|Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR) Join Email List||
Belmont Uplands development project:
Draft letter from Belmont Conservation Commission
Bold emphasis added by FAR for clarity.
Dear Mr. Brownsberger:
The Conservation Commission is grateful for this opportunity to convey our position with respect to the development of the O'Neill parcel, known as the "Belmont Uplands."
The Uplands parcel is a significant part of the Alewife Green Corridor and Reservation, and is a resource not just for Belmont, but for the whole region including Arlington, Cambridge and Somerville. Decisions we make for this land have regional implications and should be evaluated regionally. The value of the land to the region as diverse and productive open space will accrue to generations long after ours.
The silver maple fills a specific role. The newly broken buds are an important food source for many birds at the critical time of late winter. The shoots are a high value food source for beaver, second only to alders. The trees provide cavities for nesting wildlife and the shallow fibrous root system is very effective at stabilizing soils with high water tables.
The destruction of forest is cited as a cause of loss of herring spawning habitat and the soils and the vegetation of the Uplands filter and eliminate pollutants from air and water
This diversity can exist only because of the size, shape and microclimate of the silver maple upland bordering on the substantial wetland and as an integral part of the whole larger Greenway.
PEOPLE, EDUCATION AND RECREATION
The Alewife Reservation is the only area of its size and type accessible by public transit to students of Arlington, Cambridge, Boston, Belmont and surrounding towns. The Commission feels that the Uplands is an essential component of the reservation and should not be developed.
More detail, based on comments received in several well-attended meetings, follows this letter in our “Evaluation of the Natural Attributes of the Belmont Uplands.” (Appendix A)
CONDITIONS FOR DEVELOPMENT
Consideration must be given to the already inferior condition of our infrastructure in this area. We know that deficient sewers are causing degradation of surface waters including Little Pond and present a health risk.
The Conservation Commission recommends the Town adopt the “Preliminary Conditions for Development” in Appendix B. These should be included in any zoning changes and agreements enabling the residential use of the O’Neill parcel.
We will, of course, follow up as our role dictates and we are most willing to participate further in this process as you request.
EVALUATION OF THE NATURAL ATTRIBUTES OF THE BELMONT UPLANDS
By the Belmont Conservation Commission
"We protect the beauty and character of our natural settings."
Environmental Value of the Uplands
Effects of Development
If extensive development alters the Uplands, environmental degradation can be expected in the following areas.
Wetlands buffer. While the “project footprint” according to O’Neill has decreased its presence in the 100 foot buffer (referred to as the “Buffer” as defined under the WPA and the State Regulations), a part of the Project is located in the Buffer. The encircling 18-foot wide fire road is located within the Buffer, as are certain of the six prongs of the proposed building and lawn and other landscaped areas. This may eliminate the protection of wetland and stream resource areas which the Buffer is supposed to provide pursuant to both the WPA and the various studies on the role that buffer areas play in protecting wetland areas and wildlife habitat upon such wetlands. Some degree of degradation from intrusion by humans, pets, automobile toxins, etc. is inevitable if the project is built in this sensitive area.
Stormwater runoff.In the proposed residential plan a building covers much of the site where there was once soil to absorb, hold, and percolate stormwater. The residential plans attempt to compensate for the loss of soil function by providing detention tanks for stormwater designed to meet the DEP Stormwater Management Standards. The project meets “...DEP’s Stormwater Management Standards, including reduction of peak discharge rates ...by the required 80% removal rate.” (Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FST), with the assistance of the BSC Group (BSC))
However, despite the planned use of detention tanks, the Conservation Commission is concerned that once the project is built, there will be a greater volume of stormwater runoff from the site than now exists. The developer’s plans do not address the stormwater storage capability of the forest of silver maple trees that would be removed under the developer’s plans. Silver maple trees are deliberately planted by foresters in areas prone to flooding and grow naturally in very wet locations such as floodplains. “Floodplain forests are diverse natural communities that experience seasonal floods. Along major rivers, these forests are typically dominated by silver maple trees...Floodplain forests dissipate and absorb a considerable amount of water during floods, helping to buffer surrounding and downstream lands from flood damage. With the loss of these forests, the collective losses of other streamside wetlands, and increased area of impervious surfaces through water sheds, the intensity and amplitude of floodwaters has increased...” (from Natural Communities of New Hampshire, a fact sheet prepared by the NH Natural Heritage Program, a bureau in the Division of Forests & Lands in the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development).
Flooding. In addition, we note that generalized mapping prepared by FEMA indicates that the majority of the site is subject to flooding in the 100-year event and that only a central "island" remains above the level of the 100-year flood. Both FEMA and the DCR (formerly the MDC) are in the process of updating the 100-year flood plain. The existing 100-year flood plain includes Acorn Park Drive, which itself has been seriously flooded 3 times within the past 50 years alone. As proposed, a portion of the footprint of the project is right up against the 100-year floodplain line currently designated by FEMA. Moreover, much of the Buffer and the encircling fire road would be under water in a 100-year flood.
Pollutants. Vegetation traps sediments which bind, and in some cases chemically break down, pollutants into nontoxic compounds, thereby improving water quality in the drainage basin. “The Uplands site serves as a "sink" for airborne pollutants. Nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus) and heavy metals are adsorbed onto soil particles or sequestered in the biomass of the forest's living tissue. The undeveloped Uplands parcel recharges groundwater, sustaining wetlands onsite, as well as Little Pond, Little River, through a cleaner, more natural and ultimately beneficial hydrologic system.”
Sewage. “Beyond the ecological impacts to water quality from the loss of the forest, there is a larger problem. Substantial sewage flows from any development scenario, residential or commercial, will exacerbate existing water quality.” (Katuska) The Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) report states, "... the municipal system currently experiences surcharging at the downstream Flanders Road MWRA meter during high-flow rain events.” Since Cambridge has denied a sanitary sewer tie-in for the residential project, sewage from any Uplands development would travel through Belmont's Little Pond neighborhood. This neighborhood is on the Town’s list for sewer work as it is experiencing serious sewer failures at the current time. Without a complete rebuild to correct leaks, cross-connections, collapses, and to carry a heavier flow, the water quality of Little Pond and Little River is threatened during severe weather events, as is the well being of Winn Brook residents.
Air quality. Trees and plants remove carbon dioxide from the air, and produce oxygen, improving air quality in the area. Removal of the trees is removal of a valuable air purifying system especially beneficial to the neighboring community.
Climate. Forest shade provides cooling effects to contiguous areas, mitigating reflected heat from the highway. The forest also creates microclimates that provide varied habitats.
Noise. Forests provide a buffer with some degree of sound insulation to nearby areas and neighborhoods which may otherwise suffer an increase in highway noise.
Wildlife/biodiversity. We expect that development of Uplands will inflict serious losses upon decreasing populations of wildlife in an area well beyond its immediate borders. Due to the depth to the parcel, the Uplands serves as a refuge for wildlife from the broader area around it. Once the Uplands are gone certain animals will leave the area. Also, some wetland animals need areas that are drier to survive. For example, two reptile species found in the area, the Painted Turtle and the Common Snapping Turtle, use areas beyond 200 feet from the wetland edge. (Boyd, L. 2001. Buffer Zones and Beyond: Wildlife Use of Wetland Buffer Zones and Their Protection under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act. Dept. of Natural Resource conservation University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA)
Although under significant stress from invasive or nonnative species, the mixed association of forest stands, scrub-shrub wetlands, and small marshes provides a diverse patchwork of habitat types with value for a wide variety of urban and suburban wildlife species. Some of these require both the wetlands and upland areas for year-round survival. The loss of the Uplands will mean that certain species will leave the general area altogether. Among the developed areas of the metro Boston area there are pockets of green acreage and wooded areas. Some are connected by green corridors while others are isolated but near enough to each other to sustain birds, a number of permanent residents, and species which migrate through the area.
The Biodiversity Study of Alewife Reservation Area incorporates surveys funded by the Riverways Program of the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement. These surveys document the large number of species living in the Alewife Area. The survey area includes both the Uplands and the wetlands adjacent to the Project. The authors of the Biodiversity Study of Alewife Area include:
*Charles Katuska, a certified Professional Wetlands Scientist, who has a Masters of Forest Science from Yale University,
Environmental education opportunity. The location within the metropolitan area and close to the Alewife line makes the Uplands forest an ideal educational site for inner city school children, college students and other area residents, helping to stimulate curiosity about and a critical awareness of the natural world in which we live.
PRELIMINARY CONDITIONS FOR DEVELOPMENT OF THE BELMONT UPLAND PARCEL
The Conservation Commission has prepared a position paper regarding the potential adverse impact of the residential project proposed by O'Neill Properties on the Belmont Uplands area. We conclude that the region is bestserved by preserving the parcel as open space. If this is not possible, conditions must be placed on development.
The Commission recommends conditions as follows.
1. PLACEMENT OF THE BUILDING ON THE SITE
2. SIZE AND SHAPE OF THE BUILDING
3. BUFFER ZONE, WETLAND AND RIVERS ACT ORDERS OF CONDITIONS
4. STORMWATER SYSTEM
5. SANITARY SYSTEM
6. OTHER CONSIDERATIONS