January 2022 – Mugar Update
The Zoning Board of Appeals voted 5-0 at its November 22, 2021 meeting to approve the Comprehensive Permit for Thorndike Place with a host of conditions. Since then, several legal steps have been taken to appeal that decision. In this summary we seek to update Arlington Land Trust members and supporters about this complicated situation and provide links to the respective documents.
The ZBA’s final Decision was submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) on December 1, 2021. Chapter 40B provides a 20-day appeal period, during which time lawsuits may be filed to challenge the ZBA’s decision. On December 21, 2021, two lawsuits were filed.
The first lawsuit, by three abutting neighbors of the Mugar site, was submitted to the Middlesex County Superior Court. It challenges the ZBA decision primarily due to the impacts on the environmentally sensitive, flood-prone condition of the property and concerns about more intense storms and other climate impacts on the neighborhood in the future. The neighbors also cite concerns about traffic safety and accessibility on the narrow local roadways.
The second lawsuit, by the developer of the Mugar site, Arlington Land Realty, LLC, was submitted to the Housing Appeals Committee. The developer objects to many of the conditions imposed by the ZBA decision and some of the requested waivers from local bylaws, rules and regulations. In a second part of its appeal, the developer seeks to have its filing fee reduced due to “special circumstances.”
According to the provisions of the Chapter 40B statute, the Housing Appeals Committee case must be resolved first, thus delaying the Superior Court’s consideration of the neighbors’ lawsuit. The timeframe for this process is not yet known. We will continue to provide updates as conditions allow.
In the meantime, the Land Trust is initiating hydrological studies to re-examine soil and groundwater conditions on the Mugar site during peak water levels in the spring. We believe that the developer’s projections were based on drought conditions and are thus incomplete and inaccurate. The new information will be made available to the Town and the Conservation Commission when it begins its own hearings on the Thorndike Place project, as required before any permits can be granted. This work will supplement the climate resiliency evaluation by Weston and Sampson that the Land Trust commissioned in December 2020. Some of that information regarding future projections of rainfall data was incorporated into the ZBA hearings and decision.
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.