701: Nice posturing, but not effective

Rep. Brownsberger,

I want to thank you for your efforts in trying to preserve open space in your district, and for trying to prevent construction in a location that is inappropriate for multiple reasons – floodprone and in floodplain, inadequate sewer capacity, not physically near either schools or businesses.

However, I think everyone realizes that this effort was destined to go nowhere, and would be about as successful as current Republican efforts to repeal national health care legislation. Like that effort, it shows earnest effort to one’s supporters, despite the impossibility of its passage for one very simple reason: the money isn’t there, either at the state or the municipal level.

Even the small silver lining – an appraisal of the land by DCR – is very small indeed. As you pointed out, the bill neither provides funding to DCR to purchase the land, nor instructs it to do so.

In fact, given the lack of either political will or funding to purchase the site, it could be argued that the appraisal itself is a waste of public money.

The *only* value the appraisal has is that if one can bring developer O’Neil to the table, it provides a basis for negotiations about a deal in which O’Neil turns the land over to the state (much like O’Neil did for an adjacent 8 acres) in exchange for a tax deduction.

However, that requires that O’Neill conclude that given consistent, long-standing community opposition (I now forget for how many years this has been going on. 7?), it is simply not worth it to continue this effort, that there are better ways to use its limited financial resources. That’s a difficult prospect. Although the current recession makes it hard to sell new residential units, it has also lowered the cost of construction to bargain levels. Developers keep deep pockets precisely in order to ride out the real estate market’s multi-year boom-bust cycle.

Therefore, the question becomes: what particular show of community support for keeping the land green will convince O’Neil that this particular effort is not worth it? Given some consensus on that question, I’m sure the appropriate demonstration of community support can be arranged.

Two other points to note:

1) O’Neil is a Philadelphia-based national developer.  It has a national reputation to uphold. It would not want opposition here to adversely affect proposals it is making elsewhere.

2) Since Belmont’s sewerage is inadequate, the only way the development can proceed is for O’Neil to route its sewerage through the pumping station built for the other, recently-built office buildings nearby. However, the City of Cambridge does not want Belmont’s sewerage running through Cambridge pipes. Let’s keep it that way. That may take some deft negotiation; Cambridge is the usual culprit in allowing construction within the Alewife floodplain that pushes it further into Belmont and Arlington.

So again, a thank you to you and your fellow legislators for the relatively easy support of filing a bill that’s destined to fail. What are the next, and harder steps, for you, your colleagues, and us?

Aram Hollman

3 replies on “701: Nice posturing, but not effective”

  1. Aram, to quote Monte Python, “always look at the bright side of life.”

    Actually, nothing about this bill was easy to do — some key people are pro-development and held the bill up to the very end of the session. The difficulty of the effort to get this admittedly modest bill is what convinces me that it is as good as can be done from the state level — it is impossible to get material funding for this acquisition from the state.

    You are right that acquisition is also a long shot financially at the local level too and I’ve tried not to raise false hopes. On the other hand, there is no way to seriously consider the possibility without an appraisal. The appraisal is absolutely the right next step.

    Once we have it, we’ll know whether acquisition would require a miracle or merely a long-shot win in a public-private funding campaign.

  2. Will,
    It is my understanding that O’Neil pays about $160,000 in taxes to the Town of Belmont for the Uplands property. Are you seriously going to take $160,000 off the Belmont tax rolls when encouraging the developer to build a Commercial development is in the best interest of Belmont taxpayers as it is one of the last Commercially viable properties left in Town with virtually no abutters. Belmont has suffered through massive development in the Alewife area by Cambridge and all we get is the traffic as Cambridge pulls in reams of commercial tax revenue and now we have a chance to get some revenue and you are trying to kill it?

  3. These are decisions that the town is going to make based on the information that we get from the appraisal process.

    But, yes. As one voter, I’d rather make that land accessible to the region, especially the Winn Brook neighborhood, as park land. I’ve been of that same view for 10 years now.

Comments are closed.