Mugar Wetlands 2012

UPDATED Sept. 22: The future, or lack of same, of Thorndike Place, a large, controversial housing complex proposed since 2015 in a wetlands area, is being scrutinized by the town's Conservation Commission.

This was announced at the Select Board  Monday, Sept. 11, at which all five members were present. It was clear that evening from what both board members and others said that the longtime concerns about the flood-prone area remain top of mind -- and that the board might vote on the issue later this year.

The commission seeks to apply the state’s Wetlands Protection Act, in response to Arlington Land Realty’s filing of a notice of intent regarding Thorndike Place.

The Wetlands Protection Act establishes procedures for conservation commissions to follow for work in protected areas. Arlington Land Realty is the corporation managing the proposed development of Thorndike Place, a 176-unit complex proposed for the 17-acre Mugar Wetlands off Dorothy Road in East Arlington. A notice of intent is an application that a developer files outlining the work proposed, and methods used, to protect any wetlands.

Commission meeting set for Sept. 21

The commision plans to open its public hearings regarding the Notice of Intent on Sept. 21 and then will have 21 days after that to determine whether its conditions and work meet the necessary standards to allow further development of Thorndike Place.

Select Board logo

The meeting, at 7 p.m. Sept. 21, will be held via Zoom. Registration details are on this town website page.

“It’s a highly scrutinized process that the Conservation Commission will sort out,” said Town Counsel Doug Heim. He explained that the 12-acre parcel owned by Arlington Land Realty within the Mugar Wetlands has a number of environmental and financial issues. “Everything is contingent on what the Conservation Commission does with the Wetlands Protection Act in determining who will receive this parcel. A lot of resources are devoted to this.”

For nearly a decade, Arlington has opposed the development of Thorndike Place for environmental and other reasons. For more background information on Thorndike Place and past efforts to stop its development, click here>>

Board members support commission

Board Chair Eric Helmuth opposes building large housing developments in what is essentially a swamp. “Flooding impacts to the neighborhood and cannot be ignored," he said. "Our continued view is that this is not an appropriate project for this location. We encourage the town manager to use every town resource, and take all the time we need, to make sure we get this right.”

Board member Steve DeCourcey concurred, adding that Arlington’s Zoning Board of Appeals has indicated more than 100 environmental issues, including many related to storm water and traffic impacts. “Some have been complied with, but the vast majority have not," he said. "Our duty is to make sure every single condition is complied with, including the Wetlands Protection Act. If not, the project shouldn’t go forward. Nothing less than complete compliance will do.”

DeCourcey said the proposed development could cause issues with flooding and with access, especially in winter, if fire trucks need to get onto Dorothy Road. “The fire department will need to sign off on this," he said. "We also want to recognize all the abutters and the Coalition to Save the Mugar Wetlands who’ve raised these concerns. We support you.”

Although the commission is responsible for this decision, the board plans to work with both the town manager’s office and the town IT department so that everything gets filed properly and the public has access to this information, added DeCourcey.

Board member Diane Mahon made three requests: (a) After the Sept. 21 notice-of-intent meeting, the board, as the town’s policy makers, should vote to reaffirm their vehement opposition to this development; (b) Coalition to Save the Mugar Wetlands members and the town manager should visit the site because there might be new issues, and it sends a good message to have the town manager inspect the site; and (c) The town should produce an official record of everything that happens with the Conservation Commission.

Board Vice Chair John Hurd also expressed interest in a revote. “We’ve been fighting this project and trying to make it as difficult as possible for the proponent," he said. "It would be detrimental to this area because of the wetlands, and this is not an appropriate use for this location. It’s an exhaustive process, but the ends justify the means. We want to get the best result for the residents in that area of town.”

Residents describe flooding concerns

During the meeting’s Open Forum session, several people also voiced their opposition to Thorndike Place. 

Elaine Lyte, a Dorothy Road resident, said she and her neighbors have had flooding issues for years, and last year they installed additional drainage and an extra sump pump. However, during a rainstorm last month, she said, “Our two sump pumps and additional drainages couldn’t handle it ” -- and Lyte’s basement got a foot of water. “This project will only make things more difficult.”

 Jennifer Griffith also spoke about potential flooding issues: “Can the town’s sewer pipes deal with this large a development?”

Clarissa Rowe, one of the founders of the Coalition to Save the Mugar Wetlands, which seeks to prevent the construction of Thorndike Place, said she’s grateful for Mahon’s desire for a board vote after the Sept. 21 hearings. “These are the most premier policy makers in town, and it’s an important symbolic step to go on record as being against this project,” she said.

Lisa Fredman, another Coalition to Save the Mugar Wetlands member, reinforced the organization’s stance against Thorndike Place: “We oppose this development based on environmental and other issues on wetlands that frequently flood. A four-story building would exacerbate flooding, have an important effect on climate change and negatively affect traffic, services, infrastructure and nearby open spaces. I strongly encourage that we preserve this area.” 

See ACMi video of Sept. 11 meeting:

 Aug. 18, 2023: Board approves removing parking spaces, creating bike lanes on Medford Street 

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Sept. 13, 2023, and updated later that day to provide a link to registration details for remote viewing of the planned Sept. 21, meeting of the Conservation Commission. It was updated Sept. 14, 2023, to add an ACMi video window. It was updated Sept. 22, 2023, to note that the town's Conservation Commission is now considering the issue.