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Zoning opposition thanks public
This letter was submitted by Patricia Worden, a Precinct 8 Town Meeting member:
Arlington Residents for Responsible Redevelopment (ARFRR) commends the Town Meeting members and residents who raised serious concerns about the Arlington Redevelopment Board’s proposed density articles during Monday night's [April 22] Town Meeting debate. In response to the host of problems identified, the the Redevelopment Board changed the recommendations on its own articles to “no action,” effectively withdrawing the articles.
The debate at Town Meeting confirmed that the density articles were not right for Arlington. We hope that that the boards and town leaders will now work with residents of the community, including current tenants and business owners, to create sensible solutions for Arlington that increase affordability while allowing for modest growth.
Further, Arlington should not be classified by outside interests like the Metropolitan Area Planning Council as an inner-core city. Arlington is a suburb, where we value buildings at a human scale, open space, and trees, climate resiliency, and affordable housing -- without giveaway bonuses to developers.
ARFRR looks forward to shaping the future debate on this important issue, and we thank the community for making your voices heard.
This letter was published Saturday, April 27, 2019.
Take the time to get answers
This letter to the editor by Thomas Davison of Stowecroft Road was submitted Sunday, April 21. He is a member of the Arlington Committee on Tourism & Economic Development (ATED) and a commissioner of the Arlington Commission for Arts & Culture (ACAC):
This year’s Town Meeting takes on a significant task to review and vote on zoning changes that will alter the fabric of Arlington. I appreciate the commitment and the responsibility that go along with that for our representatives. I ask Town Meeting members to take the time needed to fully consider and answer questions in the community about these changes.
I fully support economic development in Arlington and believe we need to seek out smart growth opportunities. As a resident and home owner, I support the efforts that the Department of Planning and Community Development and the Redevelopment Board have put into considering and presenting changes to zoning by-laws. I support the concept of spurring new developments with density that could result in more attractive properties to build our commercial base and create more affordable housing. These are forward-thinking ideas for our community.
At the same time, the proposed changes to these bylaws raise a number of questions and possibilities of unintended outcomes. What is the maximum number of new units that could be added if the bylaws are amended as proposed and the targeted districts fully built out? How many new residents might that allow? While a build-out would not happen all at once, looking ahead, it is important to fully consider how these changes could potentially impact town services, school enrollment and demands on our infrastructure.
Another important consideration is how we want to see ourselves and our community in the years to come. Theses revised building codes allow for significant changes to building height, setbacks and green space. With four- and five-story buildings and limited setbacks lining our main thorough fares, Arlington will present itself as a more urban cityscape.
I am not opposed to an increase in building height and setbacks to increase density, support community development and encourage more activity in our business and commercial districts. But it is critically important to have a clear vision of how that type of development could also impact the cultural, civic, ecological and aesthetic aspects of our community.
To that end, I ask Town Meeting members, as our representatives, to consider requesting studies on the potential impact of these proposed changes to the building code bylaws. There is a lot of good that can come from these proposed changes, and there are a number of unanswered questions where studies would help to clarify possible outcomes. Studies with mock ups of streetscapes, an evaluation of the potential impact on town services, as well as an estimate on additional commercial activity and affordable housing that could result from these developments would go a long way to allay fears and build support in the community for these proposed changes.
With changes that could be this significant to our town, I encourage Town Meeting to take the time to fully vet, consider and communicate to your constituents the possible outcomes of amending these bylaws. I see no urgency to approve these changes in this session of Town Meeting that takes precedent over a thoughtful, intentional and measured review that will provide clarity and encourage support in the community for the next steps in the evolution of this town we all call home.
This letter was published Monday, April 22, 2019.
Why aren't we on board?
The following letter to the editor was written by Forrest Snyder of Arlington:
I’ve been reflecting on my first Arlington Redevelopment Board (ARB) meeting, on March 18.
If you care about your kids, home, business, where you’ll shop, go to the doctor, eat out, fix your car, or play, you should attend these zoning change meetings. I don't care if you are pro, con or indifferent, these bylaws could have major impacts on us all. Get a notepad (and a good book) and go.
Without knowing names, faces or any previous histories, I was immediately surprised that the board's tenor was: "Oh, we are listening to public comments because the rules say we have to." Frankly, it was insulting to all gathered.
Serving on boards is hard; being the chair much more so. I have served on several town committees, nonprofit boards, and ad-hoc citizen groups in both Maine and Vermont. As anyone who has done similar duty knows, it is a thankless job at best.
Perhaps if there were less -- of no -- gavel banging, more real listening and a respectful appreciation for differing views from all in the room, decisions could be reached in a much more inclusive and agreeable manner.
The public was told to address only the bylaw articles outlined at the meeting. That is all well and good for hammering out details, but that's not what public input should be about at this stage.
My observation is that the public is much further behind than the ARB in understanding and thinking about these zoning changes. To consider them while being prohibited from discussing impact issues -- such as the MBTA, on-street parking, bike lanes, rising taxes, housing costs, new schools, etc. -- is shortsighted, if not negligent of the citizenry.
The single most sensible comment was that town officials had not made any kind of coherent "pitch" to the townspeople as to why these changes were needed. That speaker was absolutely right. Why does the ARB or anyone think that more permissive bylaws are necessary when poor development happens now?
Look no further than the two most recent multistory, barely mixed-use, buildings in town (one on Mass. Ave., near Stop & Shop, the other at Summer and Forest streets) for examples of bland, developer-driven architecture. I have yet to hear a persuasive argument as to why bylaw changes are necessary so that more of these (and much worse) can be built.
Others made sensible points along the lines of delaying the bylaw changes so that the citizenry could "buy in" and the ARB could present irrefutable data and meaningful rationale. Given the current state of misunderstanding, misinformation (competing "facts") and insufficient leadership, this makes good sense.
If the ARB, planning office, town manager, Select Board and Town Meeting representatives were doing a good job, the vast majority of Arlingtonians would be on board. Everyone in town would be educated about the issues and impacts at a minimum. Town leadership has not made its case. I look to the Town Meeting representatives to be actively involved in this process; a number were at Monday’s meeting, but many more should have been. I just hope everyone is doing their homework.
This viewpoint was published Wednesday, March 20, 2019.
Chamber endorses zoning articles as 'strong model for growth'
The following opinion is from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and was provided by Beth Locke, its executive director:
The Arlington Chamber of Commerce believes that the town’s proposed zoning bylaw amendments present a strong model for growth.
At a time when some of the town’s long-term businesses have shut their doors and retail spaces sit vacant, the status quo is not sustainable. In order to ensure the prosperity of our town, we must adopt a more flexible approach to zoning which encourages new commercial and residential development.
By encouraging increased mixed-use development at all income levels along Arlington’s commercial corridors, we put the town in a position to attract new and diverse businesses while continuing to sustain our current economic base. In turn, this development will help to spur public and private revitalization in our business districts.
We are in full support of the town’s forward-looking Master Plan, approved at the 2015 Town Meeting, to stimulate quality development and economic growth, and we encourage supporters to join us by attending and voicing your opinion at the Redevelopment Board’s public hearings in March.
Monday, March 4, 7:30 p.m.: Article 17, Article 18, Article 19, Article 20, and Article 22
Monday, March 11, 7:30 p.m.: Article 6, Article 7, Article 8, Article 9
Monday, March 18, 7:30 p.m.: Article 10, Article 11, Article 12, Article 13, Article 14, Article 21
March 25, 2019: Article 15, Article 16, Article 23, Article 24, Article 25
For more detail, click here >>
All four meetings will be held at in the Main Room on the first floor of the Senior Center, 27 Maple St., Arlington.
For further information and meeting agendas, click here >>
This opinion was was published Thursnday, Feb. 28, 2019.
Let's take time with housing zoning articles, new group says
The following letter is from a new group called Arlington Residents For Responsible Redevelopment was sent to members of the Select Board, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, Redevelopment Board and Jenny Raitt, director of planning and community development:
The Jan. 14 letter is titled "2019 ATM Articles Related to Mixed-use and Multi-family Zoning Bylaw Amendments, and Accessory Units (Articles G, H, I, J, K, M, N, O, P, Q, S)."
The Arlington Redevelopment Board is proposing a host of warrant articles for 2019 Annual Town Meeting that would amend Arlington’s Zoning Bylaws to promote multifamily developments and allow accessory units in single-family districts. Efforts to publicize these plans have been limited so far to forums that did not allow for general Q & A. We feel that this has likewise limited public understanding of the likely scale of the changes these plans will allow.
'Significant changes to zoning bylaw'
These are significant changes to the zoning bylaw, yet the Town Meeting warrant closes in less than two weeks [Jan. 25], public hearings for these articles will be held in March and Town Meeting starts barely a month later. The Housing Plan Advisory Committee, the Residential Study Group nor the Zoning Bylaw Working Group have had no chance to study these amendments and make recommendations.
For many Town Meeting members and concerned citizens, this will be their first introduction to a large suite of articles that have the potential to transform our town. One month isn’t nearly enough time for them to consider these articles, and the process should be slowed to allow a more-thorough exploration of related issues, and of unanticipated consequences.
Any plans for amending zoning bylaws to allow multifamily development, and thus greater density, must prioritize a solid, enforceable commitment to affordable and low-income units. Yet the proposed warrant articles don’t specifically address affordability at all.
While Arlington desperately needs more affordable and low-income housing, this housing must also be appropriate for the town in terms of enhancing, and in some areas preserving, the character of our varied streetscapes. To prevent an explosion of market-rate units that will only continue to drive up prices, in styles and locations that negatively affect their surroundings, we need to ensure local control over how this goal is implemented, rather than having a one-size-fits-all plan imposed on us by nonlocal agencies.
Denser housing is more expensive to build per square foot, and there is evidence that this kind of development tends to push out existing residents in favor of new residents able to afford market-rate new units. It also increases demands on city services, which leads to higher property taxes. Many Arlington residents are already struggling with high rents or yearly tax increases, with the debt exclusion and override still to come. These are existential issues for many longtime residents.
Questions needing answers
The issues yet to be fully addressed include:
- Arlington is a town, and many residents appreciate that aspect of life here. These changes will have a large effect on the character of the town’s commercial corridors, making it look more like a city. How has it been determined that there is any general agreement that such changes are desirable?
- Why are most of the efforts on these initiatives being outsourced to outside agencies, instead of being performed by planning staff who have more knowledge of and accountability to the town?
- How will increased pressures on our schools and other services, and the corresponding rise in property taxes, be handled?
- How will we prevent new housing, with its higher build costs, from pushing out existing residents?
- How will the commercial tenants for mixed-use buildings be attracted?
- What are the environmental impacts of allowing greater hard-surface, impermeable development and reducing open-space requirements?
- How does allowing accessory units in single-family districts fit with the master plan’s finding that “there is a general sentiment that the town is built out,” and with the implicit goal of mixed-use and multifamily development along transportation corridors as a means to provide relief of the pressures on these districts?
- How are neighboring communities addressing increased housing needs, and are our efforts proportionate to theirs?
- Have innovative housing solutions, such as co-housing in single large (preferably refurbished, existing) buildings, been considered?
- Has redevelopment, which reduces pressure on land prices, and allows efficient use of under-utilized areas, been considered?
For these reasons and more, we believe all of these warrant articles should be delayed until next year, and the focus first placed on the “why and what” of these initiatives, rather than rushing forward to amend the zoning bylaw before the substance and implications of the proposed changes are fully understood.
The following are listed as signers of the letter:
Jon Gersh, TMM pct. 18
Jo Anne Preston, TMM pct. 9
Elizabeth Pyle, Residential Study Group, TMM pct. 10
Michael Ruderman, TMM pct. 9
Carl Wagner, TMM pct.11
John L. Worden III, Historic Districts Commissions, Secretary-at-Large, Zoning Bylaw Working Group, TMM pct. 8
Patricia Worden, Housing Plan Advisory Committee, TMM pct. 8
Wynelle Evans, Residential Study Group
Chris Loreti, former ARB Chair,
former TMM Paul Parise
Jan. 12, 2019: Zoning for sustainability, resilience in Arlington
Jan. 7, 2019: Proposed warrant articles for spring Town Meeting
Dec. 18, 2018: New zoning proposals eye density, vibrant corrido
Oct. 2, 2018: Metro Boston leaders seek 185,000 new housing units
This letter to the editor was published Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.
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