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OPINION: 2 views of zoning-bylaw update

Expressing the following viewpoint about the town's zoning recodification is Barbara Thornton, Precinct 16 Town Meeting member:

Arlington via Google Earth: Your Town, Your Future

Arlington citizens are about to start down the next phase of the road to building effective tools for land use and planning in the town.

In 2015 Arlington approved a much-discussed master plan. This plan is, at this point, effectively a vision of what we would like to see considered for the future of the town in a number of "chapters," such as Housing, Economic Development, Public Facilities, Open Space, Traffic, etc. But the plan, as it is, has no teeth.

To give citizens the tools needed to reach the visions in the master plan, a key tool, the zoning bylaw, must be edited and approved by the town. The current zoning bylaw is decades old.

The zoning bylaw has small mistakes but also some big ones. Laws have been passed in the state over the last decades that are not reflected in the zoning bylaw. Land use has changed. Our bike path crosses through and integrates many current town zones. But this was never envisioned in the original ordinance.

Over the last several months, a citizen/town committee, the Arlington Redevelopment Board and the town's consultants, RKG Associates, have prepared recommendations to reorganize and update this important planning tool.

On Monday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m., the Arlington Redevelopment Board will hold a hearing on the recommendations to clean up the grammar, format, law updates and related edits.

This process is coordinated under Jenny Raitt, director, Arlington Planning and Community Development Department. After the January hearing, there will be four additional community meetings in January or early February, before the revised bylaw goes to the Special Town Meeting for approval on Feb. 12.

Once this zoning bylaw is made consistent with contemporary law and practice, the town will be able to start looking at how to use these tools effectively to bring to reality the vision of Arlington that was reflected in the 2015 master plan.

This viewpoint was published Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

What's the rush to recodify town bylaws?

UPDATED, Jan. 7: Wynelle Evans, a member of the Residential Study Group, spoke Monday, Nov. 20, at the Board of Selectmen's citizens' open forum. Here are her remarks, made as a private citizen:  

"I'm a member of the Residential Study Group, and I know how much time we spent on language in the handful of articles we presented at the last Town Meeting: almost six months to hone 6 Articles. I'm concerned that the recodification of the entire zoning bylaw is being rushed, and ask that it not be placed on the warrant for 2018 Special Town Meeting [set for Feb. 12].

"It's extremely premature to attempt a vote on it just over two months from now, given that the third-reading draft hasn't yet been provided, and that those two months contain several major holidays.

"This is the first revision in over 40 years, and there's no reason that it needs to be completed within six or seven months of its first presentation to the public.

"The latest draft contains many typos relating to dimensional regulations, as well as language and re-organization that changes the intent of the bylaws. In addition to resulting in unintended changes, there's also the possibility of causing problems with interpretation and enforcement for Inspectional Services, and other departments charged with enforcing our zoning bylaws.

"I mention this not to in any way criticize the work of the Zoning Recodification Working Group, but to emphasize what extremely detailed and complex work this is, and how important it is to get as many eyes on it as possible.

"Please give this process the time it needs and deserves, and allow residents the necessary time to fully examine and consider the proposed changes. Thank you." 

This viewpoint was published Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, and updated Jan. 7, to add the correction, below. 

NOTES: Read background reports from October and July >> 

The RSG was described earlier as "helping to recodify the town,'’s zoning bylaws," and that is incorrect. The RSG has studied the effects of residential development in established neighborhoods, and making recommendations about how to deal with those effects. This has so far resulted in articles drafted that were adopted at 2017 Town Meeting.

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