Town Meeting logoUPDATED Oct. 28: Special Town Meeting, at its fourth session Wednesday, Oct. 25, approved Article 12. This puts Arlington in compliance with the state's MBTA Communities Act -- a requirement to designate areas to be rezoned to allow more multifamily housing. Arlington is one of some 175 municipalities in Eastern Massachusetts required to undergo this process.

According to an email from the town, the timeline now is this: “As with all changes to the bylaw, Article 12 must be reviewed by the Attorney General to ensure that it is compliant with state law. It must also be reviewed by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) to ensure that it is compliant with the MBTA Communities legislation (MGL Ch. 40A, Section 3A). The AG's Office will respond within the next 90 days, and we expect a response from EOHLC by early February, so that the Town can participate in the Fossil Fuel-Free Demonstration Program, also adopted at this Special Town Meeting.”

Article 12 was approved overwhelmingly: 189 voting in favor, 35 against. Of the 14 amendments to the article, two passed, 11 failed and one was withdrawn before the vote. The voting began at 9:51 p.m. and ended at 10:20 p.m.

 Town Hall Auditorium was packed for this fourth and final session of Special Town Meeting. Some 250 Town Meeting members and Arlington officials occupied the main floor section, while another 35 other people sat in the balcony.

Friedman speaksMore than 250 people attended the fourth and final session of Special Town Meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. / Tony Moschetto photo

The proceedings began with words from the local state senator, Arlington resident Cindy Friedman, thanking the town's boards and Town Meeting's members for coming together for this issue, and saying why the issue is so important. Friedman said that many people have been moving away because they can’t afford to live in Arlington, particularly young people, working families and recent college graduates.

She spoke also of an acute labor shortage, affecting many sectors, especially behavioral health, noting there are many people who are in need but can’t get mental-treatment because of inadequate staffing.

And, she said, increasingly, there is not enough housing. “While you are small, you can make a difference,” she said, apparently referring to the town's population of not quite 47,000.  “We’re all trying to play a part in the solution.” Friedman urged everyone to support Article 12.

After 100 minutes of final pleas, and arguments for or against, town members began to vote on the 13 surviving amendments to Article 12 brought forth from the previous meeting -- and ultimately on Article 12 itself.

(The amendments as submitted by Monday are described in greater detail farther down in this article.)

Passed were: 

Anderson amendment, changing one word  --“will” -- to “may.” The vote was Yes 201, No 17. Including that amendment in the main motion: Yes 203, No 22.

Failed to pass were: 

Wagner amendment No. 1, which sought to reduce the number of units, density and building size to fit the state’s minimum requirements: No 167, Yes 58.

Barbiaz amendment, to limit the rezoning to 2,050 units: No 174, Yes 49.

Loreti amendment No. 1,  adding a requirement for 15 percent landscaped open space: No 164,Yes 58.

Bagnall-Fleming amendment, to allow four stories in the Neighborhood multifamily district: No 162, Yes 57.

Lane amendment, to allow a choice between setbacks or bonus floors, and lowering heights in the Broadway district to three stories: No 159, Yes 59.

Loreti amendment No. 2 , to reduce maximum heights in the Mass. Ave./Broadway multifamily district: No 160, Yes 63.

Worden amendment No. 2, to increase front and side setbacks in the Neighborhood multifamily district: No, 176, Yes 42.

Loreti amendment No. 3, to remove LEED Gold certified bonus: No 63, Yes 59.

Wagner amendment No. 2, to remove all bonuses for energy efficiency: No 164 ,Yes 53.

Evans amendment, to remove 100 parcels from the Neighborhood district: No 144, Yes 76.

Leone amendment, to add one parcel, on Winter Street, to the Neighborhood district: No 106, Yes 99. 

Three previously submitted amendments -- the Barr, Stern and Franzosa amendments -- did not make it to Wednesday's agenda because of repetition; they were deemed to be essentially the same as the same as the Barbiaz amendment, which was agendized.

'Very contextual' -- Ricker

After the vote, the director of the Town of Arlington's Department of Planning and Community Development, Claire Ricker, who was visibly emotional, said of the result, “I'm feeling really great. I'm feeling really, really, just really happy with the town of Arlington and their support of this project and of this outcome. It was a lot of work.

 “I appreciate everybody recognizing the work of the [MBTA Communities] Working Group and of all the volunteers that made this happen. And ultimately, I think what we ended up with was something that is very contextual to the town, something the town could be proud of and something that we’ll look forward to and seeing what happens as we move into the future.”

Sanjay Newton, chair of the MBTA Communities Working Group, said, “I'm very excited for the [Arlington] Redevelopment Board and for the working group to have received such a positive vote from Town Meeting. This was a long process with lots of different voices, and personally, I'm proud of the number of voices that we managed to bring into the process. I think what we've ended up is a good result for Arlington.”

Now that STM has concluded, the working group is to be disbanded.

Watch ACMi video of Oct. 25, 2023, meeting:
Detail on 14 amendments as originally proposed as of Monday

The following amendments were presented at the third session, Monday, Oct. 25, in this order.

Wagner amendments
Carl Wagner, Precinct 17, presented two amendments.
Amendment 1: Reduce the number of units, density and building size to fit the state’s requirements and Arlington better.
Amendment 2: Remove the density overlay to bring buildings back to a more reasonable size, with no compliance-level reduction.
Wagner said that one-half to two-thirds of the public want a plan that’s scaled back and that they also favor reducing building size. “Affordable housing is a real problem, but MBTA-C is not the answer. Millions of households are now priced out of homeownership. Multi-family construction has remained strong, with a record number of apartments under construction. However, most of this new housing supply targets high [income] renters and does not result in more affordable housing.”

“Only one parking space per unit will likely discourage families. This article would encourage the teardown of middle-priced properties, replacing them with affluent buyers. It would also increase the burden on taxes and expenses, causing Arlington’s expenses to grow faster than
revenues. The town can constrain expenses, but only at a cost of reduced service levels,” said Wagner. “We have until December 2024 to get this right; it’s too important to get wrong. The best amendment would be to amend the size and scope of Article 12.” 

Babiarz amendment
Josephine Babiarz (15) supports equitable and affordable housing in Arlington but says that she doesn’t see how this article gets the town to that goal. “I would stick to three-unit buildings, and the number of units permitted should not exceed 2,050. This would leave room for improvements down the road.”

Worden amendments
John Worden (8) presented two amendments.

Amendment 1: Provide the maximum number of affordable housing units allowed. If the state regulators will not allow the town to use its inclusionary housing bylaw passed by Town Meeting and approved by the Attorney General, then the maximum number of units authorized by the said regulators shall be required.
Amendment 2: In the line, “minimum front yard setback,” change “15 feet” to “provided that the wall of the new structure is at least 20 feet from the structure on the adjoining lot.”

Loreti amendments
Chris Loreti (7) recommended amending Article 12 in three ways: (a) provide at least 15 percent landscaped open space, (b) limit building heights, because the current height limits are too large, and (c) remove the LEED extra story gold bonus.

Bagnall/Fleming amendment
Alex Bagnall (9) and James Fleming proposed that one more story be allowed on buildings on major roads. Current zoning laws allow 2 ½ floors; the main motion enables the third floor to be all living space. Bagnell and Fleming want four floors because taller buildings would be more likely to include elevators, saying that a lack of elevators is a barrier to those with disabilities and seniors looking to downsize. “Housing is not a zero-sum game. We want to make Arlington more inclusive, not just for the rich,” said Bagnell.

Anderson amendment
Kristen Anderson (11) said that Arlington’s business base has eroded over the past 100 years and that losing commercial tax base leads to tax overrides. “We can use zoning to protect businesses. Arlington’s Chamber of Commerce supports mixed-use developments. However, we are concerned that the 60 percent ground-floor commercial-use requirement will result in spaces that are too small, and [therefore] we would encourage, but not require, second-floor commercial use. Arlington doesn’t have enough space for new businesses. Empty storefronts exist because the spaces are too small.”

Lane amendment
Adam Lane (3) recommended changing the front-yard setback requirement of 0 feet to 15 feet. “Buildings built almost on the sidewalk will adversely affect the quality of life for all Arlingtonians, both now and in future. Big buildings are not objectionable because they are set back from the road and sidewalk. Those without a setback should be limited in height.”

Evans amendment

Wynelle Evans (14) suggested providing buffers between neighborhoods. “This can be a phased process.”

Leone amendment
John Leone (8) wanted to add 5–7 Winter St. to the neighborhood multi-family sub-district parcel list/map. “This home has been in my family for generations,” he said.

Barr amendment
John Barr (5), a Young Arlington Collaborative member, said that his family experienced difficulty finding his grandmother an apartment with an elevator, which she requires due to mobility issues; he found that many apartments lacked elevators or other adequate accessibility factors, or were too expensive. “We eventually found one on Mass. Ave., but today that apartment wouldn’t be able to be built. This is also a challenge for myself, and for any 21- to 39-year-olds, who don’t want to move back in with our parents. We’re priced out of Arlington now, and I don’t think that’s acceptable. However, young people typically support businesses, because they go out often. What do we want for Arlington -- a place that’s concerned only about the bottom line, or a place that we can enjoy?”

Stern amendment
Michael Stern (14) said, “Let’s start with 2,050 units, and see how developers respond. I recommend that we go for basic compliance at the start.”

Franzosa amendment
Alexander Franzosa (6), responding to his constituents’ requests, said, “With the large amount of units we’ve already added, Article 12 could add issues to the already faltering MBTA. I ask you to support Babiarz’s amendment.”

See how they voted (Paul Schlichtman's display) >>
Town vote counts: Oct. 17; Oct. 19; and Oct. 25.
The Town Meeting Progress Tracker >>
Read notes by Christian Klein (10) >>
Recap of the Monday, Oct. 24, meeting

Approximately 100 people, including some Arlington High School students, attended in person Monday to hear discussion about changing the town of Arlington’s zoning bylaws to adopt at least one MBTA Communities overlay district, as required by a recent state law. Many others tuned in remotely.

Arlington Redevelopment Board Chair Rachel Zsembery presented ARB’s proposed bylaw amendment. She noted that all MBTA Communities, including Arlington, must designate at least one zoning district wherein multi-family housing (defined as a building containing three or more dwelling units) is allowed by right and meets additional standards, including size and legality requirements.

“Article 12 also states Arlington’s multi-family housing plan, which involves creating more housing closer to places that we go to every day, including jobs and schools,” she said. “There’s an increased demand for local retail and transit services -- and reducing our reliance on single-occupancy vehicles will help our larger effort to confront the current climate crisis.”

Zsembery then discussed the current plan’s concepts; the ARB recently made modifications to the version that, after several iterations over several months, had emerged in late September from the MBTA Communities Working Group.

See the town's meeting tracker >> 

Read notes by Zoning Board of Appeals' Christian Klein (10) >>

See an essay by local-government observer Paul Schlichtman about the interplay of zoning and Arlington's still-inadquate public transportation system>>

Some town zoning is nearly half-a-century old

Much of Arlington’s current zoning dates back to the major requirements of its master plan, completed in 1975. Ever since then, all multi-family housing requires a special permit. Districts that allow multi-family housing currently are located in pockets around town.

The state developed a calculation method to estimate any given municipality’s capacity based on the zoning rules. Capacity is determined as a measure of where a zone is of reasonable size, not how much housing will be built. Arlington already has dense units that predate even the 1975 zoning bylaw.

“The [newest, ARB] proposal’s guiding practices seek to encourage more housing in a variety of sizes and price points, located near public transit, and to provide a customer base in local businesses, with multi-family housing spread across Arlington,” Zsembery continued. “The town has a capacity of 3,216 units, and we currently have 2,210 units.”

This proposal now includes at least one parking space per each unit of any new multi-family dwelling. It requires a state economic feasibility analysis -- and, in certain areas, new construction would need to devote 60 percent of the ground floor to commercial space, explained Zsembery.

Goal: provide more housing options

At least part of the impetus for the state’s new law is because greater Boston has a housing crisis, with some of the highest and fastest-growing home prices and rents in the country. This situation places increased financial pressure on low- and middle-income families. This also results in Massachusetts having somewhat of an economic disadvantage compared to many other states, including the risk of future job growth fleeing the commonwealth due to high housing costs.

The MBTA Communities Act requires communities to amend their zoning to permit greater housing production. “[If we do not do this,] we could be sued as a town for noncompliance. I request that Article 12 be accepted as presented.”

The town’s Finance Committee has taken no position on Article 12, said its chair, Christine Deshler. “We don’t have enough data to make a recommendation.” 

General information about Special Town Meeting

There is no Zoom option with which to view Special Town Meeting. However, local cable-television station ACMi plans to provide live coverage of Special Town Meeting on the Government channel (Comcast 22, RCN 614, Verizon 26) and to stream Special Town Meeting live at ACMi also plans to rebroadcast each week’s sessions multiple times throughout the week on its YouTube channel, according to town spokeswoman Joan Roman.

A major topic of interest at Special Town Meeting is expected to be the MBTA Communities plan recently modified by the ARB from the draft adopted earlier in the autumn by the MBTA Communities Working Group. The current version of the plan, designating some 115 acres as zones where multifamily housing aka apartment buildings would be allowed by right, has been controversial. Arlington is one of more than 175 municipalities in Eastern Massachusetts required by the state to create such a plan, with the intent to create more housing.

Technically, a portion of Special Town Meeting actually already occurred briefly in May with regular Town Meeting's session four (that hourlong Special Town Meeting supported a new way to hire police officers and agreed to study the concept of using hybrid – in person and online simultaneously – future Town Meetings). 

Town Meeting is the legislative branch of Arlington. It is made up of 252 representatives from the town's 21 precincts, although not all members necessarily attend all meetings nor necessarily vote on all questions.. It is governed by the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 43A, Standard Form of Representative Town Meeting Government and the Town of Arlington Bylaw Title I- General Government, Article 1
Here is the annotated warrant for the October 2023 Special Town Meeting

Download the Special Town Meeting warrant here >>  However, it does not contain the additional materials included in the annotated warrant. 

Updates to annotated warrant (Oct. 25)

Article 12
Letter from resident Geoffrey Brahmer, submitted by Robin Bergman, Precinct 12
Chart summarizing ARB Votes on Amendments, submitted by Sanjay Newton, Precinct 10
Presentation slides shown by John Leone, Precinct 8
Letter from Arlington Human Rights Commission, submitted by Claire Ricker, DPCD

Updates to annotated warrant (Oct. 24)

Article 12
REVISED Oct 23 - Anderson Amendment, Kristen Anderson, Precinct 11 (shown Oct. 23)
Letter from Joanne Cullinane, submitted by Jordan Weinstein, Precinct 21

Updates to annotated warrant (Oct. 23)

Article 12
Memo - Economic Feasibility Analysis and Scope of Work, submitted by Claire Ricker, DPCD
Moderator’s Overview of Amendments and Votes
REVISED Amendment by Adam Lane, Precinct 3
Presentation Slides by Carl Wagner, Precinct 15
Memo on Financial Impact by Alan Jones, Precinct 14
Presentation Slides by Kristen Anderson, Precinct 11
Presentation Slide by Alex Bagnall, Precinct 9
Paper “Supply Shock vs Demand Shock – the Local Effects of New Housing” submitted by Alex Bagnall, Precinct 9
Paper “The Effect of Market-Rate Development on Neighborhood Rents” submitted by Alex Bagnall, 

Updates to the annotated warrant (Oct. 21):

Article 12
Revised Amendment by Kristen Anderson, Precinct 11
3 Amendments by Chris Loreti, Precinct 7
2 Amendments by Carl Wagner, Precinct 15 (the previous amendment is now Wagner Amendment 2)
Amendment by John Leone, Precinct 8
Amendment by Adam Lane, Precinct 3
Letter by Alex Bagnall, Precinct 9, and James Fleming re their amendment

Reports being added as available

Redevelopment Board Report

Supplemental ARB Report - adds information regarding Article 12 and provides a recommended vote for Article 13

Select Board Report

Finance Committee Report

Links from Spring 2023's Town Meeting

 notes by Christian Klein (10) >>

Special Town Meeting articles updated in the annotated warrant

STM 3: Presentation by Sandy Pooler and Julie Flaherty

See spring Town Meeting dashboard >>

A Special Town Meeting was held Wednesday, May 3, and residents can read the PDF version of that warrant

For the first time in years, the draft warrant for the annual Town Meeting was available to the public notably early, on Feb. 24, in advance of article hearings. That document has since been updated to the final warrant. Read it here >>

Fall 2023: YourArlington's main 2023 Town Meeting link >>


Main Town Meeting link at town site >>

Coverage of STM4 by YourArlington freelance writer Tony Moschetto was published Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023; the article also includes coverage of STM3 by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert. It was updated Oct. 27, to add links to votes and notes, a photograph of the event and an ACMi video -- and to correct the spelling of the name of TMM Alexander Franzosa. It was updated Oct. 28, with information from the Town of Arlington detailing the upcoming process with state authorities.