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.


Notes by Kristin Anderson, Town Meeting Member, Precinct 11.

I brought lemonade and cookies for everyone who showed up at the Police Station. But I really should’ve brought popcorn because there was so much drama!

There were 42 people on Zoom. 20 people from the public were physically in attendance. And everyone from the Working Group was there, except ARB Member Kin Lau. The town’s awesome planning department people were there, as well.

One big thing about the night’s attendance was that ARB Member Kin Lau was not there. It would’ve been a very different evening and a different plan for the town had he been there. His absence meant that none of the votes taken were tied. Kin Lau has voted against 15’ setbacks necessary for trees and he has voted in favor of zoning that lead to the elimination of local businesses.

The most vocal member of the Working Group is back from summer vacation. They took control of the meeting, per usual, by interrupting everyone.

There will be another WG meeting next week, on 08/15/2023, before Utile creates a plan to be sent to the state for compliance testing.

The ARB will not meet to discuss the plan until 9/11.


Utile has created a new way to calculate “unit capacity” which takes open space into consideration. This is because the state’s compliance calculator doesn’t take into consideration setbacks. Utile assembled “proxy inputs” to simulate how setbacks restrict development. The calculation uses “open space”, which Utile defines as “any space on a lot that does not include a building.”

Where the state’s compliance calculator calculates 20,213 units from the July 25 map, the new proxy inputs formula arrives at 10,957 units. The purpose of the formula is to correct the flaw in the state’s model. Our new numbers are roughly half of the state’s compliance numbers.

Is it confusing? Yes. The important thing to realize is that the capacity unit numbers we will now see are new and are not the state’s numbers for compliance. The new numbers represent what the consultant believes is developable. My understanding is that the Working Group is thinking they want to create a plan that reflects the spirit of the legislation. So with the new Proxy Inputs Formula, they should see a better representation of what is actually developable.

To better understand how the Proxy Inputs Unit Capacity Formula works, here are two of the charts presented at the meeting by the Utile. Utile is referring to the 07/25 map as the “base.”

The state’s compliance calculations for the Town Hall presentation on 7/25/2023

Presentation slide

Utile’s new Proxy Unit Calculations for the 7/25 map, taking open space into account:

Presentation slide

——> We might ask for a copy of the new proxy unit calculator.


When asked by one Working Group member how much development the map might produce, Matthew Littell said that there’s no way to know how much development we might see unless we perform a “Financial Economic Development Analysis.”

—-> If the scale of what is being proposed greatly exceeds what the state is requesting, it is a good idea for the Planning Department to get a Financial Economic Development Analysis.


In response to the turnout and public comment at the 7/25 public meeting at Town Hall, the consultant Utile provided some scaled back options which proposed reduction of “sprawl” into the neighborhoods off the main corridors.


(not voted on or adopted by the WG):

In the 08/08 report, Utile offered a “minimally compliant” district map. This would be Utile’s 8/8 “Alternative A2 - 3 story Neighborhood Multifamily Subdistrict Center / Heights” map. This “minimally compliant map” eliminates East Arlington. This plan would also keep the buildings at 3 stories, which would limit the change in character of the neighborhoods and reduce future development and housing. This minimal compliance is calculated using the Proxy Unit Calculator, not the state’s compliance calculator. The total number of units calculated with three stories maximum is equal to 2124 units, using the Proxy Unit calculation.

Utile’s minimal compliance map, using the Proxy Unit calculation. Pink is 3 story. Blue is 4 story.

Presentation slide

Presentation slide


Some time was spent looking at the East Arlington map. The working group voted to scale back the East Arlington map from the July 25th presentation. Here was an emotionally charged discussion which included threats between WG members and cheers and jeers from the attending public, as well as ugly eyeball glares and scowls.

The most vocal WG member, who is also an architect, a developer, and a resident of East Arlington did not like their neighborhood being burdened by the zoning changes. So they successfully fought tooth and nail to get much of the zoning removed from the neighborhood parts of East Arlington. Then this same WG member asked that the housing be moved from East Arlington to the Heights. Another WG member called this approach “horse trading.” The MBTA Communities Housing zoning was characterized by one WG member as a “burden” to neighborhoods multiple times. It was interesting to hear a developer and Working Group member make this statement and then watch them move that “burden” from their neighborhood to another neighborhood, just a couple miles up the street.

As a result of this, the WG voted 5 to 4 on Utile’s “Alternative B1: Tiered” plan,* modified to eliminate most of the 3 story subdistrict in East Arlington (the pink)*, except where needed for contiguity. The parcels needed for contiguity will become part of the 4 story district. This plan shows more 4 story buildings off Mass Ave and Broadway. However, the district is slimmed down and goes only 150’ into the neighborhoods.

The WG voted in favor of this map for East Arlington, except with nearly all of the pink parcels removed from the plan

Presentation slide

Some of the East Arlington neighbors who came out for the meeting were very happy about this and cheered. They came away from the meeting thinking this particular WG member is the heroine who saved East Arlington.

I was seated next to a Bates Road resident and asked them if they thought this plan looked better. They sadly shook their head and said, “my house is still on the map.” Their house is not protected by a 3 story buffer. If the development happens, their house will be right up against 4 story buildings that aren’t even on Mass Ave because they are behind a commercial district that faces Mass Ave.

-—> We might consider 3 story building maximums on all parcels not on Mass Ave or Broadway.


The WG voted in favor of the 7/25 “base” plan for Arlington Heights. This includes 4 story buildings 350’ off the main corridor in the brown and up to 6 stories in the blue. It also includes a number of businesses that can be eliminated by developers by right.

The WG voted in favor of this map for the Heights

Presentation slide

The Center/Heights section of the map = 1123 units + 2569 units = 3691, using the new Proxy Units formula.

Presentation slide

There was discussion of including a new section in the single family district in the Heights, south of the proposed Heights Business District, and west of Park Ave. I do not believe that this was voted on. And I do not believe that Utile will add those new neighborhoods to the map. To the best of my knowledge, those neighbors have heard nothing about this plan. It will be politically perilous to include new neighborhoods to the map at this late date.


There was very limited discussion about leaving room in the Center and Capitol Square for the ARB to Master Plan in the future, per our “Vision” document. Nothing was voted on.

There was ZERO discussion of the R properties on Mass Ave west of Pleasant Street that are currently housing businesses and churches. I’ve sent a list of the businesses to the Planning Director and I’ve asked the WG to vote on eliminating these parcels from the map, but so far the WG is too busy to vote on this or perhaps they don’t care about businesses and are ignoring that request.

——> We should protect these businesses and the churches. The Town has stated that it prioritizes local businesses and shared public spaces. These businesses are at risk of being eliminated. Churches are a community gathering space and they are also businesses, in so far as they accept money and provide services.

Personal note: I spent an enormous amount of my youth at church (Sunday School, Sunday Service, Pilgrim Fellowship, Summer Vacation Bible School, Winter Bible Camp). As an adult, I hate the patriarchal nature of it. Therefore I had a hard time coming around to realizing that churches should be protected. But churches really should be protected because they are community gathering places.

Here is a list of the parcels that include businesses and church properties that should be removed from the map:

LOC_ID St # Street Address Owner Existing Use Descriptions  
F_751997_2974018 275 MASS AVE 275 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 MAC LEOD NORMAN J TRUSTEE General Office Buildings  
F_751307_2975035 339 MASS AVE 339 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 339 MASS AVENUE LLC General Office Buildings  
F_745581_2978094 1008 MASS AVE 1008 -1010 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 BOWES ROBERT E/TRUSTEE General Office Buildings  
F_745451_2978088 1012 MASS AVE 1012 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 KATZ ALAN H/TRUSTEE General Office Buildings  
F_745396_2978235 1026 MASS AVE 1026 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 JOHNSON REALTY INC General Office Buildings  
F_751430_2974315 302 MASS AVE 302 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 CALVARY METHODIST EPISCOPAL Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Temple, etc…  
F_753436_2973016     21 MARATHON ST, MARATHON ST, ARLINGTON, 02476 CHURCH OF OUR SAVIOR CHURCH Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Temple, etc…  
F_743668_2979198     0 LOT APPLETON PL, APPLETON PL, ARLINGTON, 02476 THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH Other (Religious Org.)  
F_743704_2979011     0 LOT APPLETON PL, APPLETON PL, ARLINGTON, 02476 THE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH Other (Religious Org.)  
F_751307_2974333     14 LINWOOD ST, LINWOOD ST, ARLINGTON, 02476 CALVARY METH EPIS CHURCH Rectory or Parsonage  
F_750751_2976631     25 -27 MEDFORD ST, MEDFORD ST, ARLINGTON, 02476 ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCH OF BOS Fidelity House  
F_754433_2974042 43 BROADWAY 43 BROADWAY, BROADWAY, ARLINGTON, 02476 43 BROADWAY ARLINGTON LLC Mixed Use (Primarily Commercial, some Residential)  
F_751972_2974068 279 MASS AVE 279 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 BOYER ERIC & SOFIA Mixed Use (Primarily Commercial, some Residential)  
F_746551_2977667 925 MASS AVE 925 -927 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 B.F. ARLINGTON PROPERTIES LLC Mixed Use (Primarily Commercial, some Residential)  
F_751930_2974106 281 MASS AVE 281 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 MERZON REALTY LLC Medical Office Buildings  
F_752324_2973458 232 MASS AVE 232 -242 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 CRONIN LISA/TRUSTEE Small Retail and Services stores (under 10,000 sq. ft.)  
F_745068_2978658 1071 MASS AVE 1071 MASS AVE, MASS AVE, ARLINGTON, 02476 A & B MARBLE DESIGN Small Retail and Services stores (under 10,000 sq. ft.)  


Developer bonuses were discussed, incentivizing SITES green building standards and also affordable housing with bonuses.Setting up competing bonuses leads to developers choosing one over the other options (commercial on the ground floor, green building standards, affordable housing). We should be trying to get developers to do all three. So it would be best to find a way to incentivize all of these things without setting them up to compete with each other.


Building heights were set at 13’ per story.

End of Meeting Notes