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it's private
Development of the O'Neill property at Alewife
will have a regional impact
letter to Henrietta Davis / Health and Environmental Committee

Belmont Citizens Forum
P. O. Box 609, Belmont MA 02478
(617) 484-1844

March 3, 2003

Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis
Chair, Health & Environment Committee
Cambridge City Council
City Hall, 795 Mass. Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02139

Dear Councillor Davis,

The Belmont Citizens Forum is supported by about 500 families concerned with protecting the environment, preserving historic and archeological resources, and controlling the growth of traffic. Many of our supporters live in Cambridge and in other communities adjoining ours. We believe our responsibility is a regional one, not just confined to the Belmont town limits.

Development of the O'Neill property at Alewife, though it is mostly located in Belmont with only a small sliver in Cambridge, will have a regional impact on Cambridge and Arlington even more than on Belmont. Since Belmont voted to rezone that land, the Citizens Forum has learned how important the few upland acres are as habitat for many of the creatures who spend part of their time in the adjoining wetlands. Unfortunately, saving the wetlands is not enough to save the wildlife; they need the uplands as well.

We've also learned more about the role of the silver maple forest growing in the uplands in sucking up water during wet periods and reducing flooding in the Alewife area. Holding tanks under the planned R&D building will not compensate for the flood storage provided naturally by those silver maples. They have far more effect in reducing flooding than the same acreage in grass.

Since there's considerable doubt about the accuracy of the current flood plain mapping in the area (and FEMA has undertaken a new flood plain map,) there's some question about whether the proposed holding tanks will even be above the flood plain.

We also have major concerns about the traffic generated by this massive development in an area that is often at a standstill now during peak hours. The developers announced that they expect 95 percent of the employees and visitors to drive. O'Neill's consultants, Rizzo Associates, said the development will generate more than 2,500 vehicle trips per day. The amount of parking planned more than three spaces per 1,000 square feet of office space encourages the use of single-occupancy vehicles. The developer has made no legally binding commitment to require or facilitate the use of public transportation despite the proximity to Alewife station. The additional 2,500 trips per day will worsen some of the most overloaded intersections and streets in Cambridge, Arlington, and Belmont.

The MDC's Alewife Reservation is a rare resource for the residents of Cambridge as well as those of Belmont, Arlington, Somerville, and Medford. If you have not walked it, we urge you to do so. The master plan just created by the MDC would make it more attractive and valuable to city dwellers. Unfortunately, the O'Neill development will threaten the wildlife that visitors come to see.

Therefore, we encourage your committee to explore the possibility of bringing a number of public and private organizations together to attempt to work out a comprehensive master plan for the area that incorporates the principles of smart growth and protects environmental resources. This small area on the borders of our communities has been treated like a stepchild. It is time that we acknowledge its importance to all of us.


Sue Bass
Vice President