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Town Meeting ’12, Session 1

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I type notes. I’m sure that, at times, I mishear or misunderstand the speaker, but my notes represent what I hear at the time. I then publish the notes every night after the meeting. I do go back and make a few edits as errors are pointed out to me.

I do not try to reproduce my entire notes for this online version. Sometimes I relay a quote from a specific speaker. Most of the time I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

Arlington Town Meeting of 2012 was called to order by Moderator John Leone.

The meeting sang the National Anthem led by Menotomy Minute Men.

Lieutenant Michael Harper of Salvation Army gave the invocation.

John Leone welcomed new Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine and new Selectmen Joe Curro and Steve Byrne.

The moderator reviewed the meeting speaking rules.  He reviewed the rules of how business is conducted; specifically he reminded everyone that the proposed vote is what matters, not the language of the original warrant article.  He talked about Article 73 and how he disagrees that such political resolutions should be on the warrant.  He proposed limiting debate to a single pro and con speaker.

The annual vote about seating rules was made.  The only people allowed “on the floor” are Town Meeting Members and various officials; guests and observers should watch from the balcony.

We voted to reconvene on Wednesday.

Article 2 – State of the Town

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Kevin Greeley gave the state of the town.  He asked the members to give their own assessment of the state of the town, and talked about the next century of Arlington.

Announcements and Resolutions

  • Dick Smith announced a May 15th Citizens United discussion.
  • Sean Harrington Pct 15 asked for a moment of silence in honor of the passing of Town Meeting Member Ken Marquis.

Article 3 – Reports of Committees

Many of these reports can be found on the town website:

  • Town Government Reorganization Committee final report was provided by Al Tosti. He said that the committee had made progress on a number of issues, but some of the issues did not progress as far as hoped.
  • Zoning Bylaw Review Committee report given by Jim Doherty. They are looking for new members.
  • Arlington Redevelopment Board report was entered by Bruce Fitzsimmons.
  • Finance Committee report was given by Al Tosti. He talked about the proposition 2.5 override. He thanked the many people who helped the process of getting the town into the GIC health plan. He noted there are still several financial challenges to the town, including federal and state budgets. He noted the passing of Erin Phelps.
  • Board of Selectmen report was given by Kevin Greeley.
  • Al Tosti moved to incorporate the motions in the various reports as the main motions for the various articles.  This vote is very quick and easy, but it’s very important.  If we didn’t make this motion, at the start of every article, the Moderator would have to call on someone to start the debate process by making a motion under that article, find a second for the motion, etc.  Instead, through this vote, we automatically start each article with a motion already made and ready for debate.  

Article 3 was tabled.

Article 4 – Measurer of Wood and Bark

Harry McCabe asked the meeting to thank John FitzMaurice for his past service.  He moved that Elsie Fiore be appointed, and she was.

Article 5 – Election of Assistant Town Moderator

Michelle Durocher nominated Jim O’Conor.  No other nominations.  He was elected.

Article 6 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Amend Sign Definition

Bruce Fitzsimmons introduced Don Benjamin of the Planning Department.  Mr. Benjamin showed several examples of public art that this could enable.  The current town bylaws would seem to prohibit these examples of public art.  He described the support he’s found for this change.  There were speakers in favor and one against it.  Paul Schlictman moved terminating debate, which carried by voice vote.  The motion passed by 2/3 vote – a non-unanimous voice vote.  In previous years, this vote would have required a standing count.  With last year’s rule change now kicking in, the moderator was free to declare this a passing vote.  If more than 5 people had stood up in protest we would have had a standing vote.  In this case, no one did – it was pretty clear this motion had more than 2/3 support.

Article 7 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Business Use

Planning Director Carol Kowalski gave the article’s explanation. Today, property owners in certain business districts can convert the property to residential use. In some cases that conversion is “by right” and in some cases by “special permit.”  This change would create something called “mixed use” where the first floor is for commercial or light industry, and upper floors are residential.  The permitted residential would be relatively high density.  The mixed use would require a Special Permit process and an Environmental Design Review.  The higher density is controlled by parking requirements and other requirements. Higher density is only permitted when there is business and residential.  The intent is to keep business usage in a situation that would otherwise be going all-residential. Chris Loreti asked for three extra minutes and was denied. I voted in favor of the three extra minutes.  I will always vote to permit speakers extra time, unless they are abusive of the privilege. He called this a major change. He said he is in favor of mixed use, but not this one. He showed slides with potential developments that he feared might happen, including a 50-foot building next to a home.  He talked about reductions in protections for neighborhoods.

We took a break for 10 minutes.

A speaker asked if this was proposed because of demand? Answer: there haven’t been specific requests for this mixed use, but there have been related requests. Adam Auster spoke in favor of this. He thinks this is the way for the town to grow and support businesses, and several speakers agreed.  Two speakers asked questions relating to Chris Loreti’s slides.  The answers to the questions said that the slides were impossible – those projects would never be approved by the Special Permit process and an Environmental Design Review process.  I think that this discussion was helpful in putting some perspective on Loreti’s examples.  They were good rhetoric, but not on point.  Jim Doherty made a motion to include B1 in this change.  There was further discussion of the controls in the Special Permit and Environmental Design Review process.  There was discussion of how this would interact with a future Master Plan process.  It was noted that there would be pressure to build residential whether we approve this or not. John Deyst moved to terminate debate, approved.  Doherty’s amendment fails on voice vote.  Main motion defeated on voice vote. I voted in favor of this.  I have been very unhappy as our business districts have been converting to residential.  I thought that this was a smart way to stem that tide.  Unfortunately, I think the complexity of the change and fear of the unintended consequences kept us from moving forward with it.

Article 8 and 9 were tabled.  With only 18 minutes left in the meeting, those issues were too much to bite off.  I think the Moderator made a great choice here – we kept working productively up until the close.

Article 10 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Banners For Historic Sites

Andy West introduced the article.  He said that it would clarify some current confusion about what signage is permitted to direct visitors to and inform visitors of historic sites.  Chris Loreti asked a large number of questions about why this change was needed.  He wasn’t sure if he was opposed or supported it.  Sean Harrington moved to terminate debate.  The change was approved by voice vote.

Meeting was adjourned.


Comment from Mark Kaepplein
Time: April 24, 2012, 2:42 am

I support mixed use, but not article 7 as written. It was too permissive, not requiring any minimum proportion of space being kept commercial in exchange for much more relaxed zoning requirements than a 100% conversion from commercial to residential use. I hope a revised article is submitted next year which precludes developers from having only a token commercial square footage to qualify for “mixed use” redevelopment perks.

Article 6 and 10 were poorly communicated to TM in terms of language specifics. Unclear was what types of art/graffiti or promotional signs would still not be allowable. Examples of art shown included text content – how is that art and not a sign? Could signage regulations be evaded by claiming them art? Provide any loopholes and lawyers will use them!

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: April 24, 2012, 7:37 am

Nobody said so, but I thought Article 7 was about trust. Proponents kept talking about having the tools to promote smart growth and opponents about losing control and Trojan horses.

I didn’t hear anyone oppose mixed growth per se.

Unfortunately, perfect control of outcomes by Town Meeting is just not possible, so trust will always be an issue.

Comment from Lori Kenschaft
Time: April 24, 2012, 11:28 am

I agree that Article 7 was about trust.

One of my concerns was that the proposed mixed use allowed for 5 stories/50′ elevation, when the historic models we appreciate are all 2-3 stories and there are few 5-story buildings in Arlington. I understood the argument that developers would be limited by the special permit process, but also the argument that it’s hard to turn a developer down for something that the official tables seem to allow.

I wonder whether limiting mixed use to 3 stories would have allowed Article 7 to pass. (In principle I am strongly in favor of mixed use, but I also know that bad details can mess up good principles.)

Comment from Wes Beal
Time: April 24, 2012, 1:00 pm

The debate on Article 7 was full of bogeymen, enough so that my thoughts on how I would vote moved back and forth several times throughout the debate.

I don’t want to look back one day and realize I was asleep at the wheel, and let some or several monstrosities stamp their imprint on the town.

But ultimately I thought that the EDR process and other measures would stave off the nightmares, and so I voted in favor of Article 7.

Might have been a product of where I was sitting, but by the end I got the feeling that for a lot of folks opposition wasn’t based just on what bad developments might occur.

There was certainly a sentiment among some (hopefully not many) that any increase in residential housing was bad.

I’d like Arlington to remain a small town, and I hope that it doesn’t ever lose it’s small town feel.

But my pocketbook isn’t deep enough to pay for it.

Unless we want a future that includes overrides every time they’re allowed, we’re going to have to increase the tax-base, including the residential tax-base.

Those fears I thought I was sensing need to be addressed by well designed growth; aversion to any growth isn’t gonna work.

Comment from Bill Kaplan
Time: April 24, 2012, 1:26 pm

Just to be clear, Ms Kowalski explained that the 50’/5 story building elevation was picked because it was felt that developers would not be likely to build anything smaller–it wouldn’t be profitable for them. So if Article 7 had passed as written, it would pretty much guarantee that only maximum-sized, 5-story/50′ mixed-use buildings would be built under its purview. That size building was the intent of the proposed article, not a possible side-effect that the ARB would try to prevent by judicious control of special permits.

Comment from Scott Smith
Time: April 24, 2012, 8:38 pm

I support mixed use, but what stopped me from supporting this article as written was the 50′ height. 50′ may be appropriate in a large business district, but not in the small business districts along Broadway and Warren Street that abut smaller/lower residences.

One question: if such a development renders a neighbor’s garden or solar panels useless (due to blocking sunlight), what recourse does the neighbor have?

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: April 24, 2012, 9:37 pm

Perhaps Dan can address this from his FinComm days, but I was under the impression that increases in the residential tax base that involve more residents are generally beak-even at best and often a net loss. So contra Wes, I dont’t know that such residential-heavy development would do much for Arlington’s financial position at all.

Pingback from martial arts arlington ma. – 2012 Town Meeting underway, rejects mixed-use zone – martial arts arlington ma.
Time: April 24, 2012, 11:27 pm

[…] reporting and commentary, see Dan Dunn’s blog >> Official votes >> Discussion of proposed zoning bylaws on accessory apartments and […]

Comment from Wes Beal
Time: April 25, 2012, 9:08 am

I’d like to know that answer too, Rich. I admit I took it on faith that a higher valued property would result in more income.

Since the residential properties I imagine when we think of this article are less family-oriented (smaller square-footage, upstairs, in a business-ish district) I also assumed they’d result in a higher percentage of residents without kids in the school system.

But if I’m wrong about this I definitely want to know it.

Comment from Mark Kaepplein
Time: April 26, 2012, 2:36 am

Wes, the proportion of schoolchildren residing in smaller housing units depend on racial and income demographics. As new immigrants grow in proportion to the general population, and low cost housing promoted, the formula shifts to having more school kids. Many of the people seeking a better life in the US are accustomed to much more crowded living spaces than most of our current population, so space is less of a barrier to progeny.

Comment from Nathan Swilling
Time: April 26, 2012, 11:42 am

For the most part, I felt that article 7 was a fairly good debate. My own position went back and forth several times. The final point for me was the admission by the ARB that for a mixed use development to be economically viable, it needs to contain at least 3 stories of residential use above the commercial use. I think that the majority supports mixed use similar to what we have in capital square, but that is all 3 stories, not 4. When you combine the idea of 5 story mixed use buildings with the fact that this conversion could be allowed in a district that is currently B1 (basically houses), this was an absolute “no go” for me. If the proposal had been more limited in height, and more focused on higher density zoning areas – I would have supported it. I also personally don’t agree that our goal in zoning should be to encourage, or discourage growth in the overall population of the town. I get very uncomfortable with the idea that we need to allow more development to avoid overrides (because this seems like bad economics), and also very uncomfortable when speakers talk about designing our zoning so that “expensive kids” don’t move in.