MBTA Communities Working Group on: August 8th, 2023

These notes are provided by Arlingtonians who attend various town meetings and provide well-written unofficial summaries of meetings. All content is © Copyright the original author and is reprinted with permission.

Questions for MBTA Communities Working Group (DRAFT) as of: August 9, 2023

Latest input is from 8/8 WG Meeting

Note: these are personal notes and are not an official document from the Working Group or ARB

1. General planning

A.  Districts and areas

The latest map on the website is still from 7/25, however, much has changed since then so it is not a valid map anymore.

At the 8/8 meeting, there was a spirited discussion about the map and its impact on East Arlington.  The breakdown of districts can be thought of now as distinct East and West areas.  The gray indicates votes taken for changes.

Item Description Changes to area during 8/8 Meeting
Mass Ave East From Pleasant street East No change to area definition on front facing Mass Ave
Expect some changes in parcels based on next revision of UTILE map
Broadway Broadway as shown on 7/25 map No change to area definition on front facing Broadway
Expect some changes in parcels based on next revision of UTILE map
Neighborhood East From Pleasant street East Reduced number of parcels after strong opposition voiced by one WG member; the reduction was voted on and approved (5-2) by the WG
Note: 250’ from center line rejected (3-4); UTILE proposed 150’ but not voted on
Mass Ave West From Pleasant street West Keep base map (essentially 7/25 map) for this are voted and passed (6-1)
350’ from Mass center line depth (voted & passed 4-3)
Extend to Lexington (voted on and approved)
Expect some changes in parcels based on next revision of UTILE map
Neighborhood West From Pleasant street West This area extended to Lexington line, as feasibility allows (voted and approved)
May pick up extra capacity due to reduction in Neighborhood East
350’ setback remains in place

Some notes:

  • There was prior suggestions for the Route 2 Corridor and for the Bike Path (from 7/25 meeting), however the WG how not discussed these options so assume they are not under serious consideration
  • The pending ARB work to create a revised Heights Business District complicates the issue

B.  Capacity

  • The actual definition of capacity was defined by UTILE in a WG meeting as 1,000 sf.
  • Capacity has been overstated as per 8/1 meeting.  The 8/5 Library meeting explained that the UTILE model does not vary based on setbacks and with zero minimum parking, UTILE model assumes NO parking.  These two factors overstate capacity.
  • To compensate for model limitation, UTILE is now using a proxy “open area” assumption for setbacks for post 7/25 maps.  Unclear what they are doing about parking
  • The 7/25 map covers about 3,000 existing units, i.e. units that are there today
Illustration of Capacity Variations over the different maps

Map Date

Density Assumed

Gross Capacity


6/22 - Scenario 1

30 units/acre


6/22 - Scenario 2

No unit/acre max


7/11 - Scenario 1

30 units/acre


7/11 - Scenario 2

No unit/acre max


7/18 - Scenario 1

No unit/acre max


7/18 - Scenario 2

50 units/acre max



No unit/acre max


7/25 and 8/8 base

  • 40% open space for Mass Ave Bway
  • 60% open space for Neighborhood


  • Capacity stated  on  prior 7/19 map wrong
  • This now considered the “base” scenario

8/8 - A1

  • 40% open space for Mass Ave Bway
  • 60% open space for Neighborhood


4 story Neighborhood

8/8 - A2

  • 40% open space for Mass Ave Bway
  • 60% open space for Neighborhood


3 story Neighborhood

8/8 - B1

  • 40% open space for Mass Ave Bway
  • 60% open space for Neighborhood


4 and 3 within Neighborhood




Response / Comments as of 8/9


# of Units

Is there a target number of units the WG is trying to achieve, above the mandated 2,046, e.g. 1.5x, 2.x?

There does not appear to be a target number. UTILE comes up with a map scenario and from the mapping a capacity number is derived, i.e. there is no capacity target as an input to the model



What are the limitations of the UTILE model that overstate the actual capacity (comment from 8/1 WG meeting)?

  • It assumes an increase in capacity with zero min parking?
  • It does not adjust capacity based on setbacks?

How do we know the actual capacity of a UTILE map?

Both statements are true.  Calculations do not change based on changes in setbacks and zero min parking models NO parking.

WG was unaware of these limitations until recently.  A request has been made to Claire Ricker for compliance spreadsheets and she has agreed to ask UTILE for those.  

On 8/8 UTILE used proxy for setbacks – 40% open space for Mass and Bway; 60% open space for Neighborhoods



Can we / should we be showing the net capacity based on subtracting what exists today?

Suggestion made, but no response from WG.  This link is to a tool that an architect on the WG used to calculate existing capacity on 7/25 map which is ~3k.




What thought has been given to the Lexington strategy of zoning for a superset of capacity (i.e. > 2,064 in Arlington's case) and submitting 2,064 for compliance?  

This gives Arlington more control over the zone outside of state compliance boundaries

This was mentioned to WG members at the 8/4 library meeting.  We may be past the point where this strategy (which seems very prudent) would be considered

This may be something to bring to the ARB



What is the ability to change the zoning approach (i.e. change parameters) after submission to the state?  (e.g. modify setbacks, but still stay in compliance)

Town Counsel indicates that the law contemplates some change, but the boundaries of it are unclear.

C. Setbacks

Here is the latest understanding based on the 8/1 WG meeting and memo provided by DHCD and subsequent votes / changes.

Understanding of Setback votes as of 8/1 - Does not include modifications to setback for "incentives"
Area Type Front Rear Side Usable Open Space
Mass Ave Residential 15’ 20’ 5’ Not discussed
Broadway Residential 15’ 20’ 5’ Not discussed
Neighborhood Residential 15’ 20’ 10’ Not discussed

Some notes on C. Setbacks:

  • The Open Space committee, and UTILE confirmed, 10’ is not sufficient to plant a tree.
  • UTILE stated that the zoning could determine what the setback can and cannot be used for (e.g. no parking, yes landscaping).  Some in the WG think the risk of parking in a setback could occur even with a zoning restriction (as it does happen today)
  • UTILE has said 5’ side setbacks are within fire code.
  • At the 7/25 ARB meeting, lot sizes were mentioned;  no lot size definition has been yet to be completed by the WG
  • At the 7/25 ARB meeting, the chair of the WG stated that a 15’ setback is NOT a deal breaker
  • At the 8/1 WG meeting, there was resistance to the 15’ front setbacks - it may mean a “poison pill” for developers.  A vote was taken for 10’ setbacks but defeated 4-3
  • The point was made that current zoning laws permit a developer to use a setback that is the average on a street, which could be less than 15’.
  • There was some discussion about changing the rear setback to 15’ but there was no debate or proposal on that.
  • As of 8/8, rear and side setbacks were not voted on, but the table above seems to be the de facto answer

D.  Heights of buildings

This seems to be the result as of the 8/8 meeting, where votes on heights were taken (not all items have been voted yet):

Area Type Proposed height Max Height w/ bonuses
Mass Ave Residential 4 6
Broadway Residential 4 5
Neighborhood Residential 4 4 (not voted yet)

Some notes on D. Heights of Buildings:

  • On 8/1 There was a debate about the 3.5 stories and what it actually meant.  It appeared some wanted to round up to 4 while others suggested leave it a 3.  The suggestion was stop at 3 and use a flat roof.  However, on 8/8 there was more acceptance of 4 stories, so it was voted in
  • At the 7/25 ARB there was some discussion of making Broadway modeled to 3 with 2 floors for incentives for max 5
  • The point was also made that some in the WG would prefer Broadway to be 6 stories several WG meetings, the point was made that a 4 story building requires an elevator, which would benefit elderly
# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/9
6 Setbacks For any map displayed what are the Usable Open Space assumptions? (some were discussed, but it was unclear what was decided). No answer
7 Bylaws Are there other bylaws which are being changed as a result of the UTILE model? No answer

E. Bonuses

  • Mixed Use - Developer agrees to put in commercial on first floor, then they can build to 5 or 6 stories giving them one  or two floors
  • Affordable Housing (AFH) - Developer agrees to put in something greater than current 15% inclusionary zoning.  If developer agrees to do this they get 5 stories (an extra floor above assumed nominal 4 story height)
  • Green Space / Private Park  - A Developer gets extra floor if they agree to meet SITES criteria (score of 85 pts; SITES a green standard, perhaps more applicable here than LEEDS)
Understanding of non-AFH incentives as of 8/8  meeting - marked cells indicates a vote was approved by the WG
Areas Mixed Use Green Space Max Height
Mass Ave Extra two floors
0’ setback (voted on)
One floor SITES Gold (voted on) 6
Broadway Extra two floors
0’ setback (voted on)
One floor for SITES Gold (voted on) 5
Neighborhood n/a Unclear 4
  • There was some discussion about using 0’ setback requirements as an additional incentive for mixed use,  but that parameter did not converge to an official vote, but it appears to have become a de facto answer based on 8/8 meeting
Understanding of AFH incentives (confirmed by S Revilak and S Newton):
Areas 15% AFH 22.5% AFH 25% AFH Max Height
Mass Ave No incentive One floor Two floors 6
Broadway No incentive One floor n/a 5
  • There was a vote on 7/18  (passed) to ask the state to allow for Arlington’s 15% inclusionary zone (state allows 10%, Town would have to justify feasibility)
  • At the 7/25 ARB Meeting, the Director of Planning stated getting 15% approval would be a slam dunk!
  • There was a fair amount of discussion about how these incentives would conflict with each other, i.e. given the developer’s desire for profit,one incentive would trump the others. In particular, the green space incentive was one that folks thought might lose out
  • No AFH bonus for neighborhood district
  • The suggestion was made that there should be a periodic evaluation of the effectiveness of the bonuses
# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/9
8 Bonus Has there been any analysis of the effectiveness of these types of bonuses, or does UTILE have an opinion on this, i.e, how much does it promote development? No answer
9 Bonus Has there been any analysis, are there opinions or data from other communities, of the unintended consequences of the mixed use type of bonus, e.g. empty storefronts? No answer
10 Bonus Is the WG considering additional constraints on these bonuses so they are not misused, e.g. minimum space allocations (as suggested by UTILE)? No answer

F. Parking

  • Parking is getting more discussion;  At a prior WG meeting, a zero minimum parking standard was discussed and UTILE asked to model it (although, the UTILE model can’t set parking minimums and I believe just modeled NO parking)
  • At 8/1 WG meeting, the suggestion was to make it a one car minimum; there was concern about making it too low, especially with no on street parking
  • Current bylaw is max one per unit (think I heard that right)
  • Some on the WG think on street parking should be included, which I assume presumes that on street parking pilot underway now will be approved townwide (which may be a stretch assumption)
  • The request was made for UTILE to model 0.5 parking spaces per unit (but no vote)
  • At the 8/8 meeting, the conclusion was this:
    • Zero Parking Minimum
    • One Parking Space per unit maximum
    • No parking minimum required for businesses (mixed use) - this was voted on and approved (7-0)

G. Other General Planning Comments and Questions

# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/8
11 Building Are there any assumptions about the type of building structure, e.g. 4 plex, duplex side by side, courtyard etc? These assumptions are not in UTILE models / map
12 Timing If the deadline is not met, what is the impact of missing the Fossil Fuel Pilot program, i.e. specifically what does the town lose for the benefit of additional time for zone planning? The pilot program (10 cities / towns in Mass chosen) would given the town the ability to prohibit development that uses fossil fuel infrastructure; unclear how long the pilot would last
13 R2 Zones Based on the 7/25 map, it is assumed that the R2 zones are in scope for the plan. Is this correct? Unclear at this point
14 Design Are there any design guidelines being considered as part of the planning? This is up to the ARB. They have final say
15 Parking Is there any analysis, evidence or experience which shows the benefits and impact of permitting zero (or now 0.5) minimum parking per requirements? No answer as of 7/24; ARB questioned this assumption at the 7/24 meeting
2. Climate resilience and natural spaces
# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/9
16 Climate How does plan published on 7/24 take into account the enrichment of natural spaces and provisions for climate change mitigation: The Open Space committee provided a memo to the WG with recommendations, however, these recommendations were not substantially reviewed in the 7/19 meeting.
At the 7/24 ARB meeting several proponents of more green space presented their views for more consideration (e.g. 15’ setbacks) of trees, green space, stormwater management etc. into the plan.
At the last 8/1 WG meeting, debate over 15’ setbacks ended in a positive vote (4-3) for 15’ setbacks on Mass Ave/Bway with zero foot setbacks if first floor commercial. There was a prior vote for 10’ setbacks that did NOT get passed (3-4). The vote split seemed to be split between architect minded vs. others.
17 Climate How is the plan aligned to the other town planning documents and bylaws which state the need for preserving and expanding natural spaces, tree canopy and climate resilience? Those documents include the Arlington Master Plan, Arlington Housing Production Plan, Arlington’s Tree Protection and Preservation bylaw? No answer as of 8/1 but attention is being paid to the general topic
18 Climate Has any consideration been given, or planned, for incentives related to solar power, charging stations etc? No answer as of 8/1 but perhaps this is contained in the SITES standard

Some comments were made about requiring permeable surfaces (in the setback?)

3. State regulations
# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/9
19 40B How does the latest plan impact the town’s ability to meet 40B requirements? Unclear at this stage and don’t expect an answer; the town is at 6.5% of units for AFH (10% required to avoid 40B) and unclear if we meet the 1.5% geography criteria
20 Housing Does the map assume any affordable housing percentage changes, e.g. modifying the current 15% requirement to 20% as permitted, with justification, as referred to in the the DHCD Revisions to MBTA Zoning Guidelines? The WG formally voted on 7/19 to ask the Town (Ricker) to request 15% from the state (a formal justification would have to be developed.
Other things to note:
60% AMI is not aligned to the state document which states 80% AMI - unclear the impact of this
Arlington Town Meeting voted down the 20% AFH requirement several years ago
The MBTA-C cannot require 20% AFH within the zone since it would be a disincentive to develop vs. the rest of the town. In order to make the MBTA-C zone 20% AFT, the WHOLE town would have to adhere to that policy. This would require a separate article from Town Meeting
4. Historic properties
# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/9
21 Historic Has the model used in the 7/24 map assessed the impact on historic properties? This plan, i.e. the 7/11 map and subsequent iterations, have to abide by the existing Historic district rules
We believe the MBTA_C overlay avoids any historic districts
5. Impact on Schools and other town services
# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/8
22 Schools Has the model used in the 7/24 map assessed the impact on school districts, .e.g school population changes? The WG has had a conversation with the Supt of Schools (early June?). At that tme she stated to a WG member that she is comfortable with the plan (back when capacity was much lower), but nothing explicitly documented yet.
Update personal comment from 7/19 meeting: The scenario voted on provides for 14k units, much different than early June - this would most certainly impact the schools and further analysis on school impact is necessary.
Update from 7/24 meeting - the number of units is now reaching 20k so the school impact is greater
The suggestion has been made several times for a broader financial / infrastructure impact still stands
23 Finances Has there been a financial analysis of what the impact of additional properties and population would have on town finances (e.g. more school building, more DPW needs, revenue vs. cost of services?) At the 7/25 meeting a statement was made by the public (not sure if entirely accurate) that each new citizen only covers 50% of their cost of services
Additional info provided on Arlington list also describes varying cost burden on multi-family structures vs. single family with single family costing the town more.
As of 8/9, no planned financial analysis has been mentioned
6. Business and Industrial zones
# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/8
24 Business The current model maintains the current footprint of business and industrial zones. Is this a guiding principle for future maps? No formal answer, but this appears to be the case
25 Business Will the zoning plan / map provide for business / industrial zone expansion, e.g. buffer zones, outside of the mixed use incentives? The 7/11 plan does NOT have buffer space; the direction back to UTILE is to buffer the heights (ARB planning to do something with the heights business zoning).
As of 7/24 this answer is still unclear, but there may have been a mention of this at the ARB meeting - not sure
For the Center business district, that may be an independent project
  • A proposal was made at the 8/1 WG meeting to propose some business sites to the ARB (e.g. building next to Winslow) for inclusion in the zoning map; the WG will develop  a list for the ARB to consider.
7. Other questions from review of prior meeting minutes
# Category Question Response / Comments as of 8/8
26 General Ms. Ricker says that Arlington doesn’t have a site plan review process. The closest thing is the Environmental Design Review process that the Redevelopment Board uses for special permits. She envisions the ARB taking the role of site plan review Claire responded that ARB does not have a site review process and she provided a presentation she did for the ARB which outlined what a site review process would entail.
27 AFH DHCD’s regulations say that a 10% inclusionary requirement is as high as communities can go, without providing a justification and a financial analysis. The state just released additional guidance regarding what is “feasible” and there are technical assistance grants available to communities, to help them assess this. There was a comment at the 7/24 ARB as to how to conduct a feasibility analysis. This topic was mentioned in prior WG meetings
28 Business Mr. Cohen says, as a very crude rule of thumb, that one unit of housing can support around 30 square feet of retail. Mr. Revilak asks if it would take 100 homes to support a 3000 square foot retail establishment; Mr. Cohen answers in the affirmative Comment from prior meeting minutes;
30 - Mr. Lau requested that Utile provide massing models of four-, six-, and twelve-unit multi-family buildings, along with what could reasonably be built on 5,000 and 10,000 square foot lots. He’d like to plug these into our Sketch-up model of the Mass Ave corridor, in order to help the public visualize what the buildings might look like.
Mr. Lau would like to see us take advantage of our 3D model of Mass Ave, as visuals will be an an important tool for showing town meeting what future changes might look like.
This is a comment from a prior WG meeting. This request to UTILE was made some time ago and not sure it was ever fulfilled. This 3D map was developed, I believe, by the WG and not UTILE and this map is not yet completed.

End of Meeting Notes