Judge’s Injunction Halts Uplands Tree Clearing After Morning of Arrests

Someone was listening to the Lorax … for now.

Hours after four protesters were arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, at the proposed site of a 299-unit residential complex on the Cambridge line, a Middlesex Superior Court judge filed an emergency restraining order to halt pre-construction clearing of a portion of the Silver Maple Forest in Belmont until she can rule on a complaint from 14 Belmont residents who are members of the Coalition to Preserve Belmont Uplands.

Justice Rosalind Miller’s single-page injunction temporarily halts trees being cut and removed from the 15 acre forest  located off Acorn Park Road, which is connected to Belmont via Frontage Road adjacent to Route 2. The judgement is directed at O’Neill Properties, the Philadelphia-based real estate firm behind the development dubbed the Residences at Acorn Park.

The complaint contends the site developer, Cambridge Partners II, is pushing aside regulations required by the Clean Water Act and the Belmont Stormwater Bylaw.

The ruling, while temporary, is a victory for environmental groups and Chilton Street resident Anne-Marie Lambert who has advocated that the residential development will increase the likelihood of serious flooding in surrounding communities such as northeastern Belmont, Cambridge’s Alewife and east Arlington due to the developer’s use of outdated climate reports in addition to destroying a nature sanctuary.

(Lambert will give a talk this Sunday on the history of the Uplands hosted by the Belmont Historical Society.)

Miller’s ruling came after a third round of arrests took place at the site as a quartet of protesters, including Lesley University Biology Professor Amy Mertl, who made a presentation to the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Oct. 14, on the economic impact on Belmont town finances if the development is constructed.

Belmont Police report that 13 people have been taken into custody since the first arrests on Monday, Oct. 13. They were charged with trespassing.

Monday’s protest occurred along Acorn Park Road adjacent to crews using chain saws and large earth-moving equipment to clear vegetation and remove trees.

“Oh!” several of the 60 protesters loudly moaned when a 50-foot Silver Maple fell to the ground as a young man read passages from Dr. Suess’ “The Lorax” – which several people repeated – and a graduate student argued loudly with the private security guards.

Quinton Zondervan, president of Green Cambridge, said the week-long direct action by various groups was occurring “since the developer doesn’t have a building permit, but they have already started cutting trees.”

Ellen Mass, founder of Friends of the Alewife Reservation who was arrested last week, said “this awful crime we are witnessing is quite beyond the pale because they did most of their cutting of these trees just as the Coalition [to Preserve Belmont Uplands] filed the injunction. They did this on purpose during the weekend before the judge had an opportunity to rule.”

For others, the protest was an opportunity to show solidarity to what they view is an important piece of the local environment.

“We want to save the forest,” said Leyli Lopez, who came with her mother, Nicole Weber, who works at Leslie University.

“I’ve gotten to know about this issue through my colleagues Amy [Mertl]. I use this area, and I didn’t even know this was happening,” said Weber.

While the possible environmental repercussions on surrounding communities has been well noted by development opponents, the impact of 300 units of housing on both Belmont’s general government and school budgets “is significant and worrying,” said Belmont Selectman Mark Paolillo at Tuesday’s meeting.

Included in the Coalition’s complaint is the Belmont Office of Community Development, which would issue the critical building permit to O’Neill which will be located on eight acres of the site.

Last week, Community Development Director Glenn Clancy said he could not comment on the complaint filed last Monday.

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