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Belmont Alternative Group responds to 40 B Housing proposal.
One of three development proposals now proceeding forward in Belmont.
(Letter to Citizen Herald - added to website May 3, 2004)
Recent articles in the Belmont Citizen Herald quote Selectman Board Chair Anne Marie Mahoney as calling for consensus and compromise. This approach has been the hallmark of the current Board of Selectmen. With the Uplands Alternative Proposal, there is a golden opportunity for the town to work together to provide for its needs, rather than bowing to the varying whims of the developer.
Several dozen citizens and well over a hundred Town Meeting Members have signed on in support of further exploration of the Alternate Proposal for the Uplands. It is a creative approach to the proverbial win-win situation for the Town: a development on the already disturbed rink site, affordable housing and revenue for the Town, plus preservation of the vital Uplands for flood storage, wildlife habitat and open space.
Owner Brian O'Neill has said publicly that he would consider a proposal which would allow him to build more expeditiously. Widespread Town support would facilitate the property swap that would preserve the Uplands forest and habitat.
Planning for the O'Neill's development has been difficult so far. Any of the three proposals being considered (current zoning which is commercial, residential proposal before the planning board, and the 40B initiative) would be appropriate on the rink site at the building size approved in the current zoning. A commercial project sited closer to Route 2 would take advantage of exposure and access for traffic. Either residential project would be sited closer to neighborhoods, a bus stop and closer to the schools. There are already a number of houses nearby backing on Route 2.
The rink site proposed for the swap is on a list for disposal by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. It seems likely that it will be developed in the future anyway. There is concern about flooding in the area. The Alternative Proposal addresses the need for flood storage on the site while preserving the thirsty trees in the Upland Forest. Supporters of this Alternative Proposal are willing to pave the way for the project by working to obtain State approval of the roads, flood storage, and permits.
Mr. O'Neill recently applied for a letter of eligibility for a 40B development. During the 40B process the state takes into account the consensus of opinion in the community. With a clear vision of what we would like to see, we would be in a good position to influence the final project. Without it, the developer is more likely to get what he wants regardless of our wishes.
Ms. Mahoney suggested at a recent Selectmen meeting the desirability of cooperating with the developer in a "friendly" 40B development with lower density than that in the current proposal before the Planning Board. A friendly 40B would be more appropriate on the rink site than on the Uplands. The square footage approved by Town Meeting for the commercial property supports the lower density Ms. Mahoney has called for and fits nicely on the rink site, with space for additional flood storage. The exit from Route 2 approved for the commercial site could access Acorn Park Drive while Frontage Road could become a residential street with access to the housing. This plan also fits Governor Romney's "Smart Growth" initiative, building on previously developed land and preserving open space.
Noted field biologist George Schaller speaking at Harvard (4/29/04) said: "Never sacrifice the eternal for the expedient." The Uplands forest and habitat should be saved. Many are working to give this creative citizen initiative solution a chance. DCR is interested in the proposal and we have support from state legislators. We hope you will support the Alternative Proposal as well!