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

The town's Conservation Commission has chosen a pair of third-party peer reviewers -- Hatch and SWCA -- to assess the situation regarding the controversial Thorndike Place housing project intended on the Mugar property.

The decision came at the commission's Nov. 16 public hearing. Hatch plans to analyze stormwater management, and SWCA is to analyze the wildlife habitat, both under the guidelines here >>

Thorndike Place is a multifamily development, initially put forward eight years ago, proposed to be built on a piece of privately owned land commonly known as the Mugar wetlands, a 17-acre habitat to birds and other animals near Dorothy Road in East Arlington, just west of the town line with Cambridge.

Although the project's size has been notably reduced since 2015, and many design changes sought by the town's Zoning Board of Appeals implemented in the past few years, some town residents, including members of the Arlington Select Board, still oppose it due to concerns about flooding and other environmental issues.

At its previous hearing, on Nov. 2, the commission decided that it needed more candidates offering peer review of stormwater management and wildlife habitat because of an insufficient number of proposals received at that point.

For that reason, the board sent additional proposal requests to eight firms: BETA, Eco Tec, Hatch, Horsley Witten, Kleinfelder, Land Stewardship Inc., SWCA and Weston & Sampson. However, “due to a conflict of interest, Weston & Sampson had to be removed from the list  -- and BETA, Eco Tec and Horsley Witten were not available,” according to the Coalition to Save the Mugar Wetlands’ Nov. 19 newsletter. The coalition continues to vigorously oppose development of the heavily wooded property, which contains no structures -- and has no residents, at least not officially, though homeless people have been known to spend time there at least until earlier this autumn.

Hatch to review stormwater management 

The commission unanimously accepted the engineering consulting firm Hatch, of Boston, as the stormwater-management reviewer. The commission emphasized that the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act is the only body of law under which the review plans to be conducted. 

The commission had also received a proposal from Kleinfelder, also of Boston, an engineering, construction management, design and environmental-services firm. However, “Kleinfelder was obtuse, and not direct, and had a longer lead time,” said Commission Chair Susan Chapnick. 

Although Hatch’s fees were slightly higher ($10,700 compared with $10,000 for Kleinfelder), Chapick said that, in its addressing of stormwater standards, Hatch was more detailed in scope.

SWCA named wildlife habitat reviewer 

In another unanimous vote, the commission chose environmental consultants SWCA (Sound Science Creative Solutions) of Southborough to review wildlife habitat.

Nevertheless, SWCA will need to clarify its scope to make it consistent with what the commission requested, specifically what portions of the plan it will be looking at and what plan sheets its employees will review, Chapnick said.

Stephanie Kiefer, attorney for Arlington Land Realty, the applicant for Thorndike Place, had also recommended SWCA over Hatch. “They have ecologists on board, unlike Hatch,” which also had submitted a proposal to review the wildlife habitat, she said. “I’m not sure [Hatch would] have the professionals we requested. Their proposal included a landscape architect, not an ecologist.” 

Furthermore, Hatch’s pricing was higher ($6,800 compared with $5,435 for SWCA) -- and Hatch’s proposal for wildlife habitat was received one day after the stated deadline, Kiefer added. 

“It’s a good practice to have deadlines mean something but not to set a precedent about proposals coming in one day after a deadline,” Town Counsel Michael Cunningham observed.

More information expected next week

The commission’s hearings are scheduled to continue Dec. 14 and at that time are expected to include an update on progress made on both peer reviews, the town's environmental planner, David Morgan, told YourArlington recently.

“I expect discussion will be limited to that topic," he said via email earlier today, Tuesday, Dec. 5.

 Nov. 16, 2023: ConCom seeks more peer review of Thorndike Place 


This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.