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to Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals
from Friends of Alewife Reservation – March 3, 2006
Below on this page:
Friends of Alewife Reservation
186 Alewife Brook Parkway
Cambridge, MA. 02138
Zoning Board of Appeals
Belmont Town Hall
455 Concord Ave.
Belmont, MA. 02478
Dear Mr. Chin,
Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR) has waited to file with your Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) in order to give the Board plenty of time to digest the official Belmont responses. While FAR is not a Belmont group, we do consider ourselves a regional environmental organization 501(c) 3, which includes Belmont because we have contributing members and Reservation volunteers in Belmont, Arlington, Somerville and Cambridge. The 115 acres Reservation (with 15 additional acres of its functioning on private land), is a regional urban wild public park owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and, as such, a regional area. FAR had 2 official public hearings in 03 and 04 in Cambridge with the motion passed that the city manager look at the Uplands with a regional view. Meetings were called with the Watershed Association and the towns to begin the process with Belmont, Arlington and Cambridge.
We apologize for the large packages for each to examine, but we fear a mistaken outcome if our volunteer organization does not give you the best of the history and reports from public hearings, official committees, neighborhood activities, and resident responses concerning this rich urban wild and rare forest.
Presentation from Friends of Alewife Reservation:
After 8 years of annual activity from FAR’s research in concert with outstanding scientists, our four season work projects, and on the ground exploration of this special place, we present to you, our Uplands hearing judges, a good sampling of early watershed history with substantial documentation of the woodland area and its important surrounding ecosystems. Your careful reading will determine, either a future existence, or a clear-cutting of a valuable regional (local) and metropolitan-wide natural resource. We have included several general official public Hearings from Belmont and Arlington which contribute to the extreme Uplands controversy, such as the Report of the Belmont Study Group (01)and the Cambridge Health and Environment hearings (03). FAR would like to remind you of the unanimous vote by
Selectmen in Belmont and Arlington on June 28,2004, to keep the Uplands “open space” with “no development”. We want to make sure you know the watershed functioning, recreational (educational), and general importance of the wooded area as a “small river flood plain forest”, and as the “core buffer” to the Reservation. the center of the Alewife Reservation in terms of its broad habitat functioning.(See Boston Basin Open space from Open Waters, Annual report of Executive Office of Environmental Affairs 2003). It’s present regional value is repeatedly noted, despite much of the tree growth originating in the 1940s. (See Maps folder 1940's maps.)(See Science Folder- Normandeau Report for habitat types of the Uplands).
Summary History and Flooding:
Despite much of the open space grazing land during the 1700s farm days, there were valuable trees adjacent to Little Pond during those days and before, so as to protect the region from flooding. Your sight visit (which you requested) will reveal a large number of trees nearly 100 years old that protected the area before the farms, some of which will have been in existence in Pawtuckeog Indian days of 1600's as first inhabitants (especially large black willows), followed by English with grazing through the 1700s. The railroads, tanneries, ice harvesting and brick manufacturing all carved up the “Great Swamp” in the 1800's, and was subsequently drained and much filled, but not the woodlands and swamps or (vernal areas) abutting Little Pond. When the Uplands began growing after farm days and after the filling from Route 2, silver maple, black willow, beech, birch, red maple and green ash began to proliferate on the Uplands, and have prevented even more serious flooding to the many communities downstream. In 1955, flooding reached 6 feet above sea level at the Arthur D. Little property (now Bulfinch Companies).
Correction and Cause for Alarm:
The Uplands is not “ redeveloped land.” (See Folder on DCR property and Maps for verification.)
The Uplands has not been developed other than for farmland. This does not constitute “redeveloped land”. A significant small grove woodland on the edge of Little Pond has been there for centuries, and can be noted by visiting the area. Naturalist, Stewart Sanders from Belmont, has been a pioneer amateur naturalist to indicate the value of the land with the publication of “Alewife Ecology Guide”, and, while working at Harvard University, was nominated as outstanding volunteer of the year.
One cannot understand the dirth of information and disinterest in this rich area over the recent years, unless we become more aware of its geographic urban and somewhat political role as a buffer between town and city, and its role as an abandoned land mass which has been used for dumping and for abutting land owners to drain and misuse while richly growing as a natural resource,and Cambridge’s largest wetlands area. Water drainage between Belmont and Cambridge has been in dispute over years, and the Alewife Reservation’s abandonment by humans has proved to be a benefit, and has led, presently, to a great revival of plant,bird and animal life, returning as outdoor aide to we residents who suffer from urban sprawl, asthma, and poor air quality, and lack of open space. In mid nineteenth century,
William Brewster helped make the Alewife area, the oldest birding area in the United States. (Brewster, forerunner to Audubon, is a world renowned naturalist who gave scientific documentation to bird watching in our nation because of his book, Birds of the Cambridge Region, a famous ornithological history book published by the Nuttall Ornithological Club in July, 1906.
Only in the Past 5 Years:
In the past 5 years, however, a new view of the area has taken hold of towns persons and urban dwellers ,with the presentation of educational natural resource forums in the churches and universities, flooding awareness through organizations such as the Tri-Community Flooding Group (predecessor to present ABC Flooding Committee), FAR, Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, City of Cambridge, with many outdoor recreational activities - over 70 given by FAR alone, stewarding conservation interests (100 cleanups), and educational projects by universities, high schools and grammar schools (See FAR website) (Also, See State of Massachusetts Biodiversity Days activities in your folder).
The location of the Uplands and Reservation is on a large metropolitan-wide transportation artery location, the Alewife T stop. This advantage has enriched the outdoor activity level in this once abandoned area.
FAR has done much to bring groups out and create an interest in the area for environmental conservation stewarding and learning.
Developer and History:
The developer, Brian O’Neill is the largest purchaser of Brownfields in the U.S. according to business and real estate, and may well be one of the largest developers in the United States. When speaking to the business audiences his theme is the Joni Mitchell song from “Yellow Taxi”. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”, which Mr. O’Neill has quoted at his own testimonial dinners. (See O’neill Biography in Folder). His developments in Pennsylvania,N.J. R.I and now Massachusetts are known for restoring old and abandoned brownfield sites, not forests and flood plain areas. This is well known throughout the states and is highly revered as someone who transform a shut down steel mill into a useful property. Yet in this state, he characterizes the site as an abandoned sight, which it is not, nor has it been “developed” before. FAR invited Mr. O’Neill and his company to view the Urban Wilds slide show, but there was no reply. He benefited in 2002 from a record breaking profit (40 million dollars in 9 months)on his sale of the adjoining land by investing almost nothing during that time. The Uplands is a subdivided parcel whereby the first parcel bought from ADLittle and sold to Bulfinch Companies, has been maximized. (See Baram letter in Reports and Resolution folder.) The US Supreme court has questioned the second parcel’s maximization in similar matters. Keep in mind environmental agencies do not characterize this is a “parcel” but a “Small river flood plain forest”.
The Biodiversity Book of the Alewife Reservation Area, written from Dave Brown wildlife assessor for many organizations, (http://www.dbwildlife.com/about.html), is in each zoning board member’s hands, or should be. It is an unusual accounting of what grows and is on his property, which none of his assessors have fully accounted for, nor has any report made mention of the expansiveness of wildlife presence in his 40 B filing. Cambridge, Belmont and Arlington have had many docent trainings and workshops with David Brown, who has defined wildlife living patterns, their reproduction patterns and the general rivers and ponds water-based and soils’ enrichment of the Reservation’s ecosystems. (See Urban Wild slideshow in Maps folder). Included are wildlife seen and photographed by Mike Arnott of the Appalachian Mountain Club.)
Existing Conditions from Involved Scientists:
The O’Neill properties function as part of the Alewife Reservation because of the nature in which the forested uplands evolves. It has functioned for the past 45 years as a slow growing mono-culture forest,and small river flood plain forest, attracting birds and mammals from great distances because of the slowly closing down of open space in the Boston area (See Biodiversity book and map from Stew Sanders, Alewife Ecology Guide book and map of Boston Basin- available with Jay Szklut). (See Normandeau Associates folder of advanced Ecosystem preservation.)
Normandeau Associates and Chuck Katuska have both defined the forest’s value for you as professionally certified wetland scientists and ecologists, who have worked for public and private agencies. Katuska, former head of Mass Association of Conservation Commissions (MACC). He received both of his degrees from Yale University. Patrick is Senior Ecologist at Normandeau Assoc. Of New Hampshire with an outstanding reputation.( See Biographies of consulting scientists in Science Folder.)
Pat Swain, senior ecologist of Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Department of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, has characterized the Uplands as a “small river flood plain forest” natural community. (See “Small River Flood Plain Forest” in Science folder.) This “natural community” is presently being assessed with proper EOEA “Palustrine” Natural Community requirements. Natural Communities are seen by environmentalists as highly worthy and valuable ecosystems which the state, with all efforts, attempts to preserve.
We have overlooked this formality which is being rectified and should have this in early April filing.
Although the Little Pond trees are not slated for clear cutting as they are on public land, they will be impacted. Also to take severe impacts will be the largest area of wetlands in Cambridge.(See Normandeau Scientific Report). Silver maples cannot live in a vacuum. They require a compatible ecosystem of species familiar trees and rich alluvial soils to enrich their root system which the uplands has. The ground “Freetown” soils surrounding the richer uplands is mostly peat with sandy loam and debris, which is useful for mammal hibernation and ground nesting, but unstable for a large building and for any utilities.
The expansive wetlands are ideal for vernal pools where several exist, between Little Pond and the Uplands. The Uplands is “an isolated land mass subject to flooding” which means it is a “Vernal Area”. The Uplands provides nesting trees and important cover for the Eagle, Peregrine falcoln, Red Tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, Sharp-Shinned hawk and other raptors. Friends of Alewife Reservation has a kestrel box south of the Uplands where sightings have been made by DCR staff.
Site Visit Needed:
This cover letter requests again from February 15, testifying at the ZBA hearing, that all ZBA members have a site visit to the forested Uplands and invite internationally renowned author and tour guide leader from Audubon Society, Peter Alden, to go with you and indicate the important ecosystems and how the area functions.
Also, Professor Dave Morimoto of Lesley University would be a good choice, Chair of the Natural Sciences Department and specialist in
these matters. Patrick Fairbairn of Normandeau Associates would also be able to take you on a site visit. We ask that you seriously consider one of the suggested choices from Friends of Alewife Reservation, as these leaders know and understand this vital environmental site that is under scrutiny by your Board. FAR would offer to pay for this service as our entire Reservation is at stake with an accurate understanding of how the area functions and what it contains.
FAR begs the Zoning Board to scrutinize both the Environmental information in addition to the developer’s plans. Because there was no environmental consultant before the 40 B proposal or after, we
must ask the members to apprise themselves thoroughly for ourselves, future generations and the regional and planet. If we cannot protect the places that protect us and we love for beauty and for animals and birds, our global future is at stake. Environmental disasters are revealing just suchmistakes, trusting a developer’s unfounded assurances that he or she can duplicate mother nature, when, in fact, it is the flood plain forest that cannot be matched in its evapotranspiration functions by any developer. (See Forester Katuska report in your Biodiversity book and in Belmont Conservation Commission report.)
Friends of Alewife Reservation
Biodiversity of the Alewife Reservation Area, Species, Habitat And Ecosystems. Each Zoning Board member has a copy of this book.Normandeau Associates Ecology Report
Full regional and ecological assessment by New Hampshire firm Senior Ecologist, Patrick Fairbairn
for Regional Forum: Wildlife, Wetlands, Forest Development Oct. 2003
Scientific Designation of Forest by State of Massachusetts
Small River Flood Plain Forest, sometimes called Northern Flood Plain Forest, and New England Flood Plain Forest (very old designation)
All scientific documents are on the website: www.friendsofalewifereservation.org
Type in your concern or interest in the search engine, and you will likely find what you are looking for. For more information call, FAR offices at 617 661-1730
Improvements at Alewife
Development will Negatively Impact these Improvements
Priority Status of State of Massachusetts- Coastal Zone Management
Restoration of Fresh Water Wetlands with Anadromous Fish Run
Supporters: BHX, LLC, Trustee of Adorn Park Housing Realty Trust,
Affiliate, Bulfinch Company
MWRA- City of Cambridge Storm Water Management Plan Draft Brochure.
Improvements for water quality wildlife, habitat. Presenting New England model for wetland restoration, based on habitat restoration and increase of wetlands. Determined by 20 municipally sponsored public hearings from environmental and citizen groups throughout the region.
Vision Connecting Alewife- Graphic Visioning from 3 large regional public meetings
Public workshops determine will of Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Somerville
Havern Bill SB1909 Now in Senate, Hearing heard favorably on Study of Alewife Area
Metropolitan Area Planning Council supports Preservation of Forest
City of Cambridge Improvements: Alewife Brook Combined Sewer Overflows To Be Addressed
Muskrat marsh, project of USDA, CZM, BHX Trust of Bulfinch Co, Friends of Alewife Reservation, BSC Group and Lesley University wins priority status of state for improving hydrology of marsh and creating greater flood retention. Development would thwart these improvement endeavors.
Of over 70 events, here are several samples from Friends of Alewife Reservation
Alewife Reservation brochure- at least 3000 have been distributed throughout the region.
Published in: Cambridge Chronicle , Belmont Citizen Herald, Boston Globe, Arlington Advocate, Somerville Journal, Harvard Crimson, Belmont Citizen Forum
Poster of prayer group around Mother Tree with Reverend Thomas Mikelson of First Parish Cambridge
Alewife Housing Plan Scrutinized-Boston Globe (recent)
Protecting the Last Refuge- C C
Astrophysics Center Aids Biodiversity- Harvard Crimson (recent)
Belmonters Speak Out for Regional Forest- CC, AA
Alewife Wildlife Isolated But Threatened by Development- CC
At Alewife, A Clash of the Natural and the Smart- Boston Globe
Earth Day Success at Alewife- Photo Legislator- CC
On the Chopping Block- Tufts Civil and Engineering Lab- BCH, AA
Say No to Commerical Zoning at Alewife- BCH
Leaders Speak Out on Alewife Reservation -CC
Proposed- A New Belmont Institution-CC
Seeing Alewife Forest through Trees-BCH, AA
Mushroom photo walk at Uplands CC
Unique Boston Basin Forest- BG
Chance to Save a Forest CC, BCH
The Great Swamp book published in 2004 - Author Sheila Gamble Cook
Reports and Resolutions
Cambridge and Belmont
Cambridge Health and Environmental Committee hearings, March 2003
DCR Master Plan Brochure
Responses from Testimonies and Speakers
Correction from O'Neill Properties statement on DCR stand.
Massachusetts Havern Bill: Official Bill for study of Alewife Area:
**TOWNS VOTE TO OPPOSE DEVELOPMENT ON THE UPLANDS
*Uplands Housing Plan Draws Fire From Selectment - Boston Globe
Mystic River Watershed Maps:
Boston Basin- Remainder of Open Space in Boston area
Farm maps of area 1691
Map of Commercial Plan by owner
1946 Farmland Days Map (From Cambridge Historical Commission)
Urban Wild Slide Show in Color