Proposed Heights hotel-restaurant draws opposition

hotel mockup, Lincoln ArchitectsHotel mockup, Mass. Ave. eastbound. / Lincoln Architects

Board waives part of special-permit fee, questions developer updates, hears zoning concerns

The Redevelopment Board took action on one aspect of the 50-room boutique hotel and upscale restaurant planned for 1207-1211 Mass. Ave., the current site of automotive businesses and the Disabled American Veterans building.

At its Monday, Jan. 27, meeting, the board voted to waive part of the special-permit fee. In addition, the architect provided a building-design update and local residents voiced their opinions.

An estimated 50 residents were in the Senior Center audience, and many expressed opposition. The public will again have an opportunity to express their issues at the March 16 Redevelopment Board meeting. In the meantime, they are welcome to email the board, said Chair Andrew Bunnell.

“We’re not a traffic-enforcing agency, but understand folks’ concerns, so for traffic-related issues we recommend they contact the appropriate town departments,” added Bunnell.

Special permit fee waived

The board approved waiving the $2,600 special-permit fee, 4-1. (Eugene Benson, Andrew Bunnell, Kin Lau and Rachel Zsembery in favor; David Watson opposed.) The full fee is $5,400.

“An exchange of values is taking place here, and I think we should approve it,” said Benson. Bunnell, Lau and Zsembery all agreed.

Watson, opposing, said, “I understand the waiver for the purpose of purchasing property. However, I’m not happy with the lack of process that led to that, particularly by the Select Board, which made the decision without consulting this board.”

The Select Board had requested waiving the fee to encourage buyers, said Bunnell.

Architectural update

The project’s architect, Greg McIntosh, provided an update on the recent design changes for the proposed Lexington Hotel:

  • Revise the building façade to be more indigenous, and give it a more residential feel. Along with articulated railings, the lower levels will be cast stone, and the upper levels regular-shaped cut brick, with a light border to keep it consistent.
  • Set back the upper floors, which contain approximately 22 hotel rooms.
  • Install solar rays on the roof.
  • Soften the retaining wall, using landscaping to isolate the restaurant’s eating area.
  • Install bike racks in the front, and enlarge the indoor bicycle storage facility.
  • Relocate to the back, and fully enclose, the trash containment area.
  • Install two curb cuts (instead of just one), and shift them slightly to get vehicles off Mass Ave.
  • Move the drop-off area out of the public way and onto the property.
  • Install pervious paving to enable water to drain through it, avoiding runoff.

Board's concerns

“We have a list of concerns for the applicant. We need a detailed plan that includes the topography, a parking plan that shows where cars will go, and a traffic study to account for the intersections. Although traffic is a town problem, we need to know the impact of this new development,” said Bunnell.

Lau said, “To understand the building’s scope and height, I’d like the next site plan to include all the adjacent buildings. I like the trash way in the back, away from public streets. I’m fine with the building having setbacks because it’s a corner lot. My concern is having brick on the elevated stories and stone below, with the rest cement board. The podium-level band could be thicker to make it look more balanced and less flimsy.”

McIntosh responded, “I did increase it. It’s now six inches.”

Lau also expressed concern over the proposed name, Hotel Lexington, and potential confusion of its location. “This is Arlington.”

McIntosh said: “Hotel Lexington is a beautiful place in New York, and we’re trying to create placeholders to get buy-in. Arlington is a nice name too, but is used a lot in town.”

Watson said, “I like the building’s look now, the drop-off area is out of the public way and onto the property, and bike parking is in a more prominent location as well as in the interior, which will incentivize people to use it more. On-site parking for hotel guests handled entirely by valets makes sense when dealing with such a constrained area. I’m concerned that people can’t self-park, making it likely they will not use the valet service and park in the surrounding area.

“Restaurant patrons will park in the neighborhood, and I’m disappointed that we lack a detailed traffic plan to understand how this will be during peak traffic times. I’m concerned about the upper-story setback because I’m not sure we have the flexibility to think about the building envelope this way. We need a justification for this project that straddles two zoning districts, with different requirements ― permissible in one zone, but not the other. I want to make sure the district allows that, yet don’t feel we’ve sufficiently documented it at this point.”

Benson said, “The site was formerly a gas station, so I’d like to see a site assessment to make sure there’s no pollution. It’s unclear whether restaurant patrons will be able to park in the back lot, and we’d want something specific about parking.

“The sidewalk, five feet wide, seems very good. Have any arrangements been made for tour buses, and can they can fit under the awning? As for the setbacks, one story is higher than the other. I looked through the bylaws, and can’t find one place that gives us the authority to change the setbacks from one floor to another. Without finding it, I cannot agree to it.”

“Valet parking for hotel guests is provided for free because they have no other option. The parking lot is solely for restaurant guests. If people come by bus, parking won’t be an issue. Yes, tour buses can fit under the awning,” said McIntosh.

“There’ll be seven to 14 additional parking spaces,” added Mary Winstanley O’Connor, the project’s attorney.

“As for employee parking, I’ll see if the Sunrise of Arlington community center in the Heights or the Summer Street skating rink can be used,” said McIntosh.

Regarding the tour buses, applicant James Doherty said, “We have agreements with some in the area.”

Zsembery said, “The Clark Street side still has louvers, the brick slithers on the side of the building and the proportion seems out of scale.

“We can move the windows around to make them more appealing,” responded McIntosh.

Public raises issues

Many in the audience expressed opposition:

Chris Loreti said, “Hotels are not allowed in a B2 zoning district, Neighborhood Business. The mixed use was approved by the Redevelopment Board, under pressure from the Select Board to approve this project. The town counsel works for Select Board, so I recommend outside counsel for this project.

Ann LeRoyer said, “This four-story hotel doesn’t maintain the neighborhood’s character of one- and two-story homes. I want an elevation-perspective study done from the back side. Pierce Street is immediately behind the hotel, and it looks like a six-story building from there.”

Michael Sandler said, “Pierce Street is a cut-through with high traffic and lots of children. It’s naïve to not think our neighborhood won’t turn into a parking lot. The street is not that wide, and I can’t imagine what it’d be like with a giant construction project.”

Carl Wagner said, “The parking situation is not appropriate for this space. This is a large building in a neighborhood designed for much smaller buildings.

Eileen Park said, “Parking is a big issue. The traffic will block Pierce Street, where I live. We need to think about neighborhood safety.”

Carol McDonald said, “It’s hard to see cars coming up Mass. Ave. and from Lowell Street at rush hour. Clark Street is in terrible shape. Who’ll be responsible for paving it?”

Kristin Anderson requested that a traffic light be installed at the intersection to accommodate the additional traffic.

Don Seltzer said, “The bylaws state that the building’s setback must be the same as the adjoining zone, which requires a 20-foot property line setback on the Clark Street side, and currently there is no setback. The applicant says the driveway slope is only a 5-percent grade, yet seems to fall off by 20 percent, which is dangerous.

Jo Anne Preston said, “This plan endangers two large street trees, by paving over a tree strip that belongs to the town. The Select Board says we’re committed to climate resiliency, and the best way to remove atmospheric carbon is through street trees. Also, the 50-percent pervious brick surface is supposed to count for the required landscape, but bricks aren’t open landscape.”

Michael Riley says rodent remediation is needed due to the rodent problem, and asked how it’ll be addressed.

Mixed feelings

A handful of comments expressed a range of views:

Tara Radley said, “I’m excited to see something new going into this space, yet ask what kind of care will be taken by the owner. It’s been an eyesore, with broken-down vehicles, for a long time. I urge the board to consider how well this organization has taken care of the property, and what kind of neighbor they’ve been. If this is how it’s been taken care of in the past, what kinds of corners will be cut going forward?”

Nels Frye said, “I think this hotel would be great, especially if the design is more interesting. It looks like the boxes being put everywhere, but perhaps that’s because of zoning restrictions. Maybe something ecofriendly could be provided, such as a building with ‘green’ walls.”

Jorden Kass said, “The traffic cut-through isn’t the hotel’s concern, it should be the town’s because it’s already an issue. Parking on the streets, especially for the restaurant, is not pleasant, but permissible, as long as there’s sufficient overnight parking for hotel guests.”

Positive feedback

Several were in favor:

Steve Revilak said, “I would like to see this project move forward. Arlington needs to increase its number of businesses, according to the combined Select/Redevelopment Board meeting held last week, and nice commercial projects don’t come our way very often.

John Kaufman said, “I’m excited to have something that I can walk to.”

July 26, 2019: Hearing held for town's 2nd hotel proposed near Heights

March 11, 2015: Articles to regulate signs, sell DAV, support master plan supported

Nov. 26, 2014: Short-term tenancy for former DAV could lead to co-working

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.

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