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Position paper of the Belmont Research Group which on 3/8/04 presented the land swap idea to the Belmont Board of Selectmen who accepted it for consideration.
(Map of proposed swap)
Yes, we can have it both ways!
The time has come to bring together all of the various groups in Belmont who have envisioned various uses for the Uplands. There are those who believe that commercial use, as currently zoned, is the most promising for the town, in terms of revenue. Others desire residential development, with its affordable housing component. And many of us agree with the recommendation of the original Alewife Study Committee: leave it as open space.
There are groups of citizens who have been devoting many hours debating and discussing this issue. Some of us have attended dozens of meetings with the Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Board of Selectmen, Mass Highway Department, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR, formerly the MDC), and multiple local action groups. We have sat in Cambridge City Hall and heard from residents from North Cambridge and East Arlington, discussing the regional aspects of the Uplands and Alewife. We have read the Friends of Alewife Reservation's Biodiversity Study and educated ourselves with testimony from leading experts involving the issues of wildlife habitat, wetlands, flooding, sewer connections, traffic, affordable housing, and 40B. From these meetings has come a possible solution which may have everyone satisfied, involving a possible land swap between O'Neill Properties and the DCR: the Uplands and the former skating rink site. Though the two sites are not completely comparable, there are incentives for both sides which may help the deal become a reality. What is required is that we all come together and agree that we, as a town, would support this plan. Allow me to point out how we all may win.
The commercial market is in a slump and may not recover anytime soon. If there is no market, there will be no building. With no building, there is no revenue. A 40B development on the Uplands would cost the developer dearly in schedule and profit. Preserving the Uplands while constructing a reasonable number of housing units on the DCR property would allow us both affordable housing and revenue, and in relatively short order if the developer is amenable. Mr. O'Neill has stated that he would entertain such a proposal if the town supported it. The DCR has stated that it would embrace such a plan as a means to bring together the contiguous Uplands and Alewife Reservation, and to preserve this significant habitat. Mass Highway, in connection with its review of the earlier R&D proposal, has already agreed in principle to a new roadway off Route 2 into the Uplands site, which could serve this site equally well. The Board of Selectmen has seen the alternative plan and hasagreed to recommend that the Planning Board take a serious look at it as a plausible option.
To reiterate, if the developer is amenable and the town significantly supports this plan, it may be Belmont's shortest route to receiving revenues.
Furthermore, saving the Uplands and building on the other site falls in line with the Commonwealth's Smart Growth Principals as put forth by the Citizens' Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) and summarized below:
Let me conclude with two quotations. The first is from "The Nature and Value of Biodiversity" by the World Resources Institute:
"A turning point is upon us. We can continue to simplify the environment to meet immediate needs, at the cost of long-term benefits, or we can conserve life's precious diversity and use it sustainably."
The second is from Brian O'Neill of O'Neill Properties:
"You can reclaim industrial sites close to where everyone is, or you can pave over paradise with a parking lot."
Well said, Brian! I couldn't agree with you more. Let's reclaim the skating rink site and not pave over paradise.