Silver Maple Forest get injunction hearing as condos’ development looks imminent; several protesters arrested (update)
Opponents of development in the Silver Maple Forest, spotting newly cleared land that could be used as a path for construction equipment, continued protests Tuesday and won a 2 p.m. Wednesday hearing in Middlesex court for an injunction against work, organizers said.
A hearing is scheduled for Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, with Judge Bruce Henry presiding, according to Cambridge attorney Mike Connolly’s SilverMapleForest site:
The lawsuit, brought forward by 14 Belmont residents … states that there will be harm to the environment if regulations required by the Clean Water Act and the Belmont Stormwater bylaw are not enforced. The suit seeks to stay the removal of the trees until those provisions are enforced.
Members of the Silver Maple Forest Alliance – including representatives from more than a half-dozen local environmental groups – also gathered at 7 a.m. Tuesday at Acorn Park Drive and Frontage Road, in front of the forest, protester Quinton Zondervan said.
There were five arrests on trespassing charges at about 10 a.m., all Cantabrigians, said Zondervan and fellow activist Patrick Donworth. Some of the 20 to 30 protesters tied ribbons to trees symbolizing opposition to their being torn down, resulting in a call to police. The arrests were of people who were on the developer’s property and who declined to leave when asked by police.
“The police were very calm, they didn’t yell or do anything overly intimidating,” Zondervan said.
A request for information was left with Belmont police late Tuesday afternoon, shortly before the protesters were released, and a police official called Wednesday to confirm details. The names of the arrested as given to the Cambridge Chronicle were: Ellen Mass, 71, founder of Friends of the Alewife Reservation; Joanna Herlihy, 80; Susan Jane Ringler, 60; and Lesley University students Madeleine Sis, 21, and Gina-Maria Giuliano, 21, of Somerville.
Connolly posted last week a photo purporting to show the cleared section of Belmont forest, warning that “people who are close to the situation report that removal of the trees could take place in a matter of days.”
“Even the staunchest defenders of the forest admit we are in a very difficult position” in terms of blocking development, Connolly said, citing two attempts at preservation funding by state Sen. Will Brownsberger that were blocked by Gov. Deval Patrick and constraints faced by Belmont in stopping a project bringing the town even the minimum amount of affordable housing.
“Attempts to negotiate with the developer have also failed. Representatives of the Trust for Public Land have been reaching out to the owner – as have concerned residents and even some friendly developers – but so far, every effort to secure an option to purchase the forest has fallen through,” Connolly said.
The Residences at Acorn Park
The 15-acre forest between Route 2 and the Alewife Brook Reservation is due to get a five-story building of nearly 300 units and around 500 parking spaces called The Residences at Acorn Park. Philadelphia-based O’Neill Properties introduced its $70 million plan in 2005, finding fierce but so far futile opposition from environmentalists and lovers of the densely wooded forest and its wildlife, including the Friends of the Alewife Reservation, Green Cambridge, the Mystic River Watershed Association, the Belmont Citizens Forum, Lesley University’s Division of Science and Mathematics, the Fresh Pond Resident’s Alliance and the Climate Action Coalition.
About 2.7 acres of Silver Maple Forest are in Cambridge – but not the area slated for development, minimizing city government’s ability to play a formal role.
Cambridge citizenry, however, is engaged and enraged, with Ellen Mass of the Friends of Alewife Reservation accusing the town of Belmont as enabling the razing of more than 700 trees over eight acres with three friendly zoning changes.
Meanwhile, she said, “environmental groups and the Belmont Conservation Commission litigated for five years with the state Department of Environmental Protection on the grounds that the proposed development violates the Wetlands Protection Act in several categories. Environmentalists claim the development location in the midst of a floodplain forest will be in violation of FEMA floodplain designations when the structure is built, including numerous municipal/state guidelines, including habitat protection.”
Rozann Kraus, of Cambridge’s Tromp transportation and traffic group, focused her ire on Prudential Financial, a funder of O’Neill’s work developing The Residences at Acorn Park.
“Prudential Financial, on its website, touts commitment to ‘doing business the right way’ and ‘minimizing the impact of its business activities on the environment,’” Kraus said. “At this moment, however, Prudential is poised to destroy one of Boston’s most vital floodplain ecosystems, the Silver Maple Forest, part of a contiguous wildlife and river corridor.”
“In this age of climate change officials are removing the flooding safety net – forest and floodplain – for tens of thousands of Somerville, Cambridge, Arlington, Medford residents by clear-cutting the basin’s largest floodplain forest which remains in the Alewife watershed, exposing them to extreme weather,” Kraus said, writing in a press release:
Recent estimates by Lesley University suggest the 15-acre Silver Maple Forest – home to hundreds of native species including deer, fox, wolves and river otters – will help us avoid more than $13 million in flood damage alone over the next 20 years. Precipitation data indicated a 36 percent rise in storm water runoff at the Belmont Uplands silver maple forest.
Developers depict the Silver Maple Forest “Residents of Acorn Park Drive” as a conflict between conservationists and affordable housing advocates. Environmentalists at Alewife Reservation standing for the silver maples are asking to view closely where the project is and to note its low sea elevation with a coming rise in this level which, according to Army Corps of Engineers, places much of the basin under water.
“Prudential Financial and their partners are the only ones who stand to gain from this project,” Kraus said, “while the town and city residents and wildlife will lose a vital floodplain habitat and the protection for current and future generations.”
This post was updated Oct. 14 and 16, 2014, to include information about the injunction hearing and arrests.