Alewife Study Group > W. R. Grace site > community feedback > Jan. 13 1997, buffer zone Search 

Comments on the buffer zone around W. R. Grace site

The following two letters to the editor were submitted to the Cambridge Chronicle on January 13, 1997 in response to the Chronicle's January 9, 1997 Editorial:

(Note: on Jan. 6, 1997 W. R. Grace filed a lawsuit, related to the buffer zone, against the city and each of its nine councilors.)

To the editor of the Cambridge Chronicle,

It has been well demonstrated recently that cat-fights between developers, politicians and local residents are great material for front page news and help to sell newspapers. One can only wonder what else could have possibly been on your minds when 270 words into your January 9 Editorial, you chose to deviate from the subject of the essay to make an irrelevant and completely unsupported comment saying that the neighbors of the W. R. Grace Alewife development site acted in some level of bad faith when they petitioned the planning board to specify the valid use for the first 400 feet of land which sits between their houses and the 24 acre development area. I don't need to point out to you that unsubstantiated pot shots like yours saying that neighbors petitioned to "stick it to the developer" will only create bad feelings all around.

Why not use your powerful position in the community to create a forum where the city, the developer and the residents are urged to engage in constructive dialog? Why not exercise your assets in a responsible manner rather than throwing lit matches into an already incendiary environment? I don't know anyone in the neighborhood who is an expert on the constitutional implication of land zoning. But if you are such experts and believe, as the bulk of your editorial implies, that the 400 foot buffer zone is somehow constitutionally flawed, then why not utilize your constitutionally protected editorial page to suggest alternatives?

For example, I believe that agreements could be made among the various parties which could be outside the realm of "land taking" but would satisfy all. Why couldn't Grace be talked into giving a toxically abated 400 foot swath running from Russell Field down to Whittemore Avenue to the city in exchange for community support? The city could expand the Russell Field complex to include the track which the high school desperately needs, the neighbors would have their 400 foot buffer and Grace could get on with its business. This is just one of the multitude of ideas needed to get us out of this lose-lose situation. Cambridge Chronicle, at the risk of not having a hot unpleasant issue to use to sell your paper, why not use your creative energy to help us to solve the current stale-mate.

Thank you,Mitchell Balonon-Rosen


Alewife Residents, City Just Trying to Protect their Homes, Families

In 1979, Woburn resident Anne Anderson suffered from "paranoia,...a housewife without training." Her son was stricken with leukemia, possibly as a result of toxic materials W. R. Grace had deposited in her town, and her questions about this toxic contamination had gone nowhere. Despite being considered a "hysterical mother", Anne persisted, but, unfortunately, in 1981 her son was taken away, killed by leukemia.

Today, 16 years later and 15 miles away, W. R. Grace accuses the Cambridge City Council of carrying out a different sort of taking at Grace's Alewife site in North Cambridge by implementing a temporary 400 foot bufferzone across some of its property. This bufferzone, created by the city at the request of hundreds of area residents, limits development at the borders of the former chemical manufacturing site but has a very minor impact, if any, on Grace's current development plans for this flood prone area.

Grace claims that this bufferzone impacts only its property and is unlawful "spot zoning". Grace also claims that the bufferzone deprives the company of all productive uses of the bufferzone, illegally limits the development potential of the rest of the site and constitutes a regulatory taking requiring compensation.

In a poorly researched editorial, the Chronicle criticized the Council s attempts to protect Grace's neighbors and mischaracterized the neighborhood residents attempts to protect their homes as largely a desire to "stick it" to the developer. In separate exchanges, the City Manager has called anxious citizens "paranoid and hysterical" and pundit Glenn Koocher has accused area residents of "pissing and whining".

Unfortunately, Grace's professional spin doctors, these other commentators and the city s attorneys have not done their homework properly. Grace's property is not the only site impacted by this bufferzone. All similarly situated property, including a lot owned by a private Cambridge citizen, is restricted by this bufferzone. If the Alewife area contained other contaminated sites subject to severe flooding where development would have huge traffic and physical impacts on abutting residential neighborhoods, concerned residents would have asked the City Council to institute bufferzones there, too. Covering more than one property, this bufferzone is not improper spot zoning.

In its taking claim, Grace discounts the dangers posed by development on this site. Governments have always been able to institute reasonable regulations to protect their citizens from danger. Says Zygmunt Plater, a well-known and respected Boston College environmental and property law professor, "given the toxic risk posed by this property, installing a temporary bufferzone is a patently constitutional act. It s frivolous to think that the Grace'site s threat of harmful toxics doesn t count as a public safety threat justifying temporary regulation".

By minimizing development in the bufferzone, the City has provided adjacent neighborhoods with important protection from chemical contamination at the Grace site. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently upgraded its characterization of Grace's property from Tier II to a more serious Tier 1-C site and awarded Alewife neighbors $10,000 to investigate contamination at the property. The City is spending an additional $30,000-plus to scope environmental sampling near the Grace'site. Neighbors have given the DEP hundreds of pages of documents, on file at the North Cambridge library, detailing concerns about contamination at the site. These concerns range from questions about buried, corroded drums and containers at the site to incorrect statements by Grace's agents on the final disposition of waste removed from the site. Neighbors repeated requests to Grace's agent, Haley & Aldrich, for help addressing contamination issues have, unfortunately, gone unheeded.

This bufferzone protects nearby neighborhoods from other serious threats. Most of Grace's property is on a floodplain and water flowing from the site may carry hazardous chemicals. Flooding, including last October s flooding of far-away basements which Grace's experts had indicated would be safe, has increased as development on the Grace property has progressed. This bufferzone will help mitigate flooding problems associated with future development of the Grace'site.

Further, without an open space bufferzone, traffic accessing the site could swamp abutting neighborhoods, especially dangerous for the many small children who live and play in the area. And without this bufferzone, Grace's neighbors could have multi-story commercial buildings virtually in their backyard, without any reasonable transition space.

In short, this bufferzone does not single out the Grace'site and poses no significant obstacles to current plans to build a million square foot office park there. An open space bufferzone will help protect the adjacent neighborhoods from exposure to dangerous chemicals, increased flooding and unbearable traffic. The bufferzone will also help ensure that the local neighborhoods are not overwhelmed by huge commercial buildings set too close to property lines. Accordingly, this bufferzone is a reasonable attempt to protect the populace from undue harm posed by inappropriate development on Grace's property and is neither unlawful spot zoning nor a taking.

North Cambridge resident Craig A. Kelley is an attorney providing environmental consulting services. A co-author of Environmental Compliance Handbook, he has received formal training in hazardous material incident response operations and hazardous materials sampling procedures.


Contact the Alewife Study Group, North Cambridge Massachusetts, by email at information@alewife.org