Sunday, June 23, 2024

Neighborhood groups around Jerry’s Pond want to see it “renaturalized” with added wetlands at the southwest corner. Click the image for a Google satellite image of the pond’s current shape. (Image: Friends of Jerry’s Pond)

Neighborhood groups are challenging IQHQ to make Jerry’s Pond, the polluted former swimming hole it has come to own, as nice a green space as the developer plans to make its future lab space. A Friday letter outlines nearly 30 proposals by the Rindge Avenue Community, Friends of Jerry’s Pond, Reservoir Church and Just-A-Start Corp. ranging from open space protection to local hiring.

“We want to recognize that IQHQ has made a good faith effort to begin the process of developing publicly accessible areas around Jerry’s Pond. But we feel the proposals are not yet sufficient,” says the letter, shared Friday with Cambridge Day. “We are pleased to present a community vision for the restoration of Jerry’s Pond and surrounding areas and for linking community residents with economic opportunities associated with IQHQ’s development.”

Some of the groups’ boldest goals call for the pond to be expanded and reshaped into a more natural-looking pond from its current nearly rectangular shape, adding “compensatory wetlands” to the southwest corner; a relocated sidewalk with trees on both sides, as well as a two-way, off-street bikeway; more gathering places around the pond and a better connection with MBTA property, including improvements where the agency is “unlikely to do this needed updating on its own”; wooden boardwalks like at Alewife’s “constructed wetland” to Belmont, with high railings, diffused lighting and safety call boxes; a community meeting room at IQHQ; space for three food businesses such as coffee shops and sandwich shops, to be run by members of the Rindge Avenue neighborhood; and educational boosts in the biomedical and information technology fields that would lead to the hiring of three residents of the Rindge Avenue community and an additional three graduates of Just-A-Start’s training programs each year.

The letter asks that IQHQ presents no new plans until it has incorporated the neighbor group’s proposal.

The developer said Friday through its local attorney, Anthony Galluccio, that while its initial plan for Jerry’s Pond got a “very good response,” it already planned an update based on early feedback and a comprehensive public process run through the Alewife Study Group – with major site improvements not limited to the pond itself.

It planned to release a next version after consultation around wildlife issues. “We are trying to open up public access [while] making sure no changes disrupt wildlife species or natural habitat,” Galluccio said. “We are confident that if we all work together, the community can better enjoy the Jerry’s Pond area.”

The neighborhood group’s full proposal is here:

Alison Field-Juma, a Neighborhood 9 resident who has chaired policy for the Mystic River Watershed Association and served as executive director for Oars, a watershed organization for the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord rivers west of Boston, hailed the idea of a “regenerated wetland landscape” in a letter released Saturday. “It is completely feasible to observe wetlands and pollution safety protocols that reach beyond IQHQ’s proposed cantilevered, hard deck along Rindge Avenue,” Field-Juma wrote, urging “investment in creating a new natural space, accessible to those who live and work there, that will benefit generations of people. This is a one-time opportunity to create something special at Jerry’s Pond after 60 years of neglect.”

Getting here

IQHQ, a life sciences real estate development company based in Boston and San Diego, bought the 26-acre Alewife Park from GCP Applied Technologies in July for $125 million. (It followed that in November with another $54 million purchase on an office property nearby.) In January it shared plans for the site that includes three research buildings and an aboveground parking garage, all built within existing zoning, and improvements to Jerry’s Pond that would once again give the public access for recreation. It’s been behind chain-link fence for some six decades for environmental and health concerns resulting from its industrial history – dating back to the late 1800s, when it was known as “Jerry’s Pit” and being excavated for clay by brick-makers.

After the initial approach by IQHQ, the Harvard Square-based Ocean River Institute partnered with neighborhood groups to bring in an intern to coordinate a survey of what residents wanted from a future Jerry’s Pond. That led to the Friday proposal collaborated on by the Friends of Jerry’s Pond. the Rindge Community, Just-A-Start (owner of the Rindge Tower Apartments land) and nearby Reservoir Church.

A new deal on the deck

One standout element: IQHQ’s proposal of a deck along Rindge Avenue was dissatisfying as “a hard element of infrastructure supported by columns overlooking a pit rather than a regeneration and renaturalization of the pond bank. In this design, the pond remains a square pit – there is no reshaping of it into a pond, and limited areas are created for public access. Nor is there adequate space for trees or wetlands along Rindge Avenue,” the letter says.

In the neighbors’ version, space along Rindge is expanded into wetlands – given more testing for pollution.

Rindge Avenue now, with Jerry’s Pond on the right …

… and as imagined by IQHQ in its initial proposal …

… and as reimagined by Anna Curtis-Heald of the Friends of Jerry’s Pond in a Friday proposal to IQHQ.

“Our proposals for the restoration, renaturalization and regeneration of Jerry’s Pond and surrounding areas would create accessible open spaces to be used by all Cambridge residents, including, of course, the new lab tenants, all those in surrounding neighborhoods and especially the approximately 4,000 residents of affordable housing across the street,” the letter says to the developer. “Jerry’s Pond and the broader 26-plus acres under proposed development by IQHQ carries a toxic legacy, so we recognize and appreciate your commitment to upholding the highest standards of safety.”

But the letter also points to that legacy to argue for a “moral standard” that the proposals made by the neighbors are as important as the construction of the developer’s 745,000 square feet of lab space.

The letter was signed by Eric Grunebaum, of Friends of Jerry’s Pond; Shaithea Anusha Alam, the ORI intern and a Rindge Avenue resident, for the Rindge Community; the Rev. Lydia Shiu, for Reservoir Church’s Social Justice & Action initiative; and Carl Nagy-Koechlin, for Just-A-Start.