|Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR) Join Email List||
Selectmen Push Uplands Development Position
by Ellen Mass
June 1, 2008
During the Selectman's review of the projects and activities of the Conservation Commission (BCC) at their meeting on Monday May 19th, was there a tip-off that the public should prepare for an imminent demise of Belmont's silver maple forest at the Uplands?
The Commission's job is to keep Town's properties safe from environmental damage and pollution by enforcing the state's Wetlands and Rivers Protection Acts. The Selectmen heard from the Commission about progressive conservation measures at Rock Meadow, assistance to property owners planning their projects, potential basin work in the town, and other activities. But after the Commission gave an account of their careful review process during the Uplands hearing which lead to denial of the 40B project, the Selectman Chair asserted that in a meeting with the developer's Steve Corridan he had been assured that the 40B development was virtually a done deal. He appeared confident that this was the case despite the developer's erratic history of changing projects, and their recent extension of an Order of Conditions from DEP for development of an office park on the Uplands site.
Chairman Firenze expressed grave concern for the developers because they had already spent "hundreds of thousands" on the case. The Chair reported to the Commissioners that the Massachusetts DEP would shortly be issuing a Superceding Order of Conditions for the 40B project. Firenze indicated that if the Town appealed DEP's ruling, the developers would surely sue the Town.
Firenze's behavior raises the question of whether local citizens have the right to expect their elected officials to fight for the best interests of the Town as determined by its own appointed representatives informed by competent impartial professional advice (such as that given the BCC), or allow policy to be made by politicians in response to threats from a self-serving out-of-state developer.
The Commission's account of the developer's errors and miscalculations during their hearing did not seem to impress Chairman Firenze. According to Firenze, Mr. Corridon does not want long conversations to address the serious environmental shortcomings of the plan, and would prefer to solve those problems at a later date, after the project is permitted. The Chair also reported on the developer's efforts to permit sewer pipes through Cambridge. However, it should be noted that in Cambridge there have been hearings and resolutions opposing such a plan due to the likelihood of downstream flooding and pollution.
Mr. Firenze showed little concern about such environmental liabilities of the development plan as the need for adequate stormwater infiltration on the site, explained to him by Commissioner David Webster (informed by comments from expert hydrologist Bruce Jacobs of Hydroanalysis, and Scott Horsley of the Horsley and Witten Group, the Commission's consultant. ) This dismissive attitude was disheartening to attending Uplands Coalition members, neighbors of the Uplands who have for eight months been fundraising to meet legal expenses for their Uplands court case. The Town Chair was informed that the developer would not pay for specialists' review of recent post-hearing alterations in the 40B plan that have occurred during the DEP review. At this time, neither have the Selectmen arranged funding for review by the Commission's highly knowledgeable consultant team to ensure Town residents the needed protection from flooding, sewage problems and damaging effects for communities downstream.
The Commission awaits DEP's Superceding Order of Conditions to see what environmental protections the state will require from the developer. Given what we have just heard, we wonder if the Board of Selectmen will seriously consider its option to appeal DEP's decision should the decision fail to adequately protect the Town. Without additional expert review, it seems unlikely that the Selectmen will be in a good position to even evaluate the project that emerges from DEP. Uplands Coalition members could be left high and dry as they struggle on to protect themselves and their neighbors from the damaging effects of the planned project.
Stew Sanders, the Belmont author and Alewife Reservation advocate who wrote the Town's Open Space plan for protecting the Uplands, is but one of many local citizens who has worked to improve environmental conditions at Alewife. Politicians should carefully weigh the benefits and costs of a development project for the Town on this environmentally sensitive site, weighing the efforts and concerns of citizens like Sanders and the WinnBrook neighbors in the Coalition and, especially, the work of environmentalists and scientists really equipped to understand the consequences of abusing the region's natural resources. Then they should do what is best in the long run for those people who will be coping for years to come with the effects of their decision.