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Let’s stop the Mugar development, Rogers says

State Rep. David Rogers, who is seeking reelection, tells why Arlington should oppose the long-delayed Mugar project.

Mugar site, Google Earth

More than 50 years ago, the Mugar family brought land for a proposed supermarket development. That project never went forward and now – five decades later – Oaktree Development LLC has acquired the rights from the Mugar family to pursue a real estate development on the site that will cause Arlington to bear significant harm.

The proposed development will alter the wetlands, cause floods in the surrounding community, increase traffic dramatically, damage wildlife habitat and force Arlington to cover costs of an unknown but potentially significant amount. 

The Oaktree proposal, which the developers call Thorndike Place, is a completely outsized housing development, mnore than 200 units, including a large apartment complex and six two-family town houses. It would be situated between Dorothy Road, Route 2 and Thorndike field. 

Traffic

As anyone trying to navigate Lake Street over recent years knows, traffic has been unbearable – at a virtual standstill during the busiest times of day. Of course, during our public health emergency there has been a general decrease in traffic.

However, we all know worsening traffic will be back soon enough. This congestion causes greater pollution for those living nearby, a marked increase in greenhouse gas emissions for the many of us deeply worried about the environment, lost productivity for those sitting in traffic, and a general frustration and diminution to quality of life.

Make no mistake: if this development moves forward, traffic and all of its attendant problems will only grow worse, and probably much worse. The development promises to bring hundreds of additional cars, traveling not only on Lake Street but on other narrow surrounding side streets. Overall, we simply do not have the capacity for this development.  

Flooding

A significant portion of the Mugar property is included in the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) flood-plain map. In fact, the site consists of 17 acres and only 1.5 of those acres are outside the FEMA flood plain. More specifically, the builder proposes to undertake construction on 7 acres. Of those 7 acres, 5.5 of them are in the floodplain. 

It is highly important to protect flood plains because these areas act a “sponge” of sorts during significant rainfall events. Any alteration to the land that reduces storage capacity will bring greater flooding in our neighborhoods.

Therefore, the abutters and neighbors are rightfully concerned that this development will directly diminish their property. In addition, the Thorndike Field complex will experience more flooding as a result of the development. This would render the field unfit for recreational programming many more days of the year, including the large soccer and lacrosse fields that are used so often by our children.

Over time, as our climate continues to change and storms continue to worsen, we can only expect flooding to increase.   

Costs to town, habitat loss 

Mugar site, Google Earth

While impossible to calculate with certainty, the project will bring with it an increased cost to the town. There are many questions that have been asked, most recently by Arlington’s Conservation Commission, to the developer that have not been answered.

Until we have those answers, we cannot adequately know the economic impact of this proposal. Water and sewer line costs are just the beginning. If left unchanged – the developer will take all of the private profits – but the costs will be borne only by Arlington residents.

Moreover, there just are not many areas left in Arlington that are hospitable to the wildlife in our midst. Whether it is foxes, deer, a variety of birds and other animals, the area of the proposed development is one of the few areas available to local wildlife. With the other developments that have happened along Route 2 and the concomitant loss of undeveloped space, the development at the Mugar site would be one more nail in the coffin for local wildlife. 

Affordable housing 

Oaktree is proceeding under the state’s 40B law, which allows developers to circumvent local zoning if a town has not yet met a certain affordable housing threshold. Specifically, to stop a 40B development a city or town must have either 10 percent (10%) of its housing stock, or 1.5 percent (1.5%) of the town’s developable land designated as “deed-restricted” affordable housing.

Arlington just barely misses the 1.5% threshold and in many ways has shown a truly significant commitment to affordable housing. One only has to look at Arlington’s Housing Production Plan to see the commitment in Arlington to create affordable housing. It is wrong to force such a deeply unpopular project on a Town that is already making strides to increase its affordable housing percentage. I have spent much of my time in the legislature advocating for a series of different measures to increase our supply of affordable housing. However, in this case, the flooding, traffic problems, costs to the municipality, and degradation of wildlife far outweigh the benefits. 

I am adamantly opposed to the development of the Mugar site and have been so throughout my time as one of Arlington’s state representatives, speaking out against it at every turn. In all my time as your state representative, I have never witnessed a development – in Arlington or anywhere else – that has been so universally opposed by a community as this project.

Town Meeting is opposed. The Select Board is opposed. The overwhelming majority of neighbors are opposed. While we all want to grow our affordable housing stock, and Arlington has a concrete plan to do so, this development brings with it far too many detrimental impacts. 

I remain hopeful that some accommodation can be reached between the Town and Oaktree/the Mugar family (who own the land through a trust). I look forward to continuing to partner with our community to find a way forward to prevent this ill-advised project from going forward. 


Dec. 11, 2020: Protested Mugar property appeal opens; hearing extended to April


This viewpoint was published Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.

Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong
 

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