FPRA Comments on 55 Wheeler St., Cambridge

These comments are based on the presentation by the developer to the FPRA on May 24, 2017.

June 14, 2017

Reid Joseph
Senior Vice President
Westbrook Properties
211 Congress Street, Suite 920
Boston, MA 02110

Re: FPRA comments on proposed development at 55 Wheeler St. Cambridge

Dear Mr. Joseph and Colleagues,

The Fresh Pond Residents Alliance (FPRA) provides these comments on your proposed 55 Wheeler Street project as presented to us on May 24th , 2017. Thank you for your presentation to our neighborhood association and for diligently answering the questions raised during the presentation.

To begin, let us say that we appreciate that the project has evolved from its original design in several positive ways. A significant number of the questions that we and others raised in the Public Presentation of March 1, reiterated in our 3/5/17 email to Anthony Galluccio and Lisa Seraphim, have been answered. That said, there are still aspects which concern us. Overall, the project is being designed for a parcel with limited site access, in an area already highly congested with traffic and with limited existing mobility options. It is also partially within the current FEMA 100-year floodplain delineation and largely within the severely flood-prone areas identified by the City of Cambridge’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA).

While we realize that these problems cannot necessarily be solved by your team alone, we do nevertheless believe that this site will require significant improvements in access and mobility, and adherence to the highest standards of flood preparedness, in order to be a viable location for such a large project. We will review these and other points in greater detail below. Our specific concerns are as follows:

  1. Traffic. We are supportive of proposed improvements to the existing road layout in order to connect a dead-end street and improve traffic flow on surrounding streets. We are particularly concerned that left-hand turns onto Concord Ave. from Wheeler St. will be even more disruptive to the flow of traffic than at present and will back up traffic into the rotary. To eliminate such an outcome, we suggest that Wheeler St. be redirected as a one-way street moving from Concord Avenue in towards the site, with traffic in turn exiting the area via Fawcett Street and Terminal Road. We understand that if the connector road is to handle traffic from Wheeler, there needs to be a safe place for the moving vans of Atmark residents to park without obstruction. In addition, at the Fawcett Street-Concord Avenue intersection, the traffic study expects that a traffic signal will be needed to allow cars to exit Fawcett Street in a timely manner. We support such a signal. Finally, we believe that a connection to Terminal Road is essential to improving the current conditions at the site. Such a connection will allow vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians to access Route 2, Alewife Station, the Fresh Pond Mall, and New Street without needing to use Concord Avenue or the rotaries at all. It will also improve truck deliveries to the rear of CVS and Trader Joe’s.

There is the larger problem, however, of adding the residents of and visitors to more than 500 new units to an already severely over-loaded road system. The traffic presentation was insufficient to fully understand these impacts, although a doubling of evening peak traffic is anticipated. The presentation showed an “added delay of more than 20 seconds” at both Fawcett and Wheeler Streets, with both intersections degraded to an “F” level of service both morning and evening, but the traffic study itself suggested wait times in excess of 120 seconds per car at these intersections. This is unacceptable. In addition, the mode-share analysis assumes adequate capacity and accessibility to transit and other mobility options, for which there was no evidence. We look forward to reviewing the traffic analysis in greater detail, and would ask that the study be revised to incorporate the three changes suggested above. As we asked in our 3/5/17 email to Anthony Galluccio and Lisa Seraphim, based on the Public Presentation of March 1, we hope that the TIS will include analysis of impacts of and to Blanchard Road as well as off-peak impacts. We also refer you to Steve Kaiser’s letter of March 21, 2017, which raises many additional and important points and suggestions.

  1. Mobility. We appreciate that the project reserves land for a future multimodal bridge over the railroad tracks. We believe that this bridge, in some form, is essential to the future mobility of the site and of the Quadrangle neighborhood of which it is a part. We hope that the developer will make a significant financial contribution to making this bridge a reality. The construction of safe, continuous street design with bike and pedestrian pathways is also essential, and the developer of this site has an important role to play in working with the City, neighboring property owners, the neighborhood, and the Alewife TMA to make this site truly work from a mobility point of view. We hope that the developer will actively advocate among other stakeholders on behalf of this important project and make explicit what their financial contributions will be.
  2. Public Open Space and Building Scale. The designated open space between the electrical substation and railroad lines is unlikely to be much of an amenity without considerable work to buffer it from the unattractive, neighboring land uses. We understand an effort has been made to plant vegetation as a screen and we would like to see more detailed plans of how to make this area usable, attractive, and well-maintained. The tree-lined “allée” and the open spaces arranged as pocket parks and pathways hold promise (though we do have some concerns that the City will allow mature trees to remain on top of the storm water easements located in this area). It is important that the public feels welcome in these spaces and that they do not appear to be exclusively for residents of the buildings. For example, to reflect the history of Alewife and to signify the character of the place that Alewife is becoming, we support the preservation of all or most of the three contiguous courtyards of Abt Associates. This open space with mature vegetation has been a center of business development and innovation that took place and will continue, we hope, at Alewife. A connection to Terminal Road is crucial, and will allow residents to more easily access Danehy Park and relieve some of the pressure on Fresh Pond Reservation.

The shape and massing of the buildings is creative and provides some visual relief and views connecting through to Fawcett Street. We question, however, whether the site can accommodate the number of units proposed and still provide adequate open space. Open space that is vegetated and includes large trees for shade is essential to mitigating the heat island effect that this area is prone to due to the large amount of impervious cover. The open space should be designed to also trap and treat storm runoff so that it enters the storm water catchment system, and ultimately Alewife Brook, free of pollutants from roadways and parking areas. We would like to see a drainage plan that utilizes green infrastructure to treat the runoff from small storms. We are pleased to see that there is very little surface parking proposed on the site.

  1. Ownership, Inclusion, and Community. We strongly support the developer’s addition of a building consisting of ownership units to the plan. This will provide more of a community anchor with people who are invested in the long-term welfare of the area, provide a better transition to the ownership units at The Reservoir Lofts next door, and provide a greater variety of residential options for the area. Meeting the 20% inclusionary requirement in both rental and ownership buildings will also enhance community stability, as well as overall diversity and opportunity. In addition, we hope the developer will consider an additional 5% priced at a workforce level (80- 120% of AMI) to provide for residents who are above the inclusionary criteria but otherwise not able to afford living in the area. Finally, providing 3-bedroom units is also important so that families with children can live in this housing. In any case, we would expect the Planning Board to document any specific project promises regarding ownership units, workforce units, or bedroom counts in their final decision conditions.
  2. Overall Regional Context. It is not possible to assess all the incremental positive and negative impacts of each local project without considering the cumulative effects of all such local projects. In light of that, the applicant (or Cambridge’s Community Development Dept.) should provide additional details of such cumulative impacts, including current and planned developments, anticipated changes in population, expected populations of school-aged children, anticipated number of affordable housing units, percentage of open space (both permeable and publicly accessible), as well as housing turnover rates—especially of rentals. We need to see the cumulative effect of all expected projects, rather than assess each project in a vacuum. The applicant (or CDD) should also present the cumulative effect of all projects on transportation and circulation patterns, additions to the housing stock, implications for public services including schools and libraries, and usable open spaces for the entire area.
  3. Environmental Concerns. Given the site’s past history of contamination, what is the expected process for site remediation? What contaminants are present on the site? Will excavation expose contaminated soils or ground water that will need to be remediated or that might migrate off-site? If so, how will these issues be addressed? And, lastly, how do you expect to keep residents and abutters abreast of further developments?
  4. Climate Change Resiliency. Very few details were presented on how this project provides resiliency to the clear dangers of climate change on this site, perhaps due to lack of time. Any filing with the city should detail how the project will:
  5. Accommodate flooding (see figures, below): provide compensatory storage, protect property of tenants/owners (including cars), store wastewater, protect utilities, infiltrate and filter runoff from small storms to protect water quality using green infrastructure.
  6. Protect the safety and welfare of the residents: inform prospective owners/tenants of the dangers of flooding, provide safe shelter in place spaces and systems, provide emergency egress.
  7. Minimize heat island impacts: Using shading and green infrastructure, significant large shade trees and other vegetation, white roofs, and other means to reduce ambient summer air temperatures during heat waves.
  8. Comply with Net Zero. How the project will comply with the city’s Net Zero Action Plan.

[Figure not posted
Source: City of Cambridge CCPR, Climate Change Scenarios, Sept. 2016, Kleinfelder.]

Thank you for considering our comments; we look forward to continued discussion. We hope that you will be able to develop a project website that contains current project information for easy public access. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact us should you have further questions.

Yours sincerely,

The Officers of the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance

Doug Brown, Standish Street
Terry Drucker, Chilton Street
Alison Field-Juma, Concord Avenue
Alice Heller, Corporal Burns Road
Langley Keyes, Chilton Street
Peggy Barnes Lenart, Fayerweather Street
Mike Nakagawa, Madison Avenue
Ovadia Simha, Blanchard Road
Arthur Strang, Fresh Pond Parkway
Ann Sweeney, Lakeview Avenue
Jay Yesselman, Vassal Lane


Cc: Louis DePasquale, Cambridge City Manager
Lisa Peterson, Deputy City Manager
Cambridge City Council
Cambridge Planning Board
Owen O’Riordan, Dept. of Public Works
Iram Farooq, Community Development Department
Joseph Barr, Traffic, Parking & Transportation
Alewife Envision Working Group Members
Tim Love, Utile
Nancy Ryan, Cambridge Residents Alliance


Envision Alewife–FPRA Concerns

FPRA Comments submitted May 31, 2017

To: Cambridge City Council, Planning Board, Community Development Department, Envision Team

Re: Concerns regarding Alewife Envision Planning Process

Dear Cambridge City Officials and Envision Team,

The Fresh Pond Residents Alliance, the neighborhood group that includes the Alewife planning area, supports the need for comprehensive planning of the Alewife area. We are concerned, however, that the scenarios and plans being developed through the Envision planning process do not represent the best interests or concerns of the Alewife area residents, nor of the city as a whole. We raised many of these concerns in our letter of 2/1/17 (attached), to which we have received no response. Our members have strongly expressed their concerns several times at both FPRA public meetings and Envision public meetings. Although every Alewife Envision Working Group and public meeting begins with a review of the vision statement, the plans presented clearly do not meet this vision. We support the goal that Alewife provide significantly more housing and economic opportunity than at present within various real constraints, including the area being subject to severe flooding as soon as 2045, the date at which the 100-year storm is predicted to outflank the Amelia Earhart dam.

Our first concern is that the proposed scenario and accompanying zoning changes will degrade the sustainability, social interactions and safe connections of the area. While we have repeatedly asked to see scenarios that have a lower density than the current zoning allows—which is itself a major increase in density over the 2004 status quo—we continue to be presented with plans that have significant increases in density.  At the public meeting held by Envision on 2/8/17, the audience clearly supported seeing a lower density scenario. At the FPRA public meeting of May 24, the participants reiterated this position.

The “middle-of-the road” proposal presented at the Envision Alewife Working Group meeting of 4/27/17 still showed an increase in density—from 1.3 FAR to 1.56 FAR. The impacts—which is what matters in the end— were presented only for the 60% build-out, and were particularly worrisome in the case of traffic on Concord Ave. These impacts were obviously an underestimate of the final impacts at 100% build-out.  It may be argued that 100% build-out is a long time off. However, what we have seen at Alewife is, to the contrary, that construction has far outpaced the expected rate of development laid out in the 2005 planning scenarios.

According to the presentation of impacts, existing quadrangle peak traffic on “Outer Concord Avenue” is already about 800 cars on top of the 500 cars that are from non-quadrangle traffic (slide 45). That can hardly be blamed on through-traffic to Boston.  The proposed “New combined scenario” adds another 500 or so cars on top of the current existing 1,300 (approx.). But that is at only 60% of the build-out, so it underestimates the impact not only on that section of road, but on the Blanchard intersection and residents in Cambridge/Belmont at one end, and the entire Fresh Pond Parkway rotary system at the other end.

In addition, several projects under active discussion with the City and residents have been omitted:  55 Wheeler Street, despite the developer having been engaged in active discussions with CDD since at least August of last year, is not included. This project is proposed as 530 units. The map also fails to include 605 Concord Ave. (49 units already permitted) and Fawcett Street (44 units currently under construction).  Why does this matter? 55 Wheeler St. includes one of the proposed green spaces shown on page 22, as well as the frequently discussed bridge landing. 55 Wheeler Street also includes three new streets shown on page 23, one of which their current project design would render impossible. On page 37, there is a map labelled as “Housing Units- Existing and Pipeline.” None of the 3 projects mentioned are included on the map, and, therefore, the baseline figures on page 36 appear much lower: the current housing situation totals 697 units, 98 of which are still to be built. In fact, the real numbers are 1,320 units, 721 of which are still to be built. This allows them to show a rosier picture on page 36. The bar graph for the New combined (preferred) scenario shows a housing total of 1,777 units at 60% buildout. The real number will be 2,400, by our count. This will in turn affect the traffic calculations.

We have, thus, a fundamental question. At what point, or by whom, was it decided that the Alewife area should increase its density above the already high increase allowed in 2005?  Why is this being relentlessly pursued with no explanation, as if it were a foregone conclusion? The Envision “New combined scenario” has a painfully small amount of open space proposed for public use. But at the proposed density there is nowhere to expand the public open space to. As property values continue to relentlessly climb, the City needs to take action now to secure open space and tackle the mobility and traffic issues head-on. May we state the obvious that making more intersections F-rated is not acceptable?

Our other grave concern is that the entire development of the quadrangle so far depends on one-sided access—Concord Avenue—forming a near cul-de-sac for thousands of residents and workers, while simultaneously claiming to be transit-oriented and maximizing the opportunities for sustainable transportation. The refusal of CDD and the consultant to even show the necessary bridge across the T tracks to link the area to the Alewife station is makes the area unworkable. To say that it can’t be shown because some other more important investment could prevent it from being built, may be too close to the truth. But it is important to make this area function reasonably well while we still can. We are well aware that features not shown on a plan will simply not happen. We learned that from the 2005 Alewife plan.  As we asked in our February 2017 letter, there must be a commitment to invest in the infrastructure that will make this development work. Waiting until after the development has occurred is a recipe for failure—which the residents will have to live with for years to come.

There are several things to like about the “New combined scenario” that was presented at the Working Group meeting. The presentation of the housing, jobs and tax/fiscal impacts were also helpful, albeit for only 60% build-out.  The improved street grid, mix including light industrial, commercial, and owner-occupied townhouses that would help stabilize the neighborhood, together with creative structural approaches to inevitable flooding, hold promise. However, this will not work at the density proposed. It will not result in a livable Alewife community and will have serious negative impacts on neighboring streets and communities. At a lower density there could be reasonably-sized public open green spaces, stormwater treatment, and transportation linkages that could double as emergency access and egress during flooding without sacrificing a major increase in residential and economic development.

We respectfully ask the City Council and Community Development Department to require a lower density scenario with the necessary infrastructural investments be developed and presented to the public. We also ask that a serious multi-stakeholder Alewife Mobility Task Force be established by the City, similar to what exists in Kendall Square, including the Alewife TMA, community groups and others. This Task Force should report back to the City Council with proposed actions and within a defined timeframe.

We look forward to your response and continued dialogue regarding development in Alewife.

Yours sincerely,

Fresh Pond Residents Alliance Board

Doug Brown, Standish St.
Terry Drucker, Chilton St.
Alison Field-Juma, Concord Ave.
Alice Heller, Corporal Burns Rd.
Langley Keyes, Chilton St.
Peggy Barnes Lenart, Fayerweather St.
Mike Nakagawa, Madison Ave.
Ovadia Simha, Blanchard Rd.
Arthur Strang, Fresh Pond Pkwy.
Ann Sweeney, Lakeview Ave.
Jay Yesselman, Vassal Lane

Reply to: freshpondresidents@gmail.com

Come to a Neighborhood Meeting of the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance

Weds. May 24th, 6:30-8:30 pm at Tobin School

Get the latest information and vote on important issues.  A strong Neighborhood voice makes a difference! 


Projection of Alewife Flooding at Lanes & Games from Cambridge Climate Change Vulnerability Study data.

While the likelihood of flooding increases in our area, development is accelerating in the floodplain. And if you think traffic can’t get worse, think again. Come evaluate the 530-unit development at 55 Wheeler St. (formerly Abt).  Hear concerns about the Envision Cambridge planning process in Alewife. Make input into neighborhood positions.  


6:30 Current development reports:

  • Lanes & Games
  • The latest Tokyo proposal
  • Envision Planning in Alewife–major concerns about the process, discuss FPRA actions
  • Water main replacement and water quality impacts, discuss FPRA position
  • Your neighborhood issues

7:15  55 Wheeler Street (former Abt Assocs., behind Trader Joe’s)

  • Presentation of proposed 530-unit residential development
  • Question & Answer session
  • Member deliberation

8:30 Adjourn

City Council Approves 20% Inclusionary Zoning!

On April 3 the Cambridge City Council unanimously voted to increase the inclusionary housing requirement to 20%! This is the first increase in 19 years, and will significantly increase the new affordable housing available in Cambridge.

Congratulations to Cambridge Residents Alliance which has been pushing for an increase for years. Thanks also to Black Lives Matter Cambridge who stood up visibly and vocally for this change. We all wish this had been done years ago, so that we could have prevented the displacement of many Cambridge residents. This change, however, should be celebrated and we thank the City Council for making it a reality.

Cambridge Residents Alliance had called for a number of changes in the proposal, and most of them were approved, including:

  • Removing language that excludes existing Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) from the 20% Inclusionary requirement
  • Preventing developers’ goal of providing a lower amount of affordable units;
    requiring 3-bedroom units
  • Requiring affordable units in smaller buildings
  • More frequent review
  • An earlier full implementation date, and
  • No further increases in density.

City Councilors passed the ordinance with these change because they listened to all of you who spoke during public comment, made calls and sent emails. Thank you! We also aim to press for 20% for low-moderate income people and 5% for middle income people, as CResA called for, at the time of the annual review. FPRA will work with CResA for even more affordable housing measures.

For more information and analysis see: Cambridge Day and Cambridge Chronicle. (The Chronicle story is good but has some errors. 1) The requirement starts now, and 2) in effect, the requirement is now 11.5%, and will be raised to 15% now and 20% at the end of June.)

Comments on Inclusionary Housing Petition

Date: March 25, 2017

To:    Cambridge City Council

Dear Mayor Simmons and Cambridge City Councilors,

The Fresh Pond Residents Alliance strongly supports the petition before the Council to increase the required inclusionary housing to 20% of all units.  While we support a rate of 25%, we feel that the increase to 20% currently being considered by the City Council is significant and should be adopted as an interim step, with the ultimate goal of 25%.

This is an urgent matter. The foregone affordable housing due to the current low inclusionary rate is a great loss. The Alewife area is the site of rapid construction of large luxury rental residential buildings, already exceeding the city’s own planning projections. Over the past 6 years, the higher 20% percentage would have yielded an additional 201 units on top of the 397 affordable units already developed or in the immediate pipeline.

We also strongly believe that the new higher rate should be applied to Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) throughout the city, both existing–when special permit amendments are proposed–and future.  The FPRA would like to again emphasize the urgency of the need for more affordable housing–every possible opportunity should be used to apply the 20% standard to existing PUDs. The sheer number of inclusionary units that this one act will create–212 affordable homes at North Point alone–cannot in good conscience be ignored; the number of inclusionary units coming out of other development proposals pale in comparison.  Other large PUD developments, like MXD in Kendall Square, are providing 25% affordable housing, which shows that it is economically feasible.

We are concerned that Cambridge is becoming a divided city, a city of those who can afford the high market rate housing (owned or rental) and those who qualify for subsidized housing. The middle is disappearing, and we see that only too clearly in our own neighborhood. Inclusionary housing should include housing for the middle income as well as low income residents. This may need to be an add-on to the 20% as it will assume somewhat higher rents, but we need to avoid just building for the extremes.  The housing that is being built should also include home ownership options to encourage a more stable population. The current trend of rapid expansion of luxury rental housing is undercutting the qualities we all say we cherish in our city, of diversity, equity and a sense of community.

The FPRA also strongly supports the provisions in the proposed ordinance that requires: three-bedroom units, affordable units in smaller buildings, more frequent review, an earlier full implementation date, and no further increases in density.

We therefore ask the City Council to:

  1. Remove the PUD exclusion language from the proposed ordinance.
  1. Assert that major amendments to a PUD’s special permit should trigger the application of 20% Inclusionary housing.
  1. Ask that the City require 15% affordable Inclusionary housing in existing PUDs starting now.  This change would result in 87 additional affordable units at North Point.
  1. Add the new language that allows lower rent levels for Inclusionary tenants who have lost income and allows flexibility for poor credit.
  1. Add the new language stating that the City Manager promulgates Inclusionary regulations and that there will be a 30 day review with a public meeting.
  1. Ask the Community Development Department to propose to the Council how the City can increase the amount of middle income affordable housing.

Thank you for considering our comments. Please don’t hesitate to contact the FPRA Board if you have any questions.

Climate Change Preparedness & Resilience Planning for the Alewife/Fresh Pond Area Public Meeting

Wednesday, April 12, 6:00-8:00 pm

West Cambridge Youth Center, 680 Huron Avenue

The City will present findings from the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the Alewife/Fresh Pond area and discuss strategies to increase preparedness and resilience.  Alewife/Fresh Pond is an initial focus for the Climate Change Preparedness & Resilience (CCPR) Plan that is in development.  The Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment – Part 2 summary report, which focuses on the risks from sea level rise and storm surges, has been posted on the CCPR project webpage.

FPRA Comments on Special Permit Application for 195 & 211 Concord Turnpike (Lanes & Games)


UPDATE: The Cambridge Planning Board’s continued public hearing on this project has been scheduled for Tuesday, April 4, 8 pm, at City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway (corner of Inman). 

The Fresh Pond Residents Alliance provided these written comments to the Cambridge Planning Board on the proposed new residential development of 320 units at the Lanes & Games/Gateway Inn property on March 4, 2017. The first Planning Board Hearing was held on February 21, 2017, and was continued to an undefined date. Application documents are available here.

FPRA has serious concerns regarding this project. It is a redevelopment of a currently low-density commercial site that is not only within the current 100-year flood delineation but within the floodway itself. It is in the worst part of the whole Alewife area in terms of flooding.  The City’s climate change vulnerability assessment shows that this site will be the most affected of any site in the Alewife area. In the application, BSC notes 2030 100-year elevation as 7.46 NAVD. It appears that Flood Elevations associated with the 2030 and 2070 100-year storm events have been provided by the City to the Applicant but not to the Planning Board. From the information available, we conclude that there will be significant flooding every five years, on average. We support Mr. Russell’s request to see the actual flood levels expected at the development site with information on where the flood waters will come from. This should be for current, 2030 and 2070 timeframes. Our specific concerns are as follows:

  1. The project is presented with no context information from the applicant or CDD. We believe it is only by seeing the cumulative effect of each project that the Planning Board can properly assess the impacts. The Alewife area is developing extremely rapidly and has many serious problems, including traffic, mobility and lack of infrastructure. It is not possible to assess the incremental negative effects, and their relative importance, without this context. The CDDE or applicant should provide: current and planned development changes in population, population of children, affordable housing units, percent open space (green and publicly accessible, and housing turnover rates—especially of rentals in this area. The CDD should show the cumulative effect of each project on transportation and circulation , additions to the housing stock, implications for public services, and usable open space for the entire area.
  2. Housing is not an acceptable use of this site because it:
  • Puts people in harm’s way due to the extreme flooding it will experience. It would be inaccessible to Cambridge fire trucks, ambulances, and other emergency services during flood events. These conditions would place people at serious risk. The DPW memo of 2/15/17 asserts that the building has been designed “to minimize damage and recover from the 2070 100-year flood event,” but this logic does not apply to the people living within it.
  • Residents who are low to moderate income have fewer financial resources to draw on for weathering flood conditions and property damage (e.g., loss of vehicle) and to relocate when the area floods or afterward. The people selected for affordable units don’t have the same options for balancing the risk of living in the worst part of the flood zone as people with financial means.  If they are selected for a unit, they will jump at the opportunity compared to the possibility of being flooded and the potential danger.  But some people will be on the wrong side of the gamble. The market-rate housing will be primarily transient wealthier people who can exercise options, such as leaving the area for higher ground in a hotel.  They may have family nearby, which is less likely for immigrant families. This is a problem of environmental justice.
  • The area is jammed by failing traffic intersections during rush hours. How would school buses access the site for the children living there? Out of 320 units, how many would have children? The sidewalks being provided along the Rte. 2 highway have no protection from speeding cars—wouldn’t children be walking here?
  • Parked cars that are in the floodplain would be irreparably damaged and would pollute the adjacent wetlands, waterways and Alewife Brook/Mystic River.
  • What kind of housing is being provided? The rental turnover rate is this area is very high, with tenants staying less than a year. One of the main predictors for resiliency in the face of weather extremes is community cohesion. Placing an essentially transient population in this zone would be unwise.
  • The air pollution from being so close to a high volume roadway that is heavily congested for much of the day would be a health hazard for people living there.  It would be inadvisable for the low-income housing families to have their kids play outside.  Small particulates (PM10, PM5, PM2.5) are particularly harmful.
  1. Traffic—Project Review Special Permit  (Section 19.20). This project will have “a substantial adverse impact on city traffic within the study area.” The project would make traffic incrementally worse by some 840 daily vehicle trips (according to the Traffic Impact Study (TIS)), in addition to the cars from Vox on 2, and from Cambridgepark Drive. The traffic presentation should include all traffic down thought the Fresh Pond rotary and the dates of the study’s data collection. We ask that traffic studies include measurement of peak traffic on peak days (non-school holiday, non-summer) of the year, not just peak hours. Up to the sites containing Vox on 2 and the proposed project, Route 2 is a limited-access 3-lane (eastbound) highway, and it has no acceleration/deceleration lane adjacent to the property. The TP&T Memo of 2/16/17 states that: “TP&T believes that the proposed driveways are reasonable. . . . According to the TIS there were, no crashes recorded at the Lanes & Games bowling alley and Gateway In driveways at Route 2 [sic].”  At the hearing the TIS study author stated that there had been no accidents at Vox on 2, immediately next door either. Clearly there have been many accidents there, as a shown in the atttached photo, and in the data sheet from the MASSDOT Crash Portal. This TIS is unacceptable.

Vox on 2 crash photo

Lands and Games crash data

Crashes on Rte. 2, 2002-2014 Source: https://services.massdot.state.ma.us/crashportal/

  1. Open space and public realm/ Building scale and massing. The developer has been adept at fitting as many units as possible onto the site despite its difficult shape. What is the justification for this density of development when it will result in so many negative impacts and provide housing that is squeezed between parking garages and a highway, with views of adjacent office buildings, garages and the congested highway (with its attendant air pollution) just feet away. This building density has left little room for public amenities or open space that would help to build the sense of community of which this site is devoid. If this site were used for housing, there is no street-level retail shown and people would presumably have to drive to supermarkets offsite to get food and other necessities. The proponent describes the development as an “urban village.” In what way does this development have features of such a village, such as public sphere, shops, playgrounds, etc.? The developer should present a design with lower density and a smaller building footprint.
  2. Environmental concerns. Is there any toxic contamination of the site—will excavation expose contamination that should be remediated or that might move off-site? Any cars parked within the flood zone will not only be destroyed by flooding, their fluids will leak into the water and contaminate Alewife Brook and surrounding areas. The likelihood of cars being parked during a flood is far higher for residential building than office buildings. What water conservation measures are taken for landscaping—will it require irrigation?
  3. According to the developer’s TIS study, the development will generate 1,006 daily transit trips. What has the City done to obtain increased transit capacity at Alewife?
  4. We support the strengthened Pedestrian and Bicycle Connection to Discovery Park described in the Traffic and Parking memo (item #4) and the Transportation Demand Management measures. We support the Transportation Mitigation measures outlined in the memo but the payments suggested should be increased significantly in order to adequately fund these measures now so that the work can proceed without further delay.
  5. The current use as a bowling alley has been a major community asset for generations. How many of us have been to children’s birthday parties there? Redevelopment in the Alewife should replace this asset with something that also creates community cohesion for the larger Alewife area as well as a particular building’s residents. While the proposed 2-lane bowling may be a nice amenity for the residents, would it be accessible to the public? Will they be welcomed in such a small-scale facility?
  6. City-wide urban design objectives. The CDD memo notes that the goal is to have Alewife “be a sustainable, resilient, mixed used district with convenient and safe connections within the neighborhood and to the rest of the city, along with amenities that support interaction and social ties among its residents.” (p. 5). This project should have amenities at the street level to provide for the residents’ immediate needs and to enliven the streetscape. These could include small retail such as a dry cleaner, food and convenience stores, etc.

Based on the foregoing we have two additional specific recommendations:

  1. The CDD be responsible for commissioning and presenting the TIS for each project, funded by the developer, as is done in many other communities. We ask that this be given serious consideration and the relevant policies/zoning rules be so amended.
  2. The Planning Board request a presentation of the most current version of the Cambridge Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment so that you can see the depth and extent of flooding and the extremity of heat waves expected in the city. This may help the Board see their important role in protecting public health and building resilience. The DPW report states that the buildings would comply with the City’s guidelines and survive flooding, but does not show the severity and breadth of the problems for the people who would live and work there that we will encounter in the future.

Thank you for considering our comments; we look forward to continued discussion. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or other FPRA Board members if you have further questions.