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Old 06-29-2007, 08:12 PM   #1
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Affordable housing or birds?

Backers: Land bill is about ecology
Builder sees move to block housing

By Dan Tuohy, Globe Correspondent | June 28, 2007

BOSTON -- A bill proposing that the state help to buy a piece of land that is slated for development in Belmont is pro environment, not anti affordable housing, supporters told lawmakers at a hearing last week.

It is a critical distinction to make, said state Representative William Brownsberger, Democrat of Belmont, citing the land's proximity to the Alewife Reservation and its importance to the region's watershed and wildlife. His legislation calls for the state to fund $6 million of the purchase price for the parcel known as the Belmont Uplands. The purchase essentially would block an affordable-housing project. With the land appraised at more than double that, Belmont would join Arlington and Cambridge and supporting groups to fund the rest and conserve the property.

But hurdles exist -- and more than just a state with tight finances: The land is not for sale, its owner, O'Neill Properties, has declared in a letter opposing the legislation.

"I think it is fair to question if this is about open space or preventing affordable housing," states the letter to the Legislature's Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. Signed by Steve Corridan of O'Neill Properties and consultant Robert Engler, the letter states that passage of the bill would constitute the first step toward a "hostile taking of the property."

Belmont's stock of affordable housing is less than 3.5 percent, the letter states.

The Pennsylvania-based developer is proceeding with plans to build 299 rental units under a Chapter 40B permit issued in February by the Belmont Zoning Board of Adjustment. As a project under the state's Chapter 40B law, which exempts an applicant from local zoning, 60 of the units would be rated affordable.

Local residents, however, left the need for housing as a subject for another day; instead, they urged lawmakers to pursue the acquisition to preserve what they describe as the last urban wild in Greater Boston. The project spells trouble for the health of the environment and the public, they contended.

Stanley Dzierzeski, a retired military engineer who lives on nearby Statler Road, said the proposed development and a loss of silver maples on the land would result in a serious health threat for residents.

"As an affected resident, I can assure you during heavy storms, contaminated [sewage] backups occur in the Winn Brook area with potential health issues," Dzierzeski told lawmakers. "The $6 million cost will be easily absorbed by the constantly working trees and the regional recreational and wildlife refuge protection in this watershed."

Ellen Mass, president of the Friends of Alewife Reservation, said the land's importance to the ecology and handling of water runoff transcends municipal boundaries. Her organization, serving as a steward of conservation land, has helped identify 90 species of birds and 20 mammal species, including otters, mink, fox, and deer, in the area, she said. "It is the largest untouched urban wildlife in the Boston area."

Engler, the Cambridge-based consultant for O'Neill Properties, said in a telephone interview that the developer satisfied those concerns during the town's zoning review. In the letter to the legislative committee, Engler noted that "all claimed impacts on flooding, sewer, and traffic have been reviewed and mitigation approved by the town's own engineers and consultants." He further noted that the property is not as pristine as abutters say, and that it was used in the past as a pig farm and as a landfill for the debris from construction of nearby Route 2.

The project is now pending a review by state environmental officials.

Brownsberger said his bill focuses on the environmental importance of the land to towns in the watershed. The uplands is 15.6 acres, of which 12.9 acres are in Belmont and 2.7 acres are in Cambridge; the Cambridge portion is not part of the construction site.

He said his support for conservation predates O'Neill's application for 299 rental units in five, four-story buildings. The developer previously had planned to build a four-story office and research and development building on the site. The property was rezoned for that purpose, from a residential district, in 2002. When the market cooled at about that time, the applicant changed plans for the housing project.

State Senator Steven Tolman, Democrat of Brighton, and Representative James Marzilli, Democrat of Arlington, are co sponsors of the legislation. Two of Belmont's three selectmen also testified in support, while no one spoke against the bill during the two-hour hearing on Beacon Hill.

Mike Ryan, executive director of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Stoneham, said the development would further erode the contiguous strip of habitat branching north from Boston, which would exacerbate the loss of wildlife. "We just can't tolerate this loss of habitat."
? Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

Here is a map of the area I think they are talking about:link

One one hand I support the effort to conserve lands in the Boston area. Lord knows Alewife needs protecting and cleaning up. But this does seem to be a way to keep out undesirable peoples which is a huge dick move. Perhaps if Cambridge could get off its ass and rezone Alewife for some housing we could have both the conservation AND affordable housing, TOD style.
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Old 06-29-2007, 08:32 PM   #2
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[i]Stanley Dzierzeski, a retired military engineer who lives on nearby Statler Road, said the proposed development and a loss of silver maples on the land would result in a serious health threat for residents. [

He's on drugs if he really believes this. These people are as bad as the Alliance to Save Nantucket Sound. They don't care about trees or wildlife or fish...they do, however, care about people moving into their precious neighborhood or their views of Nantucket Sound. If they want to buy this land, let Belmont pay for it, why should the State buy it or better yet, let the Mr. Dzierzeski and his neighbors ante up.
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Old 06-29-2007, 09:27 PM   #3
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Flood control is a serious issue in that area. East Arlington has flooded several times, so runoff control is important.
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Old 06-30-2007, 01:06 PM   #4
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BIRDS! caaaacaAAAAAaaa.... ooooeeeeeooo... bdddddllleeeee
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Old 06-30-2007, 07:00 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Bobby Digital
BIRDS! caaaacaAAAAAaaa.... ooooeeeeeooo... bdddddllleeeee
uh huh.
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Old 07-05-2007, 04:31 PM   #6
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I vote for birds:

Common bird populations shrink drastically
Expansion, global warming spur alarming decline in US, Mass.
By John Donnelly, Globe Staff | June 14, 2007

The United States has seen an alarming decline in common birds over the past 40 years, due to the loss of habitat from suburban sprawl and expansion of commercial agriculture as well as more recent effects from global warming, according to a National Audubon Society study released today.

In Massachusetts, several birds seen regularly three or four decades ago, such as the Northern bobwhite and the Eastern meadowlark, have now become extremely rare, according to the study. Human encroachment on their habitat -- grasslands and shrubs -- has vastly diminished their populations and altered the avian pecking order over the decades, according to annual bird counts.

Even the number of common grackle, a robust species, has fallen by 68 percent in in Massachusetts over four decades, said Greg Butcher, national director of bird conservation for Audubon.

"The grackle is about as common a bird as any out there," he said.

"I was surprised to see it declining in New England. It's probably because the success of the crows gives less space for grackle."

The nationwide analysis looked at data collected by volunteer bird watchers in the Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count, which started 107 years ago and is held in the 10 days before and after Christmas; and the annual North American Breeding Bird Survey organized by the US Geological Survey every June. Combining the data from both surveys produced a snapshot of 550 bird species from roughly 5,000 sites in 48 states, Butcher said. Alaska and Hawaii have had fewer sites and were not included.

"These are not rare or exotic birds we're talking about -- these are the birds that visit our feeders and congregate at nearby lakes and seashores and yet they are disappearing day by day," said Carol Browner, Audubon board chairperson and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator in the Clinton administration. "Their decline tells us we have serious work to do, from protecting local habitats to addressing the huge threats from global warming."

Butcher said that global warming was affecting birds in numerous ways, including the reduction of habitat in the far north, the destruction of trees in the boreal forests due to proliferation of northward-moving pests, and changing migratory patterns that have shifted north.

"Birds are wintering farther north. In the fall, they are migrating south only as far as need be to survive," Butcher said.

In Massachusetts, Butcher said, volunteers recorded a 62 percent decline in the snow bunting, a bird of the high Arctic, and a 52 percent decline of the greater scaup, a small duck that breeds in Alaska and northern Canada, over the past 40 years, according to the Audubon Christmas counts. Both breeds migrate to Massachusetts.

Scott Weidensaul, a nationally renowned naturalist and author, said that bird watchers have long known about the decline of species in areas where once they were abundant. In eastern Pennsylvania, where he grew up, he said he woke up to the sounds of the bobwhite quail and fell asleep to the sounds of a whip-poor-will, but "today you can't find a bobwhite in Pennsylvania and the whip-poor-whirl is increasingly rare."

The same is true in Massachusetts over the last four decades, according to the bird counts: the Northern bobwhite has declined by 99 percent, and the whip-poor-will by 88 percent.

"For the first time we are able to put numbers to a phenomenon so gradual for so long that it's been easy to overlook -- until this point," Weidensaul said of the study.

Nationally, the steepest declines over 40 years was the Northern bobwhite, down 82 percent. But the drive to produce more ethanol -- a corn-based alternative fuel some say is the key to American energy independence -- has spurred proposals to transform more land into cornfields, further destroying more of the birds' habitat.

John Donnelly can be reached at
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