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Threat of destruction facing unique silver maple forest
letter to Douglas I. Foy, Chief, Office of Commonwealth Development

Save Our Forest Committee     Friends of Alewife Reservation     April 22, 2003

Mr. Douglas I. Foy
Chief, Office of Commonwealth Development
State House, Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02133

Subject: Alewife Reservation - Silver Maple Forest

Dear Mr. Foy,

This letter is written to alert you to the threat of destruction facing the unique silver maple forest at the Alewife Reservation by a proposal to build an office/laboratory/garage complex on this sensitive parcel which is part of the largest urban wild within five miles of Boston.

In early April, O'Neill Properties of Pennsylvania, formally submitted its DEIR for a 245,000 sf, 98' high building which will result in removal of 7.7 acres of forest area directly adjacent to open water at Little Pond and Little River as illustrated in the enclosed flyer prepared by the Save Our Forest (SOF) Committee and the Friends of Alewife Reservation.

The O'Neill company purchased the former Arthur D. Little site for $21 million in the year 2000 and sold it to the Bulfinch Cos. for $63 million while retaining the "uplands" parcel in a portion of the site owned by the Town of Belmont. A study commissioned in the same year by the Town recommended that the site be retained in its natural forested state, however, the O'Neill firm pressed its right to develop the site and was able to convince the Selectmen and the voters to change the zoning to allow commercial development.

Our group has attempted to raise the consciousness of both public and private groups of the importance of retaining the forest site and have received support from the Cambridge and Arlington Conservation Commissions, the Cambridge City Council Committee on Health and Environment, the Associated Neighborhoods of Cambridge and over 100 residents of nearby Belmont and Cambridge…and more are joining us as we extend our outreach.

We feel that the only sensible approach to the planning of the overall Alewife site is by a comprehensive study such as proposed in Senate Bill 1872 by Senators Havern and Tolman and Representatives Paulsen and Wolf. The other two projects for the Alewife site - the Bulfinch project (Cambridge Discovery Park)- 900,000 sf, the Martignetti site - 200,000 sf, replacing existing facilities - can be expected to be filed for approval in the very near future The O'Neill project will add 4.4 acres of impervious surfaces and 2,640 vehicle trips per day to the total of the other two - this impact does not show up in their Frontage Road Office Center, (EOEA No.12376R) DEIR, since the other projects have not yet been filed, making many of their calculations for flooding and traffic unrealistically low and meaningless.

The building, as shown in their DEIR, is a laboratory-type facility (not an Office Center) and typically will be built-to-suit for a particular tenant (because of the lab components) and sold that tenant; this is the typical development sequence; the O'Neill Group will soon have made their profit and have no further responsibility for the property. As can be seen by a careful examination of the A.D. Little buildings (which are being demolished), tech facilities become obsolete and are usually replaced within a 40 year period, so that this building would probably need to be replaced in year 2045 - again devastating the area with construction activity.

The present forested area not only protects the areas around the Little Pond and Little River from flooding, but shields the adjacent housing and habitat from both noise and visual impacts. In addition, the trees provide a significant benefit to air quality in a high-traffic environment in marked contrast to the proposed project with its cars, trucks and vent-stacks adding toxic elements into the atmosphere - at just the wrong location.

The Save Our Forest Committee believes strongly in all of the principles of Smart Growth, which include the creation of jobs near public transportation, the construction of buildings on urban sites where impervious surfaces are not increased and the preservation of valuable open space for the health and enjoyment of human, animal and plant species. Such a plan has been envisioned in the excellent MDC Master Plan for the Alewife Reservation recently presented to residents of the surrounding communities.

In summary, we request that you support the concept of a collaborative effort between the municipalities of Belmont, Cambridge and Arlington to create a truly regional "win-win" plan for the Alewife / Route 2 sites. This objective would be accomplished by a joint development of a comprehensive plan for the site and could include a "land swap"…providing one of the nearby Cambridge Discovery Park sites to O'Neill (coincidentally, land that they have already sold to Bulfinch Cos.) in return for donating the forest site to the Belmont Land Trust or similar non-profit organization. Cambridge would do its part by allowing taxes for this building and site to be paid to the Town Of Belmont to make up for the deferred revenue.

Such inter-city cooperation has been done in other similar industrial and office parks on town boundaries and could be the key to the development of a truly beautiful and functional site - serving both the economy and the environment. The correct decision on this very important land use matter will be made when we answer the question, "What would you rather see on this site in 50 years ?" Future generations will thank us for our foresight in preserving this unique urban wild and its upland silver maple forest.

Respectfully submitted,

Ernest Kirwan, AIA
Save Our Forest Committee
Two Kenway Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel. 617-491-0166
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