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Town Meeting ’16 – 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 try to 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. Sometimes I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

We started very close to on time!

The Menotomy Minuteman marched in and led the body in the National Anthem.

Moderator John Leone called the meeting to order. He reminded the body of several of the rules of Town Meeting and made several announcements. Particularly:

  • If you want a copy of Town Meeting Time, see the Moderator.
  • If you want to be on the Town Meeting email list, join on the Town Meeting section of the town website.
  • You are restricted to 7 minutes, but you shouldn’t use more than 3 for your speaking time.
  • He encouraged us to stick with civility in our discourse.
  • He gave a quick training on the voting clickers. 199 people voted in the test vote, out of 252 representatives.
  • He announced that this year we will be using a “consent agenda” for certain non-controversial articles.
  • There is a bake sale run by the tennis club in the hallway.

The moderator administered the oath of office for newly elected and returning town meeting members. They were greeted with a round of applause afterwards.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Diane Mahon made the traditional motion about permitting town officials and employees to sit “on the floor” with town meeting members. Non-members are seated in the viewing gallery on the 2nd floor.

Town Clerk certified that the meeting was properly convened.

We voted to return on Wednesday for the rest of the business.

Article 2 – State of the Town. Diane Mahon gave the state of the town. She talked about the major events of the past year. She talked about the challenges including Mugar proposal. She also talked about the forthcoming June 14, 2016 Proposition 2.5 debt exclusion vote that the Board of Selectmen voted earlier tonight. I encourage everyone to read the proposal, and to educate themselves about the upcoming vote.

Article 3 – Announcements and Reports

  • The Nagaokakyo student exchange visitors were recognized, and the head of their school system thanked the town for hosting.
  • Chairman Diane Mahon submitted the report of the Board of Selectman.
  • Finance Committee Chairman Al Tosti introduced the members of the Finance Committee. FinCom will report next week on the school building proposals and on the Minuteman building project. He also announced the intent to have all of the Minuteman votes on Monday May 9th.
  • Chairman of the Arlington Redevelopment Board Andrew Bunnell gave the report of the ARB. He noted that the ARB is amending its report to put forward a recommendation of no action for Articles 8, 9, and 10. This was an interesting development. Articles 8, 9, and 10 are generating some controversy, and I thought it would a lot of that controversy off the table.  As later events revealed, the controversy came back strong.
  • Ann LeRoyer of the Master Plan Implementation Committee noted that the report is in writing and available in the back of the room.
  • Diane Mahon and Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine introduced the various department heads in the town.
  • Most reports can be found on the town website.

At Tosti moved that the motions contained in the reports be the main motions for each article. For new town meeting members the importance of this motion is not obvious, though the conversation around the ARB’s report will make it more obvious than usual! 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, then 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. That becomes key later on – the first motion sets the debate, and other amendments and substitute motions alter the debate.

Article 3 was placed on table.

Article 4 – Measurer of Wood and Bark. Elsie Fiorie was re-appointed without opposition.

Article 5 – Assistant Town Moderator. John Belskis nominated Jim O’Conor and he was elected without opposition.

Consent Agenda
Articles 11, 19, 20, 27, 30, 39, 47, 55 were held, and were not included in the consent agenda. Articles 12, 13, 17, 21, 24, 25, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 52, 54, 58 were all placed on the consent agenda. The consent agenda was approved 166-12-5. With a single vote we disposed of 14 articles. I think this was a nice procedural improvement to the meeting.

Al Tosti gave notice of reconsideration of the finance articles approved in the consent agenda. What that means is that later on in the meeting, he has reserved the right to make a motion of reconsideration. He would use this if some development made the financial votes inappropriate; with a motion of reconsideration, the meeting can take an item back up and revise it.

Article 6 – Mixed Use
ARB Chair Andrew Bunnell introduced the article. He noted a clerical error, that the minimum lot size change on page 8 is still 5000 square feet. He noted that mixed use exists in Arlington today – in the Heights and in the Center. The ARB wants to permit mixed use on all commercial corridors in town. That means that it’s permissible to have commercial and residential and retail under the same roof. It wouldn’t affect residential zones. He noted that it should increase the availability of housing for households that are downsizing and other users. He noted that it permits higher buildings than currently allowed. Michael Ruderman and Chris Loreti proposed an amendment to modify the ARB’s proposal. Loreti believes that the ARB wants to permit too much. Barbara Thornton is in favor of the ARB’s proposal. She thinks that growth is inevitable and we must grow in smart ways. Kaplan was opposed – he thinks we are densely settled enough. Andy O’Brien was opposed. Andrew Fischer thinks it should be multiple votes, not one, and he’s voting no. This argument wasn’t compelling to me. It is sound practice to put zoning changes into a bundle; they are interlocking and have to be at adopted as a package. John Worden is opposed to the amendment – he thinks it relies too much on the judgement or ARB. Gordon Jamieson asked a series of leading questions. I find the question back-and-forth to be confusing – the person answering the question isn’t always answering the question that was asked, and the dialogue is imprecise. He is in the favor of the ARB’s proposals and not the amendments.

7 minute break – closer to 13 minutes in actuality.

Brian Rehrig noted that the way to create retail space, to lower the price for retail space, is to increase inventory. He supports the ARB’s changes, and is opposed to Loreti’s amendment. On his request, ARB Chair Bunnell reviewed each business district by height. Paul Schlichtman said that the current zoning bylaw is causing commercial space to flip to residential – it’s where the money is. He said that mixed use is the way to change zoning to retain the commercial space that we need. I couldn’t agree with him more on this point. We need to relieve the pressure on housing prices and retain our commercial space. Mixed use is the best option we have available. Mike Cayer repeated the correction on page 8 about 5000 square feet.  This was a key point. The chairman needed to make that point more clearly up front; it’s a good thing we got to it. Mike Cayer walked through a series of points about the importance of revising the current zoning.  Steve Revilak asked about the special permit process. Selectman Steve Byrne spoke in favor. Zarina Mamon didn’t think it opens up enough space for businesses and was opposed to it.  Carl Wagner moved to terminate debate, approved 168-51. Loreti’s amendment failed 65-152 with 2 abstaining. ARB article was approved 186-35.  This was a highly-attended town meeting, and a resounding approval of the zoning change.

Article 7 – Parking in Business Districts. This would permit lower amounts of parking in places where alternate transportation is available. It will permit more varieties of redevelopment. Ed Trembley thinks that this would reduce out-of-town commerce. Scott Smith was in favor and noted the change in transportation choices in Arlington. Phil Goff reflected on the previous debate remarked it was the best that he has seen. He supports the parking change. He talked about the effectiveness of this kind of program in Kendall Square. John Leonard wanted to know about enforcement. John Deyst was in favor. Gordon Jamieson moved to terminate debate. 189-23. Zoning change approved 180-34-2.

Article 8 – Residential Zoning Changes. John Worden moved to postpone to May 4th. By 127 – 69 it was postponed. In my opinion, Mr. Worden had the ARB’s vote in front of him, and he had his intended amendment in front of him, and he should have just moved his desired article forward.  I think he saw how badly he was beaten on the previous two articles and was buying time to try to figure out a new strategy.  I think that the ARB correctly gauged that the town is no where near consensus on the issue and moved no action.  I don’t think Mr. Worden is going to find that consensus in the next week, and I expect to support a vote of no action.

Article 9 – John Worden moved to postpone to May 4th. Charlie Foskett asked if Mr. Worden’s substitute motion would be the same as the ARBs. The answer was that it would be roughly the same. There were several questions. Michael Quinn encouraged support for the postponement given the last-minute vote of the ARB. 164-44-3 it was postponed

Article 10 – John Worden moved to postpone to May 4th. 167-37 it was postponed.

We adjourned at 10:54.



Comment from Joann Keesey
Time: April 26, 2016, 9:40 am

Thanks for writing this up. I had a conflicting meeting in Concord and could not attend. We moved to Arlington in the fall of 2014 and I have done my best to educate myself on the qualifications and achievements of all those who run for local office and despite being retired, I hope my schedule frees up enough to attend a town meeting. I am in favor of participatory democracy, but achieving consensus can be a long drawn-out process. For the record, I approve the zoning changes that passed.

Comment from C Wagner
Time: April 28, 2016, 12:05 pm

Thanks for continuing to take these notes, Dan! I write by email to folks on a listserver loosely serving the Bishop school and Richfield Street neighborhood areas. When I have a brain freeze on what was said or done, or Dunn, I appreciate your (better) notes!