Supporting Arlington with Climate Resilience and Natural Spaces
Green Streets Arlington was formed in 2023 to advocate for enhancing Arlington’s zoning laws, community programs and policies to include provisions to help mitigate climate change, moderate heat islands, enrich Arlington’s natural streetscapes, preserve and increase the tree canopy, provide accessible open spaces, and ensure that all of our neighbors can live among the green urban environment which we enjoy.
Green Streets Arlington believes all our residents deserve the same natural environment that is beneficial to everyone: shade trees, open spaces, and safe, pleasant, walkable accessible streetscapes.
Available tools for this work include overlays of Arlington’s street tree inventory, inclusive of available and unavailable public planting spaces, Arlington’s heat island maps, and satellite views of Arlington’s urban tree canopy.
Green Streets Arlington’s first project, in 2023, was to advocate for certain provisions to be included in our new state-mandated MBTA Communities multi-family zoning consistent with our vision of a green streetscape and a healthy, walkable community. Thus, we recommended minimum setback requirements in harmony with existing streetscapes, the use of incentives for additional green and public spaces, a required tree canopy in outdoor parking lots, using native plants to support wildlife and pollinators, adherence to Arlington’s Article 16 Tree Preservation and Protection bylaw, and the expansion of Arlington’s zoning bylaw 6.3 to residential districts. See below for our successful 2023 MBTA Communities Zoning initiatives. Read about our success below the next section.
Our 2024 Recommendation for shaded parking lots:
For 2024, we have submitted a Warrant Article requesting that the Town Meeting pass an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw to require 50% shade in larger parking lots (over 25 spaces).
We hope and anticipate most, if not all, the shade will be provided by large shade trees. This is because, in addition to shading and cooling the area, trees absorb carbon and clean the air, and their roots absorb stormwater to help control flooding from heavy rains. They will contribute to Arlington’s urban green spaces one parking lot at a time.
Although our preference is for the shade to be provided by trees, because of all the other benefits of trees, in our proposal, we allow solar panels for some or all of the shade.
Our 2023 Recommendations for MBTA Communities Zoning and the results:
Recommendation: We recommended a minimum of 15 feet (in accordance with the recommendation of Arlington’s Tree Warden) of landscaped front setback to accommodate shade trees, for all new construction in the overlay districts to allow ample room for shade trees.
Result: 15’ setbacks were required in the new zoning, except for buildings with commercial space on the first floor (“mixed-use buildings’) – in those places, a zero setback will be allowed.
1. Minimum setback requirements with green space
We recommend a minimum of 15 feet (in accordance with the recommendation of Arlington’s Tree Warden) of landscaped front setback to accommodate shade trees, for all new construction in the overlay districts to allow ample room for shade trees. Mixed-use buildings may be allowed reduced front setback, if and only if there is adequate space for public street shade trees, as determined by the Tree Warden.
2. Incentives for additional green and public space
Recommendation: We recommended adding incentives, such as approval for additional building height, if providing:
- Landscaped front setbacks larger than required, including additional large shade trees
- Deeded access to publicly-accessible “pocket parks”
- Decreased outdoor paved parking spaces, such as by including structured parking within the building footprint
Result: Yes, an extra floor was allowed if additional greenspace features are included in the project.
3. Trees included in outdoor parking lots
Recommendation: We recommended that new outdoor parking lots require 50% coverage of tree canopy within 10 years of establishment to reduce urban heat islands.
Result: Legally, this could not be done in the MBTA Communities zoning package, so THIS is our request for 2024 (see Our Recommendation for Shaded Parking Lots above).
4. Use of native plants
Recommendation: We recommended that native trees, shrubs, and perennials be used for planted areas in order to support native wildlife and pollinators, especially where there is a crucial link in a designated wildlife or pollinator corridor.
Result; The projects will be subject to Site Plan Review which will consider these issues, and an extra floor is given for meeting LEED gold design requirements, which can include some of these features.
5. Applicability of the Tree Protection and Preservation Bylaw
Recommendation: The existing Tree Protection and Preservation Bylaw in Title V, Article 16 will be applicable to MBTA Community Districts.
Result: It will apply.
6. Require new street trees
Recommendation: Require street trees be planted, if not already in place, every 25 feet along the sidewalk in front of new developments or along the front setback of the development if there is not sufficient room on the sidewalk. In essence, extend the existing zoning bylaw re: public trees in industrial and commercial (6.3.1) to MBTA Communities and all Town zoning.
Result: Yes, included in the new separate zoning bylaw provisions.
Why do we believe these are important?
Why do we believe our initiatives are important?
All Arlington residents deserve a healthy, green natural environment: shade trees and wildlife, places to sit, relax, and chat with neighbors, and a safe, pleasant, walkable, accessible streetscape.
Arlington citizens have consistently given high priority to green open space and the tree canopy, as reflected in town bylaws and planning documents:
- Arlington’s Action Plan for MBTA Communities Section 3.2 “Non-Housing Characteristics” – “preserving and expanding the Town’s street tree canopy.”
- Arlington Master Plan – Arlington town goals: Article 4, The Environment:Recognizing the fragility of our natural resources, we must ensure that Arlington’s residential areas, commercial centers, and infrastructure are developed in harmony with environmental concerns.
- Arlington Housing Production Plan – 5 -Year Plan: “Make equitable access to shared green spaces and a healthy living environment a priority for siting affordable homes.”
- Arlington’s Tree Protection & Preservation bylaw, Title V, Article 16 – “preservation of the tree canopy and planting of replacement trees is essential to preserving the character and aesthetic appearance of the Town and maintaining quality of life and the environment in the Town.”
- Arlington Net Zero Action Plan: “Community and stakeholder input was consistent: by an overwhelming majority, respondents view climate change as a serious crisis (July 2020 survey, 87 percent of respondents rated climate change as “Extremely Important” to them personally).”
“….. Support was strong for building efficiency and electrification measures, for making walking, biking, and public transit more attractive, for planting more trees, and for greening Arlington’s electricity supply” Net Zero Buildings High Priority Measures: NB13: Promote the planting of trees on private property.
- Exploring Urban Ecology, Closing the Gap & Enhancing Urban Biodiversity in the Town of Arlington, Tufts Urban Environmental Policy and Planning, June 2023: “Trees have been widely recognized as the main provider of ecosystem services in urban areas.