MBTA Communities Working Group - Feb 13th, 2023
Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/31469/18.
Planning director Claire Ricker says that Arlington's convention is to treat working groups as subject to Massachusetts Open Meeting Laws; group members should behave in that way. Any discussions that involves three or more members has to be held in the context of a public meeting.
Steve Revilak has looked at what other cities and towns are doing for MBTA Communities compliance, and he gives a short presentation of his findings, https://www.srevilak.net/wiki/Media:Comparable-mbta-communities.pdf.
Steve focused on the "town manager 12" (TM12) communities; these are twelve cities and towns that Arlington traditionally compares itself to. He intended to look at adjacent communities within the TM12, but ended up expanding that slightly. He included Lexington, which borders Arlington but is not in the TM12; Lexington is an adjacent community that happens to be far along in the process. He also included Belmont, which is a Commuter Rail community in the TM12; Belmont has an MBTA Communities working group, which started meeting during the summer.
Lexington has a town website page dedicate to the MBTA Communities effort. They held a public workshop and mapping exercise on October 25th, and gave a presentation to the League of Women Voters on Jan 6th. MBTA Communities zoning was on the agenda of eight planning board meetings between November 16 and January 12. In February, they started holding hearings on the main motion for the zoning changes.
Lexington's proposal creates three overlay districts: low-rise (40'), mid-rise (60'), and high-rise (70'). The overlays are located along bus routes and existing village centers; places like Mass Ave in East Lexington, Lexington Center, Marrett Square, and Hartwell Ave. Dimensional regulations are generally limited to height and setbacks; FAR, lot-size, frontage, etc do not apply. There's also a parking minimum of 0.5 spaces/dwelling.
Belmont is considering overlay districts around Waverly Square, Belmont Center, Trapelo Road, Concord Ave, Brighton St, and Pleasant St. They've given presentations to the Select Board, Planning Board, and a Special town meeting. They plan to bring the zoning changes to town meeting in May 2024.
North Andover is considering a 40R district, possibly in the downtown area. The plan to bring zoning changes to town meeting in 2024.
Stoneham identified potential locations for their MBTA district, and plan to bring a zoning article forward in 2023.
Finally, Watertown is also considering a 40R district, perhaps around Watertown Square. Watertown is actively working on a new city comprehensive plan, and that seems to be the focus of current planning efforts. They plan to bring an MBTA zoning proposal to the City Council in June 2024.
Claire gives a short explanation of 40R districts. These are smart growth districts, and the community gets a cash bonus for each unit built. The district has to be established before development starts.
The group moves on to a visioning session. The goal is to think about what "Arlington forward" looks like, and what our housing needs will be in 20 years.
The first public visioning session will be held Thursday March 9th at 7:00 pm. The event will focus on gathering public input.
Kelly Lynema shows a pair of planning slides from Venice, CA, which illustrate two options for adding capacity. The first is high rises around transit, the second is missing-middle dispersed throughout the city. I think there's a cereal box analogy to be made. The high rise option is like standing the cereal box upright; the missing-middle option is like laying the cereal box flat on its side. Both have the same volume (capacity), but different shapes and profiles.
Kelly conducts a series of zoom polls, to test-drive a set of polling questions. Each poll lists a set of traits, and working group members are asked to rate these as important, not important, or indifferent.
Poll #1 is about location. It includes proximity to open space, to grocery stories, to banks, to businesses and commercial establishments, places of worship, libraries, bodies of open space, avoiding FEMA flood plans, and avoiding wetlands. The group favored proximity to open space and grocery stories, and avoiding flood plains.
Poll #2 included access to bus routes, highways, the minuteman bikeway, shared use paths, town facilities, public schools, and the production of multi-family homes. There was unanimous support for access to bus routes and multi-family production, along with high support for access to the minuteman bikeway.
Poll #3 involved types of multi-family development. Options included 6+ units (enough to trigger inclusionary zoning), height bonuses, exempting the business and industrial districts, one story height bonuses for commercial, and two-story height bonuses for commercial. There was unanimous support for height bonuses, and high support for 6+ units.
Kelly explains she put these polls together to get working group members thinking about what outreach should look like, and what kind of questions to ask the public. This exercise produced a small sample of responses, but we need much wider public input.
There's a set of follow-up discussion. The first involves height bonuses for projects that include a commercial use, and what kinds of bonuses might and might not work.
Another discussion involved ground floor parking vs ground floor commercial and parking reductions. One of the working group members notes that underground parking is expensive -- it typically costs between $80,000 and $100,000 per space. Another notes that it typically takes at least six residential spaces to make ground floor commercial worthwhile.
A working group member believes that East Arlington is already doing a good job at providing dense, walkabout neighborhoods. They'd like to see additional capacity in areas where there are mostly single-family homes, or one-story commercial.
Kelly says that the March workshop will include breakout rooms with a mapping exercise. We'll test drive a mapping exercise tonight, to see how it goes. Working group members are assigned to breakout groups, and asked to put squares on a map of the town, indicating where they think capacity should go. In the public workshop, each breakout room would have a facilitator who'd make changes to the map.
After returning from breakout rooms, we discuss other outreach aspects to consider. Mapping is a good engagement exercise. We'd like to have a set of questions to ascertain community values; the answers will help shape the district proposal. We can also do visual surveys; show two pictures, and ask whether the survey taker prefers A or B. These meetings can be held at schools, or in different neighborhoods.
Kelly is working on a communication plan. She'll send a draft set of questions to working group members, and would like feedback/suggestions.