Mass. Ave. is at the heart of master plan for development

Arlington’s master plan has high hopes for Mass. Ave., Broadway, and a small stretch of Medford Street.

Zoning map opf Arlington

Follow the magenta road: New growth would be concentrated on existing business districts (pink and magenta). Source: Town of Arlington.

These are the principal areas that would see new development, including mixed use and some taller buildings, under the vision articulated in the plan.

According to that blueprint, Mass. Ave. would host most of the new residential and commercial construction for Arlington in the foreseeable future while the residential neighborhoods would remain largely unchanged.

The plan calls Mass. Ave. “the quintessential ‘Main Street’ of Arlington” and says that the roadway

has the capacity for growth. It can support mixed-use development commensurate with its function as Arlington’s primary commercial corridor…. Increased density through greater building heights and massing would benefit the corridor from an urban design perspective and benefit the town from a fiscal perspective.

Arlington’s master plan has been accepted by the town’s Redevelopment Board following a 2-year process of study and public comment. The Redevelopment Board is asking Town Meeting to endorse the plan this spring.

Despite these actions, the recommendations in the plan are not legally binding. They are intended to guide future decisions.

The emphasis on Mass. Ave. is an attempt to reconcile two imperative messages from residents: Protect the character of residential neighborhoods while still growing the town.

In Arlington, economic factors and decades of converting commercial and industrial properties to residential uses have shrunk the business tax base to about 6% of the town’s total, down from 9% in the late 1980s.

If you want to reverse this change, the question is, how? And where.

Concentrating this growth into the business corridors may have other benefits. Increased residential density on Mass. Ave. could boost shops and business, existing and new, that serve residents.

The result could be a lively street with healthy shops and businesses just a short walk from many residential neighborhoods.

Writing about the Mass. Ave. Project four years ago, I said,

The whole vibrant streetscape thing — sidewalks full of happy spenders, flitting among interesting specialty shops on their way to or from their homes — will not come to pass, at least not as a result of widening the sidewalks (which we are only doing on a few blocks anyway).

I like the sidewalks, but East Arlington currently lacks the density to support this vision. Build more housing on or next to Mass. Ave. and we’ll talk.

So. Maybe there will be something to talk about.

The Master Plan Advisory Committee has been holding briefing sessions for Town Meeting members that are also open to the public. The last of these will be at the Senior Center at 27 Maple St. on Tuesday, April 7 from 7-9 pm.

The plan as adopted is being printed. The final document was published to the Town’s web page on March 16.

Where do you think Arlington should put its growth?


2 comments so far

  1. Bob Sprague on

    I agree with the locations that the master plan has outlined for growth, as well as the focus on encourage multi-use structures..

  2. Tania on

    As a resident of East Arlington I strongly favor mixed-use buildings, with shops at ground level and apartments/condos above. I’d like to avoid the long stretches of residential-only buildings that afflict North Cambridge. The end result is a pedestrian dead-zone that feel sketchy after dark and encourages driving from one batch of shops to the next batch 4 blocks away.

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