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Details few, as Mugar site developer looks ahead

Crowd swells Town Hall to hear Mugar site discussion on Aug. 12, 2015. / Glenn Koenig photoCrowd swells Town Hall to hear Mugar site discussion. / Glenn Koenig photo

Opposition continues to reign;
 1 alternative suggested

UPDATED, Aug. 16: In a rare midsummer sight, an estimated 225 people crowded inside Town Hall, after about 50 protested outside, many questioning a 219-unit home project called Thorndike Place proposed along Route 2 in East Arlington.

Answers were few, as representatives of the developer, Oaktree of Cambridge, said details had to remain sketchy at this point, as the plan first seeks to be eligible.

Board of Selectmen logo, Jan. 23, 2013"It's disingenuous and totally unacceptable to say, 'Don’t worry -- we'll deal it at the Zoning Board of Appeals," said John Witten, special counsel to the town, to cheers from the crowd.

Witten, an expert in the state's Chapter 40B law, under which this project seeks eligibility, was responding to Oaktree's housing consultant, Robert Engler, who said that once MassHousing issues an eligibility letter, then the burden is on town to make its case, and the developer will provide further details.


ACMi video stream of meeting

Boston Globe summary


The Wednesday, Aug. 12, special meeting was held so the selectmen could hear testimony from all sides to aid their response to MassHousing, which must be filed by Tuesday. The board expects to vote on its submission at its Monday meeting.

After receiving all comments, MassHousing has 60 days to decide whether to approve Oaktree's project application. That would mean the state agency backs its plan for 25 percent if units to be affordable if it gains support, then the developer would bring the plan before the town's Zoning Board of Appeals.

Another direction?

Affordable housing was just one of many issues raised by the selectmen and the 24 other people who spoke. Issues that Oaktree said it were too early to detail include flooding. For example, a hydrology study remains to be completed.

Of the 24 who spoke, only one, Chris Loreti, made comments critical of town officials but also suggested another direction to take. He called selectmen's opposition "irresponsible" and an "invitation to litigation." He said Aug. 13 that he favors the town buying the site to preserve wetlands, using Community Preservation Act money. More reported below.

For their part, the selectmen remained steadfastly against Thorndike Place.

Among his questions, Selectman Dan Dunn noted that the site's wetlands have been around "a lot longer than any of us have been here" and asked about the direction of drainage.

Which does runoff drain?

Mark E. Beaudry, Oaktree's new civil engineer, said runoff drains toward Route 2 and away from neighborhoods.

Later, when the town's legislative delegation rose together to oppose the project, Senator Ken Donnelly said recalled that, as a child living nearby, the water then did run toward homes.

With incomplete plans, Dunn asked Oaktree, "How can we trust flooding will be managed?"

Engler responded: "This dilemma comes up all the time .... Because of the way 40B is structured, we will answer those questions in front of the ZBA .... We need a site letter first."

To cheers, Dunn pointed out that Oaktree's latest data about the flood plain dates from 1982, and that most buildings in the plan are shown in a 100-year flood plain.

Dunn said the developer is seeking waivers from the town's wetlands-protection bylaw, but the builder said that could not be addressed until its application is approved.

Selectman Joseph Curro Jr. focused on traffic. Robert J. Michaud, a principal of MDM Transportation Consultants, Marlborough, had addressed the issue for Oaktree at the May 21 meeting at Hardy attended by about 300 people

Focus on 364 parking spots

"Nothing has occupied us as much as traffic and parking," Curro said, calling the neighborhood near Thorndike the most affected.

Noting that the town's new master plan says 16.7 percent use public transit to get to work, he turned to the plan for 394 parking spots at Thorndike Place. "Most of those residents are going to drive," he said.

He challenged developers to "put your money where your mouth is, and propose a drastic reduction in parking spots."

Engler responded: "We'll get to that. We have already have come down to a 1.25 parking ratio."

Curro countered, suggesting another round of discussions about this when the current plan has no support.

"I don't know what that would entail," Engler said. "There is nothing in master plan about affordable housing."

That comment drew to the microphone Carol Kowalski, town planning director, who said the Redevelopment Board this week recommended a committee to address housing.

Selectman Steve Byrne called Oaktree's application "very bare" and questioned Oaktree's cost estimate for site work, suggesting it appears too high. The developer declined to address the latter.

Pledge of waiver asked

Selectman Diane Mahon asked Oaktree to commit to not seeking a waiver from the town's wetlands bylaw. Gwendolyn Noyes, a company founder, declined to do so directly.

Mahon asked about possible access to Thorndike Place from Route 2. Current project access is through the East Arlington neighborhood.

Noyes called that a "distinct possibility" -- should the town want to discuss improving ramp access.

Later, Donnelly said he was unaware of discussions about this on the state level.

Selectmen Chairman Kevin Greeley moderated the discussion and did not offer comments.

From 8:25 to about 9:30, representatives of six town organizations spoke, all reflecting opposition. The groups were the Mystic River Watershed Association, whose leader expressed opposition; the League of Women Voters of ArlingtonSustainable ArlingtonFriends of Spy Pond Park, Open Space CommitteeArlington Soccer Club and the East Arlington Good Neighbor Committee.

Public has its say

Among the 24 individuals who spoke, a resident of Littlejohn Street, near Thorndike, targeted planned parking, saying it was "four times" Walgreen’s lot.

Littlejohn Street resident speaks out.A Littlejohn Street resident speaks out.

Elizabeth Thompson of Arlington LWV.Elizabeth Thompson of Arlington League of Women Voters.

He said he did not want the increase in cars to take his "last gasp of air."

John Belskis, a Town Meeting member who until 2010 led the Coalition to Repeal 40B, said Arlington ranks No. 11 out of 351 cities and towns in state on affordable housing.

Kelly Lemos read a statement leavened with humor. Noting water in her basement, she said, "I go with flow."

Aram Hollman suggested that Arlington's legislative delegation address the larger picture and change 40B so it would truly encourage affordable housing, as was intended in 1969, when it was passed.

John Worden, the former Town Meeting moderator, offered history. He said he recalls that in the 1960s he saw a sign on the site promising a future Star Market, and it was burning. In 1970, property owner
Stephen Mugar came before Town Meeting and urged passage of a zoning district called Planned Unit Development.

Worden asked why the Mugar family, through Oaktree, does not now bring the project via this route.

Not all speakers were from Arlington. Allison Lenk of Belmont, long active in that town's efforts to deal with developers and in trying to protect the Silver Maple Forest, urged solidarity against the project.

Use CPA to restore site?

On Thursday, Aug. 13, Loreti explained his remarks in an email: "My preference is that the town acquire the entire site and restore the wetlands on it. If it can’t get funding from the state or federal government to do this, it should commit to using CPA funds to do it. (And the Selectmen should be sure to stack the CPA committee with members who are committed to doing this.)

"If the town is not going to buy the property, it needs to recognize that development in one form or another is going to happen. Since the PUD zoning allows for a considerable amount of development on that site, not to mention the greatest building height allowed in Arlington, the current proposal may well be preferable to the alternatives, which likely would not provide the same level of social benefits.

"Rather than just saying 'no,' the town should be working with the developer to ensure that wetlands on the site are restored, that flooding is reduced, that traffic is mitigated through direct access to the Route 2 off-ramp, and that the affordable housing component of the development is maximized."

In his Town Hall remarks, Loreti called on the selectmen to call a Special Town meeting to reverse their position on the amendment to the Article 46 Resolution related to the Mugar site, which was voted down at this spring. All of the Selectmen, as well as many of the CPA supporters, such as Clarissa Rowe and Susan Stamps, voted against this resolution, despite the fact that one of the reasons put forth to support the CPA was that it could possibly be used to fund the Mugar site purchase.

"The reason for the Special Town meeting would be to demonstrate that the town is serious about purchasing the Mugar property," he wrote Aug. 13. "While there have been resolutions and reports (and now a Master Plan) that support preserving the site, to my knowledge there has not been a single vote of Town Meeting in at least the last 10 years that says the town is willing to spend its own money to purchase the site. If anything, the vote this spring suggested just the opposite. In short, talk is cheap, money talks, and the town hasn’t demonstrated that it is willing to put its money where its mouth is. It needs to do that."

Text of Article 46, 2015 Town Meeting

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that funds collected through the Community Preservation Act will be preferentially used to purchase the Mugar property for preservation as open space, a goal of the Master Plan, and requests that the Town Manager enter into negotiations with the owner with all possible haste to effect the purchase.

Following the meeting, Arthur Klipfel, an Oaktree principal, expressed some dismay about the lack of public response to the offer to donate 10.5 acres of wetlands to the town. The entire site is 17.7 acres.

The 'rest' of Article 46

Editor's note: The final vote on Article 46 shows a list of statements that received a favorable vote, including one specifically addressing the Mugar property:

ARTICLE 46 RESOLUTION/MASTER PLAN ENDORSEMENT

VOTED: (ELECTRONIC TALLY, YES – 136, NO – 41)
WHEREAS the Town of Arlington has embarked upon its first master planning effort in more than
two decades; and
WHEREAS a Master Plan Advisory Committee of Arlington residents -- including numerous Town
Meeting Members and professionals in relevant fields -- has worked for more than two years, in
conjunction with staff and contractors of the Department of Planning and Community
Development; and
WHEREAS the Master Plan Advisory Committee has been guided in its work by the Town Goals,
as adopted by Town Meeting in 1993; and
WHEREAS community meetings, surveys, public hearings, citizen interviews and other outreach
activities since 2012 have garnered the direct involvement and feedback of hundreds of Arlington
residents; and
WHEREAS extensive work was devoted to documenting existing conditions, strengths and assets,
determining the community’s desires, performing baseline analyses of current challenges and
changes facing Arlington; and
WHEREAS recommendations have been developed around seven policy areas: Land Use,
Transportation, Housing, Economic Development, Historic and Cultural Resource Areas, Natural
Resources and Open Space, and Public Facilities and Services; and
WHEREAS these recommendations have been expressed in a multi-year implementation plan,
consisting of actions to be considered by various Town boards, committees, professional staff and,
ultimately Town Meeting; and
WHEREAS the results of this work were adopted by the Arlington Redevelopment Board on
February 4, 2015 for submission as the Arlington Master Plan to the Executive Office of Housing
and Economic Development, in accordance with Chapter 41, Section 81D of Massachusetts General
Laws; and
WHEREAS the adopted Arlington Master Plan finds that the “the Mugar land, located between
Alewife Station and Thorndike Field, is a high priority for preservation” and recommends the
Town “pursue strategies to protect the Mugar land”; and that this recommendation is consistent
with Arlington Town Meeting actions in 2000 and 2001 requesting that the Selectmen negotiate to
preserve its “conservation, recreational and open space use”; and is consistent with the Town’s
state-approved Open Space and Recreation Plan which highlights the need to “ensure its protection
for both wildlife habitat and flood control”; and is consistent with the rankings of open space
acquisition objectives by the Department of Conservation and Recreation in which the Mugar land
scored among the highest priority in the metropolitan Boston area; and is consistent with the
Commonwealth’s Alewife Master Plan which highlights the site as a key hydrological connection in
the watershed;”
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Arlington Town Meeting commends the work of
the Master Plan Advisory Committee and the many other volunteers, residents and professional
staff members in considering the current state of our town and mapping out a series of reasonable
steps for consideration in meeting our present and future challenges and improving our quality of
life and endorses the action of the Redevelopment Board in adopting the Arlington Master Plan;
and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town Meeting considers the Arlington Master Plan to be a
living document that will guide future action, while being subject to regular review and update as
conditions warrant; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Town Meeting looks forward to active participation and
consideration of specific actions to be taken, as well as continuing the open process and
incorporating ongoing public participation as implementation of the Arlington Master

A true copy of the vote under
Article 46 of the Warrant for the
Annual Town Meeting of the
Town of Arlington at the session
held May 11, 2015.
ATTEST: Town Clerk


July 15, 2015: Hearing on Mugar site appliocation tough to schedule 
June 29, 2105: July 22 meeting set as developer moves toward 40B Mugar application

June 9: Step toward 40B filed for Mugar site; town seeks more time to respond
May 26, 2015: Speakers at Hardy send a clear message about Mugar site: NO
Cambridge Day, April 26: 3-year Cambridge master-plan process to start with Alewife
April 5, 2015: Coalition responds point by point to Mugar developer's statements
Opinion: Arlington's Belskis on 40B
March 31, 2015: Coalition seeks to preserve Mugar site from development         
Coalition to Save Mugar Wetlands: WordPress | Facebook
March 8, 2015: Belmont Uplands permit issued; opponents vow to continue

This summary was published Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, and updated Aug. 16, to add an editor's note at the end.

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