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State Should Shield Towns from Poor Land Uses
Article about the silver maple forest
Belmont Citizen Herald September 3, 2010
Moore and Baram: State should shield towns from poor land uses
By Martha Moore and Michael Baram
Belmont, Mass. —
We are writing regarding the article in last week's paper on the Belmont Uplands ("Activists work to preserve Belmont Uplands 'gem'," Aug. 26).
The Uplands developer clearly has a right to build housing on the Uplands property, providing stormwater and state wetlands regulations are met. In this case there are lingering questions which should first be resolved. During Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) recent adjudicatory process, the developer conceded that there would be a slight rise in the level of Little Pond during some storm events. Stormwater regulations stipulate that there should be no increase in stormwater runoff due to development. However this point and other points of concern identified in oral testimony were dismissed by an inexperienced DEP judge. Without explanation, she used none of the four-day expert oral testimony in her decision, and included a number of factual errors. Her reasoning should be made explicit, and the evidence weighed appropriately using the oral testimony. Once stormwater and wetland regulations are met, the project would be ready for permitting.
In these tough economic times, DEP has been under pressure to facilitate economic development, as evidenced by the act recently signed by the governor to extent land use approvals, Chapter 240 Of The Acts Of 2010, An Act Relative To Economic Development Reorganization. However, as important as we believe mixed affordable housing to be for our town and the commonwealth, given Belmont's "built out" nature, any large housing project in Belmont should be redevelopment on a previously developed site. Local and state financial incentives and other planning tools can facilitate such development. The Uplands functions well as natural sponge and infrastructure for the town and should continue to provide that function.
In any case, new construction should not be built which will increase flood damage to existing housing stock in the area abutting Little Pond.
The state has been slow to respond to and to understand how seriously and unnecessarily a broad spectrum of its policies damage local natural environments. Recent climate data shows cause for considerable concern that increased flooding due to more frequent and severe storm events is the new normal. There is a long list of indicators that the state's natural resources are in big trouble — increases in air temperature, more damaging storms, dry river beds, replacement of natural growth with vast areas of invasive plants which provide little or no habitat and food value for wildlife, and disappearing wildlife species — including such familiar creatures as frogs and bats.
The connection of these troubling changes to the health and wellbeing of future Belmontians is a complicated but important concern. Overall the state needs policies which addresses incremental irreversible environmental damage from poor land use choices, choices bring harm to us and our children and impoverish us. These concerns are at least as pressing for citizen wellbeing as increasing affordable housing stock.
Martha Moore is a member of the Belmont Conservation Commission, but the opinions expressed are her own. Michael Baram is Professor Emeritus at Boston University School of Law. His research, publications and legal and advisory activities have dealt with regulation, liability and industrial management of risks to public and worker health and safety and the environment in several technological sectors.
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