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Belmont Neighbors and FAR demand Environmental Justice
December 29, 2006
A Loss of Confidence
In the Winn Brook neighborhood, the Grinch stole Christmas this year. He didn't steal it in quite the same way as he once did from the good folks of Whoville, but this is not a Dr. Seuss fable. Something of far greater value was taken: a certain confidence in the hearts and minds of Winn Brook and Little Pond residents that those in positions of leadership in the town would protect their interests over the financially driven demands of an aggressive developer, and that those individuals would ultimately make their decision with courage and independence, buttressed by sound environmental thinking.
Since March 2005, when Brian O'Neill's comprehensive permit was filed and Zoning Board of Appeals public hearings began, members of the Winn Brook neighborhood, environmentalists, wildlife specialists and people with unique knowledge about traffic patterns, impact on school enrollment and ability of the Town to service the area, have been speaking out on this issue that has such potential to impact their quality of life and the value of their homes. They have written articles and letters, visited elected officials, promoted the Havern bill, talked to neighbors, and challenged the developer through the ZBA Hearing process to try to block the development.
The Massachusetts Housing Board is the final determinant of the 40B permit request and it is another of those "Inconvenient Truths" of which Al Gore speaks that wetlands, forest and environmental rules are legally superseded by MHA laws giving developers' design firms the advantage. However, several communities have recently been able to successfully mount challenges that have protected their towns from 40B's fall-out. A statewide, grass-roots movement to reform the negative aspects of 40B is gathering momentum and our Governor-elect is showing interest. But if the Cavalry is on the horizon, we can't wait for it. It will arrive too late.
Now the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals has moved to end public input on this issue, effective after the meeting on January 3, 2007. If the word "short-sighted" did not exist in our dictionaries, it would have to be coined for the Zoning Board.
Those of us who live in this area and are thus at Ground Zero for the flooded basements of the future contend that there are serious flaws in building on the forest and land fill location, and long-standing problems with water and sewers in the area that cannot be addressed by "mitigations" offered by the developer. And we deplore the needless ravaging of a silver maple forest with a unique wildlife population, a forest that links open space for Belmont and her sister communities of Arlington and Cambridge and should be preserved for generations to come.
Signatures now being collected in the Winn Brook and Little Pond neighborhoods will ask the ZBA to delay their decision despite the open and ugly pressuring from the builder that was so evident at the last hearing. Once more, we ask the ZBA to examine the shortfalls that have not yet been adequately presented and addressed, acting with courage and wisdom and at the end of the day, speaking for the people it represents.