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MBTA Communities Initiative

2023 Recommendations for MBTA Communities Zoning and the results:

Recommendation: Green Streets Arlington recommended a minimum of 15 feet (per 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

Green Streets Arlington recommended a minimum of 15 feet (per 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: Green Streets Arlington 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 were included in the project.

Residential project on Mass Ave with a 25′ front setback and tree canopy.

3. Trees included in outdoor parking lots

Recommendation: Green Streets Arlington recommended that new outdoor parking lots require 50% tree canopy coverage 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 Green Streets Arlington’s request for 2024 (see Recommendation for Shaded Parking Lots above).

4. Use of native plants

Recommendation: Green Streets Arlington recommended that native trees, shrubs, and perennials be used for planted areas 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 does Green Streets Arlington believe these are important?

Why are these initiatives 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.

Additional streetscape examples