As Town Clarifies Permit, Belmont Uplands Opponents Speak Out

Photo: The entry to the Belmont Uplands site in October. 

As the town clarifies what the building permit issued this past Friday, March 6 to A.P. Cambridge Partners II – the developer of the proposed $70 million, 299-unit apartment complex at Belmont Uplands – will allow the development team to do, opponents to the long-delayed project have begun to speak out on the effect of the project will have on Belmont and surrounding communities.

“The issuance of a building permit to executives from Prudential Real Estate Insurance and developer Brian O’Neill appears to confirm that neither the town of Belmont nor the [Commonwealth] of Massachusetts consider it their duty to protect the public and the earth from pollution and flooding … ,” said Anne-Marie Lambert of Chilton Street, who has been a strong critic of the proposed complex being built amidst the Silver Maple Forest in the Alewife Reservation.

After two decades of plans, proposals (that included a commercial research and development building in the early 2000s), lawsuits and delays, Belmont’s Director of Community Development Glenn Clancy as town engineer issued the first of three permits allowing the Philadelphia-based O’Neill Properties Group to construct a five-building complex situated on 15 acres on the Cambridge line on Acorn Park Drive.

“The permit is the approval for foundations for each of the five buildings,” said Clancy Monday, March 9.

Clancy said the development team has acquired the necessary paperwork to being utility work at the site that is a stone’s throw from Route 2 and Arlington.

The actual building permit to do the remaining work that includes the framing and actual building is pending final sign-off from the Fire Prevention Office, said Clancy.

“A final building permit to do all work on the foundation is the only outstanding approval I am aware of,” he told the Belmontonian.

The town has been handcuffed in imposing local zoning bylaws on the proposed development as O’Neill is building the complex under the state’s Chapter 40B law.

Enacted in 1969, the law allows a developer to bypass local restrictions if the municipality’s housing stock is less than 10 percent is deemed affordable for moderate-income residents and when the builder sets aside a specific percentage – at Belmont Uplands it will be 60 units – for buyers with income less than the 80 percent of the median in the region.

For those who have kept a constant battle to prevent the construction of the development, the permit comes after six months of increasing evidence – the clearing of the site of trees and vegetation beginning in October and a recent request to allow the placement of construction parking – O’Neill Properties was preparing to begin actual building.

For Idith Haber of Oliver Road who is president of the Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands, the town’s issuing O’Neill a building permit continues the lack of support groups that have been attempting to thwart the project, which included the Board of Selectmen withdrawing a lawsuit backed by the town’s Conservation Commission.

“The Coalition believes that issuing the building permit similarly inappropriate,” said Haber.

Both Haber and Lambert have long contended the site can not sustain a major development as it will impact local neighborhoods – in Belmont around Little Pond – with increased flooding and to the public health due to the potential of higher-than-expected stormwater activity.

“[It] appears to confirm that neither … Belmont nor the (Commonwealth) of Massachusetts consider it their duty to protect the public and the earth from pollution and flooding which will result from the undisputed 150,000 gallons of storm water runoff this project will generate,” Lambert said.

In 2014, Lambert presented data showing the amount of storm water at the site used by O’Neill to win approval by the state to move forward with the permitting process underestimates the storm water levels by a large percentage since the developer uses data published in 1961 instead of rainfall statistics from 2011 due to the impact of global warming.

With this new data, O’Neill would be in violation of the town’s Storm Water Bylaw passed by Town Meeting last year.

“It is shameful that [the developer] claims to have sensitivity to environmental issues yet invests in a project which blatantly ignores current climate change reality,” stated Lambert, adding that “ensuring enforcement of Belmont’s stormwater bylaw regulations throughout the town is also critical.”

While the town has issued the permit, there remains pending litigation filed to enforce Belmont’s stormwater bylaw and the Massachusetts Clean Water Act. Clancy said the court did “not explicitly” say the town could not issue the go-ahead.

“The applicant proceeds at their own risk,” he said.

Despite the town’s action, Haber has received words of encouragement to continue the fight.

“We continue to receive a lot of moral and financial support from Belmont, Cambridge, and Arlington residents,” Haber said.

Letter: Will Uplands Development Lead To More Scenes Like This?

Photo: A photo by Stephanie Liu of a suspected coyote roaming in her backyard. 

To the Editor:

[This letter was a comment on the town issuing a building permit for the 299-unit apartment complex in Belmont Uplands]

A couple of days ago, I saw this very emaciated coyote walking in my backyard and then turned to Little Pond. I have to admit that I was so tempted to bring some food for him as I don’t think he can survive very long. But it’s illegal and it’ll create the impression that backyards are bountiful feeding areas. Can we blame them when we take away their habitats?

I guess this is the pattern we are facing after losing our forest and their sanctuary. It’s so sad. Coyotes are generally nocturnal, but they do hunt during the day when they are hungry. The town should issue warning for residents to keep their children and pets indoors.

Stephanie Liu

Oliver Road


BREAKING: Building Permit Issued to Belmont Uplands Developer

Photo: A protest at the site of the Belmont Uplands in November 2014. 

After years of legal battles and delays, the Office of Community Development has issued a building permit today, Friday, March 6, allowing construction to begin on a $70 million, 299-unit apartment complex in the Belmont Uplands section of Belmont.

“Please be aware that today a building permit was issued for foundation work at the Belmont Uplands site,” wrote Glenn Clancy, the Community Development director in an e-mail memo to town officials and selected residents. 

“AP Cambridge Partners has fulfilled all requirements under the Zoning Board of Appeals Comprehensive Permit and the Massachusetts State Building Code necessary to secure a building permit,” noted Clancy of the site that borders the Cambridge town line and is part of the Alewife Brook Reservation. 

Pennsylvania-based O’Neill Development has long planned to build hundreds of market-rate and subsidized apartments under the state’s Chapter 40B law which allows developers to bypass local zoning requirements if a municipality’s housing stock is less than 10 percent affordable.

The project has for years been stalled by a series of legal actions, notably by the Belmont Conservation Commission and the Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands after the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection gave its OK for the development to proceed. 

In addition, a sprawling apartment complex has been seen by the town as having a detrimental impact on the school district with hundreds of additional students entering a system bursting at the seams with higher enrollment.

Development of one sort or another has been proposed for the site since the late 1990s which included a commercial building.

More to come in the Belmontonian.

Belmont Historical Society presents ‘The Belmont Uplands: A History of Changing Use of Land and Water’

 The Belmont Historical Society presents an illustrated history by Anne-Marie Lambert; “The Belmont Uplands: A History of the Changing Use of Land and Water,” on Sunday, Oct. 6 from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Belmont Public Library’s Assembly Room.

The Belmont Uplands’ transition from marsh island, to farm, to forest tells a local story of changing boundaries between nature and man, and between land and water.  As demands for both human and wildlife habitat rise, and as climate change threatens, the story is not over.

Anne-Marie Lambert is on the board of the Belmont Citizens Forum, and is co-founder of the Belmont Stormwater Working Group. Lambert is a recipient of the Belmont Historical Society’s 2014 David K. Johnson Preservation Award for her ongoing work in educating the Belmont community and promoting planning and policies for preservation and environmental quality.

The talk is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.  Please contact the Belmont Historical Society for more information at 617-993-2878.

Judge Lifts Silver Maple Injunction as Work Resumes at Belmont Uplands

Less than 24 hours after initially granting an injunction halting the developer of the proposed 299-unit “Residences at Acorn Park” apartment complex from clearing land in Belmont’s Uplands, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Rosalind Miller vacated the stay on O’Neill Properties’ work in removing vegatation and trees in preparation of possible construction.

Miller’s ruling, on Tuesday Oct. 21, allowed work crews utilizing heavy equipment and chainsaws to resume the process of clearing the eight-acre site that began last week at the Silver Maple Forest parcel off Frontage Road on the Cambridge town line.

In her ruling, provided by the Superior Court, Miller wrote the plaintiffs – 14 Belmont members of the Coalition to Preserve Belmont Uplands who filed a request for the injunction on Oct. 13 – failed to show “irreparable harm” to their cause “in absence of an injunction.” In addition, Miller said the plaintiffs had “failed to disclose the seven year history of unsuccessful litigation regarding this development of an affordable housing project.” 

The rulings came after a week of civil disobediance in which 13 protesters have been arrest by Belmont Police at the site.

Miller’s complete judgement is below:

After review and hearing on 10/16/14, the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction is DENIED. To obtain the extraordinary relief of an injunction, the plaintiffs must prove: (1) without the relief sought, plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm; (2) there is a likelihood of success on the merits of this case; and (3) any harm to the plaintiffs would outweigh the harm which the injunctive relief would inflict on the defendants. John T. Callahan & Sons, Inc. v. City of Malden, 430 Mass. 124 (1999). Plaintiffs have failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of this case and a substantial risk of irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction. The court declines to impose sanctions on the plaintiffs for their failure to disclose the seven year history of unsuccessful litigation regarding this development of an affordable housing project. The previous temporary restraining order issued on 10/20/14, is hereby vacated. SO ORDERED. (Rosalind H. Miller, Justice, Dated: 10/21/14)


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.