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Two potential citizen warrant articles for the upcoming Town Meeting, which is set to start in late April, were brought to a recent Arlington Redevelopment Board meeting.

One was to allow three-family dwellings by right throughout Arlington, which was questioned for more than one reason. The other was a zoning bylaw amendment regarding rear-yard setbacks in business districts, which was informally endorsed. No votes were taken.

 Also on Jan. 22, the ARB also heard an update about a small amount of progress -- too small, in the view of at least one board member -- by the developer of the controversial  apartment complex at 882-892 Mass Ave. 

Proposal for three-family dwellings by right

With the goal of addressing the longtime local and regional housing shortage, Annie LaCourt, a former member of the Select Board, and J. P. Lewicke proposed a warrant article that would allow three-family dwellings, by right, throughout Arlington. Lewicke said that during the MBTA Communities process last year, one suggestion that didn’t make it to the final version was looking at making three-family dwellings by right, an option available throughout town. 

 Lewicke noted some uncertainty on, and is in touch with town counsel about, whether allowing both two and three-family dwellings would qualify for a simple majority vote in April. “It could be two and three [family] dwellings by right throughout Arlington, or it might be just three family dwellings.” 

Lewicke added that the goal is not to disrupt neighborhood character and so it would be done by keeping existing dimensional requirements in place, with no change in setbacks or height or floor limits. “Buildings of the same size that are currently permitted could be constructed, just [with] more dwelling units within them.”

Board member Gene Benson noted that three-family dwellings by right was neither proposed by the MBTA Communities Working Group nor what the ARB adopted nor what the town approved – and that, to him, it seemed premature. He suggested giving the MBTA Communities Act a couple of years to see how it plays out, stating, “If we’re not getting any buildings, I think you have a much better case to make that this would be an important step. That’s one of my big hesitancies in doing this.”

Board member Shaina Korman-Houston said she would be interested to hear analyses of potential and anticipated development and said she believed that, rather than tear-downs, more likely, there would be conversions. “What does that mean for site-plan review?” 

Korman-Houston’s other concern was about parking, saying, “Some thought of the ability to park onsite would be useful.” 

Board member Kin Lau said that by making by right, three-family homes in the footprint of a single-family home was in essence advocating for much smaller units. Lau asked what would be the square footage of the units, about configurations, what the public could expect and asked what the proposal was truly aiming for: affordable housing or high end. He added that the smaller units would not necessarily be conducive for families. 

Rachel Zsembery, ARB chair, wanted to understand the proposers’ intent. “If town counsel comes back and says proposing [this] would not meet the requirements of housing choice, would you have an article solely that dealt with a three-family – simple majority [vote] – or would you continue with the two- and three-family with [the expected requirement of] the super [two-thirds] majority [vote]?” 

LaCourt answered they were looking to craft an article that would allow for a greater variety of housing types and there was a better chance to make something happen with a simple majority, whereas a two-thirds vote would be more of a fight. LaCourt said they expected to be advised by the board with whatever made sense from a zoning perspective: to proceed with three-family or to do what Benson suggested and wait for the MBTA process to play out.

Rear-yard-setback change wins favor

Town resident Andy Greenspon proposed a warrant article to amend a zoning bylaw that would adjust the rear yard setback in business districts. His suggested change in the language would allow for rear yard setbacks to be 20 feet for the first three stories and 30 feet for fourth and fifth stories. 

The reasoning, said Greenspon, is, “If you have to increase the setback for every other [lower floor] to add a fourth story in a business district, it would decrease the economic feasibility of construction, especially since many of the lots in Arlington are small.” 

Lau agreed and said of the proposal, “What you have is fine,” calling it, “a win-win,” adding, “I supportive this heartily.” Korman-Houston and Steve Revilak were supportive of it as well. Artist's conception of 882-892 Mass. Ave. with location shown in red of alleged 'stacked' affordable units. / courtesy Don Seltzer

Slow progress on apartment-building issues

In new business, Planning and Community Development Director Claire Ricker addressed a new rendering that had been requested by the board, at the previous ARB meeting, from the developer of 882-892 Mass Ave. This showed the building with some of the white accents painted out, but the protruding vents were not removed, prompting Lau to say, “[They] didn’t do what I asked them to do.” 

Ricker said that the developer has identified an alternative product in regards to the exhaust vents but hasn’t received them yet.

Lau commented that the “new” rendering looked more like the architect didn’t do a new version but rather as though someone just took a photo of the building as it is and simply Photoshopped in some of the changes. Overall, Lau felt that the new rendering wasn’t satisfactory. 

As far as the requested new paint color for the building, Ricker stated, “They’re working on it, and that’s a good thing.” 

Nothing was said Jan. 22 about another perceived problem with the building – the ongoing questions, both some  both in the community and the town – with the sizes and locations of the three apartments within the 21-unit building required to be designated as affordable.

Watch ACMi video of Jan. 22, 2024, meeting:

Jan. 21, 2024: Affordable-housing issues front and center at ARB meeting in early January

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Tony Moschetto was published Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024.