As 2014 comes to a close, we wish to share what the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance has accomplished since our launch less than a year ago, and to ask for your financial support to address the challenges and opportunities 2015 presents.
First and foremost, the FPRA has given voice to residents’ concerns about the impact of future development of the Fresh Pond/Alewife area. Until our grassroots group coalesced last spring, there was no forum to sound the alarm about the stampede of development on the horizon, and no organized group to advocate on the community’s behalf. As Ralph Waldo Emerson might have said, “Development was in the saddle and riding herd on City Hall.” After ten months of tireless wrangling, the FPRA has shown the city there is a large group of voters and taxpayers who can no longer be ignored in decisions on how Cambridge’s western frontier is redeveloped and settled.
Mission accomplished? Not quite…. The thousand-plus new units recently approved in the Alewife area and along New Street were only the vanguard. More large-scale development is on the horizon.
In the past couple of years alone, hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate holdings in the “Quad” (the 93-acres between the western extension of Concord Avenue and the Trader Joe’s shopping center and the railroad tracks) have been consolidated by a handful of very large developers. The current zoning holds the potential for a massive redevelopment that could add thousands of new residents and millions of square feet to the area’s built environment. Traffic congestion, flooding, toxic soil, and inadequate pedestrian and bike connections are just a few of the obstacles on the path toward the sustainable development the FPRA advocates. Redevelopment around our area must begin with a long-term vision that guides a holistic plan to create an authentic sense of place and to overcome the area’s known deficiencies — before adding more buildings, people and cars. We cannot stress enough the urgency of reining in the piecemeal, uncoordinated development we have seen up to now through the active participation of a well-informed and more vocal citizenry.
Our lobbying has helped to change the conversation about the priorities and the tradeoffs. The FPRA was instrumental in pushing the city to undertake a comprehensive master planning process, and to acknowledge that the Fresh Pond/Alewife area is in the most critical need of a planning review and zoning re-set. The city has said this process will begin in 2015 and will start with the Alewife area. We need your help to ensure follow-through with an updated vision and plan for our area, and to give residents a meaningful say in the eventual decision-making. Resident input, accountability and transparency have been lacking in prior planning and zoning decisions; the city is now beginning to respond to our requests, and going forward, we can, and must, press for a much higher standard of community involvement and responsiveness.
2014 was a year of learning and momentum building for our organization. Now, the real work begins. In 2015 we will need your support to:
- Work to ensure that the anticipated redesign of New Street and the Fresh Pond mall parking lot follow our recommendations to improve circulation and create safe pedestrian/bike connections between Danehy Park and the Alewife T.
- Monitor and report on the environmental cleanup required during construction at 75 New Street, and on other brownfield sites in our area.
- Monitor, report and propose solutions to the traffic congestion and lack of infrastructure connections that impede circulation and lessen pedestrian/bike safety in our area.
- Negotiate on the community’s behalf with expected new developments at the former Bank of America site at Concord Ave. and Wheeler St. and at the former Tokyo restaurant.
- Reach out to owners of large parcels in the Quad where the next round of development is anticipated to involve residents early in the planning and design process.
- Advocate for a better balance of new housing development to provide a range of rental and ownership opportunities for households of all sizes and incomes, especially families of moderate income.
- Push for stronger flood mitigation and energy efficiency requirements for all new development.
- Lobby for new community services and public facilities to better serve both current and future residents.
- Watchdog all re-zoning proposals and board of zoning appeals applications to insure compatibility with neighborhood values.
- Petition for changes to the zoning and building ordinances to improve the quality of life and affordability in our area and citywide.
- Hold public forums on neighborhood development and planning issues so that residents can engage with each other and city officials.
- Endorse and support candidates who share our values in the 2015 City Council election.
To make headway on this ambitious to-do list, we will need technical, design, legal, and research help to augment the hundreds of volunteer hours many of us are committing to the cause. Your pro bono expertise in any of these areas is most welcome, and we need to build up the FPRA’s financial reserves, too.
Please consider making a donation to the FPRA to support our work on the community’s behalf. You may mail a check payable to the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance c/o our treasurer Terry Drucker (88 Chilton St., Cambridge 02138) or make an online donation through the PayPal link at freshpondresidents.org.
Thank you and warm wishes for a happy holiday season and the year ahead.
The Fresh Pond Residents Alliance executive board:
Jan Devereux, President
Doug Brown, Vice President
Ann Sweeney, Vice President
Jay Yesselman, Vice President
Peggy Barnes-Lenart, Secretary
Terry Drucker, Treasurer
Bill Forster, Officer
Lang Keyes, Officer
Bob Simha, Officer