Arlington Redevelopment Board - Mar 4th, 2024

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Meeting held at 27 Maple Street. Materials were available from

Review Meeting Minutes

The board approved minutes from their Feb. 26, 2024 meeting, 4--0--1 (Mr. Benson abstained).

Public Hearing: Warrant Articles for 2024 Annual Town Meeting

This is the second night of warrant article hearings for the Spring 2024 town meeting. All of tonight's articles were submitted by ten registered voters.

Article 30 - Shaded Parking Lots

Article 30 proposes shade requirements for parking lots of more than 25 spaces. It was inserted by Susan Stamps and ten registered voters.

(Elisabeth Carr-Jones, proponent) Ms. Carr-Jones says the article proposes shading requirements for parking lots of more than 25 spaces. This is intended as a measure of climate change resilience and to avoid heat islands, as global temperatures are rising. The article proposes two methods of shading: trees and solar panels, to provide 50% coverage of the parking lot. There'd be a requirement for one tree per eight parking spaces, and each parking space must be within 30' of a tree. Solar panels would be an alternate method of providing the required shade.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak says the Zoning Bylaw has a definition for "ground mounted solar voltaic systems"; this definition was added when the industrial district regulations were updated, and the use is only allowed in the industrial district. There's a provision in the zoning bylaw that says any use not allowed by-right or by special-permit is prohibited. Mr. Revilak suggests changing the use tables to allow ground-mounted solar in additional districts.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson doesn't believe the use table changes are necessary. He says that allowing the use in other districts would go beyond parking lots.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that 5.2.2.C permits uses that are "otherwise authorized by this bylaw". He'd be satisfied with language in 6.1.11.D that said something to the effect of "the provision for solar shading is applicable to parking lots in the business, residential, and industrial districts".

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston asks if the proponents can speak to the interplay between solar panels and shade trees.

(Susan Stamps, Proponent) Ms. Stamps says that a tree every eight spaces would work to provide 50% shading.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston understands that if someone were to shade part of their parking lot with trees, they could do the rest with solar. She's with Ms. Stamps on that. She's a little concerned about the requirement that each parking space be within 30' of a tree. That doesn't allow much flexibility in how the parking lot is laid out. There's really only one way to do it -- putting a tree in the middle of eight parking spaces.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks about the number of properties that would be affected by this requirements.

(Elisabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr Jones believes there are approximately 70 parking lots in town with more than 25 spaces.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is concerned that a requirement for trees in parking lots would add a burden to fostering business development, and may stifle businesses. He'd like to start with using tree islands to offset parking. Mr. Lau notes that a mix of trees and solar panels could result in the trees shading the solar panels.

(Elisabeth Carr-Jones) Ms. Carr-Jones says that's why mixing would be an option, rather than a requirement. She doesn't believe it will be a burden.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is concerned this could discourage future growth.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery is concerned about the selection of standard for tree care. She says the board tries not to cite specific standards in the bylaw, because they can change often. She asks if this was done in conjunction with town staff.

(Susan Stamp) Ms. Stamps says she read the American Standard for Nursery Stock; it seemed to apply to pre-planting, and the tree warden agreed with that assessment. The tree warden suggested the USDA Forest Service Tree Owners Manual instead. She says the main motion is written to allow the ARB to use other standards, if it would like to do so.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti says he supports the article in general, but has several questions. He asks how many parking lots of this size have been proposed during the last 20 years. He says projects that trigger these requirements would already come before the ARB, and the ARB can impose these requirements now. He doesn't see this creating more of a burden for developers. He's confused about the solar aspect, and how that will relate to rooftop solar.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone asks if this will be a requirement going forward, and not retroactive. He asks if losing parking spaces would affect the square footage that's allowed for a building.

There are no further comments from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the requirements would take effect going forward, and wouldn't be retroactive. She says the board can look into the number of parking lots permitted before deliberating and voting, and that developers are typically willing to work with the board on landscaping. Regarding the impact to building square footage, there is a calculation for the number of spaces required, but there are methods of reducing those parking minimums.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says this isn't a substitute for the rooftop solar requirements. He sees them as independent.

Article 31 - Add 5-7 Winter to the MBTA Neighborhood District

Article 31 proposes to add 5--7 Winter Street to the MBTA Communities Neighborhood Multifamily district. It was inserted by John Leone and ten registered voters.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says that Arlington received its Section 3A compliance letter from the Executive Office of Housing and Liveable Communities. We're required to notify them when any changes are proposed to the multifamily district, and we've notified them about this article.

(John Leone, Proponent) Mr. Leone is one of the trustees of the trust that owns 5--7 Winter Street. The property has been in his family since 1956 and it's one of the largest parcels in East Arlington. Mr. Leone says the property is surrounded by the Neighborhood Multifamily District and he thinks his property should be included. This would provide him with the option of subdividing off part of the property in the future. He notes that 13--15 Winter Street is a historic property that was included in the Neighborhood Multifamily District. Mr. Leone says that Arlington doesn't have a comprehensive list of historic properties and he'd like to preserve his rights for the future.

(Suzanne Leone-Linder, Proponent) Ms. Leone-Linder says that the planning department mailed 164 noticed to abutters, and her family hasn't heard anything pro or con since the notices went out.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says that 5--7 Winter Street was left out of the Neighborhood Multifamily District because it's a historic property, and that we missed the historic property further down the street. He has no issues with this article. Mr. Lau says the adjacent business parcels on Mass Ave are very shallow. He asks if Mr. Leone has talked to the Historical Commission.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says he's talked to (Historical Commission Chair) Joanne Robinson, who said that they have jurisdiction over the property, and there's a demolition delay.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asked if the building was historic when Mr. Leone's family purchased it.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says it was added to the historic list later. He says it that just happened, and they really weren't told at the time.

(Suzanne Leone-Linder) Ms. Leone-Linder says the building was put on a historic list because of its architectural qualities.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston asks if the state needs to approve the change to the neighborhood multifamily district.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says the requirement is just to notify. She believes they'll be ambivalent to the addition of properties.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says that the zoning bylaw requires abutters to be notified by certified or registered mail when changes to the zoning map are proposed. He'd need to see the mail receipts to owners and abutters. He says this requirement is in addition to the notifications that were sent by the Planning Department.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery suggests having (Town Counsel) Mike Cunningham work with Mr. Leone on the notices.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak feels the article is straightforward. He has no questions.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery has no questions for the petitioner, and she appreciates the discussion Mr. Leone had with the Historical Commission.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Shelly Dein, Cleveland St) Ms. Dein says she's supportive of increasing the density of housing options. She believes we'll see more people rather than families given what's allowed in the Neighborhood Multifamily District. She says she found an MBTA district map on the town website that's slightly different from what Mr. Leone showed in his presentation, and she wonders which map is accurate. She agrees with the comments that properties along Mass Ave are very shallow. In general, density makes sense, but she doesn't want to create valleys around individual properties.

(Chris Loreti, Adams Street) Mr. Loreti that the impression that parcels around Mass Ave were left out of the MBTA district because the ARB intended to change the zoning at a later point in time. He asks if 5--7 Winter Street will be included in that rezoning. Mr. Loreti says the AG hasn't approved Arlington's MBTA Communities zoning, and he questions whether the bylaw can be changed before the attorney general approves it.

(Jerry Grady, Winter St) Mr. Grady asks what could be done with the property, if it were sold.

There are no more comments from the public.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says there was a procedural flaw in the warrant article notification last summer, and the town clerk is working with the Attorney General's office to get it resolved.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the Neighborhood Multifamily district allows multi-family housing -- which is three or more units -- at a height of three stories. If the property were re-developed, it would need a 15' front setback, a 20' rear setback, and side yard setbacks totaling 20 feet. Mr. Revilak says this is generally similar in scale to what's on 5--7 Winter street today, which is a large 2.5 story home.

Article 32 - Traffic Visibility

Article 32 proposes a change to zoning bylaw section 5.3.12.A, which governs traffic visibility around corners. It was inserted by Caitlin Monaghan and ten registered voters.

(Caitlin Monaghan, Proponent) Ms. Monaghan lives on a corner lot and her goal is to amend section 5.3.12. Section 5.3.12 deals with traffic visibility, and there are two subsections: (A) which covers visibility around corners, and (B) which covers visibility around driveways. Ms. Monaghan says that (A) discourages fences that are high enough to protect children. Subsection (B) has language that allows fences which don't inhibit visibility, and she'd like to add similar language to subsection (A).

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak agrees with Ms. Monaghan's assessment: (B) contains language that considers visibility through fences, but (A) does not. He feels this is a straightforward change and he's supportive of it.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks who looks at fences.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says it's the building inspector.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston asks if there's a distinction between fences and vegetation that affects visibility.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says that daylighting intersections would improve traffic visibility. He'd like to see the town install more raingarden bump-outs around corners.

(Caitlin Monaghan) Ms. Monaghan says she was trying to keep the change narrow, and using language based on an existing section of the bylaw.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks the goal is to allow taller fences, provided one can see through them. He thinks that could be achieved by saying something like "except for see-through fences".

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Carl Wagner, Edgehill Road) Mr. Wagner learned some of the rules around fences when he put one up around his home. He thinks the pictures of fences in Ms. Monaghan's slides don't qualify as tall. Mr. Wagner thinks that anyone who wants a taller fence can go to the ZBA and ask for a variance. He says the rules around fence height are important for cyclists and drivers and the thousands of people who live here.

(Chris Loreti, Adams Street) Mr. Loreti thinks the triangle described in the bylaw is referring to curbs and not property lines. The curb lines produce a smaller triangle. Mr. Loreti says the building inspector does zoning enforcement, and he's not aware that the exemption in 5.3.12.B has ever been applied. He thinks the bylaw is correct as-is, and the importance to pedestrians outweighs the convenience to a dog (who might be kept in the yard by a fence).

There are no further comments from the public.

Article 33 - Rear Yard Setbacks in Business Districts

Article 33 proposes a change to rear yard setback requirements in the Business districts. It was inserted by Andrew Greenspon and ten registered voters.

(Andy Greenspon, Proponent) Mr. Greenspon says that the last fall town meeting simplified the rear yard setback requirements in the business districts, by replacing a set of formulas with a fixed set of distances. The current requirement is a 20' rear setback for buildings of three stories or less, and 30' for buildings of four stories or more. Mr. Greenspon proposes changing this to 20' for the first three stories, and 30' for the fourth story and above. He says the current requirements only allow for a small increase in gross floor area when going from three stories to four. Mr. Greenspon says that Somerville does a similar thing in their mid-rise district, and shows a slide with the applicable section in Somerville's zoning ordinance.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau is supportive. He suggests some labeling changes to the images that Mr. Greenspon presented.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston has no questions.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson has no questions.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak is also supportive. He believes this will allow for more commercial space on the lower stories of mixed-use buildings.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Carl Wagner, Edgehill Road) Mr. Wagner reads a letter that was sent to him by an engineer, criticizing the graphics in Mr. Greenspon's presentation. He believes the drawings weren't scaled properly, and says that they should be. Mr. Wagner says that residents pay taxes and they'll be inconvenienced by this change. He says it needs more study.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore says that last fall's special town meeting was fraught and caused a great deal of consternation among residents. He feels that we're chipping away at height and setback restricts for the sake of business versus residential interests. He thinks it's too soon to engage town meeting on zoning changes, and there should be a safe harbor period after the changes passed last year. Mr. Moore suggests not taking a vote of approval so quickly.

(Wynelle Evans, Orchard Place) Ms. Evans says that so much of Arlington is non-conforming, and asks how this will affect properties with non-conforming rear yards.

(Ratnakar Vellanki) Mr. Vellanki thinks this is a common-sense change and he supports it. He thinks this gives further scope to add commercial space.

(Chris Loreti, Adams Street) Mr. Loreti was under the impression that we adopted Somerville's rear setback changes verbatim. He asks "if they were good enough then, why are they not good enough now". He says the diagrams need to be scaled properly, and that rear yards in B districts typically abut side yards in residential districts. He thinks this will introduce inconsistencies in the bylaw's terminology, and he also understands that the bylaw changes from last fall's special town meeting haven't been approved by the Attorney General.

There are no further comments from the public.

(Andy Greenspon) Mr. Greenspon says the bylaw only has step-backs on the front of buildings, but this is the rear side. He notes that the status quo is a 20' rear setback for a three story building.

Article 34 - Residential Uses

Article 34 proposes to allow two- and three-family dwellings in districts that are currently zoned for single- and two-family dwellings. It was inserted by John Paul Lewicke and ten registered voters.

(JP Lewicke, Proponent) Mr. Lewicke says that article 34 proposes to allow two- and three-family homes by right in the R0, R1, and R2 districts, while keeping all of the existing dimensional regulations in place. He found the board's earlier comments about allowing both two- and three-family dwellings persuasive, and that feedback was incorporated into the main motion. Mr. Lewicke says he's still waiting for the Attorney General's office to address the question of whether the article will require a majority or two-thirds vote. If the AG determines that a two-thirds vote is required, he's likely to withdraw the article this year.

Mr. Lewicke says that he (and co-proponent) Annie LaCourt tried to develop a set of development projections, similar to ones done for the MBTA communities multi-family zoning. They assumed redevelopment at twice the current rate, which worked out to approximately 550 parcels being redeveloped over ten years, producing about 720 new units.

(Annie LaCourt, Proponent) Ms. LaCourt says she had a conversation with the town assessor, who told her that more units per building means a higher value and more tax revenue. She says that neither the assessor nor the town manager were able to estimate the effect this would have on town expenses. Ms. LaCourt says that most town expenses are not per-capita, but schools and trash collection are exceptions.

Ms. LaCourt says that she and Mr. Lewicke have a plan for public engagement, but would like to know the vote quantum first. They're interested in the board's feedback, even if they don't currently support the article.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau says the properties shown in the presentation are buildings that meet yard setback requirements. He's a little hesitant because the MBTA communities zoning just passed, and he'd like to see how that develops. He thinks it would be better to wait, and focus on public engagement.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, ARB) Ms. Korman-Houston wonders about the district definitions that say "discourage intensive land use". She asks if a three-family dwelling would be considered intensive. Ms. Korman-Houston is interested in seeing where the MBTA multifamily district overlaps with the single- and two-family districts. She thinks that public outreach will be very important.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks a number of questions about the build out analysis, to make sure he's interpreting the numbers correctly. He notes that Minneapolis did away with single-family zoning several years ago, and that's produced little new housing so far. Instead, most of Minneapolis's housing growth has come from larger multi-family units. Mr. Benson thinks the new definitions for the R0, R1, and R2 district need to be re-written.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt asks why allowing two- or three-family homes would be considered "intensive", since the dimensional regulations aren't changing.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson suggests using "SPR" in the use tables, to indicate where site plan review is required. He wonders about a requirement that two- and three-family homes resemble single-family homes. He also wonders if this article is premature. He thinks we may want to wait, and see how things proceed under the MBTA communities zoning.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak says the board asked the proponents a number of questions the last time they came to us, and he appreciates the effort they've put into answering them. He suggests removing the site plan review requirement for two-family dwellings. Mr. Revilak acknowledges that the board suggested site plan review in a previous meeting, but he remembers that being more related to the MBTA communities zoning. The idea is that if we're going to require site plan review for multi-family housing in the MBTA Communities districts, we should require it for by-right multi-family housing elsewhere.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Caitlin Monaghan) Ms. Monaghan says this is a great idea. She thinks it would be useful to have an analysis of what could be built, if the new buildings all came out to the setbacks.

(Carl Wagner, Edgehill Road) Mr. Wagner says this looks similar to the two-family article that was proposed several years ago, and he's distressed to see it back so soon. He says this will not add to climate resiliency or diversity. Mr. Wagner says that when single-family homes are turned into new two-family homes, each unit in the two-family costs more. He says that housing choice means that we should have a choice to stay n Arlington, and that we owe it to people not to put ridiculous ideas in front of town meeting.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore says we discussed removing single-family zones a few years ago. He thinks the MBTA Communities zoning was a radical change for the town, and he's not sure why this article is coming so soon.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps agrees with waiting a year or two, but she agrees with making regular houses that can accommodate two or three families. She says we're going to see mansionization anyway. Ms. Stamps thinks this is a great idea, but worries about the more paving for driveways. She asks "what about dirt driveways"? She thinks says this is a great solution to providing more housing.

(Grant Cook) Mr. Cook says that removing single-family zoning didn't have much impact in Minneapolis, but removing parking minimums did, and he hopes the board will look at that. Mr. Cook says the question is change versus the status quo. The status quo is pretty bad, so he hopes we act to improve it.

(Jon Gersh) Mr. Gersh says he's support this if there was a safe way to get a two-thirds vote at town meeting.

(Wendy Richter) Ms. Richter says she's an affordable housing advocate, and this will not increase affordability, but allowing existing homes to be converted into multi-family would be good. She says that land is expensive. People want separate front doors, so multi-family housing won't look like single-family.

(Ratnakar Vellanki) Mr. Vellanki supports the article, and he begs to differ that it's too soon. He doesn't think we need to limit ourselves. Instead, we need to use all the levers possible to resolve the housing crunch and better town finances. New growth is not subject to (proposition 2.5) property tax limits. He thinks this opens up, rather than curtails housing choice. In 1970 Arlington's average household size was 3.3; now it's 2.2. That means we need more households in order to have the same number of people. He says that Arlington's population is down relative to 1970, while the Commonwealth's population is up.

(Wynelle Evans) Ms. Evans says that production is not the same thing as equity, but this focuses entirely on production. She says we need to consider how to make Arlington welcoming.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber says that production is good, but it's not enough. She says there's a redevelopment proposed in the townhouse district on Pleasant street, which would replace a single-family home with a three-family. She thinks it's unfortunate that there couldn't be three-family homes elsewhere.

There's no further comment from the public.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks this is a really good discussion, and he's torn about what to do with this article. He wonders if conversion of existing homes could be a short-term step.

(Annie LaCourt) On the question of "too soon", Ms. LaCourt understands that town meeting can be bruising. She says this is not an article about affordable homes; it's about production and filtering. She says there should be options for more families. Building more housing here means less displacement elsewhere, in less expensive communities like Mattapan. Ms. LaCourt says that large single-family homes aren't protecting the environment. She sees this as a collaborative effort with the board, and feels that she's gotten good feedback.

The board votes to continue the warrant article hearings to March 18th, at which time they'll deliberate and vote.

Open Forum

There are no speakers for tonight's open forum.

New Business

There is no new business from board members or staff.

Meeting adjourned.