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Mass. Ave., hotel developers told to come back in July

UPDATED, May 20: Those questioning development were out in force virtually at the Monday, May 18, as Redevelopment Board members listened and weighed in with their own sharp views.

Redevelopment Board logo, Jan. 23, 2013

Two votes summed up those opinions: Return to the board in July with clearer focuses.

For the proposed project at 882-892 Mass. Ave., which would displace five established entities with 22 apartments and commercial space, that means addressing a series of issues.

For the proposed 50-room Lexington Hotel, at 1207-1211 Mass. Ave., that means, among other matters, builders must "pick up the pace" on producing a traffic study during the Covid-19 crisis, when traffic is reduced.

Up to 66 watch

As many as 66 people joined the Zoom session addressing two main agenda items -- the proposed mixed-use project in front of Arlington High School and the hotel in the Heights, first proposed since last July.

The move to delay the first came quickly. Board Chair Andrew Bunnell said the developer's attorney, Bob Annese, was responding to criticism and seeking a continuance.

"I think that's wise," Bunnell said, adding that the board's role is to have a site "left better than it started." He said he likes the housing proposed in that the town lacks one-bed, studio apartments. He said he would be happy to include affordable housing. But the displacement of local businesses did not sit well.

The Pasciuto family of Winchester, who owns the block, aim to demolish the building, closing two restaurants (Thana Thai and Toraya), a nail salon, a Food Link office and ACMi's Studio B.

In addition to the loss of these entities, board members and the public raised issues about design, landscaping, leases and soil contamination, which extends to the high school property.

Commercial space called insufficient

Board member Kin Lau, who offered to meet with the developers, said the proposed 750 square feet of ground-floor commercial space is insufficient and suggested reducing parking spots to improve that.

He asked that the site plan include surrounding buildings. As proposed, he said, the site on Lockeland Avenue "looks like an alley."

Member Gene Benson said his concerns included whether the sidewalk would be narrowed or the site would have sufficient landscaping as well as environmental issues.

Member Dave Watson asked that applicants "think hard about how to maintain, or increase, commercial space." He said the plan misses the mark on bicycle and includes noncompliant racks. He asked that the design try to avoid a corporate look and retain the feel of the existing structure.

Overall, Bunnell said, the plan "seems like a step back for the neighborhood."

Annese responded that, as to more commercial space, "We're looking at that." He called the site, in B-2, an "orphan zone," which is next to an R-4 zone. "We want to be consistent with building next door."

He noted that his client spent much money dealing with chlorine contamination, which crosses Mass. Ave. and dates to 1988. "We need to take the building down in its entirety," he said.

He said the building owner had told him that none of the four entities were evicted. "All leases had expired," he said he was told.

Issue about leases

Contradicting that later was J. Michael Ruderman, on the board of ACMi. He said the lease for the cable studio, which has held the space since 2012, had not expired and was in place through August, with promises of two three-year renewals. Annese said he ask further about the leases.

Ruderman also noted that the studio had spent $70,000 in upgrades. As to contamination, he said ACMi was unaware of that in 2012 and learned about it only a couple of months ago.

Norm McLeod, ACMi executive director, said time and equipment are factors. If the studio must leave by September, all equipment, including soundproof doors, must be transported.

Seven other members of the public spoke, raising issues about traffic, the bus stop, shadows and groundwater.

Before the board voted unanimously to continue the hearing to July 6, Annese said he hoped not to completely redraw plans. "I don't want to be antagonistic," he said.

Hotel testimony

As to the ever-lengthening span to consider the Heights hotel plan, the board voted to continue to the same date in July. 

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

Board members appeared frustrated by the lack of answers to questions dating from January. Following comments from the pubic, Bunnell cited "a lot of unknowns." he said he is "frustrated that it's gone on this long, with so many unanswered queries .... We need to pick up then pace."

The board and public reiterated issues cited at earlier hearing. A key one is traffic.

Board member Rachel Szembery said she did not want hear the matter July 6 without a traffic study. Bunnell agreed, adding he wants to see a perspective more realistically portraying the hotel's elevation as well as a shadow study.

"How can do study without traffic?" Benson asked, referring to the decline since the onset of Covid-19. Watson concurred

Aim for extrapolation

Attorney Mary Winstanley O'Connor, representing developer James Doherty, said she expected a traffic engineer to try to extrapolate from previously reported traffic counts. If this cannot be done before July 6, she is to let Planning Director Jenny Raitt know.

Nine members of the public spoke.

Don Seltzer questioned the view that there is no frontage on Clark, which intersects Mass. Ave. at the planned hotel site. "It Looks like frontage," he said. Behind as he spoke was a background image showing the location.

He said that the elimination of 50-percent of sunlight all winter "matters to three addresses on Clark."

He added that he is disappointed that topographical survey has not come in yet. He said the true elevation hotel will exceed 50-foot height allowed.

Ann LeRoyer called part of the current "really a junkyard" and asked whether Doherty is a good steward of that space.

Chris Loreti raised questions about the legal notice and said that the zoning bylaw does not allow hotel in a B-2 district.

Michael Sandler, Carol McDonald and Marina Darlow urged a traffic study.

Lisa Hynes spoke in favor of project.

In other business, the board voted to approve a sign for TD Bank at 880 Mass. Ave. The vote was 4-0-1, as Szembery abstained.

To see the May 18 hearings, watch videos by Seltzer -- for 882 Mass. Ave. >> and for the proposed hotel >>  

May 3, 2020: Toraya closes as 22-apartment project planned for block

Jan. 30, 2020: Proposed Heights hotel-restaurant draws opposition

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 announcement was published Tuesday, May 19, 2020. It was expanded to a full summary on May 20.

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