UPDATED Dec. 17: The town Zoning Board of Appeals has approved, 5-0, the permit for the proposed development of Thorndike Place -- a key step for the long-stalled housing plan for the 17-acre Mugar site near Route 2.

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

But the unanimous vote comes with a lengthy series of conditions to which the developer, Oaktree Development of North Cambridge, must adhere. View the final decision here >>

For a summary of the Monday, Nov. 22, session, see meeting notes by Steve Revilak, who is an associate board member and did not vote in this matter. He provides these notes as a public service.

The board has been meeting since April about the permit for the project, first proposed in 2015 and opposed by town officials from the start, largely because of flooding and traffic.

Updated last June

The proposal was last updated in June to reintroduce six two-family townhouses along the frontage of Dorothy Road, as presented in the original comprehensive permit application. A four-story senior independent-living facility is proposed for the parcel to the rear of the town homes. The total number of rental units is reduced by 31 units, to 124, which would be permanently affordable to low- and moderate-income families. The proposal includes 43 studio units, 58 one-bedroom units and 23 two-bedroom units.

Among the findings the ZBA discussed Nov. 22 is this one, Revilak reported: "This paragraph involves a Memorandum of Understanding that will be negotiated between the Applicant and the Select Board. The board will not be a party to these negotiations, so we'll use this paragraph to state our opinions about what the MOU should include.

"Several board members ask how a conservation restriction would work, if the applicant ends up maintaining ownership of the land. Mr. [Paul] Haverty [ZBA counsel] says that state law requires a third-party to have control of a conservation restriction (e.g., a non-profit). He doesn't see an issue if the applicant ends up maintaining ownership. The board adds a subsection to describe how the proposed handling of the conservation parcel changed over the course of the hearings."

ZBA Chair Christian Klein said the board had three options: to approve, approve with conditions or deny. He said it was said it was "safe to assume that the board will not approve the project without conditions, which means choosing between the latter two options," Revilak reported.

'It isn't perfect'

ZBA member Pat Hanlon moved to accept the decision as written. "He says it isn't perfect, but believes the applicant has gone just about as far as the Conservation Commission requested," Revilak reported. "He wishes the board could do more, but acknowledges that we have to operate within a legal matrix. He thinks this decision tries to consider quality of life issues for residents, whereas the Housing Appeals Committee might be more likely to say 'oh, it's just those Arlington NIMBYs.' The neighborhood is under pressure from flooding, and that might just be a storm-water system issue. He hopes that this is a start at relieving some of the pressure that people feel."

ZBA member Kevin Mills said "the board has done the best job it possibly could. He thinks this will be a painful pill for the neighborhood to swallow, but voting against it would be the wrong move."

Board member Roger Dupont said he "wrestled with the desire to stop this project from moving forward, but we have to deal with the realities of state law."

Member Shawn O'Rourke, said "he's reluctant to approve this decision, but feels the final project is much better than the one we started with."

Klein said he agreed with the other board members. "This is probably the largest undeveloped parcel in Arlington," Revilak reported. "It was originally envisioned as a shopping center along Route 2. The town made several attempts to purchase the property, but unsuccessfully.

"This may allow for the final disposition of the conservation parcel, so that the land can be cleaned up, restored and brought back. He understands the new housing will be an imposition on the neighborhood; there will be new neighbors and they will become an integral part of the neighborhood.

"This is a special place to the residents who live here ...."

2 main issues

He cited two main problems: wetlands and site access. He said "we got to a good solution for the wetlands, but traffic and site access are less clear. He thinks the decision is as strong and defensible as it can be. He hope this will eventually become an asset to the neighborhood."

The board approves the decision by a vote of 5-0. Aaron Ford and Revilak are associate members and could not vote.

The developer and town officials have have been asked to comment.

See the entire Nov. 22 broadcast on ACMi:

Town website: Background about Thorndike Place proposal
Comprehensive Permits: Thorndike Place

This news summary was published Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. It was updated Dec. 2, to add a link to the final decision, and Dec. 17, to add an ACMi video window.