The Environment Committee conducted a public meeting on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 in the Sullivan Chamber.
The purpose of the meeting was to receive a briefing on the Silver Maple Forest.
Present at the meeting were Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, Councillor Leland Cheung, Councillor Sam Seidel, Councillor Denise Simmons, Richard Rossi, Deputy City Manager, Lisa Peterson, Public Works Commissioner, Owen O'Riordan, City Engineer, Penny Peters, Aide to Vice Mayor Davis, State Representative William Brownsberger and Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk.
Also present were Martha Moore, Belmont Conservation Commission, Patrick Fairbairn, Ph.D, 20 Marcia Road, Watertown, Ellen Mass, President, Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR), 104A Inman Street, Charlie Marquardt, 10 Rogers Street, Mark Jaquith, 213 Hurley Street, Richard Clarey, 15 Brookford Street, Elena Saporta, 102 Ellery St., Dolores Cortes, 90 Ellery Street, Minka vanBeuzekom, 20 Essex Street, John Pitkin, 18 Fayette Street, Phyllis Bretholtz, 65 Antrim Street, Sue Butler, 14 Clinton Street, Edith Haber, Belmont resident, William Ackerly, M.D., Leslie Phillips, Maryann Nelson, Chair, Greater Boston Sierra Club, Emily Axlerod, EK Khalsa, Executive Director, Mystic Watershed Association and Brian Nanos, Cambridge Chronicle.
Vice Mayor Davis opened meeting and stated the purpose. This meeting was set up to hear from the city staff about the impact of the AP Cambridge Partners development project in Belmont on the City of Cambridge. A slide presentation would be given by the Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR), Ellen Mass. Then comments from the city staff and the City Councillors would follow.
Deputy City Manager Richard Rossi asked City Engineer Owen O'Riordan to give an overview of the land development in the FACES area.
Mr. O'Riordan gave an overview of the development project at Acorn Park in Belmont and commented that there is discussion ongoing about developing the FACES site. Cambridge was contacted by the town of Belmont in 2003 regarding sewer connections for the Belmont project. In October 2003 a final EIR report was issued from MEPA. Cambridge had significant concerns regarding the pump on the north side of the Little River. In 2007 the Belmont Board of Zoning Appeals granted a permit for the project. The project changed from a lab to a 299 unit residential complex. Cambridge has concerns regarding the combined sewer overflow and the sanitary system. In 2007 the MEPA certification was reissued. The Belmont Conservation Commission denied the conditions in December 2007. In 2008 an appeal was granted. A superseding order of conditions was then granted to the developer by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Another appeal by the Belmont Conservation Commission and interveners resulted in an adjudicatory hearing for 4 days and DEP ruled against them in May of 2010. Cambridge has held 3 meetings this year with the developer. Mr. Rossi stated that the developer would be required to build a new pump and water and sewer infrastructure if the project goes forward with a tie-in to the Cambridge systems. Also if the FACES project goes forward the developer would be required to upgrade the water infrastructure. He informed the committee that Cambridge does not issue permits to developers for water infrastructure. Those permits are issued from the Cambridge Conservation Commission. Mr. O'Riordan stated that no permits will be issued in the near future.
Vice Mayor Davis asked the City Councillors if they had any questions.
Councillor Seidel asked why the project wanted to tie into Cambridge's system; it is a Belmont development. Mr. O'Riordan responded that Cambridge is a shorter connection at Acorn Park. If this connection occurs Cambridge can require significant mitigation which will have a significant cost benefit for Cambridge residents. Councillor Seidel asked if Cambridge is required to allow the project to use the Cambridge system. Mr. O Riordan responded that it is not unusual; Beech Street and Somerville residents are tied into the Cambridge system. The issue is the capacity. Mr. Rossi stated that five or six years ago Cambridge had similar conversations with Somerville due to development in North Point. Councillor Seidel asked what happens to the rainwater. Mr. O'Riordan stated that if the building permits come to the Public Works Department they will be reviewed carefully for cost and benefit. No permits at this time are being sought from Cambridge for this project. The Department of Environmental Protection issued the permit. Councillor Seidel asked if any of the development will be in Cambridge. Mr. O'Riordan responded that Cambridge has not seen the building permit but that he believes the building is not in Cambridge. He further stated that if the project tied into Cambridge additional permits would be required from the Conservation Commission related to laying pipes in Cambridge. Zoning allows that additional development could occur.
Councillor Cheung questioned the process of tying into Cambridge's system. Three common manholes would be removed and would increase the capacity. Mr. Rossi stated that this project would better our system. Mr. O'Riordan stated that according to the State Storm Water Manual the Belmont project should not increase flooding.
Vice Mayor Davis stated that there is belief that this project could be stopped if Cambridge did not allow the tie in to its water and sewer systems. Mr. O'Riordan stated that the developer doesn't need to tie in to Cambridge. The town could build a pump station. Vice Mayor Davis commented that if Cambridge does not accommodate this project then Belmont is required to accommodate it.
At this time the committee heard from Martha Moore from the Belmont Conservation Commission. She stated that the effect on Cambridge is that one quarter of the storm water will flow through Cambridge. Belmont would also be required to issue a permit but a new pump station is required to be built. Belmont would get mitigation money. The Belmont Conservation Commission did not permit this project because of non-compliance with the Wetlands Protection Act. However, a superseding order was issued by DEP. Belmont filed adjudication at DEP last spring. The decision was found for the DEP ruling. An appeal by the Belmont Conservation Commission and Interveners was filed in Superior Court. A hearing is expected in Superior Court in March or spring of 2011. Vice Mayor Davis asked Ms. Moore if there is one outstanding appeal. Ms. Moore responded in the affirmative.
At 3:43 PM Ellen Mass, FAR President, gave a slide presentation. She stated that the O'Neill development will impact the Silver Maple Forest. Wildlife will be diminished and severe grading will occur. The slide show was taken from the wetlands scientist Chuck Katuska and maps of the area beginning in 1777 showing the evolution of the area, the wetlands and functions of the 130 acre urban wild. Satellite and GIS photos were shown of the large 15 acre forested area and the surrounding residential areas. The FEMA floodplain map was shown which viewed the footprint of the development, 3 acres of which borders on Cambridge land and Cambridge's largest wetland.
Councillor Cheung asked if this is a real reservation. Ms. Mass responded that it is a real reservation; it is documented with DCR and is a full wildlife refuge as noted by professional assessors. Councillor Cheung asked what happened to the proposed commercial development. Ms. Mass stated that the developer was turned down by the Belmont Conservation Commission. The Wetlands Protection Act must be followed.
Vice Mayor Davis asked what the obstacles for this development for Belmont are. Ms. Mass responded that no full transportation or flooding impact studies have been done on this regional area. No one has studied the wetlands flooding of March 2010. She stated that the appeals have continued because the flooding and professional testimony and cross-examination information was eliminated from the DEP final report. She stated that she is fearful that Belmont would issue a premature permit before the court hearing in spring 2011. Cambridge can say no sewer connection; no conservation restriction. She is asking that the permit not be granted until the case is heard in Superior Court in March 2011 or sometime in the spring. Mr. O'Riordan stated that Cambridge does not issue permits before a building permit is issued. Mr. Rossi informed the Committee that the City Manager cannot tell the Conservation Commission what to do. O'Neill owns the silver maple trees and can take them down as of right.
Mr. O'Riordan stated that he was not aware of an application for this project before the Conservation Commission. Vice Mayor Davis asked if there is any reason not to wait for the Superior Court hearing in March of 2011. Mr. O Riordan cautioned that Cambridge needs to be respectful of the DEP process. Vice Mayor Davis commented that the group had been heard and that no permits from the Department of Public Works would be issued before the court proceedings.
Councillor Simmons asked can the project go forth with litigation. Mr. O'Riordan stated that if the developer is given a permit from Belmont in January the developer proceeds at risk. The developer can seek a sewer permit from Cambridge or Belmont. The tie in to Cambridge would be cheaper but the city will require mitigation. Mr. Rossi stated that Cambridge will ask the developer to pay for infrastructure work which will benefit Cambridge. Councillor Simmons asked if Belmont would issue a building permit. Ms. Mass stated that Belmont will likely issue a building permit but that an injunction would proceed ahead with the Commission and the Interveners.
The City Council has the power to ask the City Manager to wait until all matters are settled including the court proceedings. Does it matter if Cambridge holds firm or will we lose out in protecting this area. No sewer permit will be issued prior to the decision of the Superior Court case. Mr. O'Riordan stated that the developer may choose to design to the mitigation demands and file with the Conservation Commission which is an independent body. Vice Mayor Davis stated that if and when an application is filed by the developer with the Conservation Commission Ms. Mass will have to mobilize quickly. Mr. O Riordan stated that the DEP issued the permit which is under appeal and the project can go forward at the developer's own peril.
Councillor Simmons asked what damage would be done if the developer proceeded.
Representative Brownsberger informed the committee that in 2008 legislation was passed to acquire the property for the state to add to the Alewife Reservation of the DCR. However the governor vetoed the legislation. The state supported affordable housing for this site. Legislation to purchase the land for the reservation was refiled this year but not acted upon. There is no mandated funding for this matter. The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) could provide partial funding. The property needs to be evaluated. He stated that DCR, the towns of Arlington and Belmont and the City of Cambridge would have to come up with the funding to acquire this property. This would not be a taking; it would be a sale determined by appraisal. He stated that the value of the property is between $7 and $25 million. Belmont appraised the property at $14 million. He stated that he did not think that Arlington could contribute to acquiring this property. Belmont has adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA).
At 4:30 PM Vice Mayor Davis opened the meaning to public comment.
William Ackerly stated that as an M.D. he is concerned because flooding brings the health hazard of raw sewerage into basements. Whose job is it to ask what the role of the Public Health Department is?
Patrick Fairbairn, Professional Wildlife Assessor and a member of the Watertown Conservation Commission, distributed an outline showing the open space property with and without the development. (ATTACHMENT A). He stated that if the development were placed anywhere else it would have had less impact. The development has planned restoration. There is no evidence this restoration makes the development any better. He also distributed a document entitled Ecological Benefits of Preserving the Belmont Upland Silver Maple Forest (ATTACHMENT B).
Leslie Phillips informed the committee that the Democratic City Committee passed several resolutions to protect the Silver Maple Forest. She noted that the Democratic State Convention adopted the preservation of urban wilds in its state platform. She urged cooperation with the legislature.
John Pitkin stated that the Cambridge Climate Emergency Action Group supported the Friends of Alewife and the City. The area needs to be protected as a valuable floodplain and climate mitigation area.
Richard Clarey stated that Cambridge does not need to do this to help another community. If you get Cambridge do this it benefits Belmont. Rainwater will end up in Cambridge. He urged denying linking into the Cambridge system. The developer needs Cambridge land to get to 66% open space on the site.
Sue Butler, climate advocate and educator, stated that she supported the public health concern. The storm water system is not secure. She spoke about climate change and its unknown effects. It's important to have a buffer for the water system which the forest provides.
Charlie Marquardt stated that the city can say no, separate from the Conservation Commission's action. The Conservation Commission is not needed to prevent development.
Mark Jaquith stated that he wanted a comprehensive mitigation package for the area. Local override of Chapter 40B allowed this project to go forward.
EK Khalsa from the Mystic Watershed Association noted that the Belmont parcels are valuable for flood mitigation.
Maryann Nelson, Sierra Club, hopes to work with Cambridge to protect this land.
Mr. O'Riordan stated that this development would provide mitigation to Cambridge and increase capacity if it goes forward.
Elena Saporta expressed her concern about the FAR issues.
Vice Mayor Davis thanked all attendees.
The meeting adjourned at 4:50 PM.
For the Committee,
Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, Chair