Belmont Uplands permit issued; opponents vow to continue

UPDATED, March 9: Belmont's Office of Community Development has issued a building permit for the Belmont Uplands, allowing construction to begin on a $70 million, 299-unit apartment complex, but those seeking to preserve Alewife open space continue to fight.

After 15 years of legal battles, a permit as approved Friday, March 6, two days later, Ellen Mass, president of Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR), said in a statement that it is among groups continuing to protect the site of the Silver Maple Forest. Mass cited:

-- The "complaint" brought by the Coalition to Preserve Belmont Uplands in Superior Court, which has not yet rendered its decision;

-- Threat of a lawsuit against the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals by the land's owner on March 2;

-- Outdated 2004 rain data used in Cambridge and by the state Department of Environmental Protection; and

-- The Oct. 28 environmental-hearing policy orders of City Councilor Leland Cheung were passed but have not yet been implemented.

The Belmontonian quoted Glenn Clancy, community-development director: "AP Cambridge Partners has fulfilled all requirements under the Zoning Board of Appeals Comprehensive Permit and the Massachusetts State Building Code necessary to secure a building permit."

Maryland-based O’Neill Development has long planned to build hundreds of market-rate and subsidized apartments under the state’s Chapter 40B law, which allows developers to bypass local zoning requirements if a municipality’s housing stock is less than 10-percent affordable.

The project has long been put on hold by a series of legal actions, in part by the Belmont Conservation Commission and the Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands after the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection approved the development.

Belmont officials and residents have long viewed the project as having a detrimental impact on the school district with hundreds of additional students entering a system bursting at the seams with higher enrollment.

The project is important to East Arlington residents because of their vulnerability to flooding.

"This is a dark day indeed for open-space proponents and for climate-change advocates," Mass said.

Details in the statement from Mass include these:

-- On March 2, the town's ZBA approved condition 32, which discusses a sewage pump (holding tank) with emergency pumps that are to be further tested, but the ZBA has not required it. "This was of great concern in 2007 when the tank was proposed," she wrote, "because it was noted with a likely flooding event on the watershed, the Acorn Park Drive would be impassable and the holding tank capacity would prove difficult for 50 thousand gallons for a few days with trucks carting away the sewage."

-- Chung's orders call for recent figures of precipitation to be used before issuing permits near the 100-year flood plain of Belmont, Cambridge and Arlington. "Consider that just as the forest was cut down rapidly to 'outrun' the Superior Court Judge's decision to render an injunction verdict," Mass wrote, "the building permit is now issued before management will bring together the towns and Cambridge to discuss the importance of the regional protections afforded by the flood plain and former forest land. As a result, extremely valuable wetlands and rich soils could be lost forever to yet another building at Alewife (5,000 units are expected)."

She requested these public steps from residents:

-- Continue to call and ask city Councilors to put the adopted policy order on the front burner;

-- Attend the hearing for Daniel Factor of Acton in Middlesex Court, set for 9 a.m. Monday, April 13, to help give witness, with help by National Lawyer's Guild  and Silver Maple Forest Alliance. One of the 13 arrested last October protesting cutting at the Silver Maple Forest, he is expected to testify to the 700 trees cut;

-- Ask Reps. Dave Rogers and Sean Garballey to support the Belmont grass-roots legal "complaint" still in Superior court; 

-- Write about the permit given, join those giving environmental value to the area with education and projects, because Mugar properties are more theatened with damaging open-space precedents at Alewife;

-- Join FAR (617-415-1884 or info [@] friendsofalewifereservation.org) and attend the large Earth Day-Park Serve Day event April 25; and

-- Continue to help preserve the wetlands in the vicinity of the dead forest, which is rich habitat for many birds and mammals. Its soils should not now be contaminated by illegal discharges from storm water pipes into protected wetlands.

Watch for the Cambridge Vulnerability Assessment Study, expected to be presented after five delays, on Tuesday, March 17.


Cambridge Day, Oct. 2014: 4 more arrested at Siver Maple Forest


This story was published Sunday, March 8, 2015, and updated the next day, in part to clarify who threatened to sue.

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