abutter. She thinks that everyone on Chandler and adjacent streets will be affected, and the town should have notified them.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there is a legal definition of abutter -- it's any property owner within 300 feet. Abutter notifications are generated and sent out by the town. She doesn't know what criteria the applicants used when advertising their neighborhood meeting.
(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says you simply can't built a 4--5 story building on a lot this size. Look at the building next door for example. He suggests a three story building with commercial on the ground floor, office condominiums on the second, and residential on the third. The building could have a footprint of 6,000 square feet, and Mr. Seltzer believes it could be constructed for $3M. He thinks this would be financially feasible. He asks how many group 1 apartments are included in the plans.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak appreciates the changes to the Mass Ave and Lake Street sides of the building. He thinks they're a big improvement over the prior iteration, and they look really good.
(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau wants to raise a point of order. The redevelopment board doesn't allow cheering or applause during their in person hearing, and several participants were doing this by way of zoom reactions.
(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says that when he served on the board, he understood that the ARB's jurisdiction over Mass Ave was intended to provide a higher level of review. He feels that project shouldn't come before the board unless they meet zoning requirements.
(Alham Saadat) Ms. Saadat appreciates the comments about impact to neighborhood, but hopes that Arlington will make a commitment to building more smaller housing units. This building had two empty storefronts, and that was kind of depressing in an area like Capitol Square. She thinks we should think about the bigger picture when it comes to vacancies, and bringing new people into town. We need to think about more than a small number of abutters, because these projects affect the larger community.
(Ryan Jacobs) Mr. Jacobs wants to echo the previous speaker's comments. He's very much pro-density and believes this area lacks a housing diversity. Empty storefronts were a problem before COVID, and in the age of the internet, that's not likely to change any time soon. He favors a compromise that provides enough density to support local businesses, and more housing equity.
There's no further comment from the public.
(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt reiterates that the main issue is FAR. FAR is likely to affect other aspects of the project, and she feels it wouldn't make sense to focus on them now. If the applicants want the site to be significantly residential, then they'll likely need to the the 40B approach. It really depends on what kind of program the applicants want to pursue.
(Melissa Tintocalis) Ms. Tintocalis is curious about what the applicant is thinking.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson had a list of nine issues, but he thinks they can wait until the FAR issue is addressed. He notes that the applicants could go before town meeting with a warrant article to re-zone the property to a different district.
(John Murphy) Mr. Murphy believes the applicants will probably not be willing to continue the hearing. He says there's no way one could build this building for $3M, and you probably couldn't even build two stories for that much. You also need to convince a bank that it's a good business risk, in order for them to lend you the money. It's harder when your neck is on the line. He doesn't think it's possible to build something economically viable on this site with a FAR of 1.5. 40B is likely to be a better option.
(note: at $3M in construction costs, an 18,000 square foot building works out to $167/square foot. Prior to the pandemic, the going rate for wood frame construction was $250--300/square foot. I'm inclined to agree that $3M is an unrealistically low figure).
(Bob Annese) Mr. Annese doesn't want the board to vote this down, because that would mean waiting two years before another special permit could be filed. He'd like the board to continue the hearing to a date certain. If they can't find a way forward, they'll withdraw the application before then.
Hearing continue to July 26th.
(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak recently came into possession of a 1955 Copy of Arlington's Zoning bylaw, along with a map of similar vintage. The map was actually dated 1946. This was related to a ZBA case, where we had to revisit a decision from 1955.
In terms of commercially zoned land, it was very different than what we have today. The business districts were thick bands on either side of Mass Ave, from one end of town to the other. Much of Broadway had the same configuration, and there were a few others scattered here and there. By "thick bands", he means 150--200 feet deep, on either side of the street.
The industrial district stretched across the middle of town, from Arlington center to the Lexington line. For the most part, it was the land between the Mass Ave business district and the Boston and Maine railroad, which is today's minuteman bikeway.
So, back in the middle of the 20th century, we had a lot more land zoned for business and industrial use.
With this as background, today's map makes a lot more sense. Back in the 1970's any parcel in the business district that wasn't being used for a commercial use was reassigned to a residential district. The rest were assigned to one of the six business districts that we have today.
Mr. Revilak encourages the board to look at the 1946 map. In terms of having more commercial businesses in town, it may provide some inspiration or ideas.
(note: in retrospect, I should have said 100--200 feet instead of 150--200. A fair number of the districts extended 100--150 feet from the main roads, but some extended further).