The Gentrification of Arlington

(Comments presented to the Arlington Redevelopment Board and Select Board during a public hearing on Jan 13, 2020)

Steve Revilak, 111 Sunnyside Ave. In the interest of disclosure, I live in market rate housing that was built by a developer. Among Arlington residents, I’m not unusual in that regard.

At the end of December, a friend sent me an article that appeared on Redfin’s blog, which ranked the most competitive real estate markets in 2019. Out of 20 listings, three were neighborhoods in Arlington: East Arlington at #3, the Brattle Street Area at #5, and Arlington Center at #12. This is only one data point, but Redfin is a national realtor and works in markets all across the country. Arlington is a desirable place to live.

Housing costs have steadily increased over the last 20 years, modulo a brief reset during the economic recession of 2008. For example, the prior owner of my house purchased it for $151,000 is 1999. I purchased it for $359,000 in 2007 (when it was assessed at $287k). Today, it’s assessed at $501k, which is consistent with similar home sales from 2018.

The net effect: each year a new family moves to town, they have to have a more money (or be willing to spend more on housing) than a family who moved in the year before. With that in mind, I’d like to cite a few figures from the 2019 Town Survey:

  • Question 37: Indicate the number of years lived in Arlington. 59% of respondents indicated 15 years or less. Nearly 30% indicated five years or less. Despite the prices, people still move here.
  • Question 40: What was your annual household income in 2018. The most common response was “more than $200,000”, with over 28% answering that way. Nearly 71% of respondents indicated earning $100,000/year or more. Arlington’s median income is likely higher than HUD’s AMI for the Metro Boston area.
  • Question 41: What is the highest level of educated completed by a member of your household. Over 73% indicated having a masters degree or higher.

I don’t mean to knock people who’ve lived here 15 or fewer years, have advanced degrees, or have household earnings of $200,000 or more per year. I check every single one of those boxes myself. But I do want to point out that we are a highly educated and affluent community. Put another way, we have a population that matches the cost of our housing.

Twenty years of gentrification haven’t killed us: we’ve expanded town staff and services, we’re renovating public buildings, and we’re getting a new high school. Those are all good things, made possible because residents have the money to pay for them, and have been willing to do so.

We can absolutely keep the status quo we’ve had, but I want to recognize that the combination of the housing market and Arlington’s policies have created an economic barrier to living here. I see two issues: one is affordability, and the other is an imbalance between supply and demand.

There are a variety of things we could do, and I think we should consider all of them. I don’t see a viable way to relieve housing pressure that doesn’t involve more housing. And that’s what I hope we can do over the coming years: find ways to build more housing.

Improving Residential Inclusiveness, Sustainability, and Affordability by Ending Single-Family Zoning

(Contributed by Ben Rudick and Steve Revilak)

We should end exclusionary Single Family Zoning in Arlington. This is inspired by Minneapolis which ended Single Family Zoning city-wide last year, as Oregon did. To be clear, we’re not suggesting an end to single family homes, only to exclusionary Single Family Zoning; you can still have a single-family house, but now you’d have the option to build a two-family or duplex instead.

79% of all residential land in Arlington is zoned exclusively for single family homes (in the R0 and R1 districts), meaning the only legal use of that land is for a single home built upon a large lot (source: Arlington GIS via the Department of Planning and Community Development). This is a problem for three key reasons:

  1. Single Family Zoning has a deeply racist past. It came into being after a 1917 Supreme Court ruling made it illegal to have “Whites only” neighborhoods. Instead, towns and cities, as encouraged by the federal government, enacted zoning that used economics instead of explicit racism to segregate neighborhoods. A popular strategy was to require large lots on which only expensive, individual homes could be built. Here’s an excellent short video on the topic: https://www.segregatedbydesign.com/
  2. It’s terrible for the environment. Living in a Single Family Home is akin to driving alone instead of carpooling or taking the bus: it’s the most carbon-intensive way to put a roof over your head. The more people you can house in the same structure, the less energy you spend per person. By spreading people out, we’re increasing the amount we drive and the carbon we emit. And we’re contributing to traffic congestion too.
  3. Arlington is becoming increasingly unaffordable. We have a massive (and growing) housing shortage; combined with continued job growth in the Greater Boston area, housing has gotten dramatically more expensive over the last 20 years. The only way for us to keep rising home prices in check is to significantly increase supply, which will be extremely difficult to do while keeping so much of our land reserved for single family homes.

If you’d like to support us, please share this post and join our Facebook group, Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors, where we’ll post updates and hearing times for the warrant article we’ve submitted to effect this change.

Arlington Can’t Wait for Affordable Housing to Just Naturally Occur

This letter appeared in the Boston Globe on Dec. 19th. It’s reprinted
here with permission from the author, Eugene Benson.

The Dec. 12 letter from Jo Anne Preston unfortunately repeats misinformation making the rounds in Arlington (“Arlington is a case study in grappling with rezoning“).

At April Town Meeting, the Arlington Redevelopment Board recommended a vote of no action on its warrant article that would have allowed increased density along the town’s commercial corridors in exchange for building more affordable housing (known as “incentive zoning”), when it became obvious that the article would be unlikely to gain a two-thirds vote for passage, in part because of the complexity of what was proposed.

A warrant article to allow accessory dwelling units in existing housing (“in-law apartments”) gained more than 60 percent of the vote at Town Meeting but not the two-thirds vote necessary to change zoning.

The letter writer mentioned “naturally occurring affordable apartment buildings.” The typical monthly rent for an apartment in those older buildings ranges from about $1,700 for a one-bedroom to about $2,300 for a two-bedroom, according to real estate data from CoStar. Those are not affordable rents for lower-income people. For example, a senior couple with the national average Social Security income of about $2,500 per month would spend most of their income just to pay the rent.

We need to protect the ability of people with lower incomes to withstand rent increases and gentrification. That, however, requires a different approach than hoping for naturally occurring affordable housing to be there even five years from now.

Eugene B. Benson

Arlington

The writer’s views expressed here are his own, and are not offered on behalf of the Arlington Redevelopment Board, of which he is a member.

The Metro Mayors Coalition’s Housing Task Force

Like numerous metro areas in the United States, Greater Boston has both a shortage of housing and high housing costs. According to a recent presentation by Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, Boston and the immediate surrounding communities added new 148,000 jobs and 110,000 new residents in the period 2010–2017. But despite the increase in jobs and population, we’ve only permitted 32,500 new homes.

This shortage led the Metro Mayors Coalition — a group of 15 mayors and town managers in the Greater Boston area — to establish a housing task force. The task force set a goal of producing 185,000 new homes during the period 2015–2030. There’s a lot said about that number, and the commitments each community has been willing to make. 185,000 new homes is the big ask, but there’s more to the MMC’s efforts than a simple production goal.

The MMC established a set of ten guiding principles, which are as follows:

  1. Stakeholder and Municipal Engagement. We must engage in broad, inclusive outreach to municipal officials, residents, and other stakeholders within and beyond the MMC to understand and address regional housing concerns.
  2. Housing Production. We strive to increase the production of housing throughout Metro Boston so that we can provide homes for all types of households and income levels. This should include both rental and homeownership opportunities, consistent with regional need, and designed in ways that respect the neighborhoods in which they are located.
  3. Housing Preservation. We support the preservation of existing affordable housing choices. This includes protecting affordable apartments at risk of expiring subsidies or deed restrictions; preserving “naturally occurring” affordable housing; repairing older homes in need of maintenance and minimizing tear-downs; and preserving smaller homes.
  4. Housing Affordability. We welcome and will invest in the development of housing that is affordable to low-, moderate-, and middle-income households.
  5. Housing Stability. We will work to address extreme cost burdens, minimize the risk of displacement, reduce evictions, eliminate unfair rental practices, create permanent housing for homeless residents, and ensure safe and stable housing throughout Metro Boston.
  6. Fair Housing. We are committed to addressing discrimination against tenants and buyers, and advancing fair and equitable access to housing opportunity for everyone.
  7. Housing Diversity. We promote the development and preservation of diverse types of rental and homeownership housing at a range of scales and a unit mix inclusive of multiple bedrooms.
  8. Housing Design. We support universal design in housing to create accessible and barrier-free homes through the incorporation of features that are commonly available and easily usable by people of virtually all ages and abilities.
  9. Housing Location. We encourage residential and mixed-use development in transit-accessible and/or walkable areas where people can get around locally and make connections throughout the region without relying on private auto. We also support creation of more such neighborhoods through expansion of public transit and retrofits of select former industrial sites.
  10. Complete Neighborhoods. Our commitment to greater housing opportunity is part of a holistic approach to community building that includes a mix of land uses and access to open space. Our residents want to live in areas that offer a range of activity throughout the day and evening.

In addition to the guiding principals, the Task Force’s web site lists dozens of strategies for consideration. Some focus on the three cost drivers of housing production: land, labor, and materials. Others focus on more holistic aspects, like fairness and diversity. The overall list of strategies includes: tenant protections like rent control, requirements for just-cause evictions, and the right of first refusal; community benefit agreements, housing cooperatives, and community land trusts; transfer fees, linkage fees, vacancy taxes, and anti-speculation taxes; use of prefabricated homes and modular construction techniques; and a variety of approaches for community engagement and education.

In summary, the MMC has put a lot of thought into the process — far more than simply coming up with a number.

When was Arlington’s Housing Built?

The material in this post came from my efforts to learn about when Arlington’s housing was built. The data comes from the town’s 2019 property tax assessments, where I took our nineteen-thousand-and-some-odd homes and apartments and broke them down by housing type and decade built. It’s not exactly a history housing of production, though it is a close approximation. In this analysis, a single-family home built in the 1912 and rebuilt as a two-family in 1976 would show up as two units built in the 1970s. Similarly, a three-family home that was built in the 1924 and later converted to condominiums would show up as three condominiums built in the 1920s.

Here’s the visual summary:

Bar chart showing Arlington housing by decade built.

And here’s a small spreadsheet with the underlying numbers.

My first surprise was at how much we built in the 1920s: just under five thousand units. This was our biggest decade for housing production, and nearly double our second biggest (the 1950s). Another surprise was the 1990s; 132 of our homes were constructed during that decade, which is the smallest number since the 1870s.

What about homes constructed before 1850? There are only 117 of them, and they’re omitted from the data set. I’ve also omitted residential units in mixed-use buildings, since my copy of the assessors data doesn’t break mixed-use buildings into residential and non-residential units.

What’s important for Housing – a Community Conversation

A portion of Envision Arlington’s town day booth was designed to spark a community conversation about housing. Envision set up a display with six poster boards, each representing a housing-related topic. Participants were given three dots and asked to place them on the topics they felt were most important. There were also pens and post-it notes on hand to capture additional comments. This post is a summary of the results. You could think of it as a straw-poll or temperature check on the opinions of town day attendees.

Social Justice Issues

Aiming for a diverse population by income and race; and being vigilant about identifying and neutralizing barriers to this goal.

Social Justice Issues

197 dots, plus a post-it note that reads “Increasing housing while preserving open space” (with three dots).

Lifestyle Options

Providing for different lifestyles: empty nesters, single millenials, young parents, families, walkable neighborhoods.

Lifestyle Options

149 dots and four post-it notes:

  • No more new 5-story buildings with no setbacks. Ugly. (3 dots)
  • Why must we maintain our high carbon footprint with single family homes and cars?
  • I want to live in a wofati (eco building) (Woodland Oehler Freak-Cheap Annualized Thermal Intertia). Not so legal, one day the norm. Thank you Arlington.
  • Connect to transit. Less single family housing with dedicated parking.

Housing Affordability

Affordable housing from subsidies, from construction of smaller units, or from building more housing to reduce the bidding price on current Arlington homes.

Housing Affordability

308 dots, with 10 post-it notes

  • We don’t need more housing. People need to be able to afford to stay in their homes.
  • Get Arlington out from the clutches of real estate lobby. (1 dot)
  • Wrong categories. Includes affordable housing and development which displaces low and moderate income housing
  • Restrictions on teardowns of small homes
  • Keep older apartment buildings. They are cheap and affordable.
  • Rent control and oversight. I can only afford to stay because I live in a place that is not secure and in disrepair.
  • Rent control. Please reinstate so that rent is affordable.
  • “Affordable” subsidized housing invades your privacy. Every year need all bank stubs, 401(k), like a criminal.
  • Build more housing. Build more duplexes, triplexes, etc. Upzone neighborhoods. More transit corridors. Renew calls for a red line stop. Build up downtown to encourage more density and housing in the same buildings as businesses. More housing + transit = a better society.
  • Protect neighborhoods

This was clearly the topic that got drew the most response. Arlington housing is expensive.

Maximizing Flexibility of Home Space

Providing for aging parents or childcare providers with a place in your home or getting help paying the mortgage by having a rentable space.

Maximizing Flexibility of Home Space

81 dots, and three post-it notes:

  • Change zoning to allow accessory dwelling apartments (aka in-law apartments) (1 dot)
  • Want nearby widowed mom to live in own house.
  • Accessible rentals, not up 3 flights of stairs.

Doing more with Existing Resources

Examining current Arlington Housing Authority, Housing Corporation of Arlington, and aging apartment buildings for addressing new housing needs.

Doing more with Existing Resources

143 dots, and five post-it notes:

  • Fix transportation infrastructure. Peope can live farther out and still get to work. (4 dots)
  • Extend red line to Arlington center and heights. (7 dots)
  • None of the above. Keep taxes low. (1 dot)
  • Accessible for aging residents. Age in place.
  • Do something about empty store fronts.

Setting a ten-year goal for new housing

Determining what Arlington’s housing goals should be, and setting about following through on the necessary zoning and incentives to get what we want.

Setting a ten-year goal for new housing

119 dots, and three sticky notes:

  • Why is America low-density? Why is this country slave to the auto? More housing near transit!
  • Who is “we”?
  • There is too much housing density now. Need business area to attract business.

Observations

As noted earlier, the cost of housing seemed to be the main issue of concern. This is understandable: housing prices in Arlington (and the region in general) have been on an escalator ride up since about 2000 or so. That’s led to our current high cost of housing, and also to a form of gradual gentrification. When housing is more expensive than it was last year, a new resident in town has to make more money (or be willing to spend more on housing) than last year’s new resident.

I see at least two broad responses to this: one is to keep the status quo, perhaps returning to the inexpensive housing of decades past. The other is for more multi-family housing, and more transit-oriented development. It will be interesting to see how these dynamics play out in the future.

There’s also recognition of the importance of older “naturally affordable” apartment buildings. Arlington was very pro-growth in the 1950s and 1960s; that’s fortunate, because it allowed these apartments to be built in the first place. On the downside, we haven’t done a good job of allowing new construction into the pipeline during recent decades. Buildings depreciate, so a new building is worth more than one that’s ten years old, which is worth more than one that’s twenty years old, and so on. At some point, the old apartments are likely to be refurbished/upgraded, and they’ll become more expensive as a result.

This is only the beginning of the conversation, but at least we’re getting it going.

The Cost of Housing in Arlington

(This post originally appeared as a one-page handout, distributed at The State of Zoning for Multi-Family Housing in Greater Boston.)

Source: Arlington, MA 2018 Annual Report

This chart shows the assessed value of Arlington’s low density housing from 2015–2019 (assessed values generally reflect market values from two years prior). During this time, home values increased between 39% (single-family homes) and 48% (two-family homes). Most of the change comes from the increasing cost of land. As a point of comparison, the US experienced 7.7% inflation during the same period. (1)

Arlington has constructed six apartment buildings in the 44 years since the town’s zoning bylaw was rewritten in 1975; we constructed 75 of them in the preceding 44 years.(2) Like numerous communities in the Metro-Boston area, we’re experiencing a high demand for housing, but our zoning regulations have created a paper wall that prevents more housing — including affordable housing — from being built.

Communities need adequate housing, but they also need housing diversity: different types of housing at different price points. The housing needs of young adults are different than the housing needs of parents with children, which are in turn different than the housing needs of senior citizens. As demographics change, housing needs change too. Keeping people in town means providing them with the opportunity to upsize or downsize when the need arises.

If Arlington’s housing costs had only increased with the rate of inflation, the cost of single family housing would average $581K, over $170K less than today. The median household income in Arlington is about $103K/year.(3) Buying an average single family-home with that income on a typical 30-year mortgage would require approximately 46% of a household’s monthly income.(4)

Either homes in Arlington will only be available to people who have much more substantial incomes than current residents, or the town will find a way to balance the rapidly growing cost of land against the housing needs of its current citizens, those still in school, those preparing to downsize as well as those looking for a bigger space.

In addition, Arlington’s commercial economy will thrive with a greater number of housing units so we can keep the empty nesters, and the new college graduates who have lived in the town for years, as well as welcome new Arlingtonians to support our local businesses, restaurants and other services.

Our Town, like others in the state, is looking for ways to balance the needs of our citizens with the market forces of rising land costs while maintaining a healthy, diverse community.

Footnotes

  1. The inflation amount comes from Inflation amount from https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl.
  2. Figures on multi-family unit construction are taken from Arlington Assessor’s data. They reflect multi-family buildings that are still used as rental apartments.
  3. Income levels come from 2013-2017 ACS 5-year data for Arlington, MA.
  4. Assuming 10% downpayment, 4% interest, $800/year for insurance, and Arlington’s $11.26 tax rate, the monthly mortgage payment would be nearly $4000/month.

HOUSING AFFORDABILITY: What Can Citizens and Municipalities Do?

(Barbara Thornton, Arlington and Roberta Cameron, Medford)

Our communities need more housing that families and individuals can afford. From 2010 to 2017, Greater Boston communities added 245,000 new jobs but only permitted 71,600 new units of housing. Prices are escalating as homebuyers and renters bid up the prices of the limited supply of housing. As a result, one quarter of all renters in Massachusetts now spend more than 50% of their income on housing. (It should be only about 30% of monthly gross income spent on housing costs.) Municipalities have been over-restricting housing development relative to need. The expensive cost of housing not only affects individual households, but also negatively affects neighborhoods and the region as a whole. Lack of affordability limits income diversity in communities. It makes it harder for businesses to recruit employees.

Over the last two years, researcher Amy Dain, commissioned by the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, has systematically reviewed the bylaws, ordinances, and plans for the 100 cities and towns around Boston to uncover how local zoning affects multifamily housing and why local communities failing to provide enough additional housing to keep the prices from skyrocketing for renters and those who want to purchase homes.

Interested in housing affordability and why the cost of housing is increasing so dramatically to prevent average income residents from affording homes in the 100 municipalities around Boston? Arlington and Medford residents are pleased to welcome author Amy Dain to present her report, THE STATE OF ZONING FOR MULTIFAMILY HOUSING IN GREATER BOSTON (June 2019). Learn more about the so-called “paper wall” restricting production, common trends in local zoning, and best practices to increase production going forward. Learn about efforts in Medford and Arlington to increase housing production and affordable housing and how you can get involved. Thursday, July 25, 2019, 7:00 PM at the Medford Housing Authority, Saltonstall Building, 121 Riverside Avenue, Medford. (Parking is available.)

To access the full report, go to: https://ma-smartgrowth.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/03/FINAL_Multi-Family_Housing_Report.pdf

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, which commissioned the study, provides the following summary of the four principal findings and takeaways:

1) Very little land is zoned for multi-family housing.

For the most part, local zoning keeps new multi-family housing out of existing residential neighborhoods, which cover the majority of the region’s land area.

In addition, cities and towns highly restrict the density of land that is zoned for multi-family use via height limitations, setbacks, and dwelling units per acre. Many of the multi-family zones have already been built out to allowable densities, which mean that although multi-family housing is on the books, it does not exist in practice.

At least a third of the municipalities have virtually no multi-family zoning or plan for growth.

Takeaway: We need to allow concentrated density in multi-family zoning districts that are in sensible locations and allow for incremental growth over a larger area.

2) We are moving to a system of project-by-project decision-making.

Unlike much of the rest of the country, Massachusetts does not require communities to update their zoning on a regular basis and make it consistent with local plans. Although state law ostensibly requires municipalities to update their master plans every ten years, the state does not enforce this provision and most communities lack up-to-date plans.

Instead, the research documents a trend away from predictable zoning districts and toward “floating districts,” project-by-project decision-making, and discretionary permits. Dain found that 57% of multi-family units approved in the region from 2015-2017 were approved by special permit, 22% by 40B (including “friendly” 40B projects), 7% by use variance, and only 14% by “as-of-right” zoning.

There also seems to be a trend toward politicizing development decisions by shifting special permit granting authority to City Council and town meeting. The system emphasizes ad hoc negotiation, which in some cases can achieve a more beneficial project. Yet the overall outcome is a slower, more expensive development process that produces fewer units. Approving projects one by one inhibits the critical infrastructure planning and investments needed to support the growth of an entire district.

Takeaway: We would be better served by a system that retains the benefits of flexibility while offering more speed and predictability.

3) The most widespread trend in zoning for multi-family housing has been to adopt mixed-use zoning.

83 of out of 100 municipalities have adopted some form of mixed-use zoning, most in the last two decades. There is a growing understanding that many people, both old and young, prefer to live in vibrant downtowns, town centers and villages, where they can easily walk to some of the amenities that they want. Malls, plazas and retail areas are increasingly incorporating housing and becoming lifestyle centers.

Yet with few exceptions, the approach to allowing housing in these areas has been cautious and incremental. These projects are only meeting a small portion of the region’s need for housing and often take many years of planning to realize. In addition, the challenges facing the retail sector can make a successful mixed-use strategy problematic. Commercial development tends to meet less opposition than residential development, even in mixed-use areas.

Takeaway: We need more multi-family housing in and around mixed-use hubs, but not require every project to be mixed-use itself.

4) Despite their efforts, communities continue to build much more new housing on their outskirts rather than in their town centers and downtowns.

About half of the communities in the study permitted some infill housing units in their historic centers, but her case studies show that these infill projects are modest in scale and can take up to 15 years to plan and permit.

On the other hand, many more units are getting built in less-developed areas with fewer abutters. This includes conversion of former industrial properties, office parks, and other parcels disconnected from the rest of the community by highways, train tracks, waterways or other barriers. This much-needed housing can be isolated even when dense, and still car-dependent because of limited access to public transportation and lack of walkability.

Takeaway: We need to allow more housing in historic centers as well as incremental growth around those centers. Furthermore, we need to plan an integrated approach to growth districts so that they can be better connected to the community and the region.

The Cost of Housing in Arlington, MA

The cost of building a residential unit, single or multi-family, correlates directly, if not precisely, with its cost to resident tenants or owners. The following study and data (using Assessor’s data) demonstrates that higher density housing is more affordable than single-family housing. Whether you look at the median cost of all housing across the Town or the unit costs of the newer, more expensive, apartments built in the last decade, density yields lower prices. The town wide median is $438,900 per unit.

The newest projects (420-440 Mass Ave., Brigham Square and Arlington 360) range from $249k per unit to $412K per unit. These three developments alone contributed 414 new units of housing to the Town.

Discussions of “affordability” represents a spectrum of terms. Units can be affordable because zoning and market conditions allow the units to be built for less money than a single family home. Or they can be affordable because the builder has received subsidies that reduce the cost. Or they can be affordable, as in the case of inclusionary zoning, because the permission to build is contingent on at least some of the units being “permanently” (99 years) available to qualified tenants or buyers based on legal restrictions.

A Dissertation on Arlington’s Open Space Bylaws

(This post was originally an email message, discussion open space changes proposed by an Affordable Housing article during the Arlington, MA’s 2019 town meeting. It’s also a decent description of our town’s open space laws.)

Sorry this turned out to be a long post. Our open space laws are kind of complicated.

Arlington regulates open space as a percentage of gross floor area, rather than as a percentage of lot area. Let me give a concrete example: say we have a-one story structure with no basement. It covers a certain percentage of the lot area, and has an open space requirement based on the gross floor area (i.e., the interior square footage of the building).

Now, suppose we want to turn this into a two- or three-story structure. The building footprint does not change, and it covers exactly the same percentage of the lot area. However, the open space requirements double (if you’re doing a two-story building), or triple (if you’re doing a three story building). If that quantity of open space isn’t on the lot, then you can’t add the stories.

For this reason, I’d argue that our open space regulations are primarily oriented to limiting the size of buildings. You really can’t allow more density (or taller buildings) without reducing the open space requirements. Alternatively, if the requirements were based on a percentage of lot area, we probably wouldn’t need a reduction. (Cambridge’s equivalent is “Private Open Space”, and they regulate it as a percentage of lot area.)

The other weird thing about our open space laws is that we define “usable open space” in such a way that it’s possible to have none. (Usable open space must have a minimum horizontal dimension of 25′, a grade of 8% or less, and be free of parking and vehicular traffic). I live on a nonconforming lot that does not meet these requirements, as do the majority of homes in my neighborhood.

Suppose I wanted to build an addition, which would increase the gross floor area. With the non-conformity, I’d have to go in front of the ZBA and show that the current lot has 0% usable open space, and that the house + addition produces a lot with 0% usable open space. Because 0% = 0%, I have not increased the nonconformity, and would be able to build the addition, provided that all of the other dimensional constraints of the bylaw are satisified. Although this isn’t directly related to Article 16, it’s an amusing side effect of how the bylaw is written.

Finally, roofs and balconies. Section 5.3.19 of our current ZBL allows usable open space on balconies at least six feet wide, and on roofs that are no more than 10′ above the lowest occupied floor. We allow 50% of usable open space requirements to be satisfied in this manner.

The relevant section of Article 16 would create a 8.2.4(C)(1) which includes the language

Up to 25% of the landscaped open space may include balconies at least 5 feet by 8 feet in size only accessible through a dwelling unit and developed for the use of the occupant of such dwelling unit.

Article 16’s incentive bonuses strike the usable open space requirement, and double the landscaped open space requirement. With only landscaped open space, 5.3.19 doesn’t apply (it only pertains to usable open space). The language I’ve quoted adds something 5.3.19-like, but for landscaped open space. I say 5.3.19-like because it has a 25% cap rather than a 50% cap, and requires eligible balconies to be at least 5’x8′, rather than 6′ wide.

Here are a few pieces of supporting documentation: