In Support of the MBTA Communities Act

While wearing my school committee hat, I have been asked about the impact of the MBTA Communities Act on our schools. 

My answer?

Not much.

Let me state the role of the school committee. Our job is to welcome any child who lives in our town, make them feel that they belong in our community, and provide a world-class education. We don’t raise the drawbridge, we pull up another chair. That’s our history.

As Arlington entered the last century, electric streetcars were generating residential growth in Arlington. Developers began carving farms into streets and building lots, extending from the very same transit corridors we are looking at tonight.

Our population grew rapidly as developers met the need for housing. Between 1890 and 1900, Arlington’s population increased 71%. Between 1920 and 1930, it was a 93% increase. After World War II we met the housing needs of returning veterans, and in 1970 Arlington was home to 53,524 people. In the last census, our population was 46,306, which means we certainly have room to welcome at least 7,221 new neighbors.

The MBTA Communities Act will not generate the growth we experienced in the last century. We are looking at a zoning overlay district, layered on existing zoning and existing buildings, that increases the capacity for housing units. To turn capacity into reality, someone needs to renovate or demolish and rebuild an existing structure.

Redevelopment, by its very nature, is glacial.

We’re not a small town. We need to use streetcar as an adverb when describing Arlington as a suburb. In reality, we are a self-governing urban neighborhood.

Consider that the center of Arlington, the corner of Mass Ave, Pleasant and Mystic Streets, is 6 miles from our state house.

Most Americans who live 6 miles from the center of a major city live in that city.

For my fellow New Yorkers, consider that 165th Street in Manhattan is six miles from Times Square. Queens Boulevard and 55th Road in Elmhurst is six miles from Times Square. Barack Obama’s Chicago home in the Hyde Park neighborhood is more than six miles from State and Madison, the center of that city’s grid. Wrigley Field is 4.75 miles from State and Madison, the exact same distance between our state house and the Menotomy Grill.

Up until 1975, Arlington met the challenge of regional population growth. Rieko and I live in an 895 square foot eighth floor condo built in 1971. It was built just before Arlington revised its zoning bylaw to block dense residential development. In 2002, when I bought my condo, it was a challenge to find an affordable home in a tight market. It’s much more of a challenge today.

I represent Precinct 9, which stretches along the north side of Mass Ave from Wyman Street to Grove Street. A solid majority of my good neighbors in my precinct live in multifamily housing within a block or two of Mass Ave.

Article 12 sets the stage to build more of the housing people like me and my neighbors need in order to live in Arlington. Watering down or rejecting the recommended vote will close the door on people like me and my wife and my neighbors who seek housing in our town. 

That’s why I hope my friends and colleagues in Town Meeting will defeat the Wagner, Babiarz, Worden, Loreti, Lane, and Evans amendments. Any one of these amendments, or a combination of these amendments, can push the outcome into noncompliance.

Meanwhile, I will support the efforts by Ms. Anderson, Mr. Bagnell, and Mr. Fleming to enhance the Redevelopment Board’s solid recommendation.

And one more note. The question was raised if Town Meeting Members would want to be included in this overlay district. The answer is obvious. Mr. Leone’s family home was excluded, and he wants in. Let him in, because the vote before us is good for him, good for us, and good for Arlington.