What’s Happening with Mugar?
December 3, 2017 Update
In 2015, Oaktree Development proposed a 219-unit housing development on the environmentally sensitive Mugar parcel in East Arlington, invoking the state Chapter 40B provisions which allow housing developments with a certain affordable component to skirt local land use controls.
The project has been on hold since December 2015 when Arlington’s Zoning Board of appeals (ZBA) asserted that the Town has met one of the “safe harbor” thresholds available under Chapter 40B, that of having 1.5% of eligible land area devoted to affordable housing. If achieved, that status gives the Town far more control over 40B projects and limits the developer’s ability to override local zoning and wetlands protections.
Oaktree disputed the Town’s findings, and the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) agreed with Oaktree. In early 2017 the Town appealed the 1.5% decision to the next level, the Housing Appeals Committee (HAC).
In a separate court proceeding, the Town of Arlington sued the state to obtain data needed to support its 1.5% calculation, and the Town prevailed.
Now – finally – the 1.5% appeal is scheduled to be heard by HAC in late October. HAC may then take several months to hand down a decision.
When that decision comes it cannot immediately be appealed to a court of law by either party. Instead, the actual substantive hearing process on the project would commence, led by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and continue to a conclusion (either an approval, a rejection, or an approval with conditions). At that time, whichever party continues to dispute the 1.5% calculation could raise it as an issue in a court challenge.
Why shouldn’t the Mugar Parcel be developed?
The 17-acre Mugar parcel lies almost entirely in the 100-year floodplain as defined by the 2010 FEMA mapping, and includes substantial wetland areas. The site is a remnant of the Great Swamp of Alewife Brook, a tidal marsh which once handled tidal floodwaters naturally, but has been degraded and filled over the past century. With increasing development, and increasing rainfalls, our surrounding and downstream neighborhoods, streets and roadways are threatened with more frequent, and more severe, flooding.
Oaktree’s development scheme calls for 219 units of rental housing and over 300 at-grade parking spaces to be built on the western end of the site, covering acres of the site with impervious surface and displacing identified wetlands.
In invoking the provisions of Chapter 40B, the developer has given notice that it intends to seek waivers from many of the local Arlington regulations that protect sensitive natural resources.
Arlington Land Trust continues to advocate for the permanent protection of the Mugar parcel as conservation land. The site is subject to regular and significant flooding, and is a critical stormwater buffer for the surrounding and downstream neighborhoods of East Arlington.