Zhen Ren Chuan 2021
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Thank you to ADU supporters; let's look ahead

Barbara Thornton, a Precinct 16 Town Meeting member, wrote this opinion piece thanking supporters of accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

ADU: accessory dwelling units logo

At 10:47 p.m. on May 26, temporarily delayed by a lightening storm that knocked out power for Zoom, Arlington’s Town Meeting members voted 189 to 46 (with two abstentions), an 80-percent margin, in favor of adding accessory dwelling units to Arlington’s current mix of housing types.

Now single-family homes dominate the town’s stock. They most likely housed larger families in the 1970s. But our same housing stock contains more than 16,000 fewer people in 2020 than it did in 1970. ADUs will help refill those homes and will bring back customers to our local stores and restaurants.

A large group of people worked hard to get information out into the community about ADU. They wrote for YourArlington, they discussed the option in Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors Facebook group, they responded to questions and statements on the Arlington email list.

So many people told stories about how they had grown up with an ADU-type situation living with grandparents in the same building. ADUs are a new opportunity to reclaim an older way of living. Some may call it congregate living. Others refer to it as extended-family living.

These units, once built by today’s homeowners, will remain permanent parts of the town’s housing mix. In all residential districts across the town, in the future we will see small rental units available for homeowners to earn extra income and for single renters to add to our town’s population. With a likely average size of under 600 square feet, it is not likely that ADUs will house more than one person. 

May be a waiting list

Those of us who worked hard to bring ADUs to Arlington look forward to homeowners taking advantage of this opportunity and signing up with the town’s Inspectional Services Department to begin the process so we can see these ADUs scattered through the town’s residential neighborhoods. But it will take two to three months for the Attorney General’s office to certify the new law. In the meantime, the town may establish a waiting list of interested homeowners.

The Housing Corporation of Arlington may be first on the list. Pam Hallett, the executive director, looks forward to developing eight to 10 ADUs on HCA property, including both units within current buildings and detached ADUs (also referred to as “tiny houses”). This was made possible by a section of the article unique to Arlington that came out of the combined interest of Eric Helmuth, former head of the Community Preservation Act Community, which seeks to fund affordable housing, and Hallett who builds affordable housing.

The original draft article anticipated the local concerns about outside developers taking advantage of a new construction opportunity. Phil Tedesco, an East Arlington resident, and real estate lawyer with Goulston Storrs, wrote the draft article to restrict the ADU opportunity to only private homeowners. Hallett and Helmuth encouraged opening opportunity to nonprofit private housing developers, such as HCA and the AHA. We will see who moves the fastest on this opportunity -- homeowners or the nonprofit housing developers!

So many to thank

There are so many people to thank for making this ADU article a success. For now, I would like to particularly thank Phil Tedesco and Sanjay Newton for their writing, analysis, outreach and support and for the additional efforts of Annie LaCourt, Alex Bagnall, Steve Revilak and Jennifer Susse for their organizing abilities and strategic guidance.

This article, 43, had a long history. Its final success included a subtle but profound process of evolving cooperation and trust among citizen proponents and the town officials responsible for our “built environment.”

The Arlington Redevelopment Board, both as individual members and collectively, the members of the Inspectional Services Department and the members of the Department of Planning and Community Development all worked closely with the article’s citizen proponents over a series of many months of hearings, conversations and edits to the draft article and to the Select Board, who gave us a 100-percent vote of support.  What evolved was not only a much better article reflecting the concerns of all participants, but also a new respect for each other as colleagues in the process of making the town a better place to live.

As one of the key citizen proponents, I would like to thank everyone, hundreds of people, for helping this article move forward to passage. The effort is not over yet. Getting these ADUs built is the goal. 

April 7: ADUs part 3: A family story


This opinion column was published Wednesday, June 9, 2021. 

What is our State House afraid of?


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