Thursday, July 18, 2024

A sign seeks support Jan. 5 for an expanded reclamation project at Jerry’s Pond for North Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

North Cambridge’s Jerry’s Pond got a two-hour discussion Monday of a plan worked on by life-science developer IQHQ over the past three years, and discussion by the Conservation Commission is far from over.

Before getting back to talking in February about how to return the fenced-in pond to public use, commissioners say they will have another site walk to understand current plans. An IQHQ presentation took some commissioners by surprise in saying a part of the chain-link fence along Rindge Avenue will stay. 

Jennifer Sweet, a consultant for engineering firm Haley & Aldrich, called it “a conscious decision” to protect conservation areas and comply with regulatory limitations – restrictions on activities where contamination remains.

“We heard early on in the process a lot of people voice an interest in having some areas around Jerry’s pond stay an undisturbed natural habitat,” Sweet said, “versus having people walk through it all the time.”

Nearly half of the two hours on Monday was dedicated to public comment, and most was from people affiliated with the group Friends of Jerry’s Pond, which wants the city to put money into reclamation on the site and take the project beyond what IQHQ is funding. “Having four different environmental and community organizations speak was really gratifying,” said Eric Grunebaum, a co-founder of Friends of Jerry’s Pond.

The comments did not seem to immediately alter the project’s course, and IQHQ land-use attorney Anthony Galluccio was optimistic enough to give estimates on its completion – anywhere from 18 months to two years –  if the plan is approved at the next meeting.

Two plans, millions apart

Jerry’s Pond is a humanmade body of water between the Alewife T station and Rindge Avenue in North Cambridge – the result of mining clay for brick making in the mid-1800s. For several decades, it has laid dormant and surrounded by a chain-link fence, unavailable for use by the thousands of lower-income residents in its surrounding community. IQHQ bought the property containing Jerry’s Pond in 2020 and has been planning since to tear down fencing and turn the pond into an accessible green space.

IQHQ seeks to plant about 29 trees as part of a communal garden, increase flood storage, extend the sidewalk into a multiuse path, add a Mass Audubon eco-center and construct a boardwalk around the property’s south and east edges. The estimated cost is $3.8 million, with another $1.5 million for five years of maintenance and operations. 

The plan is designed to provide public access and “allow a closer viewing of the pond instead of the more distant view that you currently get behind overgrown fences,” said Danielle Desilets, lead designer on the project.

Friends of Jerry’s Pond wants more, calling for 150 to 175 trees that would provide additional environmental benefits, bike lanes, a nature path, more seating and the creation of wetlands for natural flood storage. This would require the city to find up to $15 million to contribute.

The city should act consistently with goals stated in reports such as “Healthy Forest, Healthy City” but at Jerry’s Pond it is not, Grunebaum said.

“I hope people can think about what they will look back on in 10 years and be proud of, and I hope that people will be proud of taking real action that’s consistent with the city’s stated goals on climate change and equity and green space,” Grunebaum said.

Public comment: Hoping for more

After the commission spoke came public comment. Fifteen people expressed support or concern for the project; some had ideas on how the plan could be improved.

Pasang Lhamo, a resident of Rindge Avenue for 24 years and a member of Friend of Jerry’s Pond, expressed concerns over flood risks and said the IQHQ plan does not address the community’s “real concerns.” Citing a recent example of a local family’s basement flooding, she said the current design would not be enough to “address major flooding concerns on Rindge Avenue.”

One common request during public comment was to avoid cutting down mature trees; the plan calls for eight to be chopped down.

“My understanding is that if you remove eight mature trees, you have to plant a heck of a lot more than 29 trees to compensate for the carbon storage and all of the other benefits, so I’m begging you to to figure out a way to not kill them,” said Gwen Speeth, a member of Save the Alewife Brook.

Public comment: Supporting IQHQ

Others, like Lisa Birk of the Alewife Study Group, commended IQHQ for their effort and commitment to meet with the community. There is a “complexity” to the project that requires the many discussions and iterations, Birk said.

“This process that we have done with IQHQ is not perfect, but it is robust and comprehensive,” Birk said. “These plans come out of a very careful consideration of the trade-offs, of the complexity of what you think you know and what actually turns out to be true.”

Representatives of the company highlighted its achievements – initiating community outreach, making several upgrades to its original plan and continuing to adapt to criticism and comments.

Galluccio said in the meeting that he has “never experienced so much public process” in a project of this size.

“I think the average person thinks that this is a huge improvement,” Galluccio said in an interview. “I think they’re pleased that the city was able to get a private developer to open up the resource and agree to maintain it and secure it, along with a whole bunch of other benefits.”

Public process

IQHQ had more than 100 meetings with neighborhood groups such as the Friends of Jerry’s Pond, Alewife Study Group and Mass Audubon about the 27 acres it is redeveloping, which includes Jerry’s Pond. Jerry’s Pond is just part of the $13 million in overall public benefits it is prepared to spend.

Galluccio said he appreciated groups such as Friends of Jerry’s Pond for their positive impact on IQHQ’s plan and understands there are still some disagreements between the groups.

“Regardless of the fact that there isn’t 100 percent consensus, I do have confidence that we all move forward together,” Galluccio said. “The plan is a great balance of public enjoyment, best environmental practices and minimizing disruption. The idea here is to provide folks with a little bit of a sanctuary away from Rindge Avenue and Route 16 … to bring folks on to the pond.”

This post was updated Jan. 30, 2024, to change the lead. The previous version reflected a practice of the Conservation Commission to say that every item on its agenda will be addressed for 15 minutes, which is not true.