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Heights' first hotel approved as neighbors wary

August 2020 hotel mockup, Lincoln ArchitectsAugust 2020 Hotel Lexington mockup. / Lincoln Architects
Project conditions added (scroll to end)

UPDATED, Aug. 31: After a process lasting more than a year, a plan for Arlington Heights' first hotel was approved Monday, Aug. 17. The town's second hotel in the 21st century is the first since Hilton's Homewood Suites opened its 100 units next to Cambridge in 2001.

The vote for the Hotel Lexington,  1207-1211 Mass. Ave., was 5-0 following discussion lasting nearly 3 1/2 hours, which included questions about a public-access space, traffic and residents unhappy with the potential impact.

Meanwhile, in reaction to what they see as being ignored, members of the Disability Commission met two days later and have decided to direct a letter to the town manager saying that the approved special permit fails to consider federal disability requirements.

Complying with requirements under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) could mean extensive costly changes to the hotel plan. Darcy Devney, representing the commission, noted ADA access issues at the Aug. 17 hearing. She was told that the building inspector would handle them.

'Unintended consequences'

One neighbor, Ann LeRoyer, an open-space advocate, noted that those developing plans for up to 140 apartments at nearby Mirak first involved abutters and the Heights hotel had not. She called neighbors skeptical, fearing "unintended consequences", which will change the area's character.

Redevelopment Board logo, Jan. 23, 2013
Chairman Andrew Bunnell suggested that requirement about parking be place under the special conditions.

In a 10-page Aug. 10 memo, Mary Winstanley O'Connor, attorney for developer James Doherty, addressed a series of issues raised at earlier meetings, including shadow studies, technical matters and economics.

The memo described Doherty's vision for the hotel -- seeking to draw tourism to the town's historical assets, including the nearby Old Schwamb Mill. Read the entire memo here >> 


Town Counsel Doug Heim's Aug. 13 memo discusses the authority that the ARB has to decide this project >>
Chris Loreti's response to Heim's memo >>
OPINION: 'Rest of story,' according to ARFRR blog 

The hotel will is to have 48 rooms, based on the project conditions. The list of conditions has been requested.

Board member Kin Lau asked Doherty whether he could give up two hotel rooms to make room for a roof garden, and the former member of the town Board of Assessors said he would consider that.

What final shape the hotel takes "comes down to economics," he said.

Public space discussed

Among the issues addressed was the proposed public space. Member Gene Benson wanted to know when it would be open to the public and who would use it as a theater. Doherty said it is part of his vision for attracting tourists to Arlington who would use the hotel and visit historic site here and nearby.

O'Connor made clear that presentations in the public space would not be political, but would be cultural. "Who handles that needs to be ironed out," she said.

Doherty estimated the space would be used a minimum of two days a week and would not offer a wide-open window for all-day access.

Member Dave Watson said he thought the town should be involved in dealing with what might be scheduled.

Discussion about the details of the public space shows how its use of the town's 2016 mixed-use bylaw can benefit an applicant. As O'Connor's Aug. 10 memo explains, under Section 5.3.6, such an area is not included in figuring the project's gross floor area or in calculating its open space. If the applicant does not use this "bonus," he would have to reduce the project's size by from four to six rooms on the fourth floor. Doing that would result in lost tax revenue over 40 years of as much as $2 million, the memo estimates.

Appleton intersection

As to a report assessing the traffic impact on the nearby Appleton/Mass. Ave. intersection, site of a May accident in which a cyclist died, an Aug. 6 memo from the Transportation Advisory Committee says: "Since the project will add vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian travel through the Massachusetts Avenue/Appleton Street/Appleton Place intersection, which is a high crash location, the ARB should ask the applicant to identify potential improvements at the intersection and should consider asking the applicant to contribute to mitigation improvements at that location."

In an Aug. 12 memo, O'Connor responded to the TAC report, blunting the extent of the traffic impact, adding: "I respectfully suggest that the attempt to extract from the applicant funds for 'mitigation improvement' at this site constitutes an impermissible tax."

Watson, a cycling advocate, said at the hearing that he strongly disagreed with the applicant's response regarding cycling-safety issues at the Appleton intersection.

Doherty defended his view of cyclists, citing his son who in his freshman year of college cycled 6,000 miles to benefit those with disabilities.

Watson asked where those seeking parking would go when the lot is full. Chairman Andrew Bunnell suggested that requirement about parking be place under the special conditions.

Benson asked about staff parking, and O'Connor noted a letter to the board citing 11 spaces.

Benson asked about the maximum length of trucks making deliveries, and engineer Rick Salvo said 70 feet.

Benson asked about the project's level of LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a widely used green-building rating system in the world.

Architect Greg McIntosh said the planned hotel would meet all such standards. Doherty said the level if "silver."

hotel mockup, Lincoln ArchitectsEarlier hotel mockup. / Lincoln Architects

Citizen comments

Among other citizen comments were three who are not neighbors but who consistently offer criticism -- Don Seltzer, who provided detailed objections; and Aram Hollman and Carl Wagner, who aimed for a broader view.

Wagner, a member of a citizen group that questions development, said the board "has a moral and legal requirement to follow bylaws." He said the board should first say yes to retail and commercial before a hotel. Hollman said a yes vote would set a "terribly unwise precedent ... with an inevitable result."

Town Meeting members Gordon Jamieson and Steve Revilak spoke in favor of the project.

Bunnell said the ADA issues and parking will be among the conditions for the special permit. "Be a good neighbor," he says to the developer.

This summary touches on key points in the discussion. The full hearing was taped by ACMi >> 

The project must adhere to the following general donditions:

1. The final design, sign, exterior material, landscaping, screening, bicycle racks, and exterior lighting plans shall be subject to the approval of the Arlington Redevelopment Board at the time when future operators are identified. Any substantial or material deviation during construction from the approved plans and specifications is subject to the written approval of the Arlington Redevelopment Board. At the time of the final design submission, there will be no changes that will adversely affect the adjacent residential properties and no changes or modification to the proposed massing of the building will be permitted.

2. Any substantial or material deviation during construction from the approved plans and specifications is subject to the written approval of the Arlington Redevelopment Board.

3. The Board maintains continuing jurisdiction over this permit and may, after a duly advertised public hearing, attach other conditions or modify these conditions as it deems appropriate in order to protect the public interest and welfare.

4. Snow removal from all parts of the site, as well as from any abutting public sidewalks, shall be the responsibility of the Owner and shall be accomplished in accordance with Town Bylaws.

5. Trash shall be picked up only on Monday through Friday between the hours of 7:00 am and 6:00 pm. All exterior trash and storage areas on the property, if any, shall be properly screened and maintained in accordance with the Town Bylaws.

6. The Owner shall provide a statement from the Town Engineer that all proposed utility services have adequate capacity to serve the development. The Owner shall provide evidence that a final plan for drainage and surface water removal has been reviewed and approved by the Town Engineer.

7. Upon installation of landscaping materials and other site improvements, the Owner shall remain responsible for such materials and improvements and shall replace and repair as necessary to remain in compliance with the approved site plan.

8. Upon the issuance of the building permit the Owner shall file with the Inspectional Services Department and the Police Department the names and telephone numbers of contact personnel who may be reached 24 hours each day during the construction period.

The project must adhere to the following special conditions:

1. The rear parking lot shall be operated by a valet service only. The hotel spaces shall be available only for hotel overnight guests. Rear parking will not be used for or by restaurant patrons, hotel or restaurant staff, or persons other than the hotel’s overnight guests via valet. Signage to that effect shall be conspicuously posted in the rear parking area. This shall be required of any future hotel and restaurant operators.

2. The Owner shall install a sign that prohibits right turns onto Clark Street from the rear parking lot. Future operators of the hotel and restaurant must enforce this policy with the valet operators.

3. A complete Transportation Demand Management Plan shall be submitted to the Department of Planning and Community Development for review and approval, including furnishing the Department with any final lease or other such agreements for parking off-site. The TDM Plan shall finalize all available off-site parking for employees and tour buses, and overflow guest valet parking, as well as identify ways the restaurant and hotel operators will incentivize employees to utilize other modes of transportation besides a personal vehicle.

4. The Owner is responsible for repairing the sidewalk between Massachusetts Avenue and the project driveway along the site frontage of Clark Street. The Owner is also responsible for installing ADA-compliant curb ramps and detectable warning panels at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Clark Street adjacent to the property and at the project’s driveway on Massachusetts Avenue. The design and construction of which shall be reviewed and approved by the Engineering Department.

5. The Owner is responsible for executing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Select Board, to run concurrent with the 40-year mixed-use restriction to ensure that public access during daylight hours is afforded on the site for not less than seven (7) days per week and scheduled events not less than two (2) days per week in exchange for an increase in the floor area ratio. The Owner shall work with the Department of Planning and Community Development to identify a reasonable scheduling and signage plan to be included in the MOU.

6. The Owner shall limit deliveries to the site between 8:30 AM and 2:00 PM and shall require that the delivery vehicles accessing the site can utilize the front or rear driveways for loading and unloading thereby preventing the need for loading and unloading on Massachusetts Avenue or Clark Street. Service and trash removal trucks accessing the rear parking area shall not exceed 38 feet in length.

7. The Owner shall ensure full compliance with Architectural Access Board and Americans with Disabilities requirements for all program and building components and all outdoor areas, including parking.

8. The required building setback for the building in relation to Clark Street is reduced based on specific conditions unique to the proposal. There are no residences on the same block and side of Clark Street that face Clark Street. Further, the residence facing Peirce Street at the corner of Clark Street and Pierce Street has a side yard on Clark Street of only a few feet in depth. In addition, the plans show that the building position will provide adequate sight lines at that corner.

9. The Owner shall provide a sidewalk connection on the east side of the semi-circle driveway to the main hotel entrance on Massachusetts Avenue.

10. The Owner will provide a chamfer planting bed on the sidewalk at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Clark Street to create additional space for accessibility and maneuvering around plantings and utilities.

11. The Owner shall ensure that tour buses will not be allowed to turn onto Clark Street in order to travel through the neighborhood.


July 8, 2020: Further traffic study puts off Heights hotel plan to Aug. 17

May 19, 2020: Mass. Ave., hotel developers told to come back in July
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 summary was published Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, and updated Aug. 24, to add a link to town counsel's memo; on Aug. 29, to add lists of conditions, provided by Town Planning Director Jennie Raitt; Aug. 30, to add ARFFR link; and Aug. 31, to add link to Loreti response.

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