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July 22 meeting set as developer moves toward 40B Mugar application

Mugar site, Google EarthMugar: Most of it is the triangular tract west of Thorndike Field. / Google Earth

UPDATED, July 1: Now that the developer of the Mugar project has taken a step toward filing a 40B application, and the town has a month longer to prepare its response, Arlington officials have scheduled a public meeting to discuss the issues involved.

It is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 22, at Town Hall auditorium.

The selectmen decided Monday, June 29, to hold a meeting in July, likely in Town Hall with all stakeholders invited. 

The meeting aims to collect information from town leaders and the public to be part of the record to address an application by Oaktree Development, which seeks to build housing on the Mugar site under Chapter 40B.

In a June 22 letter, Gregory P. Watson, manager of comprehensive permit programs for MassHousing, wrote that Arlington has until Aug. 10 to respond to an application by Oaktree Development of Cambridge. The town had sought 60 days from a July 10 deadline.

The board voted in June to MassHousing seeking a 90-day extension to answer a site-eligibility application for the 17-acre Mugar site in East Arlington.

Selectmen Chairman Kevin Greeley said June 29 that he was "just a little disappointed" that Arlington did not get the full three months.

Town Counsel Doug Heim said lack of full extension of time causes a scheduling problem with a town official who deals with wetlands issues.

At the proposed July meeting, Oaktree would make a presentation, as would town officials.

A variety of town officials and members of Arlington state delegation have expressed opposition to the development plan.

"After careful consideration of your request, MassHousing will provide the Town of Arlington with a 30-day extension to comment on the proposed Thorndike Place application," Watson wrote.

"I feel it is very important to note that this extension represents a significant departure from our typical review process. However, the agency has agreed to this extension given the unique complexity of the issues the Town is reviewing in connection with the proposed development. Our decision to grant a 30-day extension represents our efforts to balance the Town's need for time with the statutory goal that the Comprehensive Permit process should be an expedited one."

Watson led a tour of the site June 23 that included politicians, town officials, representatives from Oaktree and residents.

At the June 29 selectmen's meeting, board member Diane Mahon called site visit "a joke." She complained that when town representatives asked specific questions about the development plan, they were told that such level of detail was not yet available.

The town has hired Jon Witten as special counsel to support its opposition to the 219-unit home project.

"Towns are not at the mercy of a rogue 40B process," he told selectmen June 8. "The town has a lot of power to push back."

The developers gave notice May 19 that a 40B application would be filed, the same day Witten and partner Barbara Huggins appeared before the town's Zoning Board of Appeals. They spent 2 1/2 hours laying out what the ZBA needed to do. That was two days before 300 people turned out at Hardy School to hear the first public discussion of the plan by Oaktree Development of Cambridge.

The request by NBM Realty LLC to make the site eligible for a 40B application, with a 196-page proposal, is dated June 8.

The site-eligibility application is a necessary precursor to filing a 40B permit application with our local zoning board, Town Counsel Doug Heim told YourArlington.

"MassHousing notified us on June 8, 2015, that they had received the Site Eligibility Application (sometimes called Project Eligibility Application) and would expect the selectmen's comment on or before July 8, 2015. For the reasons set forth in the Selectmen's letter, that is not sufficient time, especially given the 196 page, detailed application submitted by the developers." Heim wrote.

"Accordingly, they asked for 90 days (until Sept. 6, 2015) to submit the selectmen's response to the very broad issue of whether or not the proposed site should be generally eligible for a 40B housing project."

Huggins & Witten specialize on defending towns against 40B projects. As his discussion indicated, the rules for the state law work better for developers. Adopted in 1969 as a measure to increase affordable housing, the law has changed over the years, particularly since 2008, to use the hope of affordable housing to secure other benefits for builders.

Arlington officials and its political representatives all are on record opposing the project. Chief reasons have to do with flooding and traffic. Despite that, Thorndike Place could still be built near Dorothy Road.

"Are we ready?" Selectman Dan Dunn asked.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said Arlington is prepared for this conversation.

Heim said the special attorneys are working with then ZBA to have procedures in place.

June 9: Step toward 40B filed for Mugar site; town seeks more time to respond

May 26, 2015: Speakers at Hardy send a clear message about Mugar site: NO
Cambridge Day, April 26: 3-year Cambridge master-plan process to start with Alewife

April 5, 2015: Coalition responds point by point to Mugar developer's statements

Opinion: Arlington's Belskis on 40B

March 31, 2015: Coalition seeks to preserve Mugar site from development         

Coalition to Save Mugar Wetlands: WordPress | Facebook

March 8, 2015: Belmont Uplands permit issued; opponents vow to continue

This report was published Monday, June 29, 2015, and updated July 1, to add meetimg date.

YOUR VIEW: Opinions: Murals politics, Town Day, Medford St., AFD, ACMi, poetry, Mugar, Alewife

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