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UPDATED, May 28: An estimated 300 people crowded the Hardy School Thursday, May 21, and heard 24 speakers reject the outline of a plan from a Cambridge developer for the 17-acre Mugar site.
Concerns about the impact of the 219-unit plan from Oaktree Development on flooding and traffic led to the unanimous disdain reflected in comments from all speakers. To loud applause, state Rep. Dave Rogers said that he and town officials are "uniformly and completely opposed."
At the end of the evening, Gwendolen G. Noyes, a founder and senior vice president of marketing of Oaktree, said of the Mugars: "There is no chance that they will not be doing something at the site" along Route 2.
Before the two-hour meeting, crowds, including many children, held signs on all four corners at Lake and Brooks Avenue to streams of passing traffic. Inside, as the cafeteria filled, the sounds of children chanting filtered through an open door: "Hey, hey, ho, ho -- the Mugar plan has got to go."
Oaktree organizers, who were paying for the evening, asked that the doors be closed.
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Here is a summary of comments from the representatives of the developer, followed those from among the 24 members of the public who spoke.
What the developers had to say
Noyes said the evening provided a chance for the public to express its concerns and for the development team to present its case, so "there could be a full, complete exchange of information, seeking to learn "how the proposal can be improved."
She made clear from the start that the project is introduced under Chapter 40B of state law.
She noted inaccurate information circulating about the plan, first announced in March. She gave no specific examples, though she hinted at one, saying, "Ninety-eight percent of you have likely come because [you believe] wetlands will be destroyed." In its presentation, the team said it would save wetlands.
She introduced the team:
-- Arthur Klipfel, her husband and partner in Oaktree;
-- David Albrecht, the Mugars' civil engineer since 2000 who works for Borrego Solar in Lowell;
-- Stephanie Kiefer, an attorney at Smolak & Vaughan, North Andover; and
-- Robert J. Michaud, planner and engineers, principal of MDM Transportation Consultants, Marlborough.
Noyes said both she and her husband grew up on Midwest farms, and both pursued architecture. She said both focus on environmentally friendly construction and aim to take a long-term view about good housing; for example, asking the question: How do you lower C02 emissions?
She said she hoped "to have a conversation tonight." The final hour of the agenda was called a Q & A, but that was not to be.
The slide presentation began personally -- showing where the developers live, in Cambridge co-housing.
Subsequent slides showed a current Oaktree project called similar to the one proposed at Mugar, Brookside Square in West Concord. It has 74 units plus commercial space next to a developing bikeway and the Nashoba Brook.
As she sold what she did, Noyes admitted that being a developer is "a hard job" and said "our company wants to save the wetlands," which drew from the audience murmurs of doubt.
Focusing on the Mugar site, she said the supermarket-founding family has owned land 50 years. On it have been planned a Star Market and other projects, all opposed.
She said issues of water backing up on Dorothy Road properties "solvable." She said the company "vision" is to preserve wetlands alongside housing.
At this point, a man blurted out, "I don't have time for this," and walked out, to applause.
Civil engineer speaks
It was Albrecht's turn. Saying he has worked on dozens of 40B projects, he noted two areas of wetlands, which he called "isolated." One is centrally located in the site's large triangle; a smaller area is on the eastern arm, between Thorndike Field and Dorothy.
The development, called Thorndike Place, has 219 units, including six duplexes, all to be owner-occupied, each with two-car garages. Most parking would be under the podium-style buildings.
Access would be via Dorothy, he said, and there would be no access off Route 2.
Thorndike Place is a "couple of minutes" from Alewife by way of the Minuteman Bikeway, he said. "Here you can see no buildings in the wetlands," he said, to laughter from the audience.
As to flooding at the site, he said a five-foot berm is keeping the water from escaping. "We will be releasing that water," he added.
"Where?" someone in the audience asked.
"Toward Route 2 and the Little River," he responded. "We will be providing an outlet" for it, noting the work would have to meet state standards and review.
He said 10.5 acres of wetlands will be donated to the town.
He said Oaktree is not "ruining" the property -- "we're giving it to the town."
The "majority" the buildings will be on the 5.5 acres of uplands, above the flood plain, he said.
"Anything in the flood plain has to be mitigated." He added: "We still have to figure out where."
Conveniently for the developer, a sewer line runs along the back of all Dorothy properties, and the project could hook into that.
Albrecht said the team hopes to save as many trees as possible and is discussing "green roofs." He called them "structurally plausible."
Such roofs are partly or completely covered with vegetation. They absorb rainwater and provide insulation.
Lighting would be aimed down and observe "dark skies" standards.
Klipfel offered his expertise as an architect. He showed a drawing of the proposed town houses and called the building design still preliminary. Overall, he expects the look to be "very quiet," a design that fits in with wetlands. With colors as yet undecided, the team is looking at grays and reds.
He called the Hardy presentation what the public can expect to see when the 40B proposal is made. He said that would "sometime," but town officials expect it soon.
He said the company's projects "tend not to have many children." Thorndike Place would have 104 one-bedroom units, 23 two-bedroom and 92 three-bedroom, with 304 parking spaces.
"We want to reduce parking spaces," he said.
Last up, Michaud discussed traffic for what he called a "transportation-oriented development," with Alewife two-thirds of a mile away.
He said his firm's survey shows one in three people expected at Thorndike Place bike, walk or take the T.
He showed a slide providing traffic numbers if project is not built. He said statistics were compiled using people who physically count cars as well as methods employing video and radar.
They showed 1,000 to 1,200 trips per hour or 10,000 to 12,000 daily.
He said numbers are compiled according to national standards for such counts as well as on practical experience. Taken together, both factors show such estimates are 20 percent higher than they should be.
Looking at morning traffic for three hours on Lake Street, he estimated an average of 88 trips per hour. He said he could reduce that by 28 percent, or 63 an hour.
He called the number of trips the residents of Thorndike Place would add on Lake Street amounts to "small percentages."
"It will not," a number in the audience said, to some laughter.
Michaud said Mugar has a legal right for his property to have access to Route 2, but that state Department of Transportation prefers not to allow that.
He said the developer is "willing to agree to giving up access to Route 2," if it can have access through the neighborhood.
Oaktree's key talking points
(Provided at the meeting by Oaktree)
Mugar site is 17.7 Acres
Buildable, ‘high’ ground (above FEMA-certified flooding area): 5.6 Acres
Offered to town as conservation area: 10+ acres (can be further improved by project and public funds - Vision)
Hydrology, invasive species, squatter hangout, dumping ground, poison ivy, tangled mess with the only trails made by squatters, unsafe.
Existing landform, disturbed years ago, has captured water up against neighborhood; runoff relief away from these houses could be provided by construction.
Arlington has 5.6% affordable housing; state mandates 10% certified affordable units
Affordable housing: 207 Apartments 12 ownership town houses
Quality green houses, TOD [transit-oriented development]. All would count toward 10%.
304 parking spaces are shown because Arlington zoning requires. We would GLADly cut back, as we anticipate that the majority of households would be empty nesters and young professionals who don't need 2 cars, will walk, bike and use the T.
Traffic study shows projected peak traffic to be approximately 1 car per minute.
Traffic could be improved by ramp exit that could be allowed by state if community supported project.
The Mugars will develop this land that they've owned for over 50 years and paid taxes on; if it isn't us, it will be someone else. The town has not been able to buy in past. This option would give best opportunity for land to become public amenity.
What the residents had to say
Clarissa Rowe, speaking for the Coalition to Save the Mugar Wetlands, asked for people to come forward to comment, and 24 did. The former selectman who is a landscape architect asked for civility. As speaker after speaker commented, Noyes motioned to Rowe to speak, seeking a Q & A, but the speakers kept coming.
Rep. Dave Rogers, whose district includes parts of Cambridge, Belmont and Arlington and surrounds the Mugar site, said he was speaking on behalf of the town’s state delegation, including Rep. Sean Garballey, who was present, and Sen. Ken Donnelly, who was not. In addition to overall opposition, he said "there are so many problems that it's hard to characterize them all."
He called the claim to get from the Mugar site to Mass. Ave. using Lake in 10 minutes during rush hour "a laughable assertion."
Rogers said the Hardy School, rebuilt in 2000, is at capacity.
He said building the project would lead to a "diminution of quality of life that is hard to imagine. We will use anything in our power to prevent" it.
Rowe handed the Oaktree team a statement from Donnelly, who grew up in East Arlington, and expresses agreement with Rogers.
Impact on youth soccer
Next up, Henry Brush, president of the Arlington Soccer Club, which has 1,900 players and 300 coaches. He cited the broad use of Thorndike field, next to the Mugar site, used by 29 teams with 20 games on weekends. Worsened flooding at the field, he said, could limit this key spot, and players would have no place to go.
Gail McCormack of Sustainable Arlington said the town already has had a number of 100-year storms, "and it's going to get worse."
Jennifer Griffith, an environmental engineer who said she lives at "ground zero," said three to four 100-year storms have hit in the 23 years she has lived in Arlington, causing sewage overflows into Alewife Brook. "All you want is the permit" to build," she said, drawing applause.
Ted Peluso, a retired certified public accountant and grandfather, said he loves children. He called it "the wrong projects" for a different reason than others had given."
Noting that school costs were rising above others in town, he said the net cost to taxpayers for the project would range from $600,000 to $1 million, because of an increased number of children to educate. The taxes generated won’t cover the costs, he said.
In addition, the volunteer at Hardy said that pressure to cut the school budget might have an impact on Metco. The project may result in the underprivileged being replaced by students arriving from Thorndike Place, he said. "That's not a plus."
40B at issue
Selectman Diane Mahon, whose day job is as a court stenographer, was transcribing the meeting, she said, for her own purposes. Long an opponent of Mugar development, she called this plan a "back-door 40B."
No application for a permit under Chapter 40B of state housing law has yet been filed with the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, but the town's special counsel, Jon Witten and Barbara Huggins, held a workshop with the ZBA on May 19 to prepare them for the expected filing.
Joanie Gibson, who lives a block from the site, on Mary Street, said hers is the first cars cut through and she is concerned about children's safety.
Kelly Lemos read a lengthy statement, leavened with humor, citing the developer's stated values and goals. "Suburban? I would rather have green," she said, to applause. "I want lakefront property, but not this one."
Elizabeth Thompson, a past president of the League of Woman Voters of Arlington and currently the voters service chair, spoke of natural phenomena at the Mugar site. An account about the site referred to finding gut, blood and fir, ascribing to the debris "a probably raptor kill." She joked with a nod toward the developers, wondering whether the raptor was fowl or human.
Citing natural history of the area going back 12,000 years, to the last Ice Age, which gouged out Spy Pond, she talked about how the Mugar site is part of that ecology. In short, she said, the league has maintained its position opposing development there.
Rowe, a former selectman, also spoke: "This is not Belmont or Cambridge. We are a unified place."
She said she likes the developers as people and that "this is not personal."
"We're trying to convince you not waste your time. Pack it in."
George Laite, a Precinct 4 Town Meeting member and long an organizer of opposition to East Arlington development, said: "What you heard tonight: Marg's plan got to go." He introduced Elsie Fiore, who at 88 has fought flooding for 50 years.
Laite said protecting the environment raises a moral issue. "I'm tired of green, green, green," he said. The only thing green is the money."
The session drew speakers from beyond Arlington.
Open Eyes Video / Glenn Koenig: Videos presented at Town Meeting
Cambridge, Belmont speakers
Michael Brandon, clerk of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee, a neighborhood group that monitors development issues, began to speak critically of Oaktree, with which the group is in litigation, when Rowe cut him short. She suggested he speak with anyone interested over in one corner.
Allison Lenk of Belmont, on the board of the Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands and who worked to preserve the Silver Maple Forest, before O'Neill Properties recently won its long-running court fight, said: "Don't give up the fight."
Mark McCabe, a Dorothy Street resident and Town Meeting member, closed resident comment with a simple story. As a child, to annoy his mom, he would fill the bathtub and jump in, sending water everywhere.
He imagines Oaktree doing this to the "bathtub" of the Mugar site.
Noyes closed with her comment: "There is no chance that they will not be doing something at the site" along Route 2."
"Where do we go from here?" she asked.
There was supposed to be a Q and A, but residents appeared to have their minds made up, and there was not.
"We have heard you," she said.
Now the town watches for the application for a permit to be filed with zoning board.
Cambridge Day, April 26: 3-year Cambridge master-plan process to start with Alewife
Opinion: Arlington's Belskis on 40B
March 31, 2015: Coalition seeks to preserve Mugar site from development
March 8, 2015: Belmont Uplands permit issued; opponents vow to continue
This report was published Saturday, May 23, 2015, an extensive update from an initial announcement May 18. The story was updated May 28, to add the ACMi link.
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