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Zoning-code revamp receives public comment

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Arlington is rewriting its zoning code, and the public has a chance to weigh in Thursday, July 13, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Senior Center.

Do you have questions about the proposed zoning recodification? Have them answered by members of the Redevelopment Board, Zoning Recodification Working Group and the Planning Department host a public meeting to discuss rewriting the town's zoning bylaws. 

Zoning bylaw addressed

Here is background information provided last spring by town planning and others about town-led groups making progress on zoning.

The 2015 Town Meeting adopted Arlington's master plan, the first major upgrade since the mid-1970s. The document came together during more than two years of input via community meetings, citizen interviews, online surveys, consultation with various town boards and much public comment.

State law requires planning boards to create a master plan -- "a statement, through text, maps, illustrations or other forms of communication that is designed to provide a basis for decision making regarding the long-term physical development of the municipality."

Find the entire plan here >> 

Committees for master plan, rezoning

Following the plan's adoption, the next step was creating the Master Plan Implementation Committee, charged with turning broad goals into step-by-step actions, ranked by priority.

The No. 1 item on that list? Recodifying the zoning bylaw, created in 1924. Although the word "recodification" might evoke images of a dark and foreboding process, it's not uncommon for cities and towns to do. As a matter of fact, the town's zoning bylaw was recodified once, in the fall of 1975.

To accomplish this vital work, the committee recommended launching the Zoning Recodification Working Group, to "update and revise the zoning bylaw to be clearer, internally consistent, reflective of the master plan and in compliance with M.G.L. Chapter 40A and current case law."

They also noted that "in its present form, the zoning bylaw is difficult to navigate and often difficult to interpret. There is an immediate need to reorganize and reformat the law so that its requirements are easier for the public, town boards, staff and applicants and their representatives to understand. The law should be reorganized and reformatted to clarify and make obvious the procedures for site plans, Environmental Design Review, special permits, variances, appeals, rezoning and so forth.

"As written, the zoning bylaw does not enable the town to implement key goals of the new master plan."

That's a key stumbling block to overcome.

The working group oversaw a request for proposals, which led the town to hire RKG Associates Inc.  to handle rewriting the zoning bylaw. That is the same consulting group under contract to create the master plan.

What changes expected?

How will recodification change the town's zoning bylaw? The working group's first order of business is to address shortcomings noted in the master plan's zoning audit. Those involved want the zoning bylaw to be clearer, easier to understand and generally more usable by the public.

Recodification will include improvements to formatting and layout, better diagrams and illustrations, cross-references and an index. Those involved also expect minor substantive changes, as necessary to resolve internal inconsistencies, and to bring the town bylaw into harmony with state zoning law and prevailing case law.

The working group will not attempt to make major policy changes during this phase. Instead, its goal is to "clean up" the zoning bylaw, to make it easier to put into effect master-plan objectives.

The working group held a kickoff meeting with RKG Associates last December, to set goals and to establish a rough timeline for the recodification process. Following that, its conducted gathered feedback from people who routinely deal with zoning and land use. Insights gained through these interviews will be incorporated into a series of draft rewrites.

Once the group has a solid draft of the recodified zoning bylaw, the town will hold multiple public hearings this summer and into fall. Finally, the proposed recodification will come before a Special Town Meeting, expected to be next fall.

Residential Study Group activity

Also involved in this effort is the Residential Study Group. It was was created as a resolution from 2016 annual Town Meeting, which seeks to study regulations on construction in residential neighborhoods. The group is making recommendations via 2Town Meeting articles this spring that "address concern for neighbor impacts of new residential construction in established neighborhoods," and in compliance with state law Chapter 40A and current case law.

Reporting goes this way: Those who study the zoning bylaws tell the working group, whose members then tell implementation committee. After that, they report proposed zoning amendments to the Redevelopment Board.

The study group is working on several initiatives simultaneously; those involved are:

-- Quantifying aspects of residential development by determining where it's taking place, what kinds of structures are being demolished and built, and which are considered to be historical resources;

-- Studying the way the permitting process is applied;

-- Creating a survey for neighbors of recent construction and for builders, which will be distributed this spring. The survey explores different perspectives about new construction before, during and after the process is completed;

-- Creating a construction-control agreement to be signed by builders that will mitigate the effects of construction on neighborhoods, and also organize all requirements in one place for builders (proposed warrant articles will address modifications that will be needed in the town bylaws to improve construction controls);

-- Proposing an article for the upcoming Town Meeting to address downward driveway grades, which currently do not have any limits (some are as steep as 28 percent; recommended grades range from 10 percent to 15 percent);

-- Considering energy efficiency in new construction; and

-- Continuing to consider policy changes that are responsive to concerns raised in the master plan -- that residents want to protect and preserve neighborhoods.

Both the working group and the study group are made up of town officials and members of various boards, Town Meeting members, residents and representatives from the real estate, construction and development community. Notice of our meetings can be found in the calendar on the home page of the town website.

These meetings are open to the public; in addition, a more widely publicized public meeting may be held in early spring. The town welcomes the community's input as we move forward with updating our zoning bylaw and addressing concerns related to residential development.


Contacts:

Jennifer Raitt, director, Department of Planning and Community Development, 781-316-3092, jraitt[@]town.arlington.ma.us

Brief history, and Residential Study Group Overview , Wynelle Evans, 781-643-4547, evco7[@]rcn.com

Zoning Recodification Working Group Overview, Steve Revilak, 781-648-1083, steve[@]srevilak.net


This news announcement was published Friday, June 16, 2017.

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