This 102 page document is the most recently revised set of recommendations by the Town of Arlington’s Redevelopment Board. The report takes into consideration the comments and information provided over the last few months’ public hearing process. It also incorporates a citizen petition which strengthens the case for increasing permanent affordable housing with the passage of these zoning related Articles. Town Meeting convenes on April 22, 2019.
Article 16 is a proposal to encourage the production of affordable housing in the town of Arlington. I brought this article to town meeting for several reasons, namely, our increasing cost of housing and our increasing cost of land. Arlington is part of the Metropolitan Boston area; we share borders with Cambridge, Somerville, and Medford, and are a mere 5.5 miles from Boston itself. Years ago, people moved out of cities and into the suburbs. That trend has reversed during the last decade, and people are moving back to urban areas, including Metro-Boston. Metro-Boston is a good source of jobs; people come here to work and want to live nearby. That obviously puts pressure on housing prices, and Arlington is not immune from that pressure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Article 2 in a series on the Arlington, MA Master Planning process. Prepared by Barbara Thornton
Arlington, relative to other communities in the region, is a densely developed residential suburb with some commercial centers and a variety of interesting, walkable neighborhoods spread over a topography of hills, streams, ponds and flat lands. The Town’s property tax revenue pays for about 76% of the cost of operations, a relatively high percentage made more challenging because the Town has little room to add new property tax generating uses such as commercial or industrial development, and state law limits the growth in revenue from property tax to 2.5% a year, less than many of the inflationary costs local governments must cover.