Redevelopment Board logo, Jan. 23, 2013

After an in-depth discussion and apparently taking into consideration points raised by members of the public, the Arlington Redevelopment Board unanimously approved a special permit extension, with conditions, for a 50-room hotel and restaurant combination first proposed before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At its Nov. 6 meeting, the ARB also voted 4-0 to accept the formal withdrawal of the application for a potential new pot shop, though its proponents still have the option to submit a new application to operate at the long-proposed Summer Street location.

Arlington already has two fully operational marijuana dispensaries; as mentioned in these notes from an ARB member, per its bylaws, the town can have only one more, for a total of three.

ARB heard a request for an extension of a special permit by James Doherty seeking a two-year extension for a long-planned and previously controversial potential hotel and restaurant on his property at 1207-1211 Mass. Ave.; the special permit would have expired at year’s end.

Doherty said, “Last time [I came] here, [it was] just before the pandemic. The hospitality industry was hit hard by Covid, but since the second quarter of this year, things are coming back. [This proposal has] always been a viable project -- an asset to the community, financially [it] was a vibrant project back then, and hopefully it still is.”

ARB Chair Rachel Zsembery agreed that the hospitality industry was again vibrant but asked, “How far away until we see drawings on the building?”

Doherty replied by saying that it would not be until something is “concrete.” When Zsembery asked what he meant by concrete, Doherty said that would be when an operator for the hotel is acquired.

ARB members weigh in

ARB member Gene Benson said the interesting thing about the project was the restaurant, prompting him to ask whether Doherty had any company in mind. Doherty stated he had not entertained the thought of renting out the restaurant until a hotel operator is located.

For the past three years, Doherty said, he’d discussed the project with other people but that ultimately none were interested in building. “We’ve done a tremendous amount of effort, paid a lot of money for that property,” said Doherty. He said he had closed on the property a long time ago and is in full possession. “[I’m] continuing to extend my willingness [with] trying to make a good project succeed.”

Benson pointed out, “Since we issued the permit, some changes in zoning have been implemented, such as the requirement for solar, extended stretch code, wondering if there’s a way for us to extend the permit and impose the other conditions?” The code creates stricter guidelines on energy efficiency for new construction and alterations than were required years ago.

ARB member Steve Revilak asked Doherty whether his initial plans had changed since the project was approved in August of 2020 and was told no.

ARB member Kin Lau said that he would agree to an extension with one stipulation: “In one year’s time, tell us what the progress has been in that time. If no progress, the extension would end at that time.”

Public commenters raise issues

The public-comment portion of the evening followed, with two residents speaking.

Susan Stamps, a member of the town’s Tree Committee, had three concerns. First, she said, the project would have to abide by a new zoning bylaw -- the planting of a public shade tree every 25 feet along the development. She added that many species, including the project’s originally proposed flowering pear trees, are no longer approved, and that, therefore, Doherty would need to consult the tree warden and plant only trees on the recommended list. Stamps also mentioned the enhanced stretch code and the stronger requirements of newer energy provisions that the project would have to adhere to.

Ann LeRoyer, a neighbor of the site, said that she has had concerns from the beginning. “[It’s] not an attractive site. [They were] supposed to clean up the property.” LeRoyer wondered how long the property was going to stay in its current state.

After the public comments, the board engaged in more discussion. Zsembery agreed that the site was not well maintained and that it was a challenge for the community that nothing had happened. Of an extension, Zsembery said, “Two years is too long -- even one year, because nothing’s been done.”

Benson agreed, “Two years is too long. If it were shorter than two years and complies with current zoning, [I] would consider.”

Revilak suggested a two-year extension with a check-in after a year, then suggested possibly including conditions that are in the current bylaw. Zsembery said conditions would include street-tree planting compliant with the tree committee/warden and with the required solar bylaw.

Lau said that the proposed time frame was fair, as it would give the applicant time to possibly come to an agreement with a hotel operator or, at the very least, to reveal the names of hotel operators he had talked to and to provide a full set of drawings.

Six-month increments proposed

However, Zsembery pushed back, saying that even one year was too long for an update and that therefore she sought no more than six months for an update. “We owe it to the community just to ensure [that] in another year we’re [not] in the same position we are in now.”

Zsembery asked Doherty whether he would be able to meet an every-six-months progress report.

“No problem with the six-month check-in,” Doherty said. “I’m the one paying the bills. I appreciate your insight and your concern. [I’m just] trying to do something better here.” Then he added that he was not trying to be disagreeable but that it was unfair for him to have to accept “changes of the bylaws that have a cost effect to me.” He also said, “I’m with you on the big scheme of things. I just want to do something that is tasteful and beneficial to the town.”

Zsembery said that the town had sold [the property to Doherty] based on a promise that something good would be built there and that the property would be used for the best outcome for the town. “The check-ins are the only vehicle we have,” she said.

Finally, a motion was put forth to approve a two-year extension -- with six-month check-ins throughout that period -- until Dec. 8, 2025. Conditions are complying with current bylaws on street tree planting, including using only trees from an approved species list, and with a solar requirement to be included. The first check-in would have to occur by May 6, 2024. The motion was approved 4-0.

Pot shop: Hearing is closed, but proponent may reapply

In another issue, Calyx Peak, which has long sought to establish and operate a marijuana dispensary on Summer Street, made its request that the ARB vote to close the hearing about it that was opened June 5.

Closing the hearing means that the applicant is withdrawing its application. However, the applicant does intend to submit a new special-permit application at a future point, according to Claire Ricker, director of the town's Planning and Community Development Department.

Ricker stated she previously had spoken with representatives from Calyx Peak several times and that it was communicated that the applicant was having issues with the property owner, that being the reason for the withdrawal.

A motion was made to accept the withdrawal of the application and to close the hearing; this was approved 4-0.

Zsembery noted that if Calyx Peak wished to pursue a new special permit, it would have to start the entire process over again.

Oct. 3, 2020: Neighbors sue to stop proposed Heights hotel


This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Tony Moschetto was published Monday, Nov. 13, 2023.