Save the Forest, Save the Garden

Old growth trees in the Silver Maple Forest could be clear cut by a developer

Old growth trees in the Silver Maple Forest could be clear cut by a developer.

Open space has always been at a premium in Cambridge’s dense urban environment, never more so than in today’s overheated real estate market. Citizen-led petitions to save two imperiled open spaces have resulted in policy orders on the City Council’s July 28th agenda, which we strongly endorse.

Both the Silver Maple Forest and the Whittemore Avenue Community Garden are in the Alewife floodplain and both are off the well-beaten path, but resident activists have been working overtime to raise awareness of their value to the broader community. Continue reading

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What Lies Beneath: The Brownfields of New Street & Vicinity

Pile of dirt at 75 New St. Gate was unlocked.

Pile of uncovered dirt at 75 New St. Gate was unlocked.

In the rush to transform the former industrial area along New Street into a residential neighborhood, there has been a troubling lack of discussion about what kind of industry historically took place there, and an unfortunate lack of public awareness about the types and amounts of hazardous waste those prior uses have left behind.

Just days before the Cambridge Planning Board’s July 22 public hearing on a proposal to construct a 93-unit apartment building on the industrial parcel at 75 New Street, we learned that the site contains dangerously high levels of heavy metals (lead and barium), toxins (arsenic), petroleum byproducts (TPH), and known carcinogens (at least three hydrocarbons, including benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, and benzo[b]fluoranthene). We learned this not from the developer (AbodeZ Acorn New Street LLC) or the City, but from a “Notice of Release Form” filed with the Mass Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) on June 4th. The July 22nd public hearing was the third on this project (the first was in early March), and the subject of the site being a brownfields has never been mentioned. Not once. Continue reading

Piecemeal Approval Process Lets Developers Off the Hook

180RCPD AerialThis week’s Cambridge Chronicle has a guest editorial by FPRA officers Jan Devereux and Doug Brown.

Here’s how it starts (read the full piece on Wicked Local Cambridge):

The Cambridge political landscape has changed this year with the election of four new city councilors and the appointment of a new city manager. There also has been a marked surge in activism among residents, much of it focused on development and urban planning issues. Along with councilors Dennis Carlone and Nadeem Mazen, neighborhood organizations across the city have begun to change — and elevate — the conversation about the goals, values and priorities that will inform the city’s new master plan.

As leaders of the newest resident group on the scene, we think this is a healthy change, and one that we aim to further through our work. For too long, the city’s permitting process has pitted residents against developers in an adversarial process that forces us to play “whack-a-mole” on a playing field that is far from level. Under the former city manager’s quarter-century regime, our volunteer Planning Board followed a narrow checklist approach to evaluating large projects that ignored some of the broader policy issues at stake. Too often, residents were cast as obstructionist when they tried to raise reasonable concerns about community benefits and the public good.

If you have not already signed the Carlone Petition to make the City Council the special permit granting authority, please do so here.

Comments on Latest Alewife Development Proposal

Aerial view of 180R Cambridge Park Drive

Aerial view of 180R Cambridge Park Drive

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on July 8 to review a proposed residential development near the Alewife MBTA station. Below is an extract of the comments that the FPRA officers submitted to the Board for consideration. The complete document is here (17 pages). Continue reading

It’s Always Sunny in Render-adelphia

603 Concord Ave.

603 Concord Ave.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all live in the dreamscape neighborhoods depicted in architectural renderings? The sun is always shining, traffic is minimal, and the people look so carefree and unhurried. The warm light in watercolor washes is so flattering, especially to building materials like concrete clapboard that up close don’t look so soft around the edges.

We have the technology to create virtual reality simulations of what proposed buildings would look like in their real-life urban context, yet major development projects are routinely approved based on old-fashioned renderings — the architectural equivalent of what fashion models are to real women. Continue reading