Protecting the Uplands Update

Just recieved this from Elizabeth Grady

Dear Neighbors:

Please take the time to contact the following Belmont selectmen (this will have to be done in a short period of time) and State Representative Will Brownsberger to express your displeasure at proposed development of the Uplands Maple Forest that borders both Belmont and Cambridge, behind the ADL complex. Cambridge has gone on record with a City Council resolution that opposes the development, and has refused sewerage linkups to Belmont. The developers are still speaking of the “possibility” of a Cambridge sewer link up, plus publicly stated at a meeting last week that Cambridge will “probably” do the snowplowing on the access road to the development. So in their world, Cambridge taxes will pay for Belmont’s plowing. This proposed development of nearly 300 units is an utter disaster for traffic on Blanchard Road, let alone environmental inpact on one of the last pieces of undeveloped land in the Greater Boston area. The Belmont Winn Brook neighborhood has mobilized around the issue, fearing flooding, raw sewerage in basements, and congestion, and the project has the same import for our neighborhood as well. See the following 12/31/06 Boston Globe article. Please let your voice be heard.

Betsy Grady

Contact numbers/email addresses:

Will Brownsberger (Belmont selectman and state rep)
(617) 489- 6437, 489-2612 (work)

Angelo Firenze (Belmont selectman)
(617) 484-544

Paul Solomon (Belmont selectman)
(617) 484-0117

Clock starts ticking on Belmont Uplands decision
Zoning board has one more hearing

By Dan Tuohy, Globe Correspondent | December 31, 2006

BELMONT — Belmont’s Zoning Board of Adjustment will usher in the new year by wrestling with an old controversy.

On Wednesday, the board will meet for a final public hearing on Belmont Uplands before beginning deliberations on the 299-unit apartment complex proposed under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law. Once deliberations begin, the board has 40 days to render a decision.

The public record already includes several hundred pages of site plans, architectural drawings, drainage maps, traffic estimates, and wetlands and wildlife reviews. Everyone from the fire chief to the stewards of the historic district has voiced concerns or recommendations.

O’Neill Properties, the owner and developer of the land, is urging the town to take action after a year of studies, testimony, and public debate. Robert Engler, the developer’s consultant, told zoning board members this month that they have all the information they need.

“It should not take 60 days to render a decision,” Engler responded when a board member said the panel might need more time for review. He said the development team might consider a housing appeals petition to spur action on the project, should the board delay.

Critics of the project have argued that it would severely harm the ecology of the uplands and its wildlife and cause flooding and traffic problems . Some officials — including the selectmen — want the project downsized, with more affordable units set aside.

The developer has said that everything possible has been done to mitigate the effects on the uplands environment, and measures will be taken to deal with any flooding or extra traffic from the project.

As critics try to block the development, they are running into Chapter 40B, which exempts such proposals from zoning bylaws in communities where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is deemed affordable. In return, the developer must set aside at least 20 percent of the units at below-market rates.

Plans for the $50 million Belmont Uplands project call for the construction of five four-story buildings on the 15.6-acre site, which abuts Route 2 and the Alewife Reservation. Sixty of the 299 units would be marketed with below-market rents.

According to a financial analysis by the town’s consultant, Michael H. Jacobs, rents on a two-bedroom unit would average $2,340 a month at market rates and $946 at below-market rates. The highest rent would be $2,900 for a three-bedroom unit.

Under 40B, all rental units, regardless of the rent, are classified as affordable. But even including all 299 units, the town still falls short of the 10 percent threshold. Currently, an estimated 2.7 percent of Belmont’s housing stock meets the state’s definition as affordable.

William Chin, chairman of the zoning board, said that if the 40B permit is approved, it will be with conditions.

Sue Bass, a director of the Belmont Citizens Forum, wants the board to create a draft of conditions the developer must meet so the public will have a chance to comment . “So much depends on what conditions the ZBA members intend to impose,” she said.

Perhaps the most vociferous opposition has come from environmentalists.

Ellen Mass, president of the Friends of Alewife Reservation, urged town officials to appreciate the importance of the uplands to the region’s ecological system and the damage that the development would cause. She and others contend the development would contribute to flooding problems in Belmont. In one of several comments on the project, the Belmont Conservation Commission said development of the uplands would “almost certainly inflict serious losses upon existing threatened populations of wildlife in an area well beyond its immediate borders and will eliminate the unique forest there.”

Epsilon Associates, a consultant for O’Neill Properties, said the proposal is designed to reduce the effect on wetlands and provide compensatory flood storage measures that exceed the requirements of the state Wetland Protection Act. The site’s silver maples, which project critics say are imperiled, are “common trees” found throughout the eastern United States, the developer says, and the trees exist beyond the proposed development area to continue to provide food and cover for wildlife.

“No animals or plant species identified by the state as threatened or endangered have been observed on the project site,” Epsilon said in a response to the town. “The project site has been previously disturbed by farming and dumping activities.”

At its January meeting, the zoning board will receive additional information on drainage, sewer capacity, and a proposed sewer holding tank on the land, said Jay Szklut, Belmont’s planning and economic development manager. The board also plans to meet Jan. 17 to review the project.

Neighboring communities are also watching closely because they must deal with the consequences, Arlington planning director Kevin O’Brien said at the last zoning board meeting in Belmont. He questioned the project design and its distance from downtown Belmont and the nearby Alewife MBTA station.

“The project is simply too large for this location,” O’Brien said.

It’s time to mobilize! Not a second to lose!

The Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals has received a set of conditions that the developer has approved, which are on the website listed below. With great generosity, and despite the developer’s displeasure, the ZBA has given the town less than one week, until Jan. 10, to comment on the conditions. All the conditions that I and others have reviewed greatly favor the developer (of course, since he wrote them!) and in all cases will cause expensive problems for the town. For those living in the Winn Brook area or those driving on the roads near Rte. 2, the effects will be disastrous. If these conditions are accepted as is, taxes will have to be raised — a lot — to cover the cost of flooding, sewerage overflow, additional classrooms, teachers, police and fire coverage, public health, and much more. See the example below.

Please help by calling the selectmen to urge them to have town counsel review and comment on the conditions and do this yourself, too.

cting the Uplands/Uplands Alternative Group and send or deliver it to me (31 Grant Ave.) THANK YOU SO MUCH!

CRUCIAL — Fred Paulsen said to contact the Selectmen. They MUST ensure that Belmont town counsel, Judith Cutler, reviews and comments on the conditions before the deadline on January 10. For example, look at item 28, where the cost of the holding tank is deducted from the I/I cost.

CRUCIAL — the Selectmen MUST have Ms. Cutler write a condition requiring that the developer refrains from disturbing or destroying any vegetation or habitat on (i.e., clear cutting) the Uplands until allowed by the legal authorities after the MEPA study has been completed. (or later?)

If one person asking for the town counsel oversight and condition on clearcutting is good, then 30, 40, 50 are better. Don’t hesitate a moment, call or write the selectmen. Urge them to direct Ms. Cutler to help the > town protect itself. Pass this message on, but call Will, Paul, or Angelo yourself.

Barbara Passero
SANDPIPER CREATIVE & Uplands Alternative Group
(617) 484-6961