For many years, I have believed that the best use for the Belmont Uplands or “Silver Maple Forest” property is as conservation land. If joined to the Alewife Reservation and connected to surrounding neighborhoods with walking trails, it could be a valuable local and regional recreational asset.
Since becoming State Representative, I have made acquisition of the property for conservation purposes a personal priority. I have kept the public closely informed of the ups and downs of my efforts on this issue, but I feel that it is important to summarize publicly where we are now.
The developer has passed many hurdles and may be approaching the completion of permitting for a 40B housing development on the site. For a detailed account of where the permitting stands, see the May 2011 edition of the Belmont Citizen’s Forum newsletter.
The Governor himself and his environmental agencies have made crystal clear that they do not feel that they can allocate state resources towards an acquisition of the property. Most recently, the administration restated this position in a letter from the Secretary of Environmental Affairs to me dated February 1. Secretary Sullivan stated “[t]he Commonwealth of Massachusetts has no plans or means by which to purchase or help purchase this property.”
This communication is only one in a long string of communications to the same effect, going back to my initial filing of legislation in 2007. I have met repeatedly with the Governor and/or with senior members of his administration on this issue. Additionally, a whole host of community advocates and officials have transmitted to the Governor their support for an acquisition. Thousands of signatures have been presented to the administration.
With the support of my colleagues, I have twice passed legislation creating a framework for the state to acquire the property, but the Governor declined to approve the legislation on both occasions. His position reflects the strength of affordable housing concerns within the administration — acquisition of the property is perceived as stopping an affordable housing project. Additionally, environmentalists within the administration prefer acquisition of larger but less expensive parcels in remote areas of the state. The state recently completed, for example, a $3 million purchase of 782 acres to expand a state forest in Tolland.
The administration did, as an accommodation to me and my colleagues from Cambridge and Arlington who advocated acquisition, recently complete an appraisal of the 15-acre Uplands property. The appraisal valued the property at $13.5 million. The appraisal makes the crucial assumption that all permits are granted in the reasonably near future.
Given the clear position of the administration, the challenge of raising these funds falls to the abutting communities, Cambridge, Arlington and Belmont. Belmont and Cambridge have both passed the Community Preservation Act and are therefor better positioned to contribute than Arlington.
Both Belmont and Cambridge have competing priorities for their CPA funds and may or may not feel able to allocate funds to an acquisition. But given the closing window of opportunity, I felt it important to make clear publicly that the state does not appear to be in a position to contribute. Although I remain eager to help advance an acquisition, if an acquisition is to occur, local resources will need to be identified.