Redevelopment Board logo, Jan. 23, 2013

UPDATED Jan. 2: Eight residents were on hand in December for the roughly three-hour Arlington Redevelopment Board meeting to hear discussion of numerous proposed warrant articles for Town Meeting in April -- and news of possible reconstruction of the Fox Library in East Arlington; a longer account about this matter is here >>

Claire Ricker, the town’s director of planning and community development, announced toward meeting’s end that the department got a $77,400 community planning grant from the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Liveable Communities to study the feasibility of developing affordable housing above a new Fox Branch Library, the study itself is to be performed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (MAPC).The document is expected to address questions such as what kind of structure to build, how tall, how many units, the impact to the neighborhood and so on. Ricker pointed out if things proceed as foreseen, the Fox Library building would be demolished and rebuilt to include housing, noting that the goal would be to have enough units for renters with between a 30 percent and 50 percent average median income.

Though no votes were cast nor formal action taken by the ARB, the Dec. 18 meeting nevertheless allowed proponents to start the conversation and the board to offer feedback about potential items for the upcoming spring Town Meeting, in April.

Wetlands idea supported; open space proposal questioned

Environmental Planner David Morgan and Conservation Commission Vice Chair Chuck Tirone proposed two warrant articles.

The first would be the removal of the Inland Wetland District overlay from the town’s zoning bylaw. Morgan said that because the commission has sole authority to maintain and protect wetlands, this has created an unnecessary overlap with the outdated bylaw, which in his view hinders responsible development.

The second proposal was for rezoning all 68 open-space parcels to the Open Space District. Doing so, the men said, would provide these benefits: protection of their status as permanent green spaces, efficient management, transparency and increased recreation/conservation opportunities. The parcels were broken down into five different districts: recreational, conservation, historic/cultural, private and cemeteries.

 However, this was met with questions and concerns.

Board Chair Rachel Zsembery asked whether there was a map for the districts. Board member Kin Lau had issues with the private district, which could include, for instance, a boat club and golf course, saying, “If the golf club closed, it would become open space, and that would be a shame. [I’d] hate to see it go to open space.” Lau felt it would be more sensible to make it so that it would become public and so that housing could potentially be added.

The newest board member, Shaina Korman-Houston, agreed, saying that leaving out privately owned parcels would have value. Board member Gene Benson wondered whether zoning someone’s private property for open space would pose a potential legal problem. Board member Steve Revilak echoed Benson on the legality issue: “Would the owner be entitled to compensation by us?”

The board informally yet unanimously expressed its support for removing the wetland bylaw -- but said that there remained a lot yet to figure out with the open space district.

ZBA chair: half a dozen proposals about terminology

Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Christian Klein brought forth six proposals involving current zoning bylaws that he said were in need of clarification, clearer definition or simply changing the language very slightly. Klein noted that in the recent past, situations have come up with these bylaws. These were the terms that the ZBA wanted guidance on. The board was generally supportive.

    • Definition of attached building;
    • Definition of detached building;
    • Concern about a section of the bylaw that allows using the average setback along a street as the front yard setback that applies only to vacant property, though there is practically no vacant land in town;
    • Adjusting Section 5.9.2, which includes bullets instead of numbers in one of the subsections, making it difficult to cite; if the bullets could be replaced by numbers or letters, Klein said, that would be helpful;
    • A clarification of the meaning of accessory dwelling units; and
    • A proposal about requirements for residential parking; it was suggested at the meeting that this be deferred to 2025.
Parking-lot shade plan debated

Susan Stamps and Alan Jones of Green Streets Arlington argued for a proposed warrant article that would require any new or reconstructed parking lot to have a shade plan, which would include either trees or an overhead solar canopy; a solar canopy is shade made by solar panels, akin to a carport.

Stamps pointed to other Massachusetts municipalities that require trees to be a certain number of feet apart -- and other places around the country that use trees in regard to shade. For example, in Sacramento, Calif., a parking lot is supposed to have 50 percent shade cover within 15 years, once trees mature. Stamps said that she would love to follow that practice locally. “Arlington could be a leader. We would like to see this applied to any parking lot.”

Jones noted an Arlington bylaw that requires trees in parking lots in industrial zones, calling it something of a precedent.

Revilak asked why the 50 percent figure was significant and how did the group decide to ask for that proportion. Stamps answered, “[We are] just following the example of other places that seem to be working.”

Benson asked what a reconstructed parking lot is, and Jones said it meant repaving. Benson was concerned about the need for exceptions to the tree-planting requiremen, saying that, for example, if something had contaminated the ground, then trees couldn’t be planted there. Benson also wondered about stating a minimum size for a parking lot to fall under the proposed shade requirement, pointing out a past project where the six parking six spaces wouldn’t have fit had been a requirement for a 50-percent tree canopy.

Korman-Houston said the primary goal was very valid but had concerns about the time needed for a tree reaching its maturity --  and about the financial feasibility of solar canopies.

Zsembery said, “[This is a] great proposal for a town that’s not Arlington because of the size of the parking lots. [Most are only] four to seven spaces.” She added, “[Finding the] right [tree] species, requiring a median to an already small parking area, causes a burden for developers.” She suggested, instead of adding to a bylaw, consulting with developers who are open to working with planting plans and working with them for appropriate solutions.

Watch ACMi video of Dec. 18, 2023, meeting:

Lau agreed. “Putting a requirement on parking lots isn’t the way to go. In Arlington, we don’t have that kind of space. [It will] put a burden on projects,” he said, but he added, “[It’s a] commendable goal.” He suggested, “Focus on planting on the streets where there’s parking.”

In the end, there wasn’t enough support from the board, which encouraged the group to possibly come back to the ARB with a revised version at a later date.

Nov. 13, 2023: Hotel on slow track, still active; pot shop not so much

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Tony Moschetto was published Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, and updated slightly the next day, to include a description of a solar canopy, to state that the board was informally supportive of Christian Klein's proposals and for some minor editing; It was updated Jan. 2, to add ACMi video window.