Arlington has a Representative Town Meeting form of government; each spring, our 252 elected town meeting members gather to consider a range of issues, including changes to town bylaws and zoning.  While there were not any “big ticket” items this year, Town Meeting adopted a number of smaller, incremental changes that could make it easier to do mixed-use development (e.g., housing over retail), along with improving the sustainability of certain types of projects.  These include:

Reduced Height Buffers

Article 29. Height buffers are intended to mitigate the effects of shadows.  When a mixed-use or commercial building is built near a single- or two-family district, these buffers tend to prefer shorter building heights. Arlington’s height buffers have been on the books since the mid-1970s, when we allowed much taller buildings than we do today.  Town Meeting agreed to update the height buffers to align with current height limits. This should make it easier to build to allowed heights, which brings the possibility for more upper-story apartments in new mixed-use buildings.

Rear Yard Setback in Business Districts

Article 33. Article 33 changed the rear yard requirements in business districts, allowing more floor area on the first three stories of a building.  This could encourage larger commercial spaces on the first and second floors of mixed-use buildings, and provide more room for apartments on the second and third floors.

Shaded Parking Lots

Article 30.  Article 30 added shade requirements to (new) parking lots with more than 25 spaces, where the shading can come from trees or ground-mounted solar panels.  It’s relatively uncommon for parking lots of this size to be built in Arlington, but it does happen occasionally.  The combination of shade trees and solar panels should help to mitigate heat island effects. 

MBTA Resolution

Article 66. In the mid-1970s, Arlington became known as the town that blocked the MBTA’s Red Line extension, and two generations later, we are rethinking that position. Last year, Town Meeting asked the state legislature to repeal a law that made it illegal for the MBTA to build a transit station in Arlington Center (this is H.4236, which recently passed the House).  This year, we passed a resolution asking the T to provide better service, and to partner with the town on improvements to our transit infrastructure. This was a non-binding resolution, so there aren’t any immediate effects. Rather, it’s part of an ongoing effort to improve transit options in town.

To see how your precinct’s representatives voted, visit the “Voting Results/Video Archive” section of the Town Meeting website.

Modest, incremental improvements like these are steady steps forward; over time, they do add up and make a difference.  With this year’s Town Meeting behind us, we can turn our attention to next year. Are you interested in running for Town Meeting? Do you have a change you’d like to see Arlington make? Email info(AT) and I’d be happy to help you explore your idea.

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