Alewife Study Group > W. R. Grace site > community feedback > Sept. 12 1995, public meeting Search 

Community response to a proposed development
for the W. R. Grace Site

Prepared by The Alewife Study Group September 12,1995

This document is submitted on behalf of the North Cambridge Community by the Alewife Study Group. The group was formed as a subcommittee of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee in June, 1995, to assess the proposed Spaulding and Slye superstore and retail development at the W. R. Grace site in North Cambridge and to obtain community feedback on the proposed plan.

The comments and recommendations that follow were derived from both oral and written public comment at a meeting held on August 16, 1995, attended by an estimated 150 concerned neighbors.


Introduction

The Alewife Study Group, a subcommittee of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee, firmly believes that the W. R. Grace parcel currently under consideration for retail development is a unique and valuable resource to its immediate neighborhood, to the North Cambridge Community and to the City of Cambridge as a whole.

The development proposed for the site includes a 70,000 square foot superstore' along with a number of additional retail shops, a restaurant and hotel.

At the heart of the 23-acre site is a vital public corridor used by hundreds of people each day. Many are pedestrians coming and going from the North Cambridge MBTA building. Others are bicyclists, runners or roller-bladers who use it as a link to the Minuteman Bike Path, to the adjoining path of the Linear Park, or to other destinations east and west. At the perimeter of the site on the north is the green expanse of Russell Field, made vibrant three seasons each year by athletes and onlookers of all ages who spill into all of the connecting pathways that surround and divide the site. In the parcel's southeast corner is a unique urban wetland that embraces two ponds. Its sensitive ecology provides a rich habitat for plants and wildlife, and it is a crucial area for flood control. Natural conditions predominate on the rest of the site as well, and its trees, shrubs and grasses buffer both the recreational areas and the surrounding residential neighborhoods from the high-volume traffic of Route 2 and Alewife Brook Parkway.

The convergence of pedestrian and recreational uses within and around the site and its rich and unusual environmental attributes give it a highly complex and unique character. Any program for development of the site should acknowledge and enhance its unique characteristics.


Traffic and Parking

The sentiment that current traffic volumes preclude the siting of a 70,000 square foot super-sized supermarket was overwhelming. Reasons stated included the impact of vastly increased traffic upon major access routes (Route 2 and Alewife Brook Parkway), increased noise and air pollution, and the proposed development's inevitable effect upon traffic bypass routes (see recommendation 2b). Increased traffic volume on these routes will create greater safety concerns, and these must be addressed before rather than after they arise. (For example, could a safety issue similar to the current problem of pedestrians crossing the railroad tracks to reach the Fresh Pond Shopping Center arise on Rindge Avenue when traffic and frequent, random pedestrian crossings inevitably increase as a result of this proposed development?)

The traffic and parking dilemma created by potential customer access from Whittemore Ave., Harvey St., and Clifton St. was also raised. Comments were heavily weighted towards eliminating access to the proposed site from those avenues for all vehicles. Major doubts were also raised about the viability of the proposed plans for entry and ' egress of both commercial and customer vehicles.


Community Fit / Type of Store

Designation as "open space" found surprisingly broad support. Suggestions ranged from taking of the site by eminent domain to creation of a botanical garden. It was generally felt that an "open space" designation should become more of a concrete consideration in the planning process.

While the idea of a neighborhood-sized supermarket was generally supported, near unanimous resistance to a super-sized supermarket and to stores targeting consumers in Belmont, Arlington, and Somerville rather than the host Cambridge community was expressed. Concern was raised about the dubious compatibility of any super-sized operation with existing neighborhood-style, mom-and-pop sized stores. Neighborhood-oriented and neighborhood-scaled businesses were generally preferred, with particular preference expressed for book and clothing stores and coffee shops.

Support was expressed for MDC acquisition of Jerry's Pond and the Babo and Lehigh Metals sites (the Lehigh Metals site is the proposed location of the hotel). Such purchases were viewed as natural complements to existing wetlands and necessary adjacent open space buffers.

Support for creation of alternative plans with broad-based community participation was unanimous.


Siting

The currently proposed siting of the various buildings comprising the proposal was met with significant objection. The superstore was located too close to the abutting residential properties. Members of the community emphatically expressed major concern with the potential for noise from trucks, truck loading, truck waiting areas, late hours, garbage, air and noise pollution and potentially harsh lighting. It was generally felt that the supermarket was situated too far from the subway entrance. Conversely, support for a smaller neighborhood-sized market at the "T" station entrance was near-unanimous.

Support for preservation of the existing Linear Park and other potentially effected bicycle/pedestrian paths was voiced. It was widely viewed that any development should not become a barrier to the established recreational patterns at Russell Field, Linear Park, and Minuteman Bike Path. Rather it was expressed that any development should enhance the continuity of these active areas.


Bicycle / Pedestrian

Significant concern with the proposed development's traffic impact upon the Minuteman Bike Path and other bicycle and foot paths was expressed. Additionally, vehicular impact upon established pedestrian access patterns to the "T" was raised.


Environment

The environmental concerns seemed to be the most multi-faceted. Participants expressed a strong desire to preserve as much of the site as possible as open space for both enhanced recreational and natural benefit. Suggestions for implementation included persuading either the MDC or the City or some entity such as the Trust for Public Land's "Urban Greenspace Program," or some combination of all three to consider a taking via eminent domain or by a friendly purchase, if the present owner agrees. Citing a litany of unanswered questions from a previous public review process, residents repeatedly raised grave concerns regarding hazardous residues of various types (naphthalene, fuel oils, unknowns) on the site prior to, during and after any proposed construction. The displacement of and impact on wetlands, concern with potential negative impacts upon the site's primary natural function as a flood plain for three abutting communities, and the desire to have Jerry's Pond cleaned up and restored, were all emphasized repeatedly.


Crime / Neighborhood Quality

Neighbors expressed a strong desire to have a plan from the developer that would mitigate potential problems regarding loitering at the proposed retail sites, especially those near and abutting the "T" station. Concern was also expressed that the development may cause an increase in local break-ins.


Preliminary Recommendations of the Alewife Study Group

Introduction

Based upon the cumulative weight of public comment and preliminary thought, The Alewife Study Group concludes that, unless otherwise proven, the very limited traffic circumstances at this site would alone speak against the wisdom of the current proposal. It must therefore predicate all recommendations that follow upon a burden of proof to the contrary. Unless and until the viability of this proposal with respect to any and all vehicular matters has been proven and demonstrated to the satisfaction of the affected community, this study group shall remain in opposition.

Position of the Alewife Study Group

The Alewife Study Group unanimously rejects the current proposal for development of the W. R. Grace parcel as a retail center including a superstore,' anchor retail tenant, additional mixed retail facilities, and hotel. The key reasons for rejecting the proposal include; a) traffic impact of the proposed retail development; b) the community impact of the development; c) the uncertain environmental impact of the development; d) types of stores contemplated; and e) proposed siting of those stores. For these reasons the Alewife Study Group makes the following preliminary recommendations: