Arlington Redevelopment Board - Mar 18th, 2019

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The board held hearings on six warrant articles tonight:

  • Article 10: Upper-story Building Stepbacks
  • Article 11: Reduced Height Buffer Area
  • Article 12: Corner Lot Requirements
  • Article 13: Apartment Building Parking Requirements
  • Article 14: Parking Reduction Applicability
  • Article 21: Bicycle Parking

The hearing was conducted in two parts. The first addressed articles 10--14, and the second addressed article 21.

DPCD director Jenny Raitt gives an opening presentation. These articles affect the R4--R7 and B districts. Ms. Raitt displays a copy of the zoning map and points out where these districts are.

Arlington's master plan was developed over a 2.5 year process that ended in 2015. The plan encourages new housing, a mix of unit sizes, and mixed-use development. Survey responses from the planning process stated that one-story buildings are a waste of space, that the town needs to address the cost of parking, and that there's a need for infill development. Each chapter in the master plan contains a set of recommendations; that's what the Master Plan Implementation Committee has focused on.

Ms. Raitt shows a number of recommendations from the land use section, and explains how the warrant articles are derived from these recommendations. She notes that all projects in these districts would be subject to special permit review.

Arlington's housing production plan was developed through a series of forums and meetings. There was positive feedback on mixed-use development. Participants wanted to improve walkability and concentrate new housing development along the transit corridors.

Ms. Raitt notes that one-third of Arlington households are cost burdened, meaning that they spend over 30% of their income on housing. One quarter of Arlington residents are low-income. The changes proposed by these warrant articles support sustainability: a compact, walkable, environment near public transit.

Parking was discussed a lot. An oversupply of parking reduces other land uses. The town performed a parking study to look at utilization. On average, we have 1.42 cars per household, and that number has been going down over time. We're also looking to decrease the number of miles traveled per day by car.

The board opens the hearing to public comment on Articles 10--14. (I've probably gotten some of the names wrong.)

(Ann Thompson). Ms. Thompson teaches planning at MIT. She has a number of issues with the proposed zoning changes, and believes they don't hold weight.

(Shana Cleveland). Ms. Cleveland thanks the ARB for a thorough planning process. She's interested in sustainable and affordable housing. She supports all of these changes, especially around parking, bicycle parking, and density along the town corridors.

(John Worden). Mr. Worden states that he's been an observer of zoning issues since 1970. He likes walkability and public transit, but thinks the bus service is lousy because too many people are driving on the roads. For article 10, Mr. Worden suggests that setbacks should apply to the entire building, and not just the street side. He believes the height buffer changes in article 11 are a non-starter. Mr. Worden claims those buffer requirements were carefully considered to avoid shadows. We don't want shadows on people's solar panels. Mr. Worden believes that Arlington isn't in the business of having apartments or commercial spaces. He states that people in 1--2 family homes pay most of the taxes, and should be protected.

For Article 12, Mr. Worden suggests there be a provision that setbacks should not be less than the average setback of houses on the block. For Article 13, Mr. Worden disputes the figure of 1.42 cars per household, and claims that you can't have a parking space for four-tenths of a car. He believes that Article 14 is moot, because the ARB already has the authority to reduce parking requirements.

(Wynelle Evans). Ms. Evans believes we're looking at a huge wave of displacement due to redevelopment, and that renters will not be able to come back at the same rent. Ms. Evans believes that Arlington has many empty storefronts, and that mixed use development cannot be done without enough storefronts.

(Steve Moore). Mr. Moore thanks the ARB, and acknowledge that this is a tough process. He also thanks those who contributed to the Housing Production Plan and Master Plan. Mr. Moore state that the master plan has many goals, and housing is only one. He believes that we're a town with a physically small area. People are just discovering what it means to have sustainability and affordability, and it's surprising them. He believes these articles are not ready for prime-time yet, and it would be worth taking another year to sell people on them.

(Mark Kepline). Mr. Kepline prefers to see parking spaces counted by household rather than by population. He believes that the parking study is part of the town's agenda, and that the sites and times were cherry-picked. Mr. Kepline thinks the Mass Ave traffic studies were another deception by the town, which underestimated delays and backups.

(Pam Hallet). Ms. Hallet thinks it's a shame that we're painting the town as a bad guy. Every year, we have meetings about housing, economic development, and public transit. That's where the master plan came from; these amendments are how we're going to get there. Ms. Hallet believes there's a group of about fifteen people who are trying to control where this goes, and it's a shame. Capitol square apartments have 12 un-utilized parking spaces. AHA has recently started towing, because people just drive in and use them.

Ms. Hallet believes that in order to have fewer empty storefronts, we need a community that's more willing to go out and support local businesses. If necessary, businesses will move to places where there's lots of street traffic. She supports these amendments.

(Beth Malofchik). Ms. Malofchik lives in the R4 district, and is horrified by these proposals. She thinks the plans are designed to protect single- and two-family districts, and that the lack of consideration to taxpayers is appalling. She believes these articles will turn Mass Ave into a canyon, and asks where are the guarantees for affordability, small houses, and infill development.

(Don Seltzer). With respect to Article 11, Mr. Seltzer thinks our current buffer areas offer modest protections for homeowners, but the MAPC consultants have decided they're too restrictive for developers. He believes the shadow studies are nonsense, representing fictional neighborhoods rather than real neighborhoods in Arlington. Mr. Seltzer believes the whole process was done backwards. He's disappointed at what our tax dollars have paid for. Mr. Seltzer brought a visualization (which I couldn't see from where I was sitting). He tells the Board that they're very thorough when reviewing plans. He believes that if these articles were brought by a developer, the board would tell that developer to go back and do some more work.

(Steve McKenna). Mr. McKenna calls out to page 77 of the master plan; the first recommendation is to encourage housing options through mixed use development. There's also a recommendation to preserve the streetcar suburb character of the town. These articles are about growth and economic opportunity for businesses. Mr. McKenna notes that every development goes through a rigorous review process. He believes there's a lot of fear-mongering going on. If we cannot build out our main corridors, then the town will be devastated. Most of the town's storefronts were built in the 1930's and are too small for today's needs. He believes the proposals are sensitive, sensible, and reasonable ways to allow growth to happen. Mr. McKenna believes that businesses will move to other communities, if those communities are more accommodating to them.

(Sharon Prizant). Ms. Prizant is concerned about the upper-story setbacks, and asked the board to consider people who moved here for a less urban environment. She states that Cambridge has tall buildings which cast shadows and create wind tunnels. She believes that people who've been paying taxes for years have done so because they like the way the town is now.

(Joanne Preston). Ms. Preston suggests that we put fear-mongering aside for facts. She believes there are important questions that haven't been answered. She cites a study from MIT that found no increase in housing production five years after upzoning, just land speculation. She believes that development around public transit will lead to land speculation, which will push renters out. She believes that more housing will not reduce rents. Instead, we'll have lots of affluent people who want to buy apartments and condominiums. She believes condominiums would be built, rather that modest apartments. Ms. Preston asks where these density proposals came from. She states that the Master Plan notes a need for green space, and that the plan is not set in stone. She believes that our constitution is being reinterpreted and amended because of the master plan. She believes we should set the whole thing aside and develop a new planning process.

(Carol Cursio). Ms. Cursio thinks the articles sound amazing, and believes they should go forward. She thinks these changes are exciting, and thinks her daughter would love them.

(Chris Moore). Mr. Moore's states his concerns as questions: what's wrong with what we presently have, why are these specific changes the ones being proposed, and what's the outcome we're trying to achieve?

(John Nyberg). Mr. Nyberg believes that the average age in the room is probably 65 and up; we're not going to be around in 20 years. Mr. Nyberg states that change has made Arlington a vibrant town. These articles affect only a small sliver of the town, but the changes will affect different people in different ways. He believes we should not penalize the majority to placate the minority. He believes that these changes are holistic and proactive, and that people need to be kinder and more open-minded to different aesthetics.

(Janice Brodman). Ms. Brodman states that we're talking about specific things which are based in a much broader vision. We want more affordability, walkability, and a bigger tax base. She believes these measures might not lead us there. Ms. Brodman thinks we might agree on the big ideas, but these proposals don't fit the reality she's seen. She believes that businesses move to Lexington because it's beautiful there. She states that once the ARB makes a decision, town meeting generally follows it. She believes these changes should be put on the ballot.

(Carl Wagner). Mr. Wagner states that he's part of the gang of fifteen, and he wishes there were more than fifteen. He doesn't want solar panels to be blocked by buildings, and he doesn't want apartments. He states that Cambridge was not able to get their parking demand lower than 1.5 vehicles per household. He believes that reducing the parking demand will cause cars to spill out into the street. He believes that article 14 is unnecessary, and that articles 11 and 13 are anti-Arlington.

(Pasi). Pasi supports the articles. One reason is a principled position. We've asked for these articles by virtue of the recommendations in the master plan. The ARB should support them, so that town meeting can decide. Pasi states that the Kelwyn Manor had a 36% tax increase this year. He looks at commercial development as a source of income, and would move his company to Arlington if there were space to accommodate it.

(Park Wilde). Mr. Wilde thinks about the people affected by these articles and supports the changes. He asks why people can't afford to live here, and believes we need more housing that's modest in size. Mr. Wilde states that he's an economist, and that there is a connection between supply and cost. Arlington's affordability requirements kick in at six or more units; we need to build these. More housing along the bus corridors will result in less people driving. He states that the parking changes are options, not mandates. Developers can still provide more parking, if they wish to do so. He believes that developers shouldn't be forced to create more parking than they need.

(Aram Hollman). Mr. Hollman believes that businesses can knock out walls and combine two smaller commercial spaces into a larger one. He believes the housing production plan is unrealistic, and notes that there have only been three large developments in the last several years: Mirak, the Brigham, and the Symmes. Arlington has built less than 1000 units in the last 20 years. Mr. Hollman states that Arlington does not have wide boulevards, and that Mass Ave can support three stories, not four. He believes we have enough people. He believes that the parking reductions make no sense, even for elders who have given up driving.

(Asia Kepka). Ms. Kepka states that she is one of the gang of fifteen, and proud of it. She states that real estate agents make good money, and that city employees make lots of money and live near open spaces. She states that people think we should bike everywhere. In Poland, they do. But it's dangerous to bike here. She believes that more bicycle parking will not motivate people to ride bicycles. Ms. Kepka states that no one has too much parking, and that she'd like to know where the excess parking is. She states that transportation is difficult to plan, and that automobile accidents happen on Broadway all the time. She states that people live in wooden houses, and believes they shouldn't be too close together.

(Julia Mirak). Ms. Mirak states that her family has a long history in town. She believes that change is good, and is concerned that the town will move backwards because were afraid to move forward. Her grandfather opened a garage in the center of town, back in the 1930s. Since then, the family has moved its business further up Mass Ave. The site of that former garage is now the Legacy Apartments. The Legacy typically has 30--35 vacant parking spaces, even though the apartments are fully occupied. She states that the Legacy currently has a 1:1 ratio of cars/units. She believes that greater parking requirements are unrealistic and unnecessary.

(Chris Loretti). Mr. Loretti believes that the ARB doesn't have a vision for the Master Plan. He believes that the plan elements are contradictory, and that we need a coherent vision before changing the zoning. He asks what "concentrated along commercial corridors" means. He's glad to see successful developers here, and asks why changes are necessary if they were able to be successful under the current regime. He believes the stepback article could be interpreted incorrectly. Mr. Loretti states that Davis Square has a height limit of 4 stories and 50 feet, which would be appropriate for our business district. He believes that the height buffers should stay as-is, because many one- and two-family homes are adjacent to high-density residential districts. He believes that the parking reduction article is unnecessary, because the ARB has the authority to grant that via environmental design review.

(Marion King). Ms. King is concerned about how the parking reduction might affect low-income residents, like those living in public housing. Low-income households are often multi-generational, and need more than one vehicle. Parking is still and issue for residents of the Housing Authority. Lower-income people need cars. Affordable rental parking would help.

This closes the public hearing on Articles 10--14. Now we're on to Article 21: Bicycle parking.

Erin Zwirko provides an overview. The article decouples bicycle and automobile parking requirements, and makes a distinction between long- and short-term bicycle parking. The ARB and ZBA will have some latitude for instituting parking reductions.

The board opens public comment for Article 21.

(Steve Revilak). Bicycle is Mr. Revilak's primary form of transit, and he rides approximately 100 miles per week. He supports the article, and three things in particular: (1) racks designed to support a bicycle by only it's front wheel will not satisfy the requirements for bicycle parking, (2) recognizing that long-term and short-term bicycle parking are different use cases, and (3) that parking cannot require the bicycle to be lifted off the ground. The last point is important for cargo bikes, which can weigh up to 50 pounds, unloaded.

(John Worden). Mr. Worden has issues with bicycles. He'd like to see regulation that covers where Lime bikes can be left.

(Christian Klein). Mr. Klein is a year-round cyclist. He believes this is a big improvement to our bicycle parking standards. Cyclists need parking that they can reliably lock up to.

The board members discuss the article.

Mr. Benson believes that the article is heading in the right direction, but that it still needs more work. The thinks the bylaw should apply to a broader set of use cases, and he'd like to see separate requirements for residential and non-residential uses. He believes that one space/unit is not enough. We could provide a higher requirement, and give the ZBA authority to provide reductions where warranted.

Mr. Lau would like to see dimensional requirements for parking spaces.

Mr. Watson would like to see a guide with more details, and wouldn't object to putting more details into the ordinance. He doesn't want to eliminate flexibility, but believes that's something we can work on. He notes that Cambridge has a very detailed set of bicycle parking guidelines. Project proponents (that come before the ARB) are getting better, but they still need guidance. Finally, he notes that a guide can be changed without going back to town meeting.