Arlington Redevelopment Board - Mar 27th, 2023

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Meeting held at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from

Docket 3728 - 99 Massachusetts Avenue

This is the third hearing for 99 Massachusetts Ave. The applicants wish to convert the attic of a three story office building into an apartment.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker has nothing to add, beyond what's already in staff's memo to the board. The applicant is with us tonight to tie up remaining loose ends.

(Applicant) The applicant says that color samples of the metal clad siding arrived today, and she provides them to Ms. Zsembery. She was hoping to have an actual sample of the metal cladding, but it hasn't arrived from the manufacturer. They're planning to go with the charcoal color.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson expresses his appreciation for the applicant's work. He notes they'll need permission from the town in order to install short-term bicycle parking spaces in front of the building. He asks if the short-term racks can be located in the rear of the building, in the event that they can't get approval to have them up front.

(Applicant) The applicant answers in the affirmative.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson doesn't know if one of the six parking spaces needs to be handicapped accessible. He thinks the board's decision should state that the board is not making a decision as to whether one is necessary.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau notes that the parking area is already non-conforming.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he realizes that. He wants the decision to be clear that the ARB isn't making a determination about the need for an accessible space. He says the accessibility requirements come from federal law.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak has no additional questions for the applicant.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery would like to see an actual product sample of the cladding, but she's okay with making that a condition of the permit.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Kristin Anderson, Upland Road West) Ms. Anderson thinks the design looks nice.

There are no more comments from the public.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the board needs to make a finding that the proposed alterations to the non-conforming structure are not substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees. He believes the height and massing changes to the fourth floor are minimal, and he'd make the finding on that basis.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery summarizes conditions for the special permit: that short-term bicycle parking be placed in the rear of the building if the applicants aren't able to get permission to have it in front; that a siding sample be provided for administrative review; and, that the board is not making a determination as to whether one of the parking spaces needs to be accessible.

Permit approved, 4--0.

Meeting Minutes

The board discusses and approves their meeting minutes from March 6th. Minutes approved by a vote of 4--0.

Non-Zoning Warrant Articles

The purpose of this agenda item is to discuss four non-zoning warrant articles. Articles 21, 22, and 23 propose to transfer three ARB-owned properties to the town; Article 14 proposes to establish a study committee to develop a Strategic Plan for New Growth. The Select Board will discuss these articles next Monday.

(Claire Ricker) Mr. Ricker says she understands that Article 14 was withdrawn.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks if Town Counsel can confirm this.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says he's not sure. The Select Board didn't make a decision at their last meeting, in order to give the proponent more time to work on the proposal. He says the ARB can take a position if it wants; or, it can wait for a more refined version of the main motion.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the challenge is timing, but she thinks the board should weigh in on staff's memo, and whether we support it. Ms. Zsembery says she had a discussion with Ms. Ricker about our need to update Arlington's master plan, and the potential for Article 14 to overlap with that effort.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that state law lays out the required subject matter for master plans, and three of those areas overlap with Article 14. She says there's benefit in incorporating this into the master planning process, and thinks collaboration will produce a better result. She'd like to avoid having plans that could be contradictory. Ms. Ricker says she enthusiastically supports the idea, and that it's something Arlington needs to do.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says the ARB doesn't need to approve or disapprove, or support or oppose the Article. But what the board says could inform the Select Board discussion Monday night.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like to accomplish something related to the staff memo.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees with Ms. Ricker, and the position taken in the staff memo. He says the board has been talking about this for a while, but thinks that siloed efforts may not fit together well,

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with staff's memo. He thought about whether there's be a benefit to having a parallel process, but decided that it would be a mistake to have two processes going at once.

(Steve Revilak) Putting aside the master planning process, Mr. Revilak is supportive of Article 14. He says that Arlington has a history of reluctance when it comes to new growth, and Article 14 is a change in that regard. He also thinks it's a timely topic, as we'll have to consider an operating budget override during this year or the next. Mr. Revilak says that Chapter 41 lists the eight mandatory subject areas that all master plans must have, but municipalities are free to include other topic areas. He'd like to see "new growth" as one of the topics in the next master plan.

Mr. Revilak says he's tried to think of a way that a new growth study committee could work with the Master Planning process, and decided it's probably best to simply incorporate it into the overall effort.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that two efforts would take resources from planning efforts already in progress, like complying with the new requirements for MBTA communities. She suggests stating support for the points proposed in the memo.

There's more discussion among members of the board. They support the general idea, but feel it comes down to timing, coordination, and resources.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says she'll incorporate this feedback into a memo.

Next, we move on to Articles 21, 22, and 23. There's one article for each ARB-owned property: the Arlington Community Center (27 Maple), the Jefferson Cutter House, and 23 Maple Street.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says that in 1981 there was an opinion that the ARB needed to hold these properties for the purpose of generating revenue. Through that lens, we can see how things have changed. The Central School (now, the Community Center) is mostly used as a community space, and it's not being used in a revenue positive way.

Mr. Heim says there were two motivations for these articles: first, is that the ARB has the authority to hold property for a finite period of time, to support urban renewal. Along with that is a question about whether these are urban renewal projects or amenities to the town. The second motivation is practical. Since most of the tenants are town bodies, the town is effectively paying itself to rent and maintain these properties. He says the board has practical constraints when it comes to managing and renting these properties. This was evident during the Central School renovation, where the planning director had to oversee the construction, with help from the Permanent Town Building Committee.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's been struggling with this, and why the ARB are the landlords of these properties. He says that property management is not the board's forte, but he doesn't want to see these properties become like other town buildings, just to house staff. He wonders if there's some sort of compromise, where the town manages the properties and the ARB controls leasing arrangements.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says the properties have to be owned by someone, and a transfer to the town means a transfer of ownership. He says there may be room for the ARB to be involved in leasing decisions, but that would likely rely more on political promises and less on legal agreements. He thinks it's possible to consider a use restriction.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the town could take care of building updates, if the ARB was still the owner.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says the ARB has a distinct authority to own property, and that it may be possible to broker arrangements, based upon tenant needs.

(Clair Ricker) Ms. Ricker has a question about the town manager act. She asks if the Town Manager can authorize work on buildings that are not owned by the town.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says that's correct. He says that some of the arrangements with the Town Manager's office were made to work around this restriction.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker asks if the ARB needs to go through an RFP process when leasing.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim believes the ARB doesn't have an active urban renewal plan for these properties. Without one, he doesn't believe the ARB could engine in the same kinds of things they'd be able to do under urban renewal.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson wants to know what happens if the ARB opposes these articles. He asks if that would end it.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says he'd recommend that the Select Board not proceed if the ARB opposes the articles.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's somewhat persuaded about the senior center and the Jefferson Cutter house. He's less sure about 23 Maple, and thinks that's much more in the ARB's wheelhouse. He notes that several of the ARB's tenants have been non-profits, who've paid below-market rent. He's unsure whether a future Town Manager would be willing to do the same.

(Doug Heim) In Mr. Heim's opinion, the ARB and Select Board have generally been in lock step with regard to how the properties are used. He says the Select Board supervises the Town Manager, and the Select Board is generally responsive to town needs. In the past, the Select Board has put pressure on the ARB lease the Central School in a way that benefited seniors, rather that trying to get the highest market value.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that during the last few years, these properties were largely managed by staff, with little involvement from the ARB. He says it's hard to say we should retain them, but 23 Maple might be different.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he was wondering whether these properties were covered by an active urban renewal plan, and he now sees that's not the case. He understands that the board is allowed to own property in conjunction with an urban renewal plan; since we don't have one, he'd prefer to turn the properties over to the town.

Mr. Revilak acknowledges that staff would be responsible for the day-to-day management and operations, and he asks Ms. Ricker how she feels about that.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says they're not hard to manage, if no big projects are happening. She says the central school is more involved, and there are more concerns with maintenance.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes that each property is a separate article, so the board could have different opinions for different properties.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim agrees. He says the most recent non-town tenant of 23 Maple Street was a group home.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak feels the board shouldn't hold the properties without an active urban renewal plan, and that includes 23 Maple.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks the board should turn over the properties, if there's not an active urban renewal plan. But she would like the board to have a role in renewing non-town leases.

(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says the board can help guide such discussions, and there could be a memorandum to outline roles and responsibilities.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery suggests voting according to Town Counsel's recommendations, but adding a note that the ARB should have a role in reviewing non-town tenants.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau suggests a requirement that a certain percentage of leases be for non-town uses.

At this point, I pause note-taking to give my hand a rest. The board eventually motions to endorse the transfer, with provisions that a memorandum of agreement be developed between the ARB and the town.

Motion passes 3--1 (Mr. Benson voted in the negative).

2023 Annual Town Meeting - Zoning Warrant Articles

In this item, the board discusses zoning articles and votes on the recommendations to town meeting.

Article 26 (Industrial district development standards). Mr. Lau is supportive. Mr. Benson thinks it's important to fix ambiguities in the bylaw, and he notes this was done in conjunction with the town's environmental planner and Conservation Commission. Mr. Revilak and Ms. Zsembery are also supportive.

The board votes favorable action on Article 26, 4--0.

Article 27 (Solar Bylaw in Industrial Districts). The board votes favorable action, 4--0.

Article 28 (Building Inspector, Enforcement). Mr. Lau supports the Article. Ms. Zsembery says that the section in question was deemed unenforceable by the Attorney General. She recalls that it came from a citizen petition, where the ARB had recommended no action. The petitioner filed a substitute motion at town meeting, and it was adopted.

The board votes favorable action on article 28, 4--0.

Article 29 (Downtown business parking minimums). Mr. Lau isn't supportive. Mr. Benson says he confirmed with town staff that every property within the B5 district is within 1,000 feet of a municipal parking lot. He suggests a simplified main motion, based on that observation. The board asks the petitioner, James Fleming, if he's amenable to the change Mr. Benson suggested, and he is.

The board votes favorable action on Article 29, 4--0.

Article 30 (One- and two-family usable open space). Mr. Lau is supportive. Mr. Benson is torn. He thinks the main motion could be re-done to say that usable open space requirement can be reduced when someone is adding an addition. He doesn't think that setbacks guarantee usable open space, because a property owner can opt for a non-conforming setback that's used by nearby properties.

Mr. Revilak is supportive. He thinks the usable open space requirements put properties into one of several categories. The first involves properties with no usable open space; in this case, the regulations simply don't apply. The second category is conforming properties; he acknowledges the provision Mr. Benson cited, but feels that reduced front yard setbacks aren't common among lots of conforming size and frontage. He thinks this article will benefit owners of properties that have some usable open space but not enough, and properties in hilly areas that don't meet the slope requirements for usable open space. He's supportive.

Ms. Zsembery thinks the existing requirements are onerous by creating different restrictions based on different degrees of compliance.

The board votes favorable action on Article 30.

Article 31 (Industrial District Animal Daycare Use). Mr. Lau is supportive. Mr. Benson recalls the proponent saying there were at least two people interested in opening doggie day care facilities in town. He says that animal daycare is allowed in the B2 through B5 districts. B1 doesn't allow doggie daycare, but it allows mixed use, and animal daycare could be a part of that. Mixed-use is also allowed in the industrial district, as long as none of the uses are residential; animal daycare could be allowed in the industrial district as part of mixed use. He says that what we're really talking about is whether animal daycare should be allowed in single-use buildings in the industrial district.

Mr. Benson asked staff to include an MAPC report on industrial uses in the agenda materials. He suggests looking at the industrial district and the master plan, and seeing what the plan suggests.

Mr. Revilak appreciated Appendix B in the report, which lists all of the DOR use codes that the authors considered "industrial". He wasn't expecting them to include 332 (Auto repair), which happens to be one of the most common uses in the I districts. He was also surprised to see that Arlington's industrial uses declined by 1--11% between 2011 and 2021, while the combination of Arlington and Lexington increased by 6%. Mr. Revilak supports this article, but would like to take a broader look at industrial uses in the future.

Ms. Zsembery thinks the board needs to look at industrial uses more broadly, but she supports adding animal daycare, noting that neighboring towns already do this.

Mr. Lau thinks animal daycare is an appropriate use for the industrial districts, and a good fit.

Mr. Benson had a conversation with Town Counsel. He says there's no process for permitting animal daycare, so that's something we'll need to establish.

Kelly Lynema says that the town's animal control officer would permit animal daycare, as a kennel facility.

Mr. Benson suggests a change to the main motion: listing animal daycare as a separate use, and allowing it in the industrial district. The board asks the proponent, Kristin Anderson, if she'd be amenable to this change, and she is.

The board votes favorable action on article 31, 4--0.

Article 32 (Build affordable housing everywhere). Ms. Lynema says the applicant sent her an email, asking for the article to be withdrawn.

The board votes no action on Article 32, 4--0.

MBTA Communities Update and Discussion

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker informs the board that we had our first community meeting about the MBTA requirements, and approximately 130 people attended. We asked general questions to establish priorities about where to locate the district, and there seems to be general support for complying with the law. Ms. Ricker tells the board that the Attorney General's office has said that non-compliance will be treated as a violation of fair housing laws. Four of the eight communities who initially opposed the requirements are now looking at compliance.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says there are over 550 survey responses so far. Tomorrow, the MBTA Communities working group will talk about stakeholder outreach. Even people who are opposed to the law can have ideas. The survey will remain up until the first week in April, as we're also working on an FAQ. Lilly Linke of CHAPA is putting us in contact with other communities, and CHAPA is providing additional technical assistance.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker gives a brief history of how the working group was formed.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery attended the first meeting, and thought it was well run.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks it would be good to get feedback to the ARB earlier in the process.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema suggests providing an update during the first week of may. Utile has said that every scenario that they propose will be compliant.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that Arlington's inclusionary zoning requirements only kick in with special permits. He thinks it would be helpful to understand how to do inclusionary zoning outside of the special permit process.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests giving the MBTA Communities Working Group a more prominent and easier to find place on the town website. He'd like to make it easy to locate information about the effort.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson doesn't like Lexington's approach of having bonuses for mixed use in business districts.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema tells the board that Victoria, Canada just launched a missing middle initiative, which they see as one piece of a larger effort.

Open Forum

There aren't any members of the public to comment.

Our ACMi camera operator tells the board that he had to interrupt recording to prevent the camera's SD card from filling up, but he was able to record the missing section with his phone. He tells the board to expect a noticeable edit, where the footage will cut from the camera to his phone, and back to the camera.

New Business

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker tells the board that the planning department hired a new transportation planner, who used to work for the city of Malden. They'll start on April 25th.

DJ Beauregard, our economic development coordinator, left the town to pursue other public service goals. So, the economic development coordinator position is now open.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema informs the board that the Housing Corporation of Arlington has filed their 40B application for 10 Sunnyside Ave, and the ZBA is seeking feedback on the application. HCA has already met with department heads to discuss their application. It will be a five story building with 43 dwelling units, all of which will be affordable.

Meeting adjourned.