Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory Dwelling Units (aka “granny flats”)

The following information was presented to the Arlington Redevelopment Board in October, 2020 by Barbara Thornton, TMM, Precinct 16

This Article  proposes to allow Accessory Dwelling Units, “as of right”, in each of the 8 residential zoning districts in Arlington.

Why is this zoning legislation important?

Arlington is increasingly losing the diversity it once had.  It has become increasingly difficult for residents who have grown up and grown old in the town to remain here.  This will only become more difficult as the effects of tax increases to support the new schools, including the high school, roll into the tax bills for lower income residents and senior citizens on a fixed income.  For young adults raised in Arlington, the price of a home to buy or to rent is increasingly out of reach.

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Design Ideas for Transit Corridors-Pike/Pine District

Seattle finds new tools to preserve neighborhood character in the Pike / Pine Corridor of the city. Arlington has its own neighborhood districts that are now being re-thought with new planning for the neighborhoods’ future. These include the Broadway Corridor, the Mass Ave. Transit Corridor and Arlington Heights.

The tools here include samples for what Arlington might do, “overlay District”, Transfer of Development Potential (TDP).  A TDP provides incentives

for property owners to keep existing “character structures” rather than tear them down. A Conservation Core was also established within the district to further ensure that new development is more compatible with the special scale and character of existing development in this area. They also prepared Design Guidelines, Zoning Ordinance, Environmental Review Checklist, Cultural Overlay District, “Center Village” Plan, Inventory of Historic Resources, etc.

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Reinhardt on Sustainable Housing Ideas

Prof. Christophe Reinhardt runs the MIT Sustainable Design Lab.  On Nov. 25, 2019 he gave a very interesting presentation, including talk and slides, that shows a pathway to make more housing, all kinds of housing, and greater housing density both more palatable in Arlington, and actually desirable.  He also stressed the importance of paying attention to housing now in order to meet the climate change challenge. Charts (starting about 10 min in) show how drastically we need to reduce our carbon footprint to reach net zero by 2050. Buildings today account for about 40% of our carbon emissions world wide. What we build today will likely be around through 2050.

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Arlington Continues Master Plan Discussions

The citizens of Arlington engaged in an active and well publicized discussion about all the elements of a proposed new town Master Plan.  These discussions took place in well attended public meetings held, primarily, at the Senior Center/ Central School’s main public meeting space.  They were held in a series of meetings, each meeting considering one “element” or subject of the proposed master plan between late 2014 and early 2015.  Each of the elements was presented by staff and consultants, and thoroughly discussed by a wide range of citizen attendees.  After additional discussion in Town Meeting, Town Meeting members voted to adopt the Master Plan in the spring of 2015.

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Public Buildings & Services: How Much Does Municipality Need?

Article 8 in a series on the Arlington, MA Master Planning process. Prepared by Barbara Thornton

Town buildings, both school and municipal, comprise 1.3 million square feet of building space.  That is a lot of property to maintain.  And it doesn’t include the Town’s open space, parks and fields.   Some properties key to the town’s identity have been bequeathed to the town by earlier citizens.  Robbins library is an example.  Other properties end up almost by accident in Town ownership, the Disabled American Veterans building is an example.  Most buildings are explicitly acquired, newly constructed or repurposed to serve the evolving needs of the community.  New elementary schools and renovated fire stations are scheduled years in advance based on a carefully planned process to balance what the Town can afford with what the Town needs.

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Arlington History Preserved In New Master Plan

Article 7 in a series on the Arlington, MA Master Planning process. Prepared by Barbara Thornton

Reminders of Arlington’s Revolutionary War history are scattered throughout the town.  The town, first inhabited by the Algonquian group of Native Americans, then settled by European colonists in 1635 and incorporated in 1807, took its current name in 1867.  Both formal memorials like the Uncle Sam statue and Cyrus Dallin’s “Menotomy Indian Hunter” statue as well as historic homes and manufacturing areas (Schwamb Mill) are part of the weave of history that gives the town identity.   The history also includes objects, documents, designated landscapes and cemeteries. 

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Master Plan to Preserve Open Space & Natural Resources for Future

Article 6 in a series on the Arlington, MA Master Planning process. Prepared by Barbara Thornton

Arlington residents value the town’s walkability, woodlands and water vistas and tree lined streets.  It will require careful Town policy and citizen advocacy to preserve these valuable assets for the future.  The Master Plan, now in draft form, assesses the challenges and makes recommendations for how to preserve and enhance the open space and natural resources the community now enjoys.

Open Space Held by Different Owners

Some facts to frame the situation:  41% of Arlington is covered with impervious surfaces, buildings, roads, etc., making it harder for water to drain into the ground.  Additional area is covered by rocky ledge.  Surface water covers Approximately 6% of the land area – two lakes, two ponds, one reservoir, one river and several brooks, and  15% of the town’s land area is publicly owned open space including conservation land, land in schools, parks and recreational uses and other town or state owned land.  Arlington Conservation Commission (ACC) oversees and manages 25 land parcels with a combined total of 50 acres (see Table 7.2). Arlington also owns the 183 acre Great Meadows, ironically located entirely in Lexington.  The state owns and Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) manages several parcels including the 120 acre Alewife Brook Reservation and the land along the Mystic River and around the Mystic Lakes dam.  Areas designated as wetlands and floodplains also limit development and hold the community closer to the natural environment.

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Housing Choices Shape Affordability and Vitality of Town Future

Article 5 in a series on the Arlington, MA Master Planning process. Prepared by Barbara Thornton

Residential Uses May Push Out Commercial Uses

The Master Plan will have a distinct section focusing on housing and in Arlington there will be much to decide.  Housing prices in Arlington are among the fastest rising in the region.  According to a recent article in the Boston GLOBE (10-14-14) Arlington median home prices have jumped 15% in the last eight months, to $625,000.  Condo costs per square foot are higher in Arlington than in neighboring Lexington and Winchester. The average condo in Arlington jumped 22% to $433,750.   This is great news for people who already own a home.  But this trend suggests that, without planning for a variety of housing at various prices, the town will lose its economic diversity.  Children born here may not be able to afford to live here as adults.  The creative community of artists and writers now giving the Town identity may be priced out.  Maintaining the economic diversity of its citizens is only one of several housing questions Town residents will consider as the HOUSING section of the Master Plan is developed.

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Arlington Master Plan Considers Economic Development

Article 4 in a series on the Arlington, MA Master Planning process.  Prepared by Barbara Thornton .

Most of Arlington’s budget depends on the Town’s tax base. As the cost of services increases, the Town budget must increase. Massachusetts communities are limited in their ability to increase taxes on existing property. Many municipalities have developable land that can add new value to the existing tax base. But Arlington has little developable land left. Retaining and expanding both the employment base and the tax base will require redevelopment on existing sites. Business districts along Massachusetts Avenue and other commercial areas are most likely to see this redevelopment. It will not only expand the tax base, it may give residents an opportunity to work closer to where they live.

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Traffic and Transportation Issues Shape Arlington Future

Article 3 in a series on the Arlington, MA Master Planning process.  Prepared by Barbara Thornton.

A conversation about transportation issues extends well beyond rush hour car traffic congestion. As the Town contemplates its future 20 years from now, should it build wider streets, wider bike paths, wider sidewalks or none of the above? If reducing traffic congestion is a goal, is it possible to develop more job opportunities in town so residents can walk to work? If we value the walking opportunities and we value the lovely trees that make the walk pleasant, what material can we use on the 542,309 linear feet of town sidewalks so the roots won’t break through the walkway and create tripping hazards. Transportation planning can get complicated.

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