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At Spy Pond's edge, two-home plan rejected by Concom

Vacant home at 47 Spy Pond Lane. / Bob Sprague photoVacant home at 47 Spy Pond Lane last summer. / Bob Sprague photo

UPDATED, Oct. 22: The issue that had roiled neighbors of 47 Spy Pond Lane since May -- whether to turn a lot with one vacant, burned-out home into two -- was decided at a Thursday, Oct. 20, as the Conservation Commission voted not to approve plans.

In the small Town Hall Annex hearing room, overfilled with attendees, many of them neighbors in opposition to the specific type of development proposed by Seaver Construction of Woburn, the board took a series of votes to reach its conclusion.

The votes reject the specific plans, but the developer or others may submit alternate or revised plans in a new application to the commission. The results may mean that only one house or two smaller houses will ever be built on the full No. 47 lot rather than two very large houses as proposed.

The applicant, Scott Seaver, was not present.

Commissioners discussed the information and research accumulated over the many hearings, from last spring to early October. They also talked through the lack of "reasonable alternatives" in the materials requested of the developer and how the proposed plans met or not the various requirements of both Arlington's regulations and the state's Wetlands Protection Act.

Because the development plan was submitted as though the property were two lots, the plan for each one received two separate votes. There was not a finding that the No. 47 property had ever formally been two lots.

The first results were a pair of unanimous votes not to approve the development under the town's conservation regulations. The second two results were each five votes (opposed) and two votes (for) the development under the state's less-stringent Wetlands Protection Act.

Oct. 6 hearing

As repoirted earlier, the Conservation Commission completed discussion on a plan at a Thursday, Oct. 6, hearing, attended by about 30 people.

Attorney Matthew Watsky for Seaver presented claims that the property was of limited value to wildlife as is and that Seaver's development would enhance it, that the profits of any alternative plans to Seaver's would be far too small.

Seaver's associate, Mary Trudeau, presented past examples approved by the Conservation Commission that the Seaver team said were precedents in support of approving the current development plans for 47 Spy Pond Lane.

Bruce Whelte, a former Conservation commissioner, disputed the comparisons to previous Concom approvals.

Liz Pyle, an attorney for the neighbors and abutters, rebutted Watsky's points and reviewed the two-step process necessary to the commission's consideration of the application.

She explained that the commission, according to its own procedures, must first have information that no reasonable alternative plans exist. After that, it must evaluate the submitted plans in terms of the conservation regulations that must be upheld. Pyle stated that the applicant had failed to prove even the first step.

The hearing conducted in the Senior Center included neighbors and supporting residents, the Seaver team and its neighbor advocate, as well as various residents on hand for other business. 

Sept. 15 hearing

On Sept. 15, Trudeau, an associate of developer Seaver, presented some changes to several details in previously presented plans.

The abutters' lawyer, Pyle, summarized her most recent letter, rejecting the lightly altered plans.

Seaver was not present and has not responded over the many weeks to the commissioners' request for a reasonable alternative to his original plans, a neighbor providing information to YourArlington wrote.

About 10 abutters and interested Arlington residents spoke in favor of maintaining the wetlands regulations and protecting the pond.

John Worden, a former longtime Town Meeting moderator, discussed his experience of serving on the Historic Districts Commission and how protecting the character of the town is parallel to protecting its natural elements.

Commissioners mentioned that they had received a letter from the Arlington Land Trust in support of protecting the property and the pond.

Property owner Harold Boucher discussed his experience of living on the property when he was young and offered observations of his recent walk nearby and around the pond in support of Seaver's current plans.

One Arlington resident also supported the developer in his bid to build partly on protected land, but the majority of audience members appeared to oppose the developer's proposals.

The hearing is scheduled to resume Thursday, Oct. 6, when Seaver's lawyer plans to attend the hearing to argue against the position of the abutters, other neighbors and their lawyer's findings.

Abutters and neighbors say they do not oppose developing the property as long a reasonable alternative project complies with local and state regulations. They oppose splitting lot, since there are 60-plus waterfront lots, including on the pond and Mystic Lake, that could be split into multiples should such a precedent be set.

Nathaniel Stevens, Conservation Commission chairman, hinted that Oct. 6 might be the final hearing before a vote.

Sept. 1 hearing

The expected crowd led the Sept. 1 hearing before the Conservation Commission to be moved from the Town Hall Annex to the Senior Center. The majority of speakers opposed the plan by Seaver Construction of Woburn. 

Seaver seeks approval to divide the half-acre fronting on Spy Pond into two lots, so two homes may be built there. Both would be within the 100-foot buffer zone, protected under town and state conservation regulations.

The hearing was continued from Aug. 18 after a new plan emerged, and the commission did not have sufficient time to review it.

Mary Trudeau, a company representative, who spoke in the absence of principal Scott Seaver, offered few new details. Neighbors at the hearing noted that she had misjudged the timing for preparing additional items requested by the commission. Trudeau suggested that No. 47 is two lots and meets zoning requirements.

The commission said that the town had recorded the house, built in 1949, as a single lot. By the end of the meeting, Trudeau said she would try to submit additional details and an alternative development plan for the next meeting.

Elizabeth Pyle of Arlington, an environmental lawyer and past chair of the Somerville Conservation Commission, for 10 years, spoke as a representative of abutters and other neighbors. She emphasized points from her recent letter to the commission, citing Massachusetts legal precedents and local wetlands regulations, noting that these provide a strong basis for denying Seaver's proposed two-house development on this waterfront lot.

Grossman, Worden supporter

Among residents commenting was Karen Grossman, president of Friends of Spy Pond Park. She said the project would increase runoff via impervious areas, leading to increased erosion on a shore of Spy Pond. She called it a fragile ecosystem in need of protection from the impact of human activity and construction.

John Worden, a former longtime Town Meeting moderator who is not an abutter, said he has lived in Arlington for 50 years and was part of creating the first conservation-minded organizations in town some decades ago -- a "conservation association" that existed before the Wetlands Protection Act.

He urged the commissioners not to allow construction that intrudes deeply into the 100-foot buffer zone. He said this area needs to be protected from development. He noted that preservation of open space for the enjoyment and benefit of wildlife and future generations are important and that the public has a moral obligation to protect the commons.

One neighbor who is a supporter of the project provided another view, noting the owners' right to a good financial return on the sale of the property. The neighbor suggested that since home construction in past decades has been allowed to take place close to the pond, this would project was no different and could be done with energy efficiency in mind.

The commission has previously said that financial concerns do not affect their decisions.

Abutters and other neighbors opposing the proposed development noted that:

-- A petition against the project signed by Arlington residents now has more than 460 signatures (by July 7, the petition had 375 signatures);

-- Wildlife witnessed and documented on the property and nearby (breeding, nesting) drew passionate statements; and

-- A decision should focus on the public good and keeps a stressed water body from the additional runoff and negative impact on a natural treasure that is a jewel in Arlington.

One of the central points made by abutters and in the petition presented to the commission involved the negative precedent for the future that will be set if the Conservation Commission approves this project.

The worry, project opponents said, is that if this project is allowed to move forward, anyone who owns a large waterfront lot in Arlington would have precedent to split their lots in two and allow even denser construction around Spy Pond, Mystic Lake and other water bodies in Arlington. Such an outcome, opponents of the project say, would be a tragedy for the town, for Spy Pond, for the commons and for future generations.

July-Sept., 2016: Neighbors ask Concom to abide by buffer-zone rules for Spy Pond development
Conservation Commission regulations for wetland protection

Concom also administers the state Wetlands Protection Act (includes 100-foot buffer zone)

This news summary was published Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. It was updated Oct. 22. Neighbors of 47 Spy Pond Lane contributed to this report. 

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