Arlington Redevelopment Board - Nov 21st, 2022

Jump to navigation Jump to search
The printable version is no longer supported and may have rendering errors. Please update your browser bookmarks and please use the default browser print function instead.

Meeting held at the Arlington Community Center (27 Maple st). Materials were available from Ms. Tintocalis was unable to attend this evening.

Docket 3724 - 37 Broadway

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the applicant is interested in updating the signage at the Lahey Clinic on Broadway. She says that most (but not all) of the signs were previously allowed via special permit; there's a freestanding directory sign at the parking lot entrance which was never approved. She says the applicants are asking to have all of the sign changes permitted as a group.

(Jeff Sarra, Batten Brothers) Mr. Sarra's firm has been hired to replace the signs. He explains that Beth Israel Hospital and Lahey Clinic merged a year and a half ago, and they're replacing signs in order to reflect the new branding. He says the wall signs are similar in weight and area, and the proposed freestanding sign is smaller than what's currently there.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks the applicants to explain what kind of relief they're requesting.

(Kelly Lynema, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Lynema says the total sign area is more than allowed by right, and that freestanding directory signs aren't allowed in this sign district.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's okay with the height of the wall signs, but he's not okay with the directory sign.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson says he's confused about something in staff's memo for the docket. The memo says that one of the wall signs was allowed by special permit in 1984; he asks about the other wall sign.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she wasn't able to locate anything regarding the second wall sign; we just don't have a record of it.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agrees with Mr. Lau regarding the wall signs. He said that he didn't notice them the first time that he went to Lahey Clinic, because they were mounted so high on the wall. He notes there isn't a street number on the building, and suggests adding one.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if the wall signs will be vertically centered in the sign band. To him, the sign on the Silk Street side of the building looks low.

(Jeff Sarra) Mr. Sarra says the signs will be vertically centered.

(Steve Revilak, ARB) Mr. Revilak notes that the sign bylaw allows a wall sign on each street-facing side of the building. He says the sign on the parking lot side doesn't meet that criteria -- the bylaw would prefer to have it on Mass Ave. Mr. Revilak says he understands why that positioning was chosen; so that they're visible to someone traveling east or west on Broadway. He's okay with that. Mr. Revilak says that he was originally going to ask the applicants to reduce the size of the proposed freestanding sign, but he's okay with Mr. Lau's and Mr. Benson's suggestion to remove it.

(Jeff Sarra) Mr. Sarra says the directory sign is owned by the landlord. He asks if that sign can be removed from the application; he doesn't feel like he can remove the sign without the landlord's consent.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says he's reluctant to grant relief if the standing directory sign stays.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment. There is none.

Mr. Benson and Mr. Revilak agree with Mr. Lau regarding the removal of the unpermitted directory sign.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that attached directory signs are allowed in this district, so that is an option for replacement.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau points out that there's already a wall-mounted directory sign on the building.

There's a motion to approve the three wall signs (but not the directory sign). Motion passes, 4--0.

Preliminary Discussion of Zoning Amendments

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery says the board will discuss four potential zoning amendments for the next town meeting, with the petitioners who are thinking of proposing them.

Open Space Requirements for Multi-family and Mixed Uses

This proposal comes from Laura Wiener, Xavid Pretzer, James Fleming, and Patrick Hanlon; it proposes to change the usable open space requirements for mixed-use and multi-family housing in the business district. Ms. Wiener and Mr. Pretzer are appearing before the board.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener says she's become aware of the drastic impact that open space regulations have on the amount of housing that can be built. She says their proposal only affects the B districts, and it originated from her involvement with the Housing Corporation of Arlington, who's considering a new multi-family project. Section 5.3.21(D) of the bylaw requires the amount of open space to be 30% of a building's gross floor area; the requirement grows linearly with the size of the building, and it prevents one from building five stories, or reaching the district's FAR limit. Ms. Wiener notes they've provided the board with a list of open space regulations from other communities. Medford and Arlington are the only ones that base open space requirements on gross floor area, most other communities don't require open space in their business districts.

Another factor is they way the bylaw treats open space on roof decks. Roof decks can only be counted as open space if they're no more than 10' above the lowest floor. Ms. Wiener thinks that requirement should be looked at.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board also wanted to revisit open space regulations in the business district.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is supportive, and he agrees that open space regulations are a choke point. Allowing larger buildings means they'd have elevators; that kind of housing could provide options to age in place. He's supportive of eliminating the requirements in the B districts. The parcels tend to be small, and this is one way to open up some opportunities. Mr. Lau believes this will allow more ground floor commercial space in mixed-use buildings. He says it's important to have a lively edge along the street.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would favor removing the open space requirement for purely commercial developments. He'd like to see a requirement of 10% landscaped open space for mixed-use or multi-family, but based on the size of the lot. He'd also like the board to have the ability to reduce this requirement in exchange for more affordable units. He's also support allowing open space on decks.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that many of Arlington's business district parcels were developed before we had off-street parking regulations, or open space requirements. As a result, we're going to lose square footage from the first floor when these properties are redeveloped. He agrees that eliminating or reducing the open space requirements in the B districts could help us to get some of that square footage back.

Of the four choices outlined for the board, Mr. Revilak likes the second and fourth. He favors eliminating or reducing the open space requirements for mixed use and multi-family, in the B districts. The business districts allow single- and two-family homes to be built by right, and Mr. Revilak would like to see the open space requirements remain for those uses. He also favors eliminating the 10' limitation for open space on roofs. He thinks a roof deck or upper story step back that's suitably programmed should be counted as open space.

There's back and fourth discussion between members of the board regarding solar requirements in the B districts, and how that would affect an owner's ability to install a roof deck.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that Arlington has numerous small B districts on the commercial corridors, with R districts sprinkled in between them. He wonders if we could adopt a biophillic community approach, at some point in the future.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery explains that biophillia is about incorporating greenery into buildings. She thinks we'd have to be fairly specific about what we wanted, because the term can be interpreted in different ways.

Ms. Zsembery says the board was considering a similar article for the next town meeting. She asks Ms. Wiener if the petitioners would like to file the articles themselves, or have the board do it.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks this article is going to need outreach.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener says the board probably has more real-world experience with this issue, but the petitioners would be happy to work with the board.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he could go either way, as long as we get something the board is happy with.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Benson.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'd like the petitioners and the board to work together on crafting an article. She says we'll discuss this in upcoming meetings.

Parking Minimum Elimination in B5 District

This is a proposal to eliminate off-street parking requirements in the B5 district, which is located in Arlington Center.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming thinks this is a natural next step, after parking changes approved by recent town meetings. He says that parking contributes little to taxes, and doesn't help provide vibrant spaces. The B5 district is in Arlington center, where there are parking lots and metered parking. Mr. Fleming says the town of Salem inspired him to file this article. They eliminated parking minimums in their main business district and use metered parking to control demand.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if he can see the B5 district on a map.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak passes a printed map of the district over to Mr. Lau.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau doesn't have any issue with this. He thinks it will encourage less car pollution, and is worth trying in a small area.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about residential uses in the B5 district.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming thinks that the people who build residential will have to include enough parking to make the building commercially viable, and tenants are going to have to make do with what's available.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that a place like Beacon Hill allows on-street parking. He has no problem with eliminating off-street parking requirements for commercial uses, but he's concerned about parking for residential in mixed use.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees with Mr. Benson. She notes that Arlington doesn't allow on-street parking overnight. If the town did, she might feel differently.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak agrees with Mr. Benson and Ms. Zsembery; he'd like to retain parking minimums for the residential part of mixed use. Mr. Revilak says there are 24 parcels in the B5 district, and three of them are residential: there's a two-family, a three-family, and an apartment building. He thinks this would be a good pilot.

Mr. Revilak notes that Cambridge recently eliminated off-street parking requirements, for all uses, throughout the city. He doesn't think Arlington is quite ready to take that leap.

Mr. Revilak also wishes to note a point for future consideration by the board. Today, we can reduce the number of required off-street parking spaces to zero, for commercial uses, where the applicant has no ability to create additional off-street parking. If these properties are redeveloped, someone will be building a new building; they will have the ability to create new parking, and the board won't have the opportunity to reduce that to zero.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he'd like to have the option of reducing parking requirements, in exchange for more affordable housing.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming asks about requiring 0.5 or 0.75 spaces per dwelling.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the board would need a solid reason for that number.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the board currently has the ability to grant parking reductions in exchange for a transportation demand management (TDM) program. He'd like the keep the board's ability to bargain for TDM.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that providing zero off-street parking spaces in exchange for a suitable TDM program would be okay.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about accessible parking spaces.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says that the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board requires building owners to provide accessible spaces to tenants that need them. The owner has to find a way to do it.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker thinks there could be an opportunity to reduce parking requirements for affordable units that are targeted to 30% or 50% AMI, when going through a process like LIHTC and you know who those units are for.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming asks if applicants need to request parking reductions.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the applicants have to ask, but the board can suggest they do so.

Elimination of Usable Open Space Requirements

This is a proposal to eliminate usable open space requirements, being brought by James Fleming.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming recently went before the ZBA to get a special permit in order to add an attic dormer. The special permit was required because his house is non-conforming with respect to open space. In the process, he learned that a large portion of the town is non-conforming regarding open space. The ZBA found that the dormer would not be substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood, and he'll be able to go forward with building it. Mr. Fleming thinks that owners of single- and two-family homes should be empowered to choose which is more important to them -- living space or a yard. The zoning bylaw says that open space is for the inhabitants of these buildings, so the owners should have a say.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says that usable open space requirements were added in the 1970s, and he agrees that there are a large number of non-conformities. Dormers on non-conforming parcels make up a sizable portion of the ZBA's workload. Typically, applicants are asked to demonstrate that there's 0% usable before the proposed alteration, and 0% afterwards; going from zero to zero means there's no increase in the degree of non-conformity. Essentially, properties with no usable open space are exempt from that requirement.

Mr. Revilak thinks it's probably time for us to have a conversation about the purpose of usable open space regulations. Mr. Fleming included the relevant part of the bylaw in his memo to the board: usable open space is intended to provide for things like swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens, and space to dry clothes. Today, there are other factors which might be more important, like permeability and stormwater management. Our bylaw doesn't require open space to be pervious -- hardscape is completely acceptable, as long as one meets the stormwater requirements. Mr. Revilak thinks this is really a question of what we're trying to achieve with the regulations.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming points out that there are already setback requirements, and these have the effect of requiring open space.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks he agrees with Mr. Fleming. There are other dimensional regulations that require open space on a property. He thinks that permeability and trees are both important.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery thinks that Mr. Fleming is going to need a lot of graphics to explain this concept to town meeting. She thinks it would be good for him to speak with the ZBA, since they have a lot of experience with these cases.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau agrees that we should understand what the point is.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming thought about proposing that the open space requirements be based on a percentage of lot area, but that turns out to be hard. For example, you could have a house that's non-conforming with no usable open space, and a change might make it conforming. The owner might have been able to add a dormer or an addition when the property was non-conforming; making the property non-conforming might remove that ability. He says that removing the usable open space requirements seemed like the best way to avoid these situations.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if Mr. Fleming is contemplating any changes to landscaped open space regulations.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming indicates that he's not.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says this will be hard to explain to people.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery believes this requirement creates a lot of red tape; reducing that would be worthwhile.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that Arlington's Zoning Bylaw has layers of redundant restrictions. She thinks the spirit of the open space regulations could be achieved through setbacks.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks it will be important for Mr. Fleming to have the ZBA's support.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery agrees.

Affordable Housing on Non-Conforming Parcels

This is a proposal to allow affordable housing to be built on undersized, non-conforming lots. It comes from Barbara Thornton.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton doesn't think this proposal would result in the creation of new overlay districts. She also doesn't expect it to be a by-right option, but based on the earlier discussions tonight, perhaps she'll reconsider. She's looking for general feedback from the board, and wants to thank Kelly Lynema for her assistance.

Ms. Thornton thinks this proposal could allow the creation of as many as 1500 affordable units, both through building on undeveloped non-conforming lots, and by subdividing off sections of oversized lots. Her philosophy is that permission to proceed belongs to the municipality, but the decision to actually make changes rests with the property owner. She thinks this could create new economic opportunities and incentives for property owners. The first way is to use extra land to meet a variety of goals, like missing middle, affordable, and workforce housing. The second is to allow owners to build things like cottage clusters. The third is to convert extra land to permanent open space.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks Ms. Thornton if she's talking about parcels that are non-conforming because of size, non-conforming because of frontage, or both.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton acknowledges that the definition and purpose need to be more refined. The says the original idea came from a realtor, who thought we could use extra land to build more housing. Or, to give owners the ability to subdivide, and sell off part of their land to a developer that needs more open space.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that sounds different than existing non-conforming parcels. Bucket number two allows creation of non-conforming parcels through subdivision. The third bucket is effectively transfer of development rights. He's unclear if the concept is starter homes or affordable housing.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says there's a lot of bureaucracy involved in creating affordable housing, but it seems like the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Housing Corporation of Arlington are groups that can help.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks there are gems of ideas there, but they need coalescing. He also asks Ms. Thornton to think about how much non-conforming is too much.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that Ms. Thornton's proposal is too broad, and he's like to see her trim it down. He suggests that subdivision should be done so that one of the lots remains conforming. A smaller, non-conforming lot means that the home will be smaller. Perhaps it could be possible for the developer to build a road and do cluster development. Mr. Lau says the open space aspect was new to him.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she agrees with the question around clarity, but could see creative projects that result from this proposal. She thinks it would be good to identify areas of appetite and interest.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says she's been talking with people, and has seen some interest.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggest that Ms. Thornton simplify her proposal -- pick one area and focus on that. He' thinks Ms. Thornton will be at a disadvantage if town meeting members can't get their head around the various facets.

With respect to affordable housing, Mr. Revilak believes that subsidies are going to be necessary. An ownership unit that meets our bylaw's definition of "affordable" will have to cost a little under $300,000. Mr. Revilak says his house is on a nonconforming 3000 square foot lot, with 30 feet of frontage. The assessor values the land at $327,000, which is more than the cost of an affordable home. He thinks that okay, but wants to be clear that the idea of creating affordable homes on undersized parcels will require subsidies in order to work.

Mr. Revilak suggests that Ms. Thornton be less prescriptive in her approach. For example, we don't regulate the floor area ratio of single-family homes elsewhere in the bylaw, and he thinks there's no need to regulate it here. He suggests Ms. Thornton look at sections 5.4.2(B)(2) and 5.4.2(B)(8) as possible ways to structure the changes she'd like to achieve. He thinks those sections do something similar to what Ms. Thornton is trying to do, but they're able to accomplish it with a paragraph or two of text.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the ability to subdivide will depend on the shape of the parcel.

Public Comment

The chair asks if there's any public comment on these resident proposals.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore says he continues to be surprised and amazed at certain factions that try to fill up open space, and whatever space we have. He's not sure it's incumbent on the town to allow property owners to find ways to monetize their properties. Mr. Moore says the town is full of owners, and they have rights, but he doesn't think that trumps the rights of people who moved here and want the town to remain a certain way. He thinks there should be a balance between property owners and people who want to maintain the community. He says there's a need for open space, trees, and non-developed land, and he's not sure that some of these proposals are balanced.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson believes there's a tension between private property rights and owners. He suggests the book "Trespassing: An Inquiry into the Private Ownership of Land" by John Hanson Mitchell. He says there's a tension between what we don't own but think we like, vs owners, vs a range of community needs. He thinks that's the tension Mr. Moore is raising.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton would like to say something about demand pricing for parking. She thinks there's an opportunity to have zip cars is various private driveway spaces around town. That would be private rental of zip cars, from homeowner's personal spaces.

Hybrid Meeting Protocol

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the town is doing a hybrid meeting pilot, to assess the technologies available, and the ease of running meetings in this format. Ms. Zsembery provided the board with a memo from the remote participation committee, and her suggested answers to their points of consideration.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she's been working with Jim Feeney and ACMI regarding the acoustic concerns in the room. She says it will take two staff, or one staff and one board member to run a meeting with a remote participation component. She'd says we'd also have to request some patience from people participating remotely, since this is a work in progress.

(note: A meeting attendee wrote to me to say he recalled Ms. Lynema saying three staff, or two staff and one board member. Specific headcounts aside, I think the main point is that "it will take an additional person to run a hybrid meeting, and that role will have to be filled by staff, or a member of the board".)

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the study group has had a lot of conversations about equitable participation. He's like to hear the board members thoughts on participation, and their thoughts on how to run meetings.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks that whoever presents to the board should present in person, and he understands that hybrid meetings will take more people to run. He thinks that could be an undue burden. Having a board member facilitate remote participation will reduce their ability to participate in person. He asks which other boards are participating in the pilot.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the ZBA is planning to test. The School Board has been piloting hybrid meetings, but they have a room that's set up for it. The Select Board has hybrid meetings, where only the board and staff attend in person.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau is concerned that hybrid meetings could be distracting.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks what happens in March 2023, when the state's executive order on remote participation expires.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says this is an unknown. She's not sure what will happen when the order expires. If the board members and applicants are in person, she thinks that hybrid meetings won't violate the open meeting law, but she'd like to verify this with town counsel.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson shares some of Mr. Lau's concerns. He asks what remote participants will see. Will it be things that are projected onto the screen, the room, or both.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says we'd need to use two screens. One for projecting materials, and one for remote participants. The person running the remote side would have to show slides, and follow the material being presented in the room.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if ACMI would be doing a live feed.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says the ACMI footage is recorded and uploaded later. It's not live.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson doesn't feel that we should be the ones experimenting, since the ARB has specific legal obligations, and our decisions affect a lot of people. The thinks that boards with fewer legal obligations would be better for the pilot program.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he agrees with the recommendations that Ms. Zsembery outlined in her memo. He didn't realize that hybrid meetings would require another staff person, and that aspect concerns him.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that remote meetings have been challenging. Where chat is enabled, it typically takes one whole person to monitor the chat, and bring up issues raised there. She likes the idea of having more people participating, but the business of the board may not make that feasible.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says she's often concerned about noticing people in the waiting room, and failing to admit them promptly.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau thinks we'd need more people to run a hybrid meeting.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks what the board would like to see. She realizes we have issues with the acoustics in the room, and we need to work out an arrangement with ACMI.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks if zoom's webinar format would be easier to manage than Zoom's normal "everyone in the same room" format. He thinks the Select Board has used the webinar format effectively.

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says that webinars are easier to manage, but the town only has one webinar account.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests it might be time to consider another webinar account.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says she'll provide this feedback to the remote participation study group.

Approval of Meeting Minutes

The board amended and approved meeting minutes from October 3rd and October 17th.

Open Forum

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton has a question about meeting formats. She asks about the difference in participation between remote and in-person meetings. She thinks that remote meetings could bring in more people, and a more diverse group of people.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that's something we'd have to keep track of during the pilot -- the number of people participating in person and the number participating remotely. She notes that some topics, like warrant article hearings, tend to turn out a lot of people.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that people who attend in person tend to be more involved than people who attend remotely.

(Mary Ellen Aaronow) Ms. Aaronow says her committee has done two hybrid meetings, and they've gone well. She suggests getting familiar with the technology outside of board meetings, and agrees that it's difficult to hear speakers in the room.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that's an important point: to understand what's working for other groups.

New Business

(Kelly Lynema) Ms. Lynema says the department held their first public meeting about multi-family zoning for MBTA communities. The recording and slides have been posted to the town website. She felt it was a successful first meeting.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson agreed that it was a successful meeting, and he thought there were good comments from the public.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that several residents have expressed interest in participating in the MBTA Communities working group.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he'd like to get report backs from the working group. He'd also like to say a few words about the MBTA's new bus routes. The T has finalized the new routes, and Mr. Benson thinks these are a little better than the previous proposal. Arlington has lost some service: the 79 bus is gone; the 67 bus was restored, but it has a different route. The 84 is gone, and the 78 is going to have fewer trips.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says he attended the department's MBTA Community forum, and thought they gave a good presentation. Mr. Revilak appreciated the "conversation starter" scenarios in the presentation. He thinks there's a perception that the multi-family districts have to be located around the Alewife T station, and the examples from the presentation make it clear that we have much more flexibility.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Revilak participated in an ADU discussion panel in Winchester. He's happy to report that Winchester had a special town meeting, and adopted an ADU bylaw. Their bylaw is more restrictive than what we have in Arlington, but he thinks it will provide residents of Winchester with new housing options.

Meeting adjourned.