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Reduced setbacks in business districts, 'takings' near school also pass

Despite those advocating skipping improvements at least for now at the historic Foot of the Rocks site in Arlington Heights, Article 50 passed in its original form at the seventh session of Town Meeting on Wednesday, May 15.

Also somewhat controversial but ultimately succeeding that night was Article 33, regarding rear-yard setbacks in new construction in business districts. And Article 53, allowing for taking private property to ensure the "Safe Routes to School" plan near the Stratton Elementary School campus, ultimately succeeded despite some objections.

Six other articles also were dealt with at what turned out to be the penultimate session of Town Meeting.

Article 50: Renovation of 1775-era site

Of the more than $2 million total proposed to be spent from Community Preservation Act funding, $450,000, or about one-fifth of the total, was earmarked to continue plans for an extensive renovation of Foot of the Rocks, currently a low-profile area at Mass. Ave. and Lowell Street. Some opposed its inclusion; passions ran high on both sides. Some advocated for forging ahead with the expansion including enhanced signage on its role at the start of the Revolutionary War, information on the area's longtime presence of Indigenous and formerly enslaved people -- and even a picnic area.

Others sought to wait until at least after the nearby Mass. Ave. at Appleton Street safety improvements are complete, including Xavid Pretzer (Precinct 17), who brought an amendment to drop Foot of the Rocks from the funding. Eugene Benson (10) supported the Pretzer amendment, questioning FoTR's historical importance and suggesting that the money could be used in other ways. Elizabeth Dray (10) concurred, wondering how much nearby businesses would appreciate possible future tour-bus traffic and doubting that major development is the best use of the grassy space.

Supporters said that enhancing FoTR is exactly what the town needs approaching the 250-year anniversary of the start of the conflict that resulted in the United States' creation -- and that the amendment should be rejected. These included history expert A. Michael Ruderman (9), Al Tosti (17), chair of the FoTR Working Group, and especially James DiTullio (12), who proclaimed that "We in Arlington have been [metaphorically] robbed" because, for all intents and purposes, "nobody but nobody knows" that Arlington, rather than Lexington, Concord or any other community suffered the highest death toll on April 19, 1775. Upgrading the FoTR site would help redress that injustice, he posited, by funding "a very good design" to replace what is currently there, which looks "a bit dumpy right now."

The amendment was defeated by a relatively narrow margin -- 77 yes votes, 95 no votes, six abstentions -- and the main, unamended motion then passed with 160 in favor, 15 opposed and three abstaining.

Article 33: Reduction in some rear setbacks

The Arlington Redevelopment Board on April 1 unanimously recommended positive action on this article affecting rear setbacks on new commercial in the business districts on Mass. Ave., Broadway and Summer Street. The first three stories would have a 20-foot setback; anything above that would have a 30-foot setback. The proponent, Andy Greenspon (5), said that this could help increase the town's commercial tax base. Also in support were Sanjay Newton (10), saying it would be "a great way to get us moving in the right direction," and Ben Rudick (5), who commented that it could help construction of new mixed-use spaces that would be modern, attractive and desirable.

Not everyone agreed. Joanne Cullinane (21) said one "cannot predict how much commercial [development] would be built" nor know the financial implications of a future rate of business development. Chris Loreti (7) doubted the accuracy of the illustrations shown, said that it's possible to build tall and thin or short and fat, but one "cannot build tall and fat" and that "all of these things need to be taken into consideration." Carl Wagner (15) said that the concept was premature at best, would mean that the distance between buildings would then be "33 percent closer on the back" and that inadequate notification had been given on a decision that potentially could affect thousands of residents.

Ultimately, the vote was 123 in favor, 61 opposed, with one abstention.

Article 53: 'takings' plan near elementary campus

John Alessi, senior tranportation planner for the town, said that thre meetings with abutters had taken place on the plan to ensure "safe routes to school" by foot around Stratton School, including provision of sidewalks, with the affected routes being 42 properties total, on Hemlock Street, Dickson and Mountain avenues, and Wheeler Lane. Passage of the article would authorize the Arlington Select Board to apporve the right-of-way acqusition plan, or "takings," and that this construction could then take place in summer 2025. Len Diggins (3), a Select Board member, brought forth an amendment adding this phrase: "including, as needed, by acquisition of permanent easements, temporary easements and fee-takings."

Supporters said it was necessary for juvenile pedestrian travel. Charles Foskett (10) expressed concern, saying that it was  said that it was "putting the cart before the horse" and that, though child safety is crucial, sufficient details and numbers do not seem to be evident concerning something as serious as taking people's land.

In what was the last vote of the night, near 11 p.m., the Diggins amendment passed 164 to 7 with three abstentions, and the amended Article 53 passed, 135 to 35 with three abstentions.

Disposition of six other articles

Passing with relatively little discussion were Article 35, to continue helping fund local cable television station ACMi; Article 36, endorsing expenditures of monies from the the parking benefits district; Article 42, supporting the town's Bluebike program; Article 48, funding indemnification of medical costs for those retired due to accidental disability; and Article 49, money for testing, treating and otherwise managing all bodies of water in Arlington. Article 32, on traffic visibility, had a recommendation was for no action, and this was approved, and by a large majority, though this technically is not the same as passing.

Watch ACMi video of session 7:
Resources/background about TM 

Local cable television station ACMi provides live coverage on cable (Comcast 22, RCN 614, Verizon 26) and streaming live at acmi.tv/govlive and also posted online on YouTube. The cable TV station also typically will rebroadcast each session multiple times.

The Town of Arlington has a link-heavy page specifically about Town Meeting. Among other things, it has a frequently updated link to the annotated warrant (a detailed and augmented list of the articles, most submitted by a government official or advanced by a group of residents) and a "tracker" or or dashboard or specialized spreadsheet that is supposed to be kept up in real time.

There are guidelines and forms; downloadable templates for those for amending the original motion and for substituting an alternate version to the original motion; historical records of previous Town Meetings; and ways to see emails, updates and announcements.


Town Meeting 2024's main link on the Town of Arlington website 

YourArlington  summary of 2024 Town Meeting information


This news summary by YourArlington Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Tuesday, May 21, 2024.