MBTA Communities Working Group - Aug 8th, 2023

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Hybrid meeting held in the Community Roof of the public safety building. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/32604/.

Approve Minutes from Prior Meetings

The working group approved minutes from their August 1, 2023 meeting by a vote of 6--0--1 (Ms. Aamodt abstained).


There are no outreach updates to report this evening.

Proposed map, dimensions, and bonuses

(Sanjay Newton, WG Chair) Mr. Newton says we have a tight timeline to submit a plan to the state for pre-review, and a lot to get through tonight.

(Matthew Littell, Utile) Mr. Littell says that Utile was tasked with exploring alternative scenarios, which he'll present tonight. These scenarios adhere to the principles we've been trying to follow, but tighten up and focus the districts.

The map shown on July 25th will constitute our base scenario, and it's based on a 350' area centered around the Broadway and Mass Ave corridors. We discovered a complication with EOHLC's compliance model, in that the compliance calculations don't respond to setbacks. After discussions with EOHLC, Utile added open space requirements of 40% in the Mass Ave/Broadway district, and 60% in the neighborhood multi-family district, as a proxy for setback area.

Mr. Littell presents several alternatives using these proxy variables to account for setbacks. The base scenario with no open space or lot coverage gives a capacity of 20,123 units on 175 acres. The model arrived at this number by taking the size of each parcel and using a default open space requirement of 20%; the model assumed that buildings covered 80% of the parcel area, and were built to the maximum height allowed.

Taking the base scenario and adding a 40% open space requirement to the Mass Ave/Broadway district and a 60% open space requirement to the neighborhood multi-family district yields a capacity of 10,957 on 175 acres. Maximum lot coverage could also be used as a proxy variable. Taking the base scenario and adding 60% max lot coverage to the Mass Ave/Broadway District and 40% max lot coverage to the Neighborhood Multi-family District gives a capacity of 11,594 dwellings on 175 acres. The different values for the Mass Ave/Broadway and Neighborhood Multi-family Districts were chosen based on the average lot sizes of parcels in those districts.

The model options available for this purpose are open space (which includes all unbuilt area, including setbacks), max building coverage (which constrains the building footprint), max building coverage plus parking (which includes the building footprint, plus space devoted to parking), and max lot coverage (which is the combination of the previous options, plus any additional ground-plane impervious area).

Mr. Littell proceeds to walk through the different scenarios that Utile prepared. Each of these assumes a proxy open space requirement of 40% in the Mass Ave/Broadway District, and 60% in the Neighborhood Multi-family District.

  • Alternative A1 reduces the district size to a 250' transect across Mass Ave and Broadway, where both districts allow four stories by right. A1 provides a capacity of 7574 dwellings on 113.2 acres.
  • Alternative A2 reduces the district size to a 250' transect across Mass Ave and Broadway, where the Mass Ave/Broadway district allows four stories by right and the neighborhood multi-family district allows three. A2 provides a capacity of 6463 dwellings on 113.2 acres.
  • Alternative B1 is a tiered approach that includes four-story and three-story sub-districts. The four-story sub-district consists of parcels abutting Mass Ave and Broadway along with an adjacent parcel behind. The three-story sub-district consists of parcels behind the four-story sub-district. Relative to alternative A2, B1 has a larger Mass Ave/Broadway district, and a smaller neighborhood multi-family district. B1 has a capacity of 7,201 dwellings on 115.1 acres. Within the four-story sub-district, Mr. Littell suggests that height bonuses be available for only those parcels that directly abut Mass Ave and Broadway.

Mr. Littell believes that open space is the most accurate way to account for setbacks in the model. With the working group's preference for volumetric regulations, he suggests using an open space parameter in the modeling, but not in the actual zoning.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton asks for a reminder on what capacity means.

(Matthew Littell) Mr. Littell says that capacity is an estimate of the maximum number of dwelling units that could be constructed if every parcel in the district were made vacant, and then built-out to the maximum extent allowed by zoning. Capacity is not net-new construction; Mr. Littell believes that net-new is an important number to know, but they weren't able to calculate it in advance of this meeting. He says that all parcels are not equally likely to be redeveloped.

(Vince Baudoin, WG) Mr. Baudoin thinks the working group is trying to find something that's in line with the values of the town, rather than working towards a target capacity. He asks about the possibility of estimating actual build out.

(Matthew Littell) Mr. Littell believes that would require an extensive economic study, because actual built-out would be heavily influenced by market conditions. He says that's beyond the scope of what Utile was asked to do.

(Shaina Korman-Houston, WG) Ms. Korman-Houston asks about the setbacks and modeled open space requirements.

(Matthew Littell) Mr. Littell says that 40% and 60% were emblematic of the new setbacks the working group adopted, based on an analysis of parcels in the district. Most parcels in the Neighborhood Multi-family District are around 5000 square feet, with dimensions of 50'x100'. Applying setbacks of 15' in front, 10' on the sides, and 20' in the rear gives approximately 40% developable lot area.

(Steve Revilak, WG) Mr. Revilak asks if the compliance model assumes 1000 square feet per dwelling unit.

(Matthew Littell) Mr. Littell answers in the affirmative.

(Mette Aamodt, WG) In all of these scenarios, Ms. Aamodt sees too much concentration in East Arlington, due to having two corridors, each with a 250' strip in either direction. She notes that parcels in Arlington heights were dropped off the map, and she'd like to pare down the Neighborhood Multi-family District in East Arlington. She thinks that East Arlington is already over-burdened. It's mostly entirely R2 and built out with two-family homes that are three stories tall. Ms. Aamodt suggests paring down the Neighborhood Multi-family District by eliminating it entirely from East Arlington.

(Matthew Littell) Mr. Littell says we wouldn't have a contiguous district if we removed the neighborhood multi-family district from East Arlington.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt thinks that's just a design problem.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston disagrees. She thinks the question of how much of the Neighborhood Multi-family District should go in East Arlington is valid, but she doesn't agree with removing all of it. She thinks there's a benefit to having a mix of housing types, and asks why we'd give up that opportunity.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt thinks that developers are unlikely to demo a two-family home in order to build a three-family. Instead she thinks they'll make unattractive additions to the buildings. Ms. Aamodt believes we'll end up with basement apartments and awkward add-ons. She thinks that will make the consistent fabric alien, and produce sub-par architecture.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) As a developer, Ms. Korman-Houston thinks builders will identify larger lots next to business district parcels, and build 12--15 unit apartment buildings. She acknowledges that many parcels aren't developable in that way, but it's not unheard of to combine parcels. She thinks there are appropriate lots scattered throughout the neighborhood multi-family district in East Arlington.

(Vince Baudoin, WG) Mr. Baudoin is hearing from Ms. Aamodt that by pulling Arlington Heights out, East Arlington is going to get the benefits and burdens of this change. He has faith that the Arlington Redevelopment Board will follow through on their promise to update zoning in the heights. He asks if anyone can provide a progress update on that.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak says the ARB hasn't discussed the Arlington Heights Business District recently.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says the ARB is planning to bring a suite of zoning changes related to the business districts. One of these would combine the patchwork of business districts in the heights into a single district. A lot of work has been done on this, owing to the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Action Plan, but it's up the ARB to decide whether to bring it forward in the fall.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt asks if people will support her proposal to remove the Neighborhood multi-family district from East Arlington.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber thinks we haven't done things lot by lot before; we've taken a different approach.

There's back and fourth about Ms. Aamodt's proposal.

(Laura Wiener, WG) Ms. Wiener is concerned about losing contiguity. She likes the idea of combining lots, and wonders if we could include less.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt thinks we're talking more about depth.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener asks about contiguity.

(Matthew Littell) Mr. Littell says we'd have to reduce the East Arlington capacity by around half, in order to break it up.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak doesn't favor removing the district entirely. He suggests a different approach. During the June 8th forum, a number of people asked ``Where's Broadway?, so we included it in the multi-family district. Maybe doing that put too much of the district in the east. He suggests removing a portion of the Broadway area instead.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin agrees we could do something different in East Arlington. Removing part of the district might still give us something that's technically compliant, but he's more interested in doing something meaningful. He thinks the neighborhood multi-family district creates a buffer between the Mass Ave/Broadway district and what's already there. He's consistently heard people say that we need a broader range of housing options. He wouldn't support eliminating the neighborhood multi-family district from East Arlington.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt says that East Arlington has the biggest range of housing types in town; other parts don't have that. She thinks these maps put too much in a small section of town.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton thinks that some of the imbalance comes from the concentration of commercial parcels along Mass Ave in Arlington Center. The way things worked out, the multi-family district wound up on one side of the street and not the other. He suggests adding parcels in the west side of town.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt suggests eliminating the Neighborhood Multi-family District from both sides of Broadway, and relocating those parcels to the heights.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin thinks we're trading different parts of town. He thinks the principals are transit-oriented development, getting people close to transit, and in proximity to commercial. With that in mind, taking out Broadway doesn't make sense. He suggests the vision is to create development around transit.

(Teresa Marzilli, DEI Department) Mx. Marzilli wants to circle back to the priorities we've heard from the community. As a group, we've worked hard on engagement, and we want to make sure we remember those voices.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin thinks the word ``burden is charged language, when we're speaking about future residents.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton asks if we could reduce the depth of the Neighborhood Multi-family District to one parcel in East Arlington, rather than eliminating it entirely.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin asks if we could make more incremental motions.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin motions to keep the 350' width of the multi-family district west of Pleasant Street.

Motion passes, 6--1 (Ms. Wiener voted in the negative).

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin motions to reduce the width of the multi-family district in East Arlington to 250'.

Motion fails, 3--4 (Ms. Aamodt, Ms. Gruber, Ms. Wiener, and Mr. Revilak voted in the negative).

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt suggests a compromise. Scenario B1 has a larger blue (four-story) district. She suggests using this for East Arlington, and eliminating the pink (three-story) district.

There's discussion about this proposal.

There's a motion to use Scenario B1 for East Arlington, but remove the pink (three-story sub-district) parcels, and add in blue (four-story sub-district) parcels as necessary to achieve contiguity.

Motion passes, 5--2 (Mr. Baudoin and Ms. Korman-Houston voted in the negative).

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton would like to have a vote on the SITES bonus. Mr. Newton recalls that sites is a certification program that's similar to LEED. Last week, we discussed a proposal that would provide a one-story height bonus in the Mass Ave/Broadway district, for developments that met the criteria for SITES Gold Certified.

There's a motion to adopt this bonus. Motion passes, 7--0.

(Shaina Korman-Houston) Ms. Korman-Houston would like the working group to vote on the affordable housing bonus that she and Ms. Wiener presented last week. We will ask the state to let us use our existing affordable housing requirements: 15% at 60% area median income (AMI). There would be a one-story bonus for providing an additional 7.5% affordable units (22.5% total), and a second story bonus for an additional 2.5% affordable units (25% total). All of these would be at 60% AMI. This bonus would be available in the Mass Ave/Broadway multi-family district.

There's a motion to adopt this proposal. Motion passes, 6--0--1 (Ms. Aamodt abstained).

Members of the working group discuss keeping the maximum of four stories by right, as agreed during a previous meeting. We agree to keep the four-story by-right limit in both multi-family districts.

(Vince Baudoin) Mr. Baudoin asks if we should have a height limit in feet, as well as a height limit in stories.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says our zoning bylaw has both. She thinks we should consider a different height limit for the first floor when there's ground floor commercial.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt agrees with having limits on both height in stories and height in feet.

There's discussion about what the height limit in feet should be. Mr. Revilak proposes 13' per story, since that's used elsewhere in the bylaw.

There's a motion that the height limit in feet be 13' times the number of stories. Motion passes, 7--0.

Members of the working group agree to keeping the five-story maximum height on Broadway, and the six-story maximum height on Mass Ave, as discussed during previous meetings. Along similar lines, the maximum height of the neighborhood multi-family district will be four stories, with no bonuses available.

(Laura Wiener) Ms. Wiener motions that there be no minimum parking requirements for the commercial portion of mixed-use.

Motion passes, 7--0.

(Mette Aamodt) Ms. Aamodt makes a motion to extend the multi-family district to the Lexington line, by adding parcels to the south of the proposed Arlington Heights Business District.

Motion passes, 4--3 (Mr. Baudoin, Ms. Korman-Houston, and Ms. Wiener voted in the negative).

(Matthew Littell) Mr. Littell asks about front yard setbacks in the west part of town.

(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton says we're going with 15' front-yard setbacks universally.

Working Group Report

(Sanjay Newton) Ms. Newton has been working with Ms. Gruber to write an outline for the Working Group's final report. He'd like the report to talk about the process, and what we heard from the community. He'll be contacting people and asking them to work on specific sections.

Next Steps

The working group will meet next week (August 15th), and we expect to look at the next iteration of maps. We do not expect to meet on August 22nd. We will need future meetings to finalize reports. During the fall, the working group's role will likely involve more advocacy work.

Meeting Adjourned.