Alewife Study Group > wetlands and flooding > community feedback > Dec. 20 1999, Planning Board Search 

Oaktree Development
and the Cambridge Planning Board

(This page created Jan. 14 2000)

Letter from a member of the Alewife Study Group,
sent in anticipation of Cambridge Planning Board meeting on Dec. 21 1999
regarding the Oaktree Development at 30 CambridgePark Drive.

December 20, 1999

Florrie Darwin
Chairwoman

Cambridge Planning Board

Dear Ms. Darwin:

Enclosed below are my comments relative to the application for a Flood Plain Overlay District Special Permit for Oaktree Development at 30 CambridgePark Drive. Please distribute this letter to Planning Board members prior to their deliberations on this issue at the hearing on Tuesday, December 21, 1999. Thank you.

The purpose of the flood plain overlay district as stated in the zoning regulations is as follows:

    It is the purpose of this section 11.70 to protect the health, safety, and general welfare, to protect human life and property from the hazards of periodic flooding, to preserve the natural flood control characteristics, and the flood storage capacity of the flood plain, to preserve and maintain the ground water recharge areas within the flood plain, and to provide a mechanism for a comprehensive review of development in the Flood Plain Overlay District and the design and location of flood water retention systems and their relationship to other surrounding development.

The "comprehensive review of development" mentioned here is amplified later in the criteria that are to be used by the Planning Board in reviewing a development project.

Applicants for development in the Alewife Revitalization area shall be familiar with the Alewife Urban Design Study Phase II, April 1979, and shall demonstrate how their plan meets the spitit and intent of such study, particularly & Appendix One, District Development Policies

The Planning Board is thus referred to the Alewife Revitalization plan (also known as the Fishbook) for guidelines in evaluating development proposals in the Flood Plain District. Here are five of the first seven guidelines listed in the Alewife Revitalization Plan, Appendix One:

    Create an environmental image in Alewife which establishes parkways and boulevards as prestigious business locations.

    Develop in Alewife a wide range of public and private open space amenities

    Organize flood retention areas as public amenities and incorporate them into a publicly accessible open space network in Alewife.

    Minimize the amount of surface parking and impervious cover built in new development to help mitigate Alewife's hydrology problems.

    Solve hydrology problems in an organized and cooperative effort among land owners.

Appendix One then makes specific recommendations for CambridgePark Drive (called 'Alewife Boulevard' in the Alewife Revitalization Plan). Among these recommendations:

Design new development to reinforce the park-like image of Alewife Boulevard (CambridgePark Drive).

Design Alewife Boulevard (CambridgePark Drive) to be a linear open space connector.

Design Alewife Boulevard (CambridgePark Drive) as a regional wildlife corridor connecting Fresh Pond Reservation with Alewife Reservation.

Develop private open space amenities along Alewife Boulevard (CambridgePark Drive) that are attractive and accessible to the public.

Create a vertical element associated with the Nature Center to terminate the visual axis created down Steel Street and to use as an observation tower.

Design parkways and boulevards as regional wildlife corridors, connecting the Charles River, Fresh Pond, Alewife Reservation, and other open spaces along Alewife Brook.

Given the clear design mandate spelled out in the Flood Plain Overlay District it would appear that many of the buildings currently standing on CambridgePark Drive were built in violation of the Municipal Zoning Ordinance. The Planning Board has commented on this situation in its January 22, 1985, Flood Plain Special Permit #47 for 150 CambridgePark Drive:

The Planning Board continues to be concerned that the open space and amenity objectives of the Alewife Plan have not been advanced with the first two phases of development at Cambridge Park. The Board recognizes that the early development in this part of Alewife must deal with disruptions due to the construction of the MBTA Red Line and uncertainties regarding use of the Red Line extension by employees in the near future. With those considerations in mind the Board has been prepared to accept large expanses of parking at grade for the initial two buildings. However, with the initiation of active planning for future buildings the Board will insist that flood storage advance the overall open space and amentity objectives in the Alewife Plan. The Board is prepared to insist that a significant portion of the required storage capacity be accommodated within grassed areas, a resurrected Alewife Brook, new water bodies or other features even if such a requirement were met only through the reduction of desired surface parking spaces.

The current proposal for 30 CambridgePark Drive is equally inconsistent with the zoning requirements of the Flood Plain Overlay District. As noted above, development along CambridgePark Drive must create create a wildlife corridor and contribute to a range of public and private open space amenities within the District. Developers are specifically admonished to "minimize the amount of surface parking and impervious cover to help mitigate Alewife's problems". In contrast to these requirements the current proposal takes a signicant open space and covers it almost entirely with building footprints and paved parking.

Flood storage at 30 CambridgePark Drive is also inconsistent with the zoning requirements of the Flood Plain Overlay District. As noted above, flood storage areas in the District are to be organized so as to create 'public amenity incorporated into a publicly accessible open space network in Alewife'. The proposal for 30 CambridgePark Drive will provide most of the flood storage on paved parking areas inaccessible to the public.

Other portions of flood storage at 30 CambridgePark Drive will be in newly excavated areas of soil. This is in violation of the first paragraph of the Flood Plain Overlay District requiring developers to "preserve and maintain the ground water recharge areas within the flood plain.". Soil areas that have been appropriated for use as compensatory flood storage can no longer function as groundwater recharge areas as required by zoning.

The same first paragraph also requires a "comprehensive review of development in the Flood Plain Overlay District and the design and location of flood water retention systems and their relationship to other surrounding development". In other words each development is to be evaluated comprehensively along with all other development in the District. Given the failure of other development projects along CambridgePark Drive to meet the requirements of the Flood Plain Overlay District it would therefore be encumbent on the Planning Board to adopt an even stricter set of criteria for evaluating the proposal for 30 CambridgePark Drive.

For all of the above reasons the current proposal for 30 CambridgePark Drive cannot meet the requirements of the Flood Plain Overlay District zoning and the Planning Board should deny the Special Permit.

Sincerely,

Lew Weitzman, Montgomery Street



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