67 Arlington residents spoke at meeting that went to 11 p.m.

MBTA Communities logoUPDATED Aug. 3: More than 10 dozen folks packed Town Hall's auditorium Tuesday evening, July 25, at the public forum by the MBTA Communities Working Group and the Arlington Redevelopment Board -- the first major opportunity to see the latest zoning map.

The state is making all 175 MBTA Communities including Arlington devise zoning for a minimum of 10 percent of its current total housing units, which in Arlington equates to 2,046 units on 32 acres. But Arlington currently is looking at rezoning 176 acres, which could theoretically accommodate 12,000 to 15,000 units -- far exceeding the state-required minimum. 

Sanjay Newton, head of the working group, contacted YourArlington on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 1, to provide the following information about further input/feedback -- and also the expected timeline this month and on into autumn: “Residents can contact the Working Group atmbtacommunities@town.arlington.ma.us -- and emails with comments for the entire working group are shared with the entire working group periodically. The Select Board will set the date of the fall Special Town Meeting as well as the dates that the warrant opens and closes. The ARB expects to begin hearings for Special Town Meeting in late August or early September, including articles related to the MBTA Communities Act.” 

In addition, Newton added, “This summer, members of the Working Group will be at the Robbins Library, in the 4th Floor Conference Room, to answer questions, hear insights from the community and share information about Arlington's plan to comply with the requirements of the MBTA Communities legislation.” Those listening-hours meetings are to be 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 5; 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15; and 10 a.m. to noon Friday, Aug. 25.

MBTA crowd, July 25, 2023At least 135 people attended the July 25 public forum at Town Hall.

At the July 25 meeting, Teresa Marzilli, town community outreach and engagement coordinator, said that this was the fourth community meeting so far. Her staffers also have gone out to talk to residents at “pop-up” events, the farmers’ market, the cost-free EATS Market and during recent “office hours” at Robbins Library. She said residents have housing at the top of their minds, along with concerns about work and being able to continue to live in Arlington. Marzilli said she plans more “engagement activities” over the next several weeks including continued library office hours and having a presence at Town Day – the annual daylong street fair in Arlington Center, this year scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 23.

Steve Revilak, a member of both the Arlington Redevelopment Board and the working group, talked about the June 8 forum at the community center and subsequent online feedback.

Ideas include mixed-use buildings to bring customers closer to businesses and amenities; a clear desire for more affordable housing; support for expanding the multi-family housing along corridors; buildings with six or more units; having various housing types, sizes and price points; and locating all of this close to public transit. Some concerns expressed last month were about size and scale; mixed-use (residential units above businesses); and a need for a clear consensus on commercial districts versus surrounding neighborhoods.

Town Planning Director Claire Ricker expounded on the zoning map and the thought that went into it based on that June 8 meeting. Zoning is now conceived to include Broadway as well as Mass. Ave. -- and to avoid putting all the zoning for additional multifamily housing into one neighborhood.

She said that under the current plan, new buildings would be allowed to be four stories within the two subdistricts. However, a two-story bonus would be granted for mixed-use and a one-story bonus for extra affordable housing, so that some buildings in future would be allowed to be five or six stories. In residential neighborhoods, there would be a tapering down from four stories on major streets to two and a half stories on the side streets. Ricker also said the working group has located the zones along major bus routes, especially in East Arlington, and discussed a desire to improve overall transit.

Opponents, questioners

Carl Wagner sought minimum compliance.Based on listening to all 67 speakers at a meeting that lasted some four hours, it appeared that many were opposed to the plan in its present version for various reasons, the most common being the number of additional living units that eventually could be built. These speakers urged zoning for only the minimum number of units required: 2,046.

Other concerns frequently mentioned were setbacks (currently designated at 10 feet) being too small; worry about property owners possibly being taken advantage by predatory developers; the zone’s locations; whether bus service is sufficient to justify positioning the zone near bus lines; and why the areas close to the Alewife train station and the Minuteman bike path area were not part of the zoning.

Yet others were against the proposal because they said the information was not communicated sufficiently to all town residents.

The letter of the law

There were numerous detractors, mostly based on the total proposed number of units far exceeding what is mandated. This is a representative sample.

Aram Hollman said to keep it to 2,046 units, as did Carl Wagner.

Providing for potentially some 20,000 apartment units is “ridiculous to me,” Wagner said.” He thanked the working group for its efforts and said he fully understands the need to comply. “We have to do this, so if we have to do this, the best way to do it for the town would be to comply with the rules 100 percent to make the 2,046-unit-density overlays. We can always in the future make further overlays, for it’s very difficult to go back.”

Andrew Fisher supported the two-story bonus and resultant expected affordability but also wanted to stick to the state mandate of 2,046. “That’s it,” he said.

Elizabeth Pyle called for the creation of alternative maps showing proposed different levels of density. “Put out a map with 2,046 units and [also] alternative maps with different numbers [of units],” she said.

Jordan Weinstein said the zoning map as devised currently was a dramatic overreach -- and apparently the working group had “no sense of moderation.”

John Worden said that Arlington already is the 12th densest town in the state and that therefore officials should instead “craft a plan that follows the minimum compliance” with the law.

Trees, transportation 

Alan Jones asked for up to 25-foot setbacks.Others liked some of what the working group had done but had serious concerns about the plan as currently conceived. Here are some of them.

Susan Stamps said that although the plan is generally environmentally friendly, its flaw is not allowing for big enough setbacks, meaning spacing from the street or between buildings “There is not room to plant the proper trees – [I am] asking for a 15-foot setback.”

Beth Melofchik said, “I won’t vote for this plan [at Special Town Meeting, expected in the autumn]. It needs to be looked at through the lens of climate change.” She also asked for 15-foot setbacks to allow for planting shade trees that would ultimately be helpful for pedestrians. “Elderly people won’t be riding their bikes to the store,” she said.

Kristin Anderson advocated for setbacks of possibly as much as 20 feet. “If we have trees, they’ll drink up the rainwater – [we need] more trees that will help reduce flooding.”

Alan Jones the final speaker of the night at nearly 11 p.m, wanted to go even bigger for setbacks -- in some cases, asking for “20 to 25 feet, big enough for a real shade tree.” Jones also requested easements for the public for access to 15-foot front setbacks in the form of tiny parks, planning and maintenance of landscaping with native trees, shrubs and other perennials; green parking lots with at least 50 percent shade tree canopy; and reducing the size of open parking lots by using structured or underground parking.

Elaine Crowder was concerned about public transportation and thought the zone should extend closer to the Alewife train station. She also wondered why there was no zone proposed near the bike path.

Marion King noted that bus routes already don’t run when many current town residents most need them to. King agreed with providing more housing but wondered, “Why is there no requirement from MBTA to improve their service?”

Gordon Jamieson also said there was a need for more MBTA service.

Mark Kaepplein suggested making the bike path a transportation option.

Supporters say to walk the talk

However, for the strong supporters of the plan, it was a no-brainer to back the working group's recommendations. Their stance generally was that if Arlington is to continue to see itself as a welcoming community, then Arlington needs to act truly welcoming to people from all walks of life.

They specifically liked that the current plan does not do the bare minimum that the state demands but, rather, is bold and goes above and beyond. Some of these perspectives are as follows:

Linda Hanson saw it as an opportunity to increase affordable housing.

Annie LaCourt fully supported the plan, saying, “Density is the solution to climate change and the housing crisis. Do not do the minimum. Do what’s right.”

Andrew Greenspon was enthusiastic about the plan as a means to provide more housing for people with one car or possibly no car.

Juli Brazile, the town clerk, said, “I like the idea of bonuses for extra commercial space and affordability.”

Arthur Prokosch supported the density of this plan, saying buildings of six units or more promotes sustainability and prudence.

“I am in support of this plan. I don’t think four stories are crazy,” said Shelley Dean. “I’m pleased to see the sustainability that comes with density.”

Allison Griggs, who manages a small business in town, lives in high-density housing in Arlington, rides a bicycle and uses public transportation, ardently supported the proposal. “I wouldn’t be able to afford to live here, continually, without this type of housing.”

She added, “My money is made here. My money is spent here. I hope to raise kids here.”

Griggs concluded, “I am the type of person that benefits from this, so I would hope that everyone can see me -- and see that I am a contributing member of the society that we live in and that this is literally a dream life for me.” 

ACMi video of July 25 MBTA meeting:
July 26, 2023:  Well over 100 turn out Tuesday to view latest MBTA Communities Working Group map
Summary of July 25 meeting by Steve Revilak, a Redevelopment Board member
MBTA Communities resource list, Shane Curcuru


This news account by YourArlington freelance writer Tony Moschetto, who also took the photographs, was published Monday, July 31, 2023. It was updated Aug. 1, to insert two paragraphs toward the beginning of the story, to provide an email address of the working group for further comment; times/dates of listening hours at the library; and a very general expected timeline of the proceess over the next three months. A link to Steve Revilak's summary was added Aug. 2, as was a link to Shane Curcuru's resources Aug. 3.