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LOOKING AHEAD: New electricity push, virtual Town Meeting, Mirak plan

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019
"By aggregating ... the ACE program can use this bulk-purchase advantage to secure electricity supply rates that are low enough ...."

-- Ken Pruitt

The Select Board, at its Aug. 31 meeting, looked ahead on three fronts -- to an updated town electricity program, to a virtual Special Town Meeting in November and to the extensive development project behind Mirak's dealerships in the Heights.

Each promises to change parts of the town's landscape in its own ways. Consider them:

Arlington Community Energy

Arlington Community Energy would like you to opt up. The effort -- a partnership involving Good Energy, the town and Mother Out Front Arlington -- aims to increase residents' participation in receiving electrical power from renewable sources.

Basically, you pay a little more for connecting to cleaner energy, but save in the long run.

Explaining were Ken Pruitt, town energy manager; Patrick Roche, director of innovation at Good Energy; and Jill Manca, campaign liaison, Mothers Out Front.

For three years, you have known this program as Community Choice Aggregation, or Arlington CCA. Now the town has Arlington Community Energy, another ACE. Under it, you receive energy from your supplier -- e.g., Eversource -- but you can choose the energy source (e.g., wind, solar).

So far, about 14,000 households and 1,000 businesses are participating, out of about 18,000 households here.

Of 730 now opting up, the program is seeking 1,000 to do so by the end of the year.

To do what? Choose among four options:

See them, from Local Green to Basic, at the full presentation by scrolling down to Product Names. Each says what percentage of renewable energy it uses.

Wondering about how you save? Pruitt told YourArlington Sept. 1: "The default Local Green option has been less expensive than Eversource’s Basic supply."

Savings graphic, ACC

He provided this graphic from last November. "By aggregating almost all Arlington electricity customers into a purchasing pool, the ACE program can use this bulk-purchase advantage to secure electricity supply rates that are low enough that, even after adding in extra renewable energy, it has usually been less expensive than Eversource Basic."

The Select Board presentation cites a cumulative savings of $2.6 million (future savings cannot be guaranteed), which those involved says amount to $165 savings per household.

Member Len Diggins raised a challenge the opt-up push faces: After months of pandemic and its economic challenges, "a lot of people will be tapped when it comes to [considering] extra funds." He counseled patience.

Member Joseph Curro Jr. said he is "a huge fan of the program."

The board voted, 5-0, to receive the report.

Special Town Meeting in fall

Arlington officials plan to follow Lexington's example, which held a virtual Town Meeting in early June, and conduct its own virtual version, possibly Nov. 9 (the date has not been decided).

Town Meeting logo
"There's a lot of work to do until Town Meeting, but I think it’s doable."

-- Town Manager  Chapdelaine 

Town leaders met recently with Lexington staff and "learned a lot" about how they handled the meeting. Arlington's pandemic-delayed meeting was held outdoors June 15

Eric Helmuth, the Town Meeting member who helped launch computerized voting in 2014, has been involved with a proposal from the Lexington resident who wrote that town's meeting program.

"There's a lot of work to do until Town Meeting," Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said, "but I think it’s doable."

He noted that Lexington in June did not conduct a full Town Meeting with all articles. Its virtual version "looked a lot like ours," lacking extensive debate.

Diggins said he is enthusiastic, while admitting "the hard part is training."

Town Counsel Doug Heim said that in determining the meeting date, members have to consider that the Redevelopment Board must vote on zoning articles 14 days before Town Meeting. He explained further Sept. 2:

Chapter 40A of state law requires a Planning Board to advertise a notice for a hearing on any zoning articles for at least two weeks (14 days). "Technically speaking, the ARB has 21 days to report on any zoning article following a hearing, but they can report their recommendation on a more aggressive schedule if necessary," he wrote.

"Hence, the critical point is that the ARB will need time to notice their hearing or hearings, hold the hearings, and then report to Town Meeting on their recommendations on any articles. They cannot proceed with less than 14 days notice.

On Aug. 31, member Diane Mahon asked that a head's-up about this go to the Finance and Capital Planning committees.

Mahon asked how citizen articles will be handled; Heim responded that articles that have already had hearings would not be reheard. An article with significant changes would be reheard.

Chapdelaine said he did not expect many board hearings before Town Meeting.

Chairman John Hurd said the board expects to set a date at its next meeting, Sept. 14.

130 homes backed at Mirak site

The Select Board voted unanimously to give its blessing to the extensive project, which would build homes on an industrial tract, while noting the Redevelopment Board's concern about the land's projected use.

Aerial photo of Mirak property in Arlington Heights, showing out line of proposed apartments.Aerial photo of Mirak property in Arlington Heights, showing outline of proposed apartments.

In a letter to Mass Housing, a step in the 40B process, the Select Board wrote that it is "encouraged by the proposal’s overall consistency with" the town's master, housing and open-space plans as well as the findings of the Mill Brook Corridor Report. "We look forward to working with the proponent on ways to maximize housing affordability and continued support of the local arts community."

Read the full letter here >> 

A letter from Planning Director Jenny Raitt said the Redevelopment Board "is focused on opportunities to enhance and increase commercial opportunities and is concerned that the already limited amount of space available for commercial uses could be altered and lost at 1165R Massachusetts Avenue. The ARB will be interested in further exploring barriers to commercial opportunities at this and potentially other locations in the community. The Board wondered if the applicant might consider dedicating the proposed amenity space to a potential commercial use or making it available for the community at large as a public indoor space.

"While commercial development and multi-modal transportation is important to the ARB, the Board also has a stated goal to expand much-needed affordable housing opportunities and recognizes that this project will help to achieve affordable housing goals."

Read the full letter here >> 

Mary Winstanley O'Connor, an attorney for the project, said the Miraks "want a project they can be proud of."

Julia Mirak Kew, vice president at Mirak Properties, expressed her gratitude to the Select Board for its letter of support.

Curro said he is happy that this is a cooperative project.

Mahon was assured that 25 percent of the apartments would be affordable, and she asked whether this is a "true mixed-use project."

O'Connor responded that it is "in the spirit of mixed use," adding that, when the project is completed, the Miraks will buy out Spaulding & Slye, the developers.

Daniel St. Clair, managing director of Spaulding & Slye, noted that part of the project is underground parking for Workbar Arlington, which has provided coworking business spaces since 2015.

To Mahon's query about environmental issues, O'Connor said the Conservation Commission plans to begin hearing about the project Sept. 3. St. Clair said he did not expect an impact on the Mill Brook, which runs through the site.

Member Steve DeCourcey called it a "good, healthy discussion," adding that the town manager is working with community of artists who long have had spaces on the Mirak site.

"This is kind or project Arlington needs," Hurd said.


June 30, 2020: Up to 140 apartments slated behind Mirak dealerships


This news summary was published Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020.

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