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Speaking out: Mirak, affordability, race conversation, 1207 Mass. Ave.

UPDATED, July 2: The following comments were made at the Select Board's citizen open forum on Monday, June 29. Each speaker has a three-minute limit, and officials typically do not respond to comments at the same meeting.

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How should the town address plans for development?

A dozen residents commented during the Select Board's open forum, and many of them raised issues that suggested this question.

Six commenters addressed the proposal to build as many as 140 apartments on land behind Mirak car dealerships in the Heights. Three spoke in favor; others raised related issues.

Carol Kowalski, the town's former planning director and a 30-year town resident, said she is excited about the plan for 1165R Mass. Ave. and urged the board to support to support it. She said she is happy to see to see use of the preserving mill building for hard-to-find housing in a project linked to the bikeway.

She cited the Miraks' longstanding commitment to Arlington and that residents are "unlikely to see this many benefits again for a long time" in one proposal.

Affordability

Laura Kiesel, of 260 Mass. Ave., expressed concern that the 25-percent of apartments aimed at affordability would not be sufficient. She cited the income limits required do not reflect true affordability. To reach "more genuine equity," she said, requires offering as many as half of the apartments as affordable, including "some for more genuinely lower income."

Ben Rudnick, of Webcowet Road, holding an infant at his chest, expressed strong support for the Mirak project. He called the number of affordable units offered "25 percent of something, not 50 percent of nothing." He called it a "great step in right direction."

Mark Kaepplein, of Palmer Street, said the Mirak plan is "as dense as one at Thorndike," referring to the Mugar project, long opposed by the town. He noted the loss of spaces for artists and small craftsmen. He added that the steep hill to climb to a Mass. Ave. bus stop does not take adequate consideration of the disabled.

Pam Hallett, of Mt. Gilboa, executive director of the Housing Corporation of Arlington, enthused: "We are all thrilled and support wholeheartedly 140 units." She recommended that some of affordable units be set at differing income levels, to allow for those with lower income. She said that "would overcome a lot of animosity" and "start of address racist policies in last 60 years."

Steve Revilak, of 111 Sunnyside Ave., said the regionally defined area median income is $119,000, adding that a meaningful step forward is the affordable-housing trust fund.

Tax base, housing

Aram Hollman, of 12 Whittemore, said his top priorities were preserving the business tax base and creating affordable housing. He sees Arlington "moving in the wrong direction," as the taxes fall harder on residents, and there is insufficient affordable housing. He said mixed-use provisions encourage converting business properties to residential and called for a moratorium on such conversions.

Lynette Culverhouse, of 24 Draper Ave., said she favors having precinct-level and townwide conversations about the kind of housing Arlington should have before proposals are brought before town boards. "Ask residents what they would like first," she said, also calling for a halt to current proposals.

4 other speakers addressed different issues

Don Seltzer, of Irving Street, said he sent a letter month ago to the Select Board about 1207 Mass. Ave. He said the board was to negotiate a deal three years ago, but that did not happen. He called for a fresh look. Below is the full text of Seltzer's letter.

Jordan Weinstein, of 23 Lennon Road, said he is concerned that there may not be an in-person Special Town Meeting this fall at Town Hall. He urged the Select Board to allocate funds so that Arlington can meet virtually, as Lexington did in early June.

Elizabeth Dray, of Jason Street, and cochair of Arlington Fights Racism (AFR), said she is disappointed that the town manager did not keep his word about having the group plan a meeting with Lt. Rick Pedrini, the town officer who published racist columns in a statewide police magazine in October 2018. She said she was "shocked" when she saw a public series scheduled for this summer without input from the group. She said that not to be involved in planning broke a promise.

She accused town officials of "pushing ahead in insular way, hearing their own voices in an echo chamber .... This is not a community conversation, where people allowed to ask questions."

The series -- described here >> --  held its first session June 23, and the next is set for July 7.

Mary Ann Donovan said she loved the presentation on about racism and learned a lot from it.

Manager comments

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine was asked to respond to Ms. Dray's comments, and he did July 1: "While it is accurate that I stated my intent to include AFR in a dialogue around community conversations around race, Ms. Dray significantly exaggerated the extent of my commitment in her comments on Monday.

"Her claim that AFR would be asked to set the format and agenda of community meetings about race and about Lt. Pedrini is simply not true. Further, we have asked AFR and other town groups for feedback and suggestions about the upcoming community conversations and they have been communicating with the town's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Coordinator Jill Harvey.

"The only conversation that they could fairly say they weren't fully included in the planning of was the first session, which was held last week. We internally decided that we needed to start this series with some haste given the desire for dialogue around these issues both locally and nationally. But again, AFR and other town group have been asked for their thoughts, feedback and comments on the planning of the future sessions."

Dray responded July 2: "Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Adam's statement. However, Arlington Fights Racism is committed to working and communicating directly with the town manger and the Select Board in the continued hope that we can build an effective partnership based on truth and trust. Arlington Fights Racism believes that by working together, we will affect the most change on these important issues for the Town of Arlington." 

Letter from Seltzer about 1207 Mass. Ave.

As the new Select Board plans its activities for the coming year, it may wish to review the status of the sale of 1207 Mass. Ave. For the benefit of the majority of the board who have not been involved in the past proceedings, I offer this brief history.

2012: Arlington police discover numerous alcohol violations at the Disabled American Veterans Club at 1207 Mass. Ave.

The Board of Selectmen are surprised to discover that they are listed as owners of the property. The DAV Club had no lease and paid no rent.

The Board of Selectman votes to authorize a confidential appraisal. A town official purchases the adjacent property, 1211 Mass. Ave., with the assistance of another town official.

2014: The Board of Selectmen appoints a working committee to explore various options for the building. A public hearing is held to discuss whether to keep for town use, rent out

or sell outright. The board votes to propose disposing of property to the 2015 Town Meeting. They also authorize an RFP for short-term rental in the interim. Property remains vacant throughout the year.

2015: Town Meeting is asked to approve the sale with the understanding that the proceeds would be used to pay for some of the cost of the Stratton School renovation. The anticipated $1M is included in the FY2016 budget for that purpose. Property remains vacant throughout the year.

2016: An RFP for short-term rental is issued. An RFP for $750K, with reimbursement of all permit fees is issued. It receives one response from a former town official who had previously

purchased the adjacent lot. The proposal is to combine 1207 and 1211 Mass. Ave. and build a mixed use with first floor commercial, and second floor residential or hotel. Property remains vacant throughout the year.

2017: The Select Board approves the bid, authorizes town manager to enter into negotiations for a purchase-and-sale agreement, and to return to the board for subsequent approval. Property remains vacant throughout the year.

2018: Purchase-and-sale is negotiated and signed, without board approval. Property remains vacant throughout the year.

2019: Applicant files for special permit from Redevelopment Board (June 21). Initial public hearing (July). Key application materials are missing. Several postponements of a second hearing. Property remains vacant throughout the year.

2020: Second public hearing (January). Key application materials are still missing. Third public hearing (May), no new plans, materials or studies presented. Continued until July.

June 21, 2020: Either party is free to withdraw from the sale. Property remains vacant.

No one anticipated that the sale of the town-owned property would drag on for eight years. It has been five years since Town Meeting gave its approval, with the expectation that the town would receive at least $1 million to help fund the Stratton School renovation. Instead, as the years have gone by and Arlington property values have skyrocketed, the sale price has remained at just $750,000, with a further kickback of all permit fees that will likely top $100,000.

The Select Board has not reviewed the sale for more than three years. At that time, the town manager was authorized only to enter into negotiations for a purchase-and-sale, but was to return to the board for approval.

The buyer has not lived up to the conditions of the October 2018 purchase-and-sale agreement, in particular 4.02, "The Buyer shall use it best efforts to obtain all necessary approvals as soon as reasonably practicable." It is agreed that time is of the essence of all provisions of this agreement. The initial application for a special permit on June 21, 2019, lacked key information required of all SP applications.

At the initial July 2019 hearing, the applicant was asked to provide these materials as well as a critical professional traffic study for the location, which is situated between Appleton and Lowell on Mass. Ave. None of these requested materials have been presented almost a year later. The traffic study isn’t even feasible at this time because of school and business shutdowns.

Under these circumstances, it is highly appropriate for the Select Board to reconsider its recommendation of five years ago to Town Meeting. And as of June 21, either party is free to back out of the proposed sale.


Jan. 30, 2020: Proposed Heights hotel-restaurant draws opposition

This series of opinions was published Wednesday, July 1, 2020, and updated July 2, to add comment.

If you want to comment on any of them, please do so in the Comment window below using your full name.

Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong
 

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