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Mass Development ok's Silver Maple forest clear-cutting at Belmont Uplands
Letter to the editor / Guest perspective by Frederick S. Paulsen, Chair, Uplands Advisory Committee

See also: State OKs housing at Alewife, By Arthur Katz / Correspondent, Thursday, February 17, 2005, Belmont Citizen Herald,
(if this article is no longer available at townonline, it may be available as a cached page at )

In the light of MassDevelopment's "approval" of the O'Neill 40B development, I’m writing to clarify its significance, particularly with regard to its “inevitability.” From the article, I want to comment specifically on

  1. Selectman Angelo Firenze response "that there doesn't appear much the Town can do to stop the project," and
  2. the Belmont Citizen Herald accompanying editorial, that "it looks like housing is going to be built at the Uplands, and it might come soon."

In MassDevelopment’s letter to the Town dated February 11, 2005, Anne Howard writes the following:

  1. "that the Project appears generally eligible and fundable under the requirements of the MassDevelopment Tax-Exempt Bond Program for Rental Housing";
  2. that the "housing design for the Project is generally appropriate for the Site"; and
  3. Any commitment for financing from MassDevelopment is subject to review of the final financing application and the approval of the Board of Directors of MassDevelopment."

Last October at the second site visit by representatives of MassDevelopment, David Bancroft indicated that MassDevelopment acted in the role as a lender, that site visits are done primarily to insure that the land exists and is not a swamp, and that impacts beyond the site are not taken into consideration. Unlike the review by Mass Housing, MassDevelopment obviously does not examine environmental and smart growth issues when it grants "project eligibility."

Belmont’s Position on this Issue: By letter to MassDevelopment dated June 29, 2004, the Board of Selectmen stated unequivocally that it "does not support the development of housing at the Uplands." The Board stressed the role that the Uplands played in providing habitat for many species of wildlife within the Alewife Reservation (as documented by the Conservation Commission). The Board referred to the Town's Open Space plan that (a) identified the Uplands "as having extremely high environmental value" and (b) stated that "including the parcel in the Reservation is the preferred option."

The Board of Selectmen further wrote the following:

The Uplands "is geographically isolated from the community." There are no residential abutters or amenities for school-aged children. There is no public transportation or pedestrian access to the site from the Town . . . The options of installing new lines under the Little River or through a half dozen residential streets in Belmont are not desirable . . ."

In its “approval”, MassDevelopment did not answer these concerns. Yet, they remain and need to be addressed.

Essential Role in this Process of Belmont’s Board of Appeals: Under 40B regulations, the Town’s Board of Appeals can and must balance "local needs" against the need for affordable housing. Local needs involve a careful examination of flooding, wetland impacts, sanitary waste overflow, infrastructure capacity, the new 26" higher 100 year flood plain information, and questions concerning density and impact on schools.

A Conservation Alternative of Benefit to all Three Communities: The Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) with the support of Belmont, Arlington and Cambridge might buy the Uplands using a combination of funding sources. For example, by adopting the Community Preservation Act, Belmont could raise open space money and raise money to support affordable housing throughout the Town that would be integrated into neighborhoods and held in perpetuity for our children and grandchildren.

The acquisition of the Uplands by DCR will expand the Alewife Reservation established in 1903 as part of the Metropolitan Park system developed by Charles Eliot and the office of Frederick Law Olmsted beginning in 1893, thereby reversing the series of reductions and adverse impacts to the Parkland over the years. The Alewife Reservation should be as important to Belmont as Beaver Brook and Waverley Oaks. Joining the Uplands to the Reservation will reduce floods, preserve significant wildlife habitat, and strengthen the Greenway, all priorities under the 2003 DCR Alewife Master Plan.

Yes, there is much that we can do to deal with this latest development, and we, as citizens, must engage creatively and forcefully in that task. The conservation alternative in reserving a scarce and irreplaceable natural space presents a much more desirable outcome as it contributes to the quality and affordability of life for our residents.

Frederick S. Paulsen, Chair
Uplands Advisory Committee
Tel: 617-345-3806; 617-484-1965
Fax: 617-345-3299