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Adopting Zoning

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How is Zoning Adopted?

The framework for enacting an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw is set forth in Chapter 40A § 5 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The Zoning Bylaw may only be amended by a two-thirds vote (super majority) of the Arlington Town Meeting.

Types of Zoning Amendments

Map Change:  An alteration to the boundaries of a zoning district, or a change in the zoning designation of a particular district (for instance, from a Business district to a Residence district), resulting in a change to the Zoning Map.

Text Change:  An alteration to the language within one or more sections of the Zoning Bylaw, modifying the regulations that apply within one or more zoning districts

Zoning Amendment Process

The Arlington Town Meeting is the only entity that may amend the Zoning Bylaw or the Zoning Map. Although Annual Town Meeting begins on the last Monday of April of each year, the statutory process begins much at the end of the prior year. The Select Board will open the Town Meeting Warrant for submissions in December and it remains open until late January. A Special Town Meeting might also be called by the Select Board and occur at any time during the calendar year. Zoning Warrant Articles may also be filed and heard at a Special Town Meeting.

Zoning Article Submission:

To initiate a zoning change, a zoning article must be filed with the Office of the Select Board prior to the closing of the Town Meeting Warrant. There are six ways a zoning change may be initiated:

1. Land Owner Petition:  One or more property owners petition for a zoning change affecting their property.
2. Citizen Petition:  A group of at least ten registered Arlington voters petition for a zoning change.
3. Redevelopment Board Petition:  The Arlington Redevelopment Board proposes a zoning change.
4. Board of Appeals Petition:  The Arlington Zoning Board of Appeals proposes a zoning change.
5. Select Board Petition:  The Select Board proposes a zoning change.
6. Regional Planning Agency Petition: The regional planning agency, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, proposes a zoning change.

After a zoning article has been filed with the Office of Select Board, it is reviewed by Town Counsel and the Director of Planning and Community Development and placed on the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting. The Select Board can also call a Special Town Meeting if there is a pressing need to act prior to the Annual Town Meeting.

When a petition for a map change is filed, such petition shall show that copies of the petition have been sent by registered or certified mail to all abutters of the land reference to in the petition. 

Once the Town Meeting Warrant closes, the Select Board may refer any zoning matters for consideration to the Arlington Redevelopment Board, acting in its Planning Board capacity.

Public Hearings: 

The Redevelopment Board schedules and then advertises and publishes public hearing notices to take place within 65 days of the date on which the zoning article is referred by the Select Board.

Redevelopment Board Recommendation: 

After hearing testimony from the Petitioner and the public, the Redevelopment Board discusses the proposed zoning change. The Board may then decide to submit a recommendation to Town Meeting. The recommendation may support adoption or rejection of the proposed zoning change, and may include suggestions for changes or further study. The recommendations and actions are outlined in the Board’s Report to Town Meeting which is typically filed prior to the start of a Town Meeting.

Town Meeting Action: 

The Town Meeting may take action on the proposed zoning amendment after Town Meeting receives the Redevelopment Board report, or if no recommendation has been received, 21 days have elapsed since the Redevelopment Board held its public hearing.

Final Action: 

The final outcome of a zoning petition may include one of the following:

1. Adoption/Ordination:  Town Meeting votes to adopt the zoning article, possibly with amendments, and the proposed zoning change is incorporated into the Zoning Bylaw or Zoning Map. Adoption of a change to the Zoning Bylaw or Zoning Map requires a two-thirds vote of the Town Meeting.  
2. Failure:  On a vote of Town Meeting, the article fails to receive the necessary votes to adopt the petition. In this case, the same article may not be re-filed until two years after the vote.
3. No Action:  Town Meeting may choose to take no action on an article. It may then be refiled as a new article, in which case the process would begin again with referral to the Redevelopment Board following submittal to an open Town Meeting Warrant.

Attorney General Review and Effective Date

In Towns, the Massachusetts Attorney General will review any zoning changes prior to the bylaw or map being effective. If approval is received by the Attorney General, the zoning change is effective dating to when the public hearing was first advertised, unless some other date is identified in the zoning change.