No-trespassing sign at Burch, Edith streets, November 2023. / Susan Gilbert photoObscured no-trespassing sign at Burch and Edith streets, November 2023. / Susan Gilbert photo

UPDATED Nov. 27: The Conservation Commission at its Nov. 2 meeting requested peer review of Arlington Land Realty’s notice of intent under the Wetlands Protection Act to build Thorndike Place. The commission continued discussing this issue at its remote-only meeting Nov. 16.

Arlington Land Realty is the applicant seeking to construct Thorndike Place, a 124-unit apartment complex plus six duplex townhouses on the Mugar wetlands, a 17-acre wooded area that is habitat to birds and other animals near Dorothy Road in East Arlington.

No structures are on the private property, and no one officially lives there, though unhoused people are known to gather there. Thorndike Place was initially proposed in 2015 and originally was to have been much larger. Two years ago it was unanimously approved, albeit with many conditions, by the town's Zoning Board of Appeals. However, many in town continue to oppose it because of concerns about potential for flooding and other environmental issues.

The applicant earlier this autumn submitted a notice of intent -- an application outlining the work proposed in order to obtain a permit to conduct work within the wetlands jurisdiction. The Wetlands Protection Act is a state law that establishes procedures for conservation commissions to follow in issuing permits for work in protected areas. According to the introduction on the commonwealth's website, “Wetlands help clean drinking water supplies, prevent flooding and storm damage, and support a variety of wildlife.”

Stormwater mitigation addressed

At the hearing, David Morgan, the town’s environmental planner/conservation agent, said that the town had requested proposals from a number of consultants to provide a timeline and cost estimates for peer review for stormwater management and wildlife habitat. However, the only responses received addressed stormwater mitigation alone.

“We received no responses to the [request for] wildlife habitat review,” said Conservation Commission Chair Susan Chapnick. “Perhaps the proposal’s turnaround time too was tight. And we omitted sending a [request for] peer review to the BETA group [a consultant], which was just a miscommunication oversight. We’ll resend the proposals and give them two weeks, a longer timeline, and hopefully get some wildlife/habitat peer review proposals back.”

Stephanie Kiefer, Arlington Land Realty’s attorney, said that one of the consultants contacted, Weston & Sampson, an engineering and environmental services consulting firm, has a conflict of interest -- and that this should have been identified, and earlier.

“I vehemently object to having Weston & Sampson as a peer reviewer, because they represent a group that opposes the Thorndike project. However, I’m encouraged that the Conservation Commission’s lack of outreach to the BETA group is an oversight and [that] they’re looking to rectify that matter,” said Kiefer. 

She did not say who the consultant represented, and that detail could not be specified.

Chapnick apologized for the oversight, agreed with the concern about potential conflict of interest and said that the Town of Arlington’s own engineer cannot conduct the peer review. 

Morgan said, “A more junior engineer will perform a limited review, including just elevation, landscape, test pits and groundwater evaluation. We recommended looking at the groundwater at more depth, and why the groundwater levels are so different [and a very junior engineer might not be able to sufficiently assess/analyze the inherent groundwater concerns].” 

Commission member Nathaniel Stevens said that Arlington’s engineering department will not review the stormwater report to determine whether the town complies with state stormwater review levels, saying,  “That’s why we need an outside peer review.” Stevens recommended keeping the comprehensive permit plan -- which has more stringent requirements because it’s under the Wetlands Protection Act -- separate from the professional peer reviews, which provide standards such as what plants work well together and what size trees to plant.

At the meeting, ecologist Matt Burne represented the BSC Group, an engineering, planning and environmental development firm, which supports the applicant. He said, “We’re making an effort to improve the site, given its current condition, beyond the Wetlands Protection Act’s requirements.” 

Select Board reaffirms opposition to Thorndike Place

Last month, the Select Board unanimously reaffirmed its longstanding opposition to the Thorndike Place development.

“The Select Board is opposed to the development of the Mugar wetlands,” said board member Diane Mahon at the Oct. 11 meeting.

Vice Chair John Hurd said, “It’s not the right site for development of this kind. Effort to create more housing will stall if it creates more issues in town, which this development would do. I’m happy to continue the board’s opposition to this project.”

Board member Steve DeCourcey added, “We’ve taken several votes to reaffirm our position over the years and have been unanimous in our opposition to this proposed development, even respecting that a comprehensive permit is now in place.”

'No-trespassing' signs difficult to see

The Mugar woods, a 17-acre private property, has small no-trespassing signs in two places: at the intersection of Dorothy Road and Littlejohn Street and at the corner of Burch and Edith streets.

However, vegetation growth since the signs' installation now obscures the ability of passersby to read them, as the accompanying photo shows.

No such signs are posted at Thorndike Field, a large site frequently used for athletic events, located at the eastern edge of the Mugar woods. 

Project supporter notes wetlands scope, support for homeless

Scott Oran, of Dinosaur Capital Partners of Newton, a manager of Arlington Land Manager LLC, the developer of Thorndike Place, notes that the Arlington Conservation Commission's website says that the notice of intent "proposes work within the FEMA 100-Year Floodplain / Bordering Land Subject to Flooding (BLSF), as well as within the Buffer Zone to Bordering Vegetated Wetlands (BVW). Mitigation measures are proposed to compensate for the impacts to these resources.

"The project proposes impacts of 32,616 square feet (sf) of Bordering Land Subject to Flooding (BLSF) with 4,392.9 cubic feet (cu ft) of fill. To compensate for this impact, the project offers to provide 9,160.8 cu ft of compensatory flood storage (at a 2:1 ratio). The project also proposes to impact 34,084 sf of the 100-foot Buffer Zone to Bordering Vegetated Wetlands (BVW) with a building, and areas of impervious as well as porous pavement. To mitigate this impact, the project proposes replacing vegetation in a woodland restoration area and other areas of the site (as proposed in the Planting Plan).

"No work is proposed within the BVW resource area." [Oran added emphasis.]

In a Nov. 22 email to YourArlington, Oran also wrote: "In addition, after the ownership learned of unhoused people on the 17.7-acre wooded property in 2021, almost $100,000 was spent working with the Town of Arlington to relocate those individuals to safe housing and remove any potentially hazardous trash. As far as we know, there are no unhoused people living on the property currently.

"Finally, regardless of whether the signs are obscured or not or even if there are no signs, trespassing is never permitted on private property."

Police still checking

Arlington police continue to check the area for homeless. The weekly police blotter, published this week at YourArlington, notes that on Nov. 15 "a police  detail made a scheduled weekly walkthrough of areas near Thorndike Park and Jerry's Pond, on the Arlington/Cambridge line, where homeless people are known to camp out. The detail encountered a group of four homeless men near Jerry's Pond and offered them support and services for medical or other needs. The men declined aid."

 Oct. 2, 2023: Peer review, site visit planned about proposed complex at Mugar wetlands 


This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. It was updated Nov, 24, to add clarifying comments from Scott Oran of Dinosaur Capital Partners of Newton, a supporter of Thorndike Place. It was updated Nov. 27, to change "wetlands" to "wetlands jurisdiction" and to provide Oran's full title.