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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Arlington Choices for Future Land Use

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.

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What is a Master Plan?

Article 1 in a series on the Arlington, MA master planning process. Prepared by Barbara Thornton

Arlington, located about 15 miles north west of Boston, is now developing a master plan that will reflect the visions and expectations of the community and will provide enabling steps for the community to move toward this vision over the next decade or two. Initial studies have been done, public meetings have been held. The Town will begin in January 2015 to pull together the vision for its future as written in a new Master Plan.

In developing a new master plan, the Town of Arlington follows in the footsteps laid down thousands of years ago when Greeks, Romans and other civilizations determined the best layout for a city before they started to build. In more recent times, William Penn laid out his utopian view of Philadelphia with a gridiron street pattern and public squares in 1682. Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant developed the hub and spoke street plan for Washington DC in 1798. City planning started with new cities, relatively empty land and a “master builder” typically an architect, engineer or landscape architect commissioned by the land holders to develop a visionary design.

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