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Town Meeting ’19 – 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.  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.

At 8:00 Moderator John Leone started callling the meeting to order. The meeting started at 8:03. It was really wet outside – bucketing rain. People slogged in anyway!

The Menotomy Minutemen marched in and lead the meeting in singing the National Anthem. (See the video on Facebook)

Pastor Marc Bishop from St. Agnes gave the benediction.

The Moderator gave his remarks. He noted this is Arlington’s 212th Town Meeting, and this is the 87th as representative town meeting (1937).

  • The moderator walked through the ground rules about submitting amendments (must be shared the sessions beforehand).
  • He said that town meeting materials in 2020 will be changed to primarily electronic distribution, not mailed beforehand. Print will no longer be the primary method.
  • He invited people to speak briefly and reminded everyone of the speaking time limits. He explained the electronic voting, aka the clicker. The test vote was: La Brea Tar Pits are found in Los Angeles? True 135, False 59, abstain 15.
  • He announced that the budgets would be discussed on May 6th.
  • He said the consent agenda would be taken up on Wednesday the 25th.
  • He offered a moment of silence for town meeting members who had passed.

The moderator administered the oath of office. There was some confusion about how the oath would be read and said – but people muddled through it. They were greeted with a round of applause afterwards.

Chair of the Select Board 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 and called by the Town Constable.

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


  • Bill Hayner announced the elementary school mock town meetings.

Article 2 State of the Town. Diane Mahon gave the state of the town.

Article 3 Reports of Committees

See all reports on the town website

  • Arlington Redevelopment Board (ARB) Chairman Andrew Bunnell gave the report of the Arlington Redevelopment Board.
  • Diane Mahon gave the Select Board report.
  • Al Tosti moved the reports of the Finance Committee.
  • Peter Howard gave the report of the Master Plan Implementation Committee

Article 3 was tabled.

Article 4 Measurer of Wood and Bark. John Worden was appointed the Measurer of Wood and Bark after 50 years in Town Meeting.

ARB Chair Bunnel moved to table Articles 9, 10, 12, 14, and 15.

Articles 6, 7, 8, 11, and 16

ARB Chair Bunnel explained that 6, 7, and 8 are administrative. Article 16 is the meat of the proposed change. He explained that it only affects a narrow range of districts in Arlington, the ones along the business corridors. The goal is to improve Arlington’s economic, business, and housing stock diversity. The ARB wants it to increase affordable housing production. Gersh moved a substitute motion that only changes inclusionary zoning. He thinks the density changes are too much and too fast. Christian Klein moved an amendment to shrink the scope of the change. Barbara Thornton moved an amendment to add storm water management to the scope of Article 16. Marvin Lewiton moved an amendment that would protect more of the open space in town by removing the reference to balconies used as a part of the open space calculation. Steve Revilak was the original proponent of the article. He talked about exclusionary v. inclusionary zoning. He doesn’t think Gersh’s amendment solves the problem, but he thinks that Klein’s, Thornton’s, and Lewiton’s are good. JoAnne Preston invited Janice Broadman (Arlington resident) to speak. She doesn’t think there was enough outreach or research. This is a classic tactic to defeat a proposal when you can’t marshal a logical argument – don’t attack the merits, attack the process. If her leading argument is that the process was broken, her argument is pretty weak.

9:36 The moderator called a recess

9:47 He called us back to order.

Patricia Worden requested an extra 2 minutes and it was not given. She is opposed to the ARB proposal and supports Gersh’s amendment. She predicted a number of dire consequences for the town if the ARB article is adopted. Jordan Weinstein had several questions for Director of Planning Jenny Raitt about the analysis and study done on the proposals. He’s opposed to all of the changes. Anne Thompson thinks the town needs to take more time. Maureen Gormley invited a non-resident business owner Julia Mirak Cue. She supports the proposed changes. John Worden is opposed to the proposal. “We have done our share of people packing” he said, as if Arlington were full.  Kaspar Kasparian is opposed to the proposal. His speech . . . . wandered. Susan Stamps announced the Tree Committee’s opposition to the change and asks for further study. Peter Howard is in support of the change – he thinks the economic development is important. Kevin Koch doesn’t know the impact on the tax rate. Bill Berkowitz invited Don Seltzer (resident) to speak. He presented a series of hypothetical buildings and shadow studies. Joe Tully supports Gersh’s amendment and introduced Winelle Evans (resident). She supports Gersh’s amendment. Daniel Jalkut is in favor but has reservations. Bill Hayner asked what an affordable unit would cost. He’s concerned with the impact on the schools. He’s opposed to the change.

We adjourned just after 11.

I’m voting to support the change proposed by ARB. We need to encourage affordable housing and commercial building production in Arlington. The changes proposed are moderate – measured changes to a fraction of the town’s neighborhoods. I believe the fears of the opponents are overblown. Some of the opponents make reasonable arguments that I still disagree with. Other opponents are simply fear-mongering: for instance, the ridiculous claim that these zoning changes would make Arlington Center look like a building on the 5-lane divided highway that is Route 2.

Taking a step back: Arlington has to change. The current zoning laws are not serving us well. We’re creating more high-end housing and converting commercial space into residential. If those trends continue Arlington will lose any diversity that it has today, and will become even more dependent on residential property taxes. I very much understand that change is scary and includes some risk. I hope that Town Meeting isn’t paralyzed by the fear of those unknowns, and we can move the town towards a solution.


Comment from Grant Cook
Time: April 23, 2019, 8:58 am

I think its worth noting one extreme element in the shadow studies I’ve seen by those that speak against these changes – they were done for a time window about 90 min before sunset on the Winter Solstice. That is probably the most extreme moment of the entire year to catch the sun low in the sky to the west of town.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: April 23, 2019, 12:24 pm

It’s a shame the Town did not mail the ARB report to TMMs when it became available. It has a (relatively) short introduction that is quite good and answered many of my concerns.

I had to bang on a bunch of locked doors in the Town Hall Annex last Thursday night to get it, though.

Turns out the ARB has recommended “no action” on the most sweeping proposals that had been proposed, originally, by the planning department.

I don’t know that people understand that, as many seem to be reacting to the original Town proposals rather than the current ARB ones.

Don Seltzer’s extremely persuasive presentation spent a lot of time dwelling on the shadows that would be cast if the housing complex at Warren and River (near the Thompson school) were allowed to grow to 4 stories.

Thing is, the complex is zoned R5, and under the motion brought by the ARB would not be allowed to grow to 4 stories under any circumstances. That had been a provision of the original idea from the Town, though.

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: April 23, 2019, 12:36 pm

The opponents of the zoning revisions are not coming at us with pitchforks, they attack with the soft and comfortable rhetoric of, “It’s not quite right. Perhaps you can come back next year with something better?” This is precisely what happened when the Red Line was proposed to run through to Arlington Heights. What was universally decried as the worst possible option, a terminus at Alewife, is what we ended up with.

I love the folks on the ARB, and think they wicked smart folks who are trying to do the very best they can for the town, but can’t we get at least one member on the board who is a strategic political communicator who can craft a proposal, communicate it effectively, and present it effectively to Town Meeting so that specious arguments can’t tear it down?

Comment from Grant
Time: April 23, 2019, 12:43 pm

I’ll 2nd that, Paul. The messaging on this, a set of ideas that I believe is a net positive for the town and the forces that make the status quo unsustainable, hasn’t pushed back on some malarkey thrown up speaking against any element of change.

Comment from Jo Anne Preston
Time: April 23, 2019, 1:04 pm

I am sorry that Dan Dunn dismisses the clear set of arguments against density without planning given by Dr. Brodman. The speaker has a Economic Planning from M.I.T. with multiple experiences in housing development around the world which Mr. Dunn does not have.

Comment from Janice Brodman
Time: April 23, 2019, 2:19 pm

Dan says my entire presentation was about the poor process. Actually, I mentioned process in 1 slide; however, the 13 other slides were about problematic merit of the proposed articles:

Important impact assessments haven’t been done, e.g., on schools, environment, traffic, people displaced by new building, taxes, town financials
In many places, density+IZ has actually had negative impacts on affordable housing: rising housing prices, rising taxes (increased land value), lost open space, worsening proportion of expensive-to-affordable housing. It’s complicated by the fact that some places, e.g., Seattle, were considered great examples showing increased density helped reduce or halt housing price increases — until a more recent study showed that during the past 6-year construction boom, housing prices have increased tremendously. Similarly, the Bay Area.
I also discussed the negative economic impacts, e.g., multi-use buildings with large empty storefronts that are increasing even in large, “wealthy” cities like NY, SF, Vancouver. There are reasons for this that can be addressed, but the proposed zoning changes don’t do it.
I mentioned but didn’t have a chance to discuss the various tools and approaches that we can (and I think should) consider to increase affordable housing without getting a great deal more expensive units. Very targeted density+IZ in specific parcels (vs. the entire transit area) could be part of a good approach
These are crucial decisions that I believe need to be done much better. This is NOT a request for an open-ended “more time,” but a well considered request to take a year and do a plan that will help, not hurt, Arlington aims for affordable housing and a thriving small business sector

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: April 23, 2019, 3:10 pm

Who are the TMMs who passed away in the past year?

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: April 23, 2019, 3:10 pm

We really don’t need to do a study on how increasing land values results in higher taxes, as it doesn’t.

If the assessed value of every property in town magically doubled, property taxes couldn’t rise more than 2.5% townwide (plus new growth), so the net effect would be to shrink the tax rate in proportion to the increased value.

The one thing that will raise taxes for a homeowner is when their home increased in value disproportionately to the other properties in town. Thus, if a home value increases 20%, and a commercial property increases 5%, the net impact is to shift the tax burden as the property tax bill follows value.

We also know that the demolition of low-value commercial property, replacing it with new buildings that make use of the opportunity to build something more valuable, results in the new growth that generates additional revenue for the town.

Because of Proposition 2.5, the economics of growth and taxes are different than any other state or province. A town’s lack of ability to tax the business directly (except for restaurants and hotels) also creates a different fiscal impact in Massachusetts when compared to other states. If we gained a penny in sales tax for transactions in town, like many other states, I am sure the economics of commercial development and empty storefronts would be significantly different than cities and towns reliant on sales tax revenue.

Also, creating affordable housing will result in more affordable housing when compared to the option of creating no housing, particularly when considering a relatively minor impact on a small portion of the town’s land area.

Stating how many studies haven’t been done, which was a theme, is a criticism of process. As noted above, I don’t think the ARB is particularly effective at building public support and gaining TM approval. On the merits of the proposed vote under Article 16, I think it is a cautious and responsible proposal that has merits hidden under the rhetoric that is flooding Town Hall.

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: April 23, 2019, 3:15 pm

Town Meeting members who passed away:
Richard Fanning
Stuart Cleinman
Kevin Greeley

Comment from Rosalind Shaw
Time: April 23, 2019, 4:31 pm

I’m disappointed by the dismissive opinion that Dan Dunn has of studies of density zoning, as presented by Janice Brodman. If claims and conjecture must be defended so strongly against actual knowledge, that’s a very troubling basis for decisions that affect our town.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: April 23, 2019, 10:37 pm

Paul, I think the complaint about taxation is along the lines of how new development will attract families who will cost Arlington more than the new revenues from the development, etc.

It doesn’t hold up if you look at it, but some people are just looking for any reason they can find.

Comment from dunster
Time: April 23, 2019, 11:38 pm

Grant – I noticed that too. I do wish I had other shadow studies to consider.

Adam and Paul – Yeah, I wish the ARB was more adept at the educational/political aspects of this. It’s not enough to have a good idea – one also has to sell the idea.

Jo Anne – I love you too.

Janice – I sent a more detailed reply to the thoughtful that email you sent me. I listened carefully but didn’t understand how the experience of SF, Chicago, and other examples connected to Arlington. They seemed too different. I’m quite interested in hearing more. I do not think your process arguments have merit.

Rosalind – Please reconsider. I said that reasonable people can disagree, and I’m sure that Dr. Brodman would agree that this is a complex topic with a diversity of reasonable opinions. The only argument that I dismissed was about the sufficiency of the process.

Rich – It’s been a rough year.

Comment from Rosalind Shaw
Time: April 24, 2019, 8:50 am

I think at the very least an apology to Dr. Brodman is called for. Your personal note about her presentation was quite insulting.

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: April 24, 2019, 11:32 am

While Dr. Brodman may be an expert, I don’t think she was prepared for the context of a Town Meeting presentation with a seven minute time limit. Folks who are used to weaving a thoughtful argument in the context of a 90 minute class period are not used to the terse nature of a Town Meeting argument, and was far less effective than she could have been.

That said, the interesting thing about authorities on a given subject, you can usually find another well qualified authority on the same subject with an entirely different viewpoint, so we should view folks as AN authority, not THE authority.

Comment from Rosalind Shaw
Time: April 24, 2019, 12:03 pm

Paul–then use the language of disagreement, not insult (e.g., “a tactic,” “can’t marshal a logical argument”).