Town Meeting logoUPDATED: Special Town Meeting, at its third session Monday, Oct. 23, spent three hours discussing Article 12 and its 14 amendments; STM resumed at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, to continue that process. Article 12 concerns the MBTA Communities issue -- rezoning to allow more multifamily housing, which Massachusetts now is requiring some 175 municipalities, including Arlington, to create.

No decision was reached Monday night on Article 12, by far the most controversial of the 15 articles before STM; the other 14 articles all were dealt with relatively swiftly in the two previous STM sessions, on Oct. 17 and Oct. 19.

A list of the 14 amendments proposed for Article 12 appears below, followed by a report about Monday's meeting. Also included is a link to an essay by Arlington School Committee member/longtime local government observer Paul Schlichtman about the MBTA itself.

Here is the latest, as of today, on the voluminous list of amendments, letters, presentations and other items relevant to Article 12.

14 Amendments proposed

The following amendments were presented at the meeting, 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.” 

Watch ACMi video of Oct. 23, 2023, meeting:

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 amendment
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.

Bagnell/Fleming amendment
Alex Bagnell (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) wants 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 had had 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.”

Francoza amendment
Alexander Francoza (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.”

Recap of Monday's 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 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 last spring'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 >>

This meeting announcement was published Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, and updated later that day. It was updated Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, to include descriptors of all 14 amendments proposed for Article 12. It was also updated that date to post a link to an essay by local official Paul Schlichtman on the interplay between the MBTA Communities issue and how the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority itself does not yet address the transportation needs of Arlingtonians.