Zoning Bylaw Working Group - Aug 5th, 2019
Attending: Erin Zwirko, Jenny Raitt, Ralph Wilmer, John Worden, Pam Heidell, Steve Revilak.
Guest: Don Seltzer
Our main agenda item was an RFQ for a consultant to perform a study of the industrial districts. The consultant should analyze existing uses, and determine the current level of economic benefit to the town. They should also be suggest other uses that might be typical for industrial districts, with accompanying revenue projections. The consultant should also recommend changes to use, dimensional, and density regulations.
Ms. Zwirko has had background discussions with RKG and Judy Barrett to understand the scope of what could be achieved with our budget.
Dedham is undertaking a similar exercise. They're more focused on mixed use, and will have a proposal for their town meeting in June. Canton is looking at Route 138, which is their main economic corridor; they're concerned that their zoning is not modern enough to keep Canton at the forefront of the economy. They're looking at things like office space.
Someone asks who Canton hired. They hired Judy Barrett and McMahon (?) Associates.
Christian Klein submitted a list of written comments, since he wasn't able to attend today's meeting. Mr. Klein would like the proposal to include changes to the zoning map.
Steve Revilak had a list of comments. He asked the ARB get the draft at least two months before having to vote on it, in order to given them sufficient time to weigh in.
Mr. Revilak also wanted to see map changes in scope. These could include enlarging the I districts, shrinking the I districts, changing the I districts to some other zone, or changing some other zone to I. He was also interested in I districts that had little potential economic value. Mr. Revilak felt that any such I districts should be rezoned to more viable uses, or acquired by the town and zoned as open space (e.g., for stormwater mitigation).
Mr. Revilak wanted the RFQ to talk more about the towns goals. These might include increasing tax revenue, attracting magnet businesses, or creating more jobs in the town. We might mention more specific goals, like accommodating 300,000 square feet of new Class A office space, or a brewery that produces 10,000 barrels/year (for example).
Mr. Revilak suggested the consultant be given additional reports to review: work products from the Community Resilience workshop, the town wetlands bylaw, conservation commission regulations, and any recent transportation, mobility, or economic studies.
Finally, Mr. Revilak asked if we could change the requirement of "5 years of municipal experience" to "5 years of municipal or private-sector experience". Private sector planners that worked on Everett's Encore hotel, Medford's Station Landing, or Wakefield's Edgewater Place probably have something of value to offer.
Pam Heidell suggested having the reference documents online, and including links in the RFQ. She was concerned about the timing of the effort, and didn't want to see the process rushed. Ms. Zwirko replied that we should assume the recommendations will not be ready in time for the spring 2020 town meeting. That will be made explicit in the RFQ.
Ms. Heidell asked about the scoring criteria outlined in the RFQ. The town uses a categorical scheme. Other organizations, like the MWRA, use a more numerical scheme.
Ms. Heidell requested the addition of language to protect us in the event that the consultant leaves their firm in the middle of the project.
John Worden says the consultant shouldn't look at the Arlington heights action plan. He states that factories pay taxes and don't send kids to school -- that's valuable for this town. He notes that Arlington has a very small commercial and industrial tax base. By contrast, 65% of Cambridge's tax base is commercial. Mr. Worden believes our industrial districts have a lot of nice things, which need to be preserved. He notes that the Chair of the Financial Committee says we can't afford to have any more people in town. Mr. Worden claims that the Brigham Square apartments put 40 children in the schools, and the rest of the taxpayers have to pay for them. Mr. Worden states that we need to enhance our commercial and industrial districts, and that we need a moratorium on residential construction.
Ralph Wilmer notes Mr. Worden's apparent objection to performing the study. Mr. Wilmer asks why we wouldn't be better off having the analysis done. That way, whatever decision we happen to make will be an informed one. He believes that we need a study of what's on the ground now, and would like the study objectives to be open-ended.
Ms. Heidell suggests the study include several development scenarios, accompanied by likely economic analyses.
Mr. Revilak points out that Arlington's zoning bylaw doesn't allow for much of a commercial tax base, and we are in this situation because a succession of town meetings voted for it. Our small commercial tax base was not forced upon the town. We have what we have because we voted to have it. He agrees with Mr. Wilmer that the study should be more open-ended. Mr. Revilak is not worried about the Brigham Square apartments adding 40 students to the schools. 40 students amounts to roughly two-thirds of one percent of our total student population. That's just large enough to qualify as rounding error.
Mr. Wilmer likes the idea of having a scenario analysis. He thinks the study can provide a reality check on what's possible, even if it falls short of a full market analysis.
Mr. Wilmer asks about a section in the RFQ that states "33+ acres of Arlington's land are zoned as open space". Ms. Zwirko says that figure reflects the number of acres under jurisdiction of the conservation commission; she will change the RFQ language to reflect that. Jenny Raitt suggests the RFQ talk about open space in and adjacent to the industrial districts, and its value to the town.
Mr. Wilmer asks if we anticipate the consultant meeting with our group, or with the ARB. Ms. Zwirko assumed that they would. Mr. Wilmer suggests making the number of meetings explicit, as that will have a material impact on the project cost. Ms. Raitt believes that three meetings will be sufficient, and that will be made explicit in the RFQ.
Ms. Raitt suggests adding the Historic Districts Master Plan to the set of resource documents.
Next, Ms. Raitt provides the working group with an update on committee openings. The Arlington Heights Action Plan Task Force generated a lot of interest. Applications for this group will be accepted through early September. Many of the applicants were excited about the plan and about participating in the process.
The town is forming a Complete Count Working Group, to encourage residents to participate in the census.
The town is forming a Design Review working Group, to produce a set of residential design guidelines. We're looking for three applicants, preferably with architectural backgrounds. This group will also explore ways to integrate design review into the permitting process.
The town is forming a Sustainable Transportation Plan Advisory Committee. Mr. Worden felt this would be beneficial. He suggested that Arlington could have something like Lexington's L'express bus service.
The town is forming committees for our Net Zero plan, and a Fair Housing Action Plan. The fair housing action plan will coincide with the five-year community development block grant plan. Arlington participates in the North Suburban Home Consortium, and this will tie into their five-year plan as well.
Mr. Worden went off on a tangent about density. He began by telling Ms. Raitt "someone told me that you said Arlington wasn't the second densest town in Massachusetts". Ms. Raitt seemed perplexed by the comment. Mr. Worden said we were in fact the second densest town in Massachusetts, and that he'd gotten that figure from Mr. Seltzer. Mr. Seltzer rattled off a set of statistics about Arlington's population density, which he obtained from the US Census Bureau. Mr. Revilak believed that Mr. Seltzer's figures were correct, but he though it was more instructive to look at raw population counts. Arlington has the third largest population among Massachusetts towns (after Brookline and Plymouth), and is above the median population for Massachusetts cities. In other words, we're a densely-populated urban community, with a town form of government.