Monday, April 15, 2024

The city’s plan for the Alewife area is so flawed that it is expected to die and require a total rewrite, according to the leaders of the City Council’s ordinance committee.

The plan has at least one major flaw, said committee co-chairman Ken Reeves: It doesn’t adequately address the threat of flooding.

Reeves’ remarks followed a Tuesday presentation by resident Michael Nakagawa, who delivered a report — complete with photographs — of the floodplain connecting Fresh Pond reservoir and Alewife Brook. “The floodplain is curiously missing,” Nakagowa said of the city’s plan. “You don’t see a floodplain map.”

So he brought one, along with pictures of floating cars and flooded houses from rainstorms in 1996.

“Overflowing sewers could contaminate the city’s water supply,” Nakagowa’s report said.

His data served as dramatic evidence of the area’s vulnerability, and Reeves agreed with it wholeheartedly, saying, “Mr. Nakagowa has some very convincing pictures of floods that were already there.”

Reeves said he would love to have access to Nakagowa’s data “to create a well-thought out” zoning plan.

“Rains do do damage,” Reeves added.

The Concord-Alewife plan — for a 250-acre-plus section of the city that includes Cambridge Highlands, the Fresh Pond Shopping Center, the T’s Alewife Station and other commercial and industrial areas — has been several years in the making. The ordinance committee has referred the proposal to the full council, without a recommendation.

Mitch Goldstein, a resident who is a member of the study committee that created the proposal, said that to hear critics of the plan speak at the meeting, one might get the impression that the Concord-Alewife proposal was simply being “rubber-stamped,” and that’s not true.

Goldstein told the ordinance committee that the Concord-Alewife Planning Study Committee did consider flood issues as well as traffic issues, an opinion seconded by Susan Glazer, chairwoman of the group.

 “This is a complex proposal,” Glazer said, and one that would make certain commercial areas “pedestrian friendly and less auto-dependent” with better access to transit.

But critics did, in fact, feel the plan was being rubber-stamped. Up until Reeves publicly acknowledged the validity of Nakagowa’s argument, and the data he presented, no one on the city’s side of the aisle seemed to be listening, they said. This has all changed.

Council member Henrietta Davis said she was “concerned” about the amount of development that would be permitted in the 40-acre shopping center and admitted “we are far from ready to vote on this.” Nevertheless, she wanted to keep the plan alive — and have a “working session with staff members” on the issue — instead of killing it entirely and starting over, as the majority of speakers last week suggested.

Ordinance Committee Co-chairman Tim Toomey didn’t think the plan would float, however. “I would expect it will need to be refiled,” Toomey said.

Reeves, who had recently taken a tour of the Concord-Alewife area, said he would like to return for another look, especially at the shopping area, the proposed expansion of which has residents concerned.

“There are big missing pieces,” Reeves said of the Concord-Alewife plan, not the least of which is that the plan will affect the neighboring communities of Arlington and Belmont.

Typically, an outgoing council and its various committees leave action of the housekeeping variety for the end of the session. The new council comes in after Jan. 1, and the ordinance committee will likely have new members, he said. But he indicated that Concord-Alewife is no housekeeping issue.

“There is an enormity to this,” Reeves said. “You need a long time to do your best.”