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Coalition responds point by point to Mugar developer's statements

Gwen Noyes
"The plan has been newly designed to fit the current housing design for the property, and concurrently reduce the adjacent homes' flooding. (Groundwater is not in our purview)."

  -- Gwendolen G. Noyes

Clarissa Rowe
"By state law, the property developers must keep their water problems to themselves and not impact adjacent homeowners."

      -- Clarissa Rowe


Project opposition meets

UPDATED, April 14: The Coalition to Save the Mugar Wetlands held an organizing meeting Wednesday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m., at 137 Herbert Road to form a steering committee and plan a series of educational forums. If you would like to help organize this effort, or represent a group that would like to participate, RSVP to clarissa.rowe[at]comcast.net.

Jonathan Witten and Barbara Huggins, attorneys in Duxbury who represent clients in 40B cases, will represent the town. Those attorneys have advised the town to write to the attorneys for the Mugar family, selectmen were told April 13. The administration is trying to learn who they are.


UPDATED, April 10: A former selectman who is a leader of the Coalition to Save Mugar Wetlands has responded to published comments made by a top official of the Cambridge development company that plans to build 219 units on the 17-acre Mugar site under state law 40B.

Clarissa Rowe provided point-by-point comments to remarks by Gwendolen G. Noyes, a founder and senior vice president of marketing of Oaktree Development. Read Noyes's complete comments here >>  She has said that before the company presents plans, its civil engineer is working on water issues, which she called "solvable."

"First of all," Rowe wrote April 2, "we look forward to having Oaktree present their plans and project details to the people of Arlington. Presently, we can only review the project schematic on their website. Town officials have not been given any project data except for that presented in one meeting [on March 23]."

"From the tone of the Oaktree’s lawyer’s statement, one would think that Arlington does not care about affordable housing.

"We absolutely do. We have inclusionary zoning, and we have added substantially more affordable housing unit every year."

In an opinion column, John Belskis, well-known Arlington opponent of 40B, describes numerous efforts Arlington has made to increase affordable housing.

Rowe continues: "We have affordable housing highlighted in our master plan. The town channels CBDG funds to the Arlington Housing Authority and the Arlington Housing Corporation raises private moneys, seeks state and federal funding and develops housing partnerships. We have more public housing than most communities in the Commonwealth.

"Affordable housing is a core value for our town, and will continue to be so after any 40B limits are meet. We are one of the three densest communities in the state. We are not a suburb with two-acres zoning. We are a town with six units per acre." 

Noyes has said the company's plan would make more than 10 of the 17 acres open space and would make 55 of the 219 housing units affordable.

2010 FEMA flood map cited

Rowe's comments then address a number of subjects in turn, beginning with flooding.

Noyes wrote March 31: "There has been considerable investment recently in the civil design of the project. We have a high-priority goal to alleviate the neighborhood flooding problem through the engineering solutions of our proposed plan. The plan has been newly designed to fit the current housing design for the property, and concurrently reduce the adjacent homes' flooding. (Groundwater is not in our purview). The proposed housing is sited on the high ground of the property, not in the flood zones."

Rowe responded: "We look forward to seeing how the new development proposal can fit with the new FEMA map that was delivered to the town in 2010. That map raises the flood-level elevation and greatly expands the flood plain limits from the earlier FEMA map. 

"Looking at the current FEMA map, it is evident that the Oaktree claim that the development is not in the flood plain is inaccurate." See the East Arlington map here >>

"Looking at their plan with the FEMA map," Rowe write, "it is our estimate that only about 1/3 of their development is out of the flood plain. The 207-unit building is mostly in the flood plain and the entire 300-car parking lot is also in the flood plain.

"Because of these facts, the development will certainly trigger intense scrutiny from the environmental agencies of the Commonwealth. The need for ground water mitigation and treatment, the need for flood plain compensation, the need for wildlife evaluation and impacts, DEP notification, and possibly the Corp of Engineers permitting will mean the project proponents are working with the town of Arlington for years.

"These state permits are not negated by the 40B law."

Addresses groundwater comment

Rowe continued, referring to the statement that "Groundwater is not our purview." She called it incorrect."By state law, the property developers must keep their water problems to themselves and not impact adjacent homeowners," she wrote.

Turning to traffic, Rowe said town residents "look forward to seeing the traffic plan from the unnamed Oaktree traffic engineer and from MassDOT. For anyone who commutes on Lake Street in either rush hour, the 'viable traffic-congestion-relieving plan' would be welcomed heartily."

Of traffic, Noyes had written: "We have also worked recently with a traffic engineer to design a viable traffic-congestion-relieving plan that would enable the State to improve Rt 2 and provide project residents direct access to the site. This, too, is an endeavor that has included constructive and productive consultation about the current project with the State Department of Transportation, and could be pursued if the Arlington community wished to do so as a second phase of the project's approval."

Addressing this, Rowe wrote: "We understand the Mugar Enterprises and Oaktree have been discussing the project with MassDOT. We are, frankly, surprised that the Town of Arlington and our state senator and state representatives have not been informed of these talks.

Traffic termed 'horror show'

"The traffic in the Alewife area is a mess and, when there is flooding, it is a horror show. 

"Putting 300 more cars on Lake Street during rush hour is incomprehensible. Both Dorothy Road and Mott Street are substandard streets and could not possibly handle these traffic volumes."

As to trash at the site, Noyes had written: "We also believe that the new design we've made is an optimal, realistic, environmentally responsible response to the realities of this privately-owned, hydrologically challenged, trash-strewn property. A balanced and fresh review by the Arlington citizenry would be most valuable and welcome:

Rowe responded: "We agree about the site being trash-strewn. As Oaktree knows, the land is in private hands. We do not go onto the site without permission from the Owner of the land."

In her March 31 statement, Noyes discussed three "major, near-term and sustainable design benefits that Arlington citizens can gain from" the Oaktree plan:

                "1) Neighborhood flooding relief provided by the project's construction;

                "2) A huge contribution of affordable housing within walking distance of the T and that would considerably reduce the Town's affordable housing deficit. (Our housing consultant, Robert Engler, is confident that the affordable housing component is a critical, much-needed and legal requirement for Arlington.);

                "3) Contribution of over 10 acres of permanently dedicated, publicly accessible, potentially beautiful Arlington Land Trust conservation reserve."

Response to each point

Rowe addresses each in turn:

                "A. Neighborhood Flooding Relief: East Arlington, the 'sump-pump' neighborhood of Arlington, would like to see how the flooding will be relieved. It will certainly not be relieved by removing the 'weir' in the middle of the Mugar site, as was mentioned in the Oaktree meeting with the town. That 'weir' is an old MassDOT haul road that was used to dump construction debris from the Route 2 and Redline constructions onto the site. 

                "B. Affordable Housing: As we have said repeatedly to Oaktree recently in 2008, when they presented their earlier iteration, we are not against affordable housing. We are only against development on this very wet site in a very dense neighborhood. We urged them to put their development elsewhere in Arlington. Now we ask them to look at our master plan for other areas of town that are drier and have fewer environmental and traffic problems. 

                "C. Contribution of 10 Acres: This is the most positive aspect of the current proposal. We welcome further discussions on their donation and the possible tax benefits to the property owners."

In closing, she wrote, "We welcome Oaktree’s stated desire to present their drawings to the people of Arlington."


Opinion: Belskis on 40B

March 31, 2015: Coalition seeks to preserve Mugar site from development         

Coalition to Save Mugar Wetlands: WordPress | Facebook

March 8, 2015: Belmont Uplands permit issued; opponents vow to continue


This report was published Sunday, April 5, 2015, and updated April 14 to note advice to selectmen.

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