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Comments for Belmont Uplands Residential Proposal

Michael F. Nakagawa
51 Madison Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

February 23, 2004

Joseph Barrell
Belmont Planning Board
Belmont, MA

Subject: Comments for Belmont Uplands Residential Proposal

Dear Mr. Barrell:

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the residential proposal for the Belmont Uplands.

Although it is easy to get bogged down in details of proposals and species and performance standards, at this time I think it is best to step back and consider the big picture.

As a reference point, each of the Rindge Towers (across from the Alewife T station) contains approximately 250 units. Although O'Neill's form factor may be different, is it appropriate to displace the only forested habitat outside the floodplain (and adjacent to the Reservation) with a similarly large degree of development? The Uplands project is in the middle of the largest section of undeveloped land that is part of the Reservation's habitat area. (Note that the undeveloped area on the other side of Acorn Park Drive is mostly wetlands and cannot legally be developed.)

If fill had not been previously added to the Uplands, I am certain more, if not all, of the area would have been wetlands. Would 250 households enjoy living in the middle of a swamp? The area proposed for development is encircled by marshy wetlands, and the site visit with the Conservation Commission included numerous resident mosquitoes.

The location is actually not convenient to public transportation, and has none of the local residential amenities - such as stores, restaurants, libraries and schools - within reasonable walking distance. The primary access to and from the site will be vehicular. With additional vehicular traffic in the already congested Alewife bottleneck, the residential streets of Belmont, extending far from the Uplands site, will be the prime paths of least resistance for northwestern suburbanites to bypass Fresh Pond Parkway to reach Boston.

Furthermore, the sewerage generated by the project will be very large for the size of the project, and the current sewers into which it would feed are already beyond capacity.

I ask you to consider only the residential project before you now, not it relation to the out-ofscale zoning O'Neill was able to secure for their commercial project. I have spent years trying to limit paving over the Alewife Floodplain in Cambridge, but it has been difficult when property owners can claim rights that were granted before the understanding of the importance of floodplains as a natural resource area. However, we know better now, and future zoning should not disregard natural laws in the creation of civil ones. And whereas Cambridge is under the control of a City Manager who appoints all members of every board, commission, and study group, in addition to the head staff of the departments, I would assume that your board has the ability to exercise free and independent thinking.

As part of your deliberations, it is imperative that you consider the environmental aspects of your decisions. Land Use Planning certainly falls within your purview, and you would be remiss in avoiding such considerations. While housing, and in particular, affordable housing, certainly ranks high in priority for the Town, residential development should not come at the expense of permanently eliminating all of the uplands wilderness habitat that supports the state wetlands reservation. Furthermore, residential, as opposed to commercial, development will be more disruptive to the wildlife, as many species seek cover during daylight (business) hours, and the majority of commercial access is merely from vehicle to building by shortest and fastest route.

While O'Neill was able to secure zoning allowances from Belmont that are as out-of-place as the nearby Cambridge zoning enacted long before, they should not be granted yet another favor for them to reap more quick profits, as if already tripling their investment, in about a year for a net $41 million profit, were not enough. Their conservation restriction is no gift; they are legally unable to develop those areas because they are wetlands. They are owed no special favors for a project that will be even more invasive to the habitat.

You may have read the recently published Alewife Master Plan that states, "The development of the Belmont Uplands site will have negative effects on the habitat value of the whole Reservation given the loss of forested land and decreased habitat connectivity."

If you consider what is planned compared to what is currently there now, I can see no reason to support their proposal.


Michael Nakagawa

attachment: photographs of Rindge Towers, floodplain boundaries, and the site. [The attachments are not included on this website.]