Arlington Redevelopment Board - Mar 13th, 2023

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Meeting held at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from

Warrant Article Hearings

The board conducts hearings for three zoning articles.

Article 32 - Build Affordable Housing Anywhere

This article was submitted by Thomas Perkins and ten registered voters. It proposes changes to encourage housing where all units are affordable.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says that affordable housing is encouraged by a range of planning documents. Those documents recommend an overlay district, because of the high level of complexity involved in changing the base zoning. She says that the Department of Planning and Community Development has an interest in studying and making recommendations on these issues. Ms. Lynema says the spirit of this article is laudable, but she thinks it may require additional work before it's ready for town meeting.

(Tom Perkins, Proponent) Mr. Perkins says he sent a copy of his main motion to Town Counsel and is waiting to hear back. He says that some of his latest revisions didn't make it into the staff memo. He doesn't think his proposal is much different than having an overlay district, and notes that it doesn't affect the Industrial, Open Space, Planned Unit Development, or Multi-use districts.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery appreciates the amount of work that Mr. Perkins has put in.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says the board is aligned with wanting more affordable housing. He asks Mr. Perkins if he's spoken with any realtors or developers.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins answers in the negative.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau notes that the article is for housing where all units are deed restricted affordable, and asks what's the difference between this and 40B.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says that 40B applications can be turned down, and there's an appeals process. Together, these things create a level of bureaucratic uncertainty that can take months or years. He believes that allowing development by-right will allow it to get done faster.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that 40B doesn't require all of the units to be affordable. Private developers need some market rate in order to make projects pencil out, and non-profit developers get funding from elsewhere. He asks what's the incentive to go 100% affordable, rather than 40B. He's not sure this will encourage more housing development.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins sees the article as being for non-profit developers, more so that market rate ones. He says he's trying to make incremental improvements. He's concerned that 40B developments are large cash giveaways, and he'd rather see non-profit developers building at close to cost.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks Mr. Perkins if he's aiming for non-profit developers.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins answers in the affirmative. He thinks it could be possible for a for-profit developer to make it work, but hasn't crunched the numbers recently.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says the town is working on zoning to satisfy MBTA community multifamily requirements, and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board is considering bringing an affordable housing overlay proposal to town meeting this fall. Mr. Benson asks why this article should come forward now, rather than waiting to see what comes up in the fall.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says that waiting is probably better; he hadn't heard about these efforts when he filed the article. He thinks this could be merged with the others.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he'd like to see Mr. Perkins work with the Affordable Housing Trust Fund board, and share the knowledge he's gained. He asks why the business districts would be a good place for affordable housing.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says he's just trying to make affordable housing more possible.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if we could do both.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says he's not sure. That would require projecting into the future, and the B districts have more support for denser development.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks why this option would be available in parts of town that are nowhere near transit. He talks about the concept of 15-minute neighborhoods. If we applied those principles to affordable housing, there would be areas that work, and areas that don't.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says the article covers the entire town, in order to be generic. He thinks that a developer would include parking in areas that aren't close to amenities or transit. Mr. Perkins says it's a gross misfortune that there's such a shortage of affordable housing. He says it's a political problem, because people don't want it in their neighborhoods.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that the Housing Corporation of Arlington recently did two projects and has a third in the works. He says our bylaw doesn't prevent them from building affordable housing.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says the real question is whether there's a shortage of affordable housing. He thinks there is.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks Mr. Perkins if he could explain the dimensional regulations he's proposing.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says he tried to take the existing regulations, and relax them a little bit.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak thinks that Mr. Perkins article is trying to address the right things -- for example, making the permitting process more predictable, and allowing more dwellings to be built on a lot. Mr. Revilak thinks there are drawbacks to using the existing bylaw as the basis for dimensional regulations. He notes that Arlington established a 20,000 square foot minimum lot size for apartment buildings in 1971, enacted a two year moratorium on apartment construction in 1973, and removed much of the zoning districts were apartments could be built in 1975. He says our zoning laws aren't generally conducive to multi-family development.

Mr. Revilak wants to acknowledge the amount of work that Mr. Perkins has put into his proposal. He says it takes a lot of time to go through the bylaw and come up with a set of concrete changes to suggest, which Mr. Perkins has done. He agrees with staff that an overlay district would be a more concise way to express the changes, and hopes that Mr. Perkins will work with the Affordable Housing Trust fund board on their affordable housing overlay proposal.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees that an overlay would be more concise, and hopes Mr. Perkins will get involved in that effort.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says he opted not to take an overlay approach because he felt that spelling out the details would make it easier to fine tune. He thinks changing the base zoning is clearer, and says that the zoning bylaw is mostly read by boards and builders.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says he's prefer to see mixed-income developments, rather than fully affordable ones.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes some of the procedural aspects of Mr. Perkins's article. He doesn't understand why a by-right development would have to come before the ARB.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says he was trying to mimic Cambridge's ordinance. They allow feedback in the context of a public hearing, though he'd prefer that not be the case.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that utility capacity is really under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Works, and there's really nothing the ARB can do there. He thinks the main motion needs a lot of fixing.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he'd like to have an answer to his earlier question, if Mr. Perkins decides to come back: why would this encourage more affordable housing development? He'd like to understand the high-level goal.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says he was looking at a property a couple of years ago. It could have become eight single-occupancy rooms, plus a few two- or three-bedroom units. He says the purpose is to allow things like that, and to increase density.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks we really need to talk to some developers and the affordable housing trust board, and see what they think.

(Tom Perkins) Mr. Perkins says the town needs affordable housing, and he's just trying to do something to meet that need. He thinks the problem could be trivially fixed if there was the political will to do it.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Chris Loreti, Adams Street) Mr. Loreti says he appreciates the proponent bringing this forward, but that it's clearly not ready for prime time. He can't see it becoming ready in six weeks. He thinks the changes to the open space regulations aren't acceptable. He says the provisions for compensating abutters are nice, but can't see how they'd work in practice. He also doesn't see why developers would do this, rather than 40B.

There are no other comments from the public.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak said he followed Cambridge's Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) ordinance when the city was working on it. His understanding is that the AHO was intended to be an alternative permitting path to 40B, with the expectation that it would mainly be used by non-profits. He notes that Cambridge's AHO put 350 affordable units in the development pipeline during the first year it was in effect.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks Mr. Perkins to consider working with the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board, and to continue working on this.

Article 29 - Downtown Business Parking Minimums

This article was submitted by James Fleming and ten registered voters. It proposes to eliminate minimum parking requirements for commercial uses in the central business district.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says this article only affects the B5 district, which is 26 parcels in Arlington Center. The article would apply to commercial uses, not residential ones. Ms. Lynema says the Town's Economic Development Coordinator thinks there's a business-friendly aspect to this article. She says that a change of use that requires more parking is sometimes the only reason that applicants have to come before the board for a special permit. Ms. Lynema says this proposal is consistent with the Master Plan, and Sustainable Transportation plan.

(James Fleming, Proponent) Mr. Fleming says that businesses have minimum parking requirements. He notes that our zoning bylaw requires one parking space per 300 square feet of retail. He'll use this as an example in his presentation.

This article would removing commercial parking minimums in the B5 district, which would allow them to claim use of the municipal parking lots or have a transportation demand management plan approved by staff. In some cases, the amount of square footage required for parking is almost the same as the amount for the use itself. He says that lots of businesses already use the municipal lots, and the district is near the Minuteman Bikeway and several bus stops. There's also paid parking on-street. Mr. Fleming says that 6.1.9(D) already allows business to substitute space in the municipal lots or develop a transportation demand management plan via special permit; his article would allow them to do that by right. Mr. Fleming notes that special permits typically take at least two months, and he thinks this could help businesses get up and running more quickly.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is supportive, but he'd like to see a few wording changes.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says it's not clear to him that the ARB doesn't provide value when permitting these businesses. He notes a number of conditions the board imposed when permitting the Fat Greek: orienting the exhaust towards Mass Ave, adding lighting to the facade, and changing the trash arrangements. He thinks there's a tradeoff, and asks Mr. Fleming if he know of any businesses in the B5 district that required a special permit only for parking.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he can't name one offhand.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks public process and transparency are important. He notes there's no public process for administrative reviews.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is supportive. He thinks the article has a limited scope, and is business-friendly.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the bigger question is whether we want to rely on parking to bring people here. She suggests some wording changes.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti thinks this article is completely unnecessary, and says the proponent has been unable to offer one example where parking minimums have caused a problem. He says that no one in the business community is asking for this, and that the entirety of the B5 district is within 1000 feet of a municipal lot. He says that changes in use will almost always come before the ARB for other reasons, and thinks this is a solution in search of a problem.

There's no further comment from the public, or from the board.

Article 30 - One- and Two-Family Usable Open Space

This article was submitted by James Fleming and ten registered voters. It proposes to eliminate usable open space regulations for single- and two-family dwellings.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that Mr. Fleming's main motion only applies to the R0, R1, and R2 districts. The Zoning Bylaw has a number of provisions that create open space: setbacks, lot coverage, and the open space regulations themselves. Ms. Lynema says that a number of neighboring communities don't have open space requirements for single- or two-family homes. The open space regulations created many non-conformities when they were added to our bylaw. Tying open space requirements to gross floor area is also unusual. Ms. Lynema says the master plan suggests not creating new conformities, and simplifying the zoning bylaw.

(James Fleming, Proponent) Mr. Fleming says this article is not intended to get rid of backyards. He notes that Arlington's bylaw doesn't require open space to be green or pervious. Mr. Fleming looked at the zoning bylaws for a number of nearby cities and towns and says that most don't have these requirements, or don't have them for single- or two-family homes. He notes that the R1 district has 25' front yard setback requirement, so those homes already meet the usable open space requirements.

Mr. Fleming says he's filing this article because the usable open space requirements make it difficult to adapt older buildings. He gives a slide presentation with examples of barely conforming properties where a small addition or porch wouldn't be allowed because of the open space requirements, and examples of non-conforming property configurations where such changes would be permitted. He doesn't believe that usable open space requirements should prevent homeowners from making small or modest additions.

Mr. Fleming addresses the issue of why he's proposing to remove the regulations, rather than modify them. He tried several alternatives, like reducing the usable open space requirements, or tying them to lot area rather than GFA. Each of these approaches introduced problems of its own.

Mr. Fleming thinks the term "usable" is subjective, and the definition in our bylaw doesn't mean green. He says that setback requirements mean there will always be yard space.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks Mr. Fleming if he's asked the ZBA for feedback on this article.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that inspectional services has changed the way they apply this to non-conforming parcels, so that additions in the existing footprint of the house no longer require a special permit.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak is supportive. He notes that our usable open space requirements are basically the reciprocal of FAR, but with some stuff taken out of the numerator. When these requirements were added to the bylaw in the 1970s, they made a substantial number of properties non-conforming, particularly homes on smaller lots, and homes in East Arlington. As a result, there are several categories of properties: ones that comply, ones that have no usable open space where the requirements don't apply, and ones that have some usable open space but not as much as the bylaw requires. He thinks the bylaw create extras red tape for homeowners in the third category.

Mr. Revilak agrees that the usable open space requirements are duplicative with other provisions in the bylaw, like yard setbacks. He also feels the intent is dated -- allowing for things like tennis courts and swimming pools -- and may no longer align with community values.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if this would only apply to brand new construction.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming answers in the negative.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau remembers this issue coming up several years ago. The board didn't do anything at the time, but wanted to come back to it. He thinks this is something the board should address, perhaps as part of a bigger package for single- and two-family zones, which could look at setbacks, porches, and so on.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery is supportive of removing something that's restrictive, particularly when other areas of the bylaw address this in a clearer way. She asks Mr. Fleming if he contemplated making this change in the B districts.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he thought about it, but it seemed unlikely that someone would build one or two-family homes in the B districts.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to see this applied to other districts where single- and two-family homes are allowed.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson notes that single- and two-family dwellings are allowed in most districts.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he was focusing on the single- and two-family districts to keep the main motion short and simple.

There's back and fourth about how to change the main motion so that it would apply uniformly to single- and two-family dwellings.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema say our usable open space regulations make it difficult to estimate build-out potential, because they're based on gross floor area.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says the town has a new environmental planner with a vision for what will sustain wildlife and plants. He talks about the need to create green space that can function as wildlife corridors. She thinks this might be better as part of a more holistic set of changes. She thinks we shouldn't remove open space without a whole-town plan.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti opposes the article. He says the master plan doesn't see the need to change, and that the proponent is cherry-picking examples. He says that Lexington limits the sizes of homes, and Medford has maximum parking limits. He thinks that the usable open space requirements prevent people from paving their yards over for parking. He thinks the slides were not drawn to scale and are misleading. He thinks that open space non-conformities should be addressed in the section of the bylaw that deals with non-conformities. He hopes the board won't approve this, and thinks there are more modern ways to consider open space.

There are no more comments from the public.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that his house was the inspiration behind the examples he gave earlier. He says he needed to go before the ZBA because of a usable open space non-conformity, and that it took six months to get a plot plan so he could go before the ZBA.

That's the end of warrant articles for the spring town meeting. The board continues the proceedings to March 27th, when they'll deliberate an vote on their recommendations.

Open Forum

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says the town has a new environmental planner who's talked about wanting to apply an ecological framework approach to planning, which would be resilient, sustainable, and healthy. She says we have a great planning department with great professional staff. She'd like to see a whole-town approach to this.

New Business

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema informs the board that Town Counsel will join us for the March 27th meeting, to discuss the three warrant articles that propose to transfer control of town properties from the ARB to other departments.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the transfer will be limited to maintenance responsibilities, and whether board will still have a role in programming and tenant selection for these properties.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that her last conversation with the Town Manager was about maintenance and operations, but the warrant articles are different.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he'd like to have this listed on the agenda for the 27th, in case the board needs to take a vote.

Mr. Benson has a comment about the doggie day care article, where he recused himself from the discussion. He's talked with town counsel and will file an ethics disclosure form, so that he can vote.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the first MBTA Communities visioning session was held last week, and there were over 130 people at one point. The department is preparing a companion survey and a meeting in a box kit.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that the next public meeting on the Mass Ave/Appleton street improvements will be held on Wednesday March 15th.

Meeting adjourned.