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FAR speaks out on Bulfinch second phase Master Plan
July 7, 2006

July 7, 2006

Friends of Alewife Reservation
Suite 304
186 Alewife Brook Parkway
Cambridge, MA 02138

Liza Paden
Cambridge Planning Board
City Hall Annex
344 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

RE: Comments on Cambridge Discovery Park Master Plan, Notice of Decision

Dear Ms. Paden and Planning Board Members:

We are pleased to reply to a report that notes, "The intent of the Master Plan is to establish a new built environment more compatible with the environmental resources so important in this area of Cambridge." Our comments on the Cambridge Discovery Park Master Plan, Notice of Decision are as follows:

Page 8 - 19.31(4) Historic Commission: Although there are no specific requirements for Historic Preservation, it would be important to see some reference to the site's former use as multiple farms in the colonial period and earlier Native American uses, on a billboard or kiosk or through historical signage. The area represents Cambridge's original landscape - the Great Swamp and displays remnants of its use as farmland. To landmark it attractively is a rare window of opportunity for the city and region. The Planning Board notes historical context should be given special consideration.

Page 14 19.37 (2) The Planning Board is requesting the Permittee explore the options available to install a pedestrian link along Acorn Park Drive to the Belmont town line. This is noted in the Alewife Master Plan but not in text and graphics. Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR) notes the importance of conservation land in that area between Cambridge and Belmont, because the forested area which connects Belmont and Cambridge to Alewife Reservation parking lot is where mammals nest and den, and it is an isolated land mass. All professional wildlife assessors have cautioned against heavy pedestrian traffic, but have approved for nature walks, observation, birding, etc. See FAR website for more information on Uplands and the State's Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) wetlands: "Pathways in natural areas should avoid wetlands, vernal pools, large trees and wildlife habitat."

Section 19.37 (3) The Proponent says that a wider range of open space activities is provided than presently found in the abutting area. They also say the character and use of the existing and to-be-created open space will be decided by an extensive program through the auspices of the DCR and interested citizen groups.

This was done initially during MDC-DCR public presentations in 2003 and 2004, but not followed through. Neighbors and naturalists are still awaiting these discussions. These matters, if not attended to, might be decided upon at present by private conference with individuals, and by means of private appeals, rather than the appropriate avenues of public discourse and involvement of the broader community. Before Phase I was complete with the present existing pathway, FAR met with city officials and Bulfinch's consultants. A canoe launch and a walkway by the river were requested by DCR, but the proponents did not bring the appropriate amendments to the Notice of Intent to the Conservation Commission, and the request for public access that FAR had made and worked for was dismissed. The proponents are supposed to bring an amendment back to the Commission.

"Viewing decks" as mentioned in the Planning Board report are essential in FAR's opinion in order to "celebrate" the urban wild area in which the firm has chosen to expand. "Environmental Innovation" is to be encouraged for the site now and in the future, particularly desirable within the rare urban wild of Cambridge and Belmont.

Page 21 Decision
Design Review (iii) Second paragraph. The Permittee is requested to explore the ways to minimize the vehicular functions (through elimination or consolidation); make the structure and shape of the open spaces more coherent and better detailed, and with a stronger identity; and make the pedestrian environment more welcoming by devoting more space exclusively to pedestrians or by more clearly designing and defining shared vehicle/pedestrian facilities.

The pedestrian environment is certainly more welcoming than before, but the structure and shape of the open spaces need to be better detailed with a stronger identity. This year, FAR notes over 150 cars using the new parking lot since the lot has been built specifically for the Alewife Reservation visitors. FAR interprets the "pedestrian" concept as including the public visitors as well as employees or commuters. Conservationists have been coming to the Reservation for a number of years with numbers greatly increased than in the past. This identity creation should be considered these people in mind who will be parking in the new public Alewife Reservation lot. "Pedestrian" should include conservationists, bird watchers and others.

This identity creation or creation of a sense of "stewardship" could be done through restorative landscaping and signage. Invasive species removal is important to restore the historical landscape with replacement by native wetland edge vegetation such as the beautiful Viburnum shrubs that have been placed around the buildings.

The west stormwater basin from Smithsonian Building 100 has done extensive plantings and its stormwater basin seems to be working, as drainage and wildlife return. Native species should be defined to match the stormwater basin plantings as appropriate. We suggest wetland herbaceous plants; in wet grasslands rushes and sedges thrive, shrubs and vines placed at edges; all are essential for wildlife habitat.

"Water quality enhancement areas" should be defined and dedicated in other parts of the Reservation. Many concept plans have been presented to the public and to the Conservation Commission, but none of these have yet been chosen. Please see Attachment 1 and the FAR website for concept plans by Paul Finger Assoc. and other design firms.

Cambridge Discovery Park Master Plan Design Guidelines

Page 31. Design Principles, paragraph number 5, last sentence. Each new building should make a contribution to an overall sense of place that responds to the opportunity created by the juxtaposition of the urban edge with the urban wild, while complementing its immediate neighbors within Special District 4.

This is not clearly done through signs, markers, brochures, web sites, mentioning FAR and other organization's programs to introduce the tenants to local nature walks by environmental groups, clean ups, opportunity to participate or learn about the site and create a sense of stewardship of the daily site users.

Open Space and Circulation Design
Open Space. Paragraph 2. Develop internal open spaces within the larger development site. This should be done so that the applicant's proposed open space can integrate with adjacent owner plans resulting in the possibility of a further enlarged park setting. This should be discussed by the developer as to how this will be developed. The Master Plan points out that there should be no adverse affects from any direction. The intent is "reduced impact on the use of adjacent natural and recreational properties" and "no hazard created by Cambridge Discovery Park." It is now noticed that the existing new pathway bridge has blocked the natural water stream that has always been there, and will require a new culvert to maintain the existing and long time stream that drains from the wetlands.

Paragraph 3- Development should present inviting elevations and imagery, with special attention at the ground plane. This should be done and described to the Planning Board.

Page 32. 3. Pedestrian and Bicycle Circulation Paragraph 4, last sentence. The use of inviting and receptive plazas and other indicative architectural features should be explored.

Page 32. 4. Parking and Service Facilities, b.1. Uses. Last sentence. The inclusion of public rooms including a meeting space, reading room, and /or teaching space dedicated to Alewife Reservation for research and study should also be explored. The communal facilities should where possible have an adjacent space overlooking the urban wild. Friends of Alewife Reservation has many resources collected on the history and functioning of the Alewife Reservation which could be utilized in such spaces for public benefit.

Page 33. Scale. Where bordering public open space, parkways and important internal pedestrian ways, new development should relate to human dimensions and provide a sense of intimacy in all aspects of design. The present building does not do this.

Page 34. 4. Setbacks. The present building does not provide a setback to compliment the urban wild's edge. It was suggested seating or an overlook may provide this function. This would be nice.

Page 35 (v) Signs also mentioned on page 36, 3.c. So far no helpful pedestrian or bicycle signs are provided.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment. Should you have any questions please feel free to contact us at (617)661-1730


Ellen Mass & Mary White

Ellen Mass
Friends of Alewife Reservation
186 Alewife Brook Parkway, Suite 304
Cambridge, MA 02138 Mary White
Friends of Alewife Reservation Steering Committee
175 Harvey St #9
Cambridge MA 02140