In a busy two-hour meeting, the Arlington Select Board voted unanimously to approve three appointments, including filling the longtime vacancy on the Arlington Redevelopment Board, bringing the ARB to full strength at five members for the first time since January. It also approved two other appointments and gave thumbs-up to a common victualler’s license for a Japanese restaurant in Arlington Center.

Other topics Nov. 8 included new stop signs at Brooks Avenue and Elmhurst Road, renewal of the Metropolitan Water Resources Authority’s permit for a Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) outfall into Alewife Brook, three proclamations and a sizable donation toward a long-planned park retrofit. 

Video was posted to ACMi the following day.

Objection made by abutter 

After Town Manager Jim Feeney asked the board to approve his appointment of Shaina Korman-Houston to the vacant seat on the Redevelopment Board, Barry Jaspan of Campbell Road raised an objection based on Korman-Houston’s job as real estate director for the Archdiocese of Boston’s Planning Office of Urban Affairs. Because the archdiocese owns and is trying to sell a parcel of land at 0 Kipling Road, to which he is an abutter, he said, “It seems to me inappropriate for the archdiocese to gain increased influence over the ARB by having their director of real estate on the board precisely when they expect to have contested business before the board. Given her unavoidable conflict of interest, I request that this candidate’s nomination be declined until the 0 Kipling Road issue is resolved.” Jaspan emphasized that he would otherwise support Korman-Houston’s appointment and thanked her for her service on the recently disbanded MBTA Communities Working Group.

However, all five Select Board members concurred with advice from Town Counsel Michael Cunningham that “We don’t know all the facts, but a potential conflict of interest would not constitute a blanket disqualification” for the position.

Board member Diane Mahon put it this way: “If you live in Arlington, unless you’re independently rich and never have to work again, you have a job.” This means that possible apparent conflicts of interest may arise, she said and if so, then, “You take yourself out of the situation.” She added that so far the archdiocese has done no more than “put out feelers” about the Kipling Road parcel and that “to opine on that could get us going down a road that could hurt all parties involved.”

Cunningham and Board Vice Chair John Hurd noted that the Zoning Board of Appeals and/or the Conservation Commission would be more likely to rule on plans for the parcel than the ARB would.

“We’re all local,” said Hurd. “If some issue comes up, we recuse ourselves, but that doesn’t disqualify [appointment of] a candidate.” Jaspan had previously suggested Korman-Houston commit to recusing herself from any ARB business concerning the Archdiocese property and added that “this idea came to me as I saw [Select Board member] Mr. [Steven] DeCourcey recuse himself” from the discussion of safety improvements to the Appleton Road/Massachusetts Avenue intersection.”

DeCourcey concurred that he would expect Korman-Houston to recuse herself if so advised by Town Counsel and supported her nomination, noting her background in affordable-housing issues. 

Mahon and Len Diggins observed that to table the nomination would diverge from the board’s usual role, which is to vote yes or no on candidates the town manager proposes. “The Select Board doesn’t solicit candidates or get involved in any other way,” said Mahon. 

The board voted 5-0 to approve Korman-Houston’s appointment to the ARB.

Two more appointments made

Also unanimous were the approval of Linda Epstein’s appointment to the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Olga Baker’s to the Tourism and Economic Development Committee.

Board Chair Eric Helmuth, speaking as “a born-again bicyclist in my fifties,” applauded the Bicycle Advisory Committee as a “stable and driving force.”

Epstein was a citizen member of the committee that proposed the improvements to Appleton Road and knows the family of Charlie Proctor, the bicyclist killed there in 2020.

On Baker’s appointment, Diggins said he was “thrilled,” especially after she described the kind of contributions she aims to make: “I really want to know why everything is in place today: is it necessary, is it duplicative, is it benefiting just one party. I take a lot of time to get to know everybody — I find it makes the execution a lot easier and faster even if it seems drawn-out at the beginning.”

Sushi, stop signs, proclamations, donation

The board approved Qiao Chen’s application for a common victualler’s license for a restaurant at 474 Mass. Ave. in Arlington Center. Once Yummys Frozen Yogurt, in the last few years the location also has been home to Usushi and Summer Sushi. It now is set to become Umi Sushi, contingent on fire and health inspections. “Welcome to Arlington,” Helmuth told Chen and her sister Cathy, who had come along to help with interpreting and described people in town as “very friendly and willing to help” when they applied for the license.

“It’s a sushi town,” Mahon added.

Feeney reported on the recommendation of stop signs at Elmhurst Road and Brooks Avenue that he and the Senior Transportation Planner John Alessi were making. Since the repaving of Elmhurst Road in the last year, residents have submitted what Feeney called “myriad correspondences” expressing concerns about drivers proceeding “around the bend as if it were one continuous road.” Data collected by the Arlington Police Department’s traffic and safety officer, Corey Rateau, did not necessarily show concerns with either speed or volume but did confirm that some driver behavior that could be improved.

 Feeney said the town has also reached out to some mapping apps that may not be respecting the time restrictions limiting entry to Elmhurst Road and “burdening the neighborhood with a volume of vehicles they haven’t seen before.” He was recommending stop signs at the intersection, not as a change to existing rules of the road but to enforce the existing right of way, especially before winter sets in.

Diggins noted, “This will make Officer Rateau happier,” and he and other Board members endorsed recent efforts to expedite action on traffic concerns by having the town manager take them up for triage and act on some rather than putting everything, in Mahon’s words, on “the Transportation Advisory Committee’s platter.” DeCourcey noted that the town also had received “a number of letters” on a dangerous intersection at Churchill Avenue and Gray Street. He encouraged “people to come back to us as traffic usage changes,” and Helmuth concurred that he would like the board to keep an eye on the timeliness of resposes to safety concerns.

Two proclamations were approved, one pertaining to YourArlington’s founder: Bob Sprague Day will be Nov. 15, in conjunction with a gala fundraiser set for that date at the back room of Donut Villa in Arlington Center; tickets and donations are both still possible

 The other concerns what Diggins called “a nice tradition to bring back,” which is readoption of Small Business Saturday, Nov. 25.

Both proclamations can be found here>>

In support of local holiday shopping, the Board also approved free parking in the municipal lots in Arlington Center on the Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas and also on the planned Arlington Heights Holiday Stroll, slated for Dec. 9.

In perhaps the most celebratory moment of the night, the board formally accepted a gift of $58,000 raised by the Friends of Robbins Farm Park to support the ongoing renovations of the playground as an inclusive space, the first such facility in Arlington.

Jim Hampe of Coolidge Road presented the check “on behalf of the Friends board and 350-plus individuals and families who have donated” to the inclusive playground redesign. He’s learned in the process, he said, that inclusion means “not only making playgrounds accessible, but [also] available for all kids to play together.” All expressed their enthusiasm for the playground as a model for future designs. Helmuth called the park a “joyful place for everyone to gather,” and Diggins noted that the inclusive design is “more expensive because it’s custom, but the more people do it, the more it will become standardized.” 

Alewife Brook and 'things you don't want to see'

The surface water discharge (NPDES) permit for the notorious CSO that sends sewage into Alewife Brook in bad weather is up for renewal. The town has an opportunity to offer comments to the EPA, the federal entity that has authority to grant the permit, only until Nov. 28; Cunningham has drafted comments, including this one: “The current volume and frequency of discharge of CSOs is having a disastrous effect on the Alewife Brook in Arlington. The draft permit now before you for your consideration does not do enough to address these effects and must be revised.”

Readers may wish to look at item 15 for details.

The Select Board opened a discussion of the permit; this is expected to continue at its next meeting -- Nov. 20. As Feeney delicately put it, the frequent heavy rains last summer led to CSOs “so severe they overtopped the banks, leaving things you don’t want to see sitting on top of the Alewife Brook greenway.” He thanked the local advocacy group Save the Alewife Brook for taking him and other town officials on a tour of the waterway, pointing out the exact locations of the CSOs, that morning. 

Mahon saluted Feeney for “bringing himself up to speed.” She emphasized that the NPDES permit comes up for renewal only once every 15 to 20 years: “Something will be granted, so this is our opportunity.” Mahon and Diggins reflected on the complexity of the permit: he asked whether fines are assessed for violations, and she replied, “Yes, there are fines, but it’s such a complicated process with the MWRA as quasi-overseer. Some say they don’t act on it as soon as they ought to, and others say they’re doing what they have to do by law, which is receive it, keep track of it.”

Diggins remarked that he needs to find “four or five hours” to get his head around the nature of the permit. DeCourcey thanked Mahon “for all her work on this issue,” adding, “I’d like us to get as specific as possible in terms of what we perceive as the limitations in the draft permit. The more detailed we can be, I think the more [the EPA] will look at our comments.”

Town counsel named; dates set for 2024 election, Town Meeting 

The meeting wrapped up with Feeney announced that as of this month, Cunningham has accepted the permanent position of town counsel, having served as deputy town counsel for some three years recently -- and as acting town counsel since Doug Heim retired on Oct. 6.

Helmuth commended Cunningham for “just how carefully you were prepared” for Special Town Meeting, and Feeney added that Cunningham “takes it upon himself to attend board and committee meetings when he’s not required to, just to learn more.” For his part, Cunningham said, “I’ve been a lawyer for over 20 years, and the last three years in Arlington have been by far my favorite. I feel really lucky to be an adopted member of the Arlington community.”

Feeney proposed dates for the town election and spring Town Meeting that Cunningham and Town Clerk Juli Brazile had confirmed are practicable and accord with town bylaws. First, the warrant for the 2024 Town Meeting is to open Friday, Dec. 8, and close Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. The town election will be held Saturday, April 6, 2024, with Town Meeting slated to begin Monday, April 22. Board members noted the tight turnaround for Town Meeting members to hold precinct meetings, with school vacation week falling between the election and the opening of Town Meeting.

Mahon urged those who want to submit a warrant article to consider having Town Counsel vet the language. “It’s not required, but it doesn’t cost anything and smooths sailing.”   

Watch ACMi video of Nov. 8, 2023, meeting:

 Aug. 18, 2023: Board approves removing parking spaces, creating bike lanes on Medford Street 

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Catherine Brewster was published Nov. 14, 2023.