Documents online as zoning-code forum held

Arlington town sealUPDATED, Oct. 18: The second public forum on zoning recodification was held Wednesday, Oct. 18, in the Town Hall Auditorium with an estimated 30 people present. 

Residents and Town Meeting Members were invited to learn about the process and the new bylaw, and ask questions.

A summary will be published.

Detailed documents relating to the meeting are available online may be viewed at on the Zoning Recodification Working Group page. 

The meeting will include a detailed presentation describing zoning amendments and rationale for the changes. Q&A will follow. Direct any questions to ZoningRecod[@t]own.arlington.ma.us. 

Additionally, the Department of Planning and Community Development are the host for a series of open houses to answer any questions about the zoning recodification process and documents. These will be held Thursdays, from 5 to 7 p.m.,Oct. 19Nov. 2 and Nov. 9.

The Department of Planning and Community Development, the Arlington Redevelopment Board and the Zoning Recodification Working Group moved the forum date to allow additional time to provide a detailed document showing proposed amendments by section and why amendments are being proposed. 

The revision of the current zoning bylaw aims to make it easier to use, understand and get rid of inconsistencies, both internal and with state, federal and case law, as recommended in the master plan. No policy changes are contemplated at this time, a Sept. 28 town notice says.

Ultimately, Town Meeting will have to approve the new zoning bylaw, by a two-thirds vote. A Special Town Meeting is tentatively planned for January.


OPINION, Aug. 9, 2017: Let's fix our zoning recodification process


40 attend July zoning-code effort

UPDATED, Aug. 15: An estimated 40 people heard how the town's zoning laws are undergoing a process aimed at making them more generally understandable and at following the 2015 master plan.

At a two-hour forum in the Senior Center held Thursday, July 13, weighed in with questions and comments.

The effort, led by consultant Judy Barrett of RKG Associates, a national firm with a Boston office, under a $50,000 contract, is the first major revision of town zoning laws since 1975.

In essence, those laws define the control over a range of aspects of an owner's property. As is the clear in the presentation, "recodification is not making substantial policy changes." For a link to the presentation, click here >> 

Q&A responses

Here is a summary of responses from the question-and-answer session provided by Steve Revilak, a Town Meeting member who is part of the group working on the effort.

Q: An architect asked: Is there a particular model bylaw that you used as a reference when doing the recodification?

A: No, Barrett said, the recodification was based on the language in Arlington's current zoning bylaw.

John Worden, a former longtime Town Meeting moderator and an attorney: For the last recodification, we made a cross-reference of sections in the old bylaw to sections in the new bylaw. Are you planning to do a cross-reference?

We weren't planning on doing a cross-reference, Barrett said, but a zoning diagnostic will have a summary of what changed

Elizabeth Pyle, an attorney who served on the Residential Study Group, which recommended bylaw revisions commented: I'd like to see a key, or some sort of document that provides an overview of the changes.

Chris Loreti, a former member of the Redevelopment Board: I'd like to know why each change was made, and who requested it. Also how will sign bylaws be enforced if they're moved out of zoning and into the general bylaws?

We're still figuring out how sign enforcement will work, a member of the Planning Department said.

Comments from 8 tables

After the group broke up and sat at eight round tables, those at each table were asked the following after introductions:

-- What issues have you encountered in reading, understanding or using the current zoning bylaw?

-- What could make the bylaw more user friendly?

Some tables discussed these questions, and some didn't. What follows is a collection of comments made after the table exercise.

-- A guide to using the zoning bylaw would help, but this should be a document separate from the bylaw itself.

-- I'd like to have definitions hyperlinked in the electronic copy of the document, so when a defined term is used, you could click to see the definition.

-- The zoning-bylaw references several state laws. It would be nice if those references were hyperlinked.

-- Definitions should include examples, in plain language. For example, our group tried to figure out if we could put up a shed. "Shed" doesn't appear in the definitions; that is, it wasn't immediately clear that a shed is a type of accessory structure.

-- An FAQ would be helpful. This should also be separate from the zoning bylaw.

-- In the current zoning bylaw, many entries are scattered around, and there are too many footnotes.

-- The Web version of the revised zoning bylaw should be user-friendly; in particular, it should be easy to search.

-- Include more pictures and diagrams, including a map of the zoning districts.

-- A clearer format might help Town Meeting members understand the effects of proposed zoning changes.

-- It would be nice to have a way to track changes going forward, so we can see how the zoning bylaw changes over time.

-- Include a list of entries that aren't addressed now but are expected to be addressed later.

Address 2 audiences

-- The zoning bylaw really has two audiences -- homeowners and developers. The recodification should keep both audiences in mind.

-- It would be nice to have a way to understand why some of the definitions are the way they are.

-- Consider breaking up complex paragraphs into lists.

-- There's a concern that some very recent case law decisions may not be reflected in the recodification.

-- Look at how other towns have organized the sections of their zoning bylaws and how they've used hyperlinks.

-- The zoning-bylaw cites sections of Massachusetts laws. Consider including the text of the state laws verbatim, rather having references to them.

-- Consider a specific list of changes that were made to conform to case law.

-- Perform a careful proofreading of the new bylaw. Make sure that simplifying the language doesn't introduce unintentional policy changes.

Why I joined the group

The writer of this summary is a member of the zoning recodification working group. He said he joined for two reasons.

"First, I'm a Town Meeting member. Town Meeting is responsible for deliberating and voting on proposed changes to our zoning bylaw, and I've always found these articles pretty interesting. The second reason comes from my experience with a home-renovation project.

"I live on Sunnyside Avenue, which runs along the Alewife Brook in East Arlington. We were planning to redo an addition. I live in a flood plain, so any renovations that might impact the flood plain have to be reviewed by the Conservation Commission. I appreciate that; as someone who lives in a floodplain, I understand the importance of managing this kind of resource. So, we went before the Conservation Commission, made the changes they requested and received our Notice of Intent.

"I also live on a nonconforming lot: it's a single-family attached house, on 3,000-square-foot lot. Our property has been nonconforming since the last zoning bylaw rewrite in 1975. Because of the nonconformity, any change to the exterior dimensions of our house requires a special permit, period. Since we had already done an Notice of Intent, the special-permit application was pretty straightforward -- once I figured out that are two special-permit-granting authorities in town: the Redevelopment Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

"Both boards issue 'special permits,' but they have very different functions. The ARB mostly deals with large projects along the town's major corridors, and their application requirements are pretty extensive. I happened to find the Redevelopment Board's special-permit instructions first, which had me worried for a while. Eventually, I realized I'd have to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals, and their application is much less involved.

"In the end, we decided not to go forward with the renovations -- I filled out the special-permit application but never turned it in; the construction estimates were more than we could afford.

"In retrospect, it was very educational to go through this process. I've learned that permitting is a lot of work for a homeowner, particularly when a project has to be reviewed by several bodies within the town.

"I'd like to think we can make this process easier for homeowners, in in terms of figuring out what they can do with their homes, and in terms of navigating the permitting process itself.

"What you'll see tonight is a (proposed) recodification of Arlington's Zoning Bylaws. As has been said, we've made a conscious decision to avoid making policy changes right now. But I think we've made a big improvement in terms of readability and understandability. And I hope that helps."


 Town presentation about zoning bylaw effort

June 16, 2017: Zoning-code revamp announcement before meeting


This news summary was published Monday, July 17, 2017, and updated Oct. 18.

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