Sunday, July 14, 2024

A tower of affordable housing is seen Feb. 8 from across Jerry’s Pond in North Cambridge. (Photo: Hue-En Lin)

The plan to transform Jerry’s Pond in North Cambridge into expanded community green space was approved unanimously by the Conservation Commission at a Monday meeting – its fourth on the issue across three months for plans in the making since 2020.

After two and half hours of discussion, the six commission members present approved the project for its next step: the Planning Board.

If board approval follows the commission’s, work reclaiming the pond is expected to begin this summer and be complete in the summer of 2025. The project isn’t on board agendas posted through March 19.

The most recent commission meeting continued one from Feb. 12 in which property owner IQHQ and its project team proposed to plant more trees and remove more pavement around the pond, a humanmade body of water resulting from mining clay for brick making in the mid-1800s. For several decades, it laid dormant, surrounded by a chain-link fence and unavailable for use by the thousands of lower-income residents in the surrounding community. IQHQ, a life-sciences developer, bought the property containing Jerry’s Pond in 2020 as part of an overall 27 acres and has been planning since to tear down fencing and turn the pond into an accessible green space.

The meeting was continued to Monday so project additions could be documented to ensure compliance with wetlands protection laws.

The meeting had a brief presentation from the project team, and engineering consultant Kleinfelder reviewed the changes in a new memo addressing mainly technical issues.

Significant public comment

Commission chair Purvi Patel and vice chair David Lyons said after their vote that it wasn’t unusual for a project to get multiple meetings to ensure complete applications or address changes requested by the commission or public. What is not typical is the amount of public turnout seen for Jerry’s Pond over the course of two months, they said: More than a dozen people representing several local groups shared their thoughts on the item, good or bad, in all four meetings.

“It was always striking … how active and involved the neighborhood was, and the different groups representing different opinions within the neighborhood,” Lyons said.

Patel said she hadn’t seen as much public participation in her 12 years on the commission.

“It was challenging because there were these very informed people and groups that had amazing and germane points to our review,” Patel said. “It was clear at the outset and then at the conclusion that there was never going to be an approved design that would meet everyone’s criteria, because they were so diverse.”

IQHQ land-use attorney Anthony Galluccio said the amount of comment was significant – but so was how much comment was positive.

Nineteen people gave public comments at the Monday meeting, most notably from the Alewife Study Group, which has worked closely with IQHQ on its overall acreage, and Friends of Jerry’s Pond. Eric Grunebaum, co-founder of the Friends, has been particularly displeased over the City of Cambridge’s passive approach at Jerry’s Pond to an oncoming climate crisis and increased heat.

“There’s been a real failure of imagination by the city administration and City Council, in particular, in addressing climate change,” Grunebaum said. “What we proposed was five times the tree coverage that IQHQ proposed along Rindge Avenue, which would create a new green, equitable space there.”

Glad to avoid delay

Others didn’t want to see the project delayed by continued debate. Anusha Alam, a Brandeis University senior from the Rindge Avenue area, helped IQHQ in its initial outreach efforts during her first year in college – including resident surveys calling for more trees and amenities such as barbecue grills. She said she believed IQHQ has incorporated most of the requests in its plans.

“It’ll take a long time for it to be completed, and I don’t want it to become something that’s never done,” Alam said of a reclaimed Jerry’s Pond. The current, approved version “can really be cherished in the community and by the people in North Cambridge.”

Alam said she was happy with the vote, and is excited to see something “tangible.”

“I have a little sister and she has all her friends in the area, and I really hope that they can spend time there,” Alam said. “Letting people have a place to have picnics or any events by reserving the space, I’m super excited to see that in action.”