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Belmont Citizen Irate Over O'Neill's Unwillingness to Consider Land Swap

Letter to Belmont Selectmen:
March 15, 2004.

My name is Sally Alcorn, a candidate for Town Meeting Member in Precinct Two in Belmont, and someone who is very concerned about the number of political footballs we currently have zeroing overhead in Our Town.

I am carefully considering who and what to vote for on April 5th, and I wonder how you stand (pro or con) on several issues that are quite important to me and to lots of my neighbors in Belmont Center and on Belmont Hill.

A group of us will be curious, for example, to observe your scheduled meeting tonight and to see how you as a Selectmen will react to the O'Neill Properties' latest proposal to turn their remaining 15.8 acres of "Belmont Uplands" into a 40B wasteland.

According to this week's scary front page articles in the Belmont Citizen Herald, O'Neill Properties now intends to reject the initial offer of a land swap at the former MDC Skating Rink. O'Neill is apparently fed up and refusing to negotiate further, even as the ground swell of public opinion grows ardent to preserve The Uplands with the onset of spring.

As The Uplands property owner and would-be developer, O'Neill has tried all sorts of schemes (industrial park to high-rise apartment buildings) on this endangered site. Their negligence, while all this has been going on, has had a salutary effect on The Uplands' exceptionally rare silver maple forest (and "mother tree," mentioned in the letter to the editor, below) as well as on its fertile floodplain, open grassland, and wetland swamp and lakeside. The forest and the floodplain and the connected series of little ponds, as well as the actual waterways of Winn Brook and Alewife Brook and Little River provide a home for birds and wildlife, which have been thoroughly studied and identified by expert ornithologists and naturalists from all kinds of national, state and local organizations. This remaining parcel of open space is just loaded with indigenous and migratory wildlife and with 90+ different bird species, including the bald eagle, several owls, flickers, woodpeckers, woodcock, and waterfowl like the colorful wood-duck. Now appears to be crunch time and the only chance we have left for the Town of Belmont (helped we hope by our good neighbors in Arlington and Cambridge, which abut this, our last remaining natural preserve in this busy corridor beside Route 2, 2A, and 16) to stand up together and organize an imaginative, publicly privately funded, citizens' petition to prevent O'Neill Properties from illegally clear- cutting half of this beautiful wild area on the outskirts of own town.

Before the Belmont Board of Selectmen makes a snap decision this evening to "okay" O'Neill's presentation to construct a totally inappropriate 40B Housing Development in the middle of this rare and healthy silver maple forest in the Alewife Reservation, may I BEG you all to recommend to the Zoning Board not to allow O'Neill Properties to gut this one remaining public parkland in Belmont. The educational value alone is immense for families here in town, and one that school children from Arlington and Cambridge and all over greater Boston could access via the MBTA at Alewife. Please help us to Save The Uplands. Can't all of us working together find a creative new solution to this problem -- and one that even our under- funded town coffers can afford?

(By the way, perhaps you have read in the paper that O'Neill Properties failed miserably to keep up their end of the bargain in Watertown a few years ago. The name of Brian O'Neill is 'personna non grata' there, and something that Belmont officials should keep in mind before giving his firm a free hand with developing 250-400 units of affordable and/or expensive new housing units in Belmont Uplands.)

Thank you for daring to believe in our ability to convince O'Neill Properties, even at this late date, that there HAS TO BE a more suitable site for their planned housing development than in the middle of our last remaining silver maple stand cum important wild habitat, traffic sound barrier, crucial flood plain and decent aquifer in Belmont. Is there any person at O'Neill Properties who might be receptive to new ideas on this subject of a land swap with the MDC Skating Rink and Faces Disco nearby, if they are allowed to build up to 250 units instead of the initial suggestion by Fred Paulsen of only 150 units?

Fair warning: At your meeting tonight, a number of my neighbors will also want a chance to speak out: A) about the inadvisability of O'Neill's 40B Uplands development; and B) against including the Fire Substation in Belmont Center in the April 5th debt- exclusion question on the town ballot. (Why do we have to lump them both together, since the expense to Belmont taxpayers will be enormous on top of everything else we're currently paying for?) Please see my guest editorial in this week's Belmont Citizen Herald on this latter subject.

Yours very sincerely, Sally Remick Alcorn, 568 Pleasant Street, Belmont Center