Select Board logo, 2019Final OK of letter expected Jan. 9.

The Select Board voted, 4-0, with Eric Helmuth absent, to produce a letter in support of a 43-unit low-income housing project at 10 Sunnyside Ave., off the Broadway corridor near the town border with Somerville.

Town Counsel Doug Heim plans to work with Claire Ricker, director of planning, to draft the letter for project site approval, so that he and the board can complete the letter at their next board meeting, Monday, Jan. 9.

In a letter to the board, Ricker wrote, “10 Sunnyside Ave. is a former automobile-heavy use site in East Arlington approximately one mile from the Alewife transit terminal that has been vacant and underutilized for several years . . . .

"The project is consistent with goals and recommendations related to housing development in the Arlington Master Plan, ConnectArlington Transportation Plan, Housing Production Plan, Open Space Plan, Affordable Housing Action Plan and the Mill Brook Corridor Report. The project will serve to provide much needed income-restricted housing as well as establish new growth for the town tax rolls.”

43-unit HCA project

At the Dec. 21 board meeting, attorney Mary Winstanley O’Connor said that the applicant, the Housing Corporation of Arlington (HCA), proposes a 43-unit project of all-affordable housing, with some at 60 percent of median income, and some at 30 percent. 

“This is a tremendous and great use of this site. It’s in a B4 zone, which is an automotive-use zone, and our zoning code is trying to change B4 uses to other uses. We’re an MBTA-type community, and this particular area is appropriate for this type of housing. The Housing Corporation of Arlington has done some tremendous projects in town. They’ve purchased the property and have control of the site,” said O’Connor.

HCA Executive Director Erica Schwarz said that Arlington has 150 units of affordable housing, located throughout every neighborhood: 102 were acquisitions of existing properties, which were rehabilitated to preserve and restrict them as affordable housing into perpetuity. The remaining 48 are the year-old sites at Downing Square and Broadway. 

“We also have a range of social-service programs that help families remain stable in their homes," she said. "We’ll be ramping up in the new year, engaging other Arlington residents, and advocating and participating in town and state processes focused on affordable housing. 

“We acquired 10 Sunnyside Ave. in October, on the site of a former auto-body shop. We propose to remove everything that’s there now and create 43 new apartments, with car and bike parking, a community room, roof deck garden and a new sidewalk."

Affordable guidelines

She said the goal is to be highly energy efficient, and 100 ercent affordable under the low-income tax-credit program. The maximum household income would be 60 percent of the area medium income ― approximately $67,320 for a household of two and $84,120 for a household of four. Some units are reserved for lower-income families ― maximum household incomes of 30 percent of the area medium income ― $33,650 for a household of two and $42,050 for a household of four. 

Construction is expected to start in December 2024, be completed in January 2026, with tenants to move in between February and March 2026, said Schwarz.

Nick Buehrens, associate principal at Utile Architecture & Planning, Boston, said that this location, right off an increasingly dense commercial corridor, is a great opportunity for affordable housing. 

“It has great access to the Alewife Brook Parkway greenway, and good access to both public transportation and public amenities . . . . A lot of debris has accumulated, so there’s lots of room for improvement.

“The building will be highly energy efficient and have good indoor air quality, reducing our carbon footprint. We’ll also add some public street trees on both Sunnyside Avenue and side yards. The building will contain a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The second floor will have a commonly available outdoor area as an amenity for residents, with greenery along the street, to provide a welcoming streetscape.

All parking is at grade but entirely screened from the street. Currently there are 21 spaces, about 0.5 spaces per residential unit,” said Buehrens.

Regarding the building’s proximity to the Alewife Brook and the Greenway, as well as the flooding issues there, O’Connor said, “The setbacks that appear on the plan are what we’ll present to the Zoning Board of Appeals for approval.”

Town management feedback

“I’m excited to see more affordable housing being built in town,” said Town Manager Sandy Pooler.

Board Chair Len Diggins said, “It’s nice that this large structure, the gateway to Arlington, is all affordable housing, and could be a trigger for other types of development. It could stimulate more development that could also bring in other businesses there. I’m enthusiastic about it.”

Board member Diane Mahon said several residents look forward to future meetings to hear more about the Sunnyside Avenue project. “However, during construction, there’ll be an upheaval of the rodents we have here in Arlington,” and asked whether there’s a plan for that. O’Connor said, “Absolutely.”

Mahon also inquired about the traffic impacts in terms of road closures, because Broadway is a main thoroughfare. O’Connor said, “We’ve already had engineering do a complete traffic impact study of this development, and there’ll be no impact from this project on traffic in that area.”

Board member Steve DeCourcey said he was impressed with the work done at Downing Square. He asked about the extent of the abutter outreach to date, and the time frame going forward.

“We took all the names of who would receive legal notice on the project and sent them letters. We then had a meeting and presented this plan. Three people attended and were all positive about the project and had some comments and suggestions. We’re going to hold another abutter meeting via Zoom, and another abutter outreach as well,” said O’Connor.

Schwarz welcomes feedback

Schwarz also said she welcomes anyone who’s interested or concerned to reach out by email. “I’m always happy to have people contact me directly if they have questions or concerns.”

DeCourcey also asked whether MassHousing had performed the site visit yet. Schwarz said it had conducted a minimal visit just to make sure the site is as it seems from the initial project-availability letter. “Whatever write-up happens after that should be happening internally at the state level,” added Schwarz.

Board member John Hurd said, “Affordable housing is on the top of the hearts and minds of a lot of Arlington residents. But sometimes discussions are hard to have, and some residents don’t want to understand what it takes to create more affordable-housing units.

“We don’t have a lot of space to have a project like this. The extremely affordable nature and designs for this project clearly reflect some of the values important to Arlington. The architects listened to the residents and looked at other projects, and certainly took the wise advice of attorney O’Connor as to what is important to Arlington residents, including bicycle parking, open space and the setbacks. 

“They found a good location for this project, and there aren’t many locations in Arlington where you can build a building of this size. Based on what we’ve seen, we can make it work, and continue to work with neighbors and allay concerns that any abutters may have, because there are different uses here. This is starkly different than what’s been here in the past, and there are other auto shops around there that want to make sure that they can continue running their businesses.

“I am excited to see this project move forward, and think it’s something that can be beneficial for the town. I look forward to getting more affordable housing in Arlington and seeing this project as it progresses The ACA has a great name in Arlington, and we trust the work that will come out of the ACA,” added Hurd.

Watch the Dec. 21 meeting on ACMi:

Read the Dec. 21 agenda documents for the 40B project >> 
Dec.12, 2022: New town manager's salary to be in the $200k range 


This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023.

Donate button, 300pxThis reporting demonstrates your donations at work to support democracy here. YourArlington is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.Your contributions are tax-deductible.Donate here >>