Alewife Study Group > wetlands and flooding > Oct. 19 1999, Oaktree Development Search 

Oaktree Development, overview and analysis

by Lewis Weitzman, member of Alewife Study Group, October 19, 1999

Overview:

Oaktree Development in collaboration with Abbott Investments, proposes to build a 311-unit condominium tower next to AKU AKU at 30 CambridgePark Drive. It will be 9 stories high (83 ft) and occupy 366,350 square feet of floor space with 319 parking spaces.

The building will be at split levels. The front of the building will be raised earth and may possibly contain some street level retail. The rear of the building will be on pilings over a parking level. 36 units will meet affordable housing guidelines established by the city.

Analysis and Status

In total floor area the building will approximate built space on the Grace site across Alewife Brook Parkway and is approximately equivalent to the floor space in two of the Rindge Towers.

If built, this residential tower would be the first residential use on CambridgePark Drive and would add significantly to affordable housing units in the area.

Several problems have been identified with this proposal. Cambridge Community Development in their most recent planning document has commented that new buildings along CambridgePark Drive, "seemed isolated from abutting neighborhoods and did not reflect the traditional fabric of Cambridge". It is not clear how a nine-story condominium tower reflects the traditional fabric of Alewife neighborhoods.

The proposed development would also appear to run counter to objectives outlined in Cambridge zoning regulations. The Alewife Floodplain Overlay District calls for the development of "parkways and boulevards as regional wildlife corridors, connecting the Charles River, Fresh Pond, Alewife Reservation and other open spaces along Alewife Brook". The Overlay District specifically admonishes developers at Alewife to "minimize the amount of surface parking and impervious cover" on their properties. It is not entirely clear how this this proposal would fit into these objectives.

Another significant obstacle to the development are flood plain regulations. The entire site is located at elevations below the designated 100-year flood plain. During a major flood event this site would be entirely under water to a depth of between one and three feet. Flood regulations under the Massachusetts Wetlands Act are designed to prevent "the incremental filling" of floodplain areas which lead to "increases in the extent and level of flooding...causing increases in damage to public and private properties".

The Oaktree development plan calls for flood storage losses on their site to be off set by storage areas they plan to excavate from their soils. This is a controversial solution that may not meet the Regulations. Typically, developers are required to compensate flood storage at locations outside of areas currently in the floodplain. So far the Cambridge Conservation Commission and the DEP have not approved this solution. Oaktree has retained Bob Daylor, an attorney specializing in Wetlands Act litigation. Mr. Daylor has stated that he has adjudicated a similar case against the Burlington Conservation Commission and prevailed. The Cambridge Conservation Commission has continued the hearing until their next meeting in November.

An IPOP Special Permit is required from the Planning Board. Two hearing have already been held. Oaktree has presented their traffic analysis. Traffic consultant Steve Kaiser has presented evidence that traffic planning presented by the developer may be based on faulty models and does not take into consideration the impacts from other developments now under construction or in the planning stages at Alewife.

The final disposition of this development proposal may set precedents for other developments at Alewife especially those situated in the Alewife floodplain.


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