[Sent on 7/15/19 to the Board of Selectmen and the Zoning Board of Appeals, from Debra Simes (President) and Jim Snyder-Grant (Co-President), along with a request that this be taken into account in any future deliberations on this project.]
This statement asserts Green Acton’s opposition to the proposed application currently under review for the Piper Lane 40B building project because it will cause a number of unacceptable environmental outcomes in Acton.
This project proposes 28 townhouses in 8 buildings on what is known by many as the Magoon Property, at Piper Lane near School Street and abutting the Great Hill Conservation Area. The Magoon property significantly protrudes into the Great Hill Conservation Area. This project would negatively and irrevocably impact precious conservation land; disrupt wildlife habitat and vernal pool uplands; destroy acres of trees and wetlands; demolish hiking trails1; and increase our carbon footprint.
Other shortcomings of the project are: it would decrease neighborhood access to greenspace and increase traffic in this South Acton neighborhood. Further, the developer has not committed to using renewable energy sources, water-saving fixtures, or environmentally responsible materials for the project.
Beyond the environmental harms noted, Green Acton is mindful of the need for genuinely affordable housing for some of our most vulnerable residents — those with lower incomes (including some seniors) and people with disabilities. As proposed, this project would not provide affordable accommodation for such residents.2
The Town of Acton identified this parcel as a priority conservation land acquisition, but has not reached an agreement with the property owner.3 The proposed project would disrupt this effort. Green Acton urges the Town to redouble its efforts to purchase the land for conservation.
Especially in this time of climate emergency and tremendous biodiversity loss in our town and region, we believe that this project undermines the Town’s sustainability and other goals, and should not be approved.
1 The Acton Conservation Commission has stated that there is a vernal pool on Town land abutting the parcel. That nearby vernal pool is home to creatures that live and thrive in the vernal pool and need an upland to go to for food. If the building project goes forward, the upland abutting this vernal pool would be made into a constructed wetland for drainage. Hence, the vernal pool and its wildlife are seriously threatened by the construction plan. We take this opportunity to remind readers that vernal pools are shallow depressions that usually contain water for only part of the year, and are often associated with forested wetlands. Vernal pools and nearby uplands are essential for healthy ecosystems. Vernal pools serve as essential breeding habitat for certain species of wildlife, including salamanders and frogs (amphibians). Amphibians associated with vernal pools provide an important food source for small carnivores, as well as for larger species. The uplands adjacent to the flagged wetlands are a natural habitat for many native species that utilize the wetlands, and this habitat would be eliminated as a part of the development. This project would disrupt this natural ecosystem. As the Acton Open Space Committee (OSC) stated in its October 29, 2018 memo, “This densely developed penetration into the Great Hill conservation lands will greatly impact both the passive recreational nature of the property and the habitat and habitat connectivity value of these lands.”
The Acton Conservation Trust (ACT) is Acton’s local, non-governmental land trust. In its memo of October 22, 2018, ACT stated that it is particularly concerned about the proposed development for a number of reasons. ACT holds a conservation restriction on the adjacent property, known as the Gaebel Land. This gives ACT a perpetual responsibility for enforcing the terms of the easement that is part of the proposed project. ACT and OSC have attempted for several years to acquire the Magoon property as part of a long-term goal to preserve the remaining undeveloped land adjacent to the Great Hill Conservation Area.
ACT has stated that “Great Hill Conservation Land [sic] is the last remaining intact large area providing passive recreation and appreciation of nature for people of South Acton,” and that the parcel is “important for maintaining wildlife habitat and corridors, and the frequently used human trails that cross the proposed development site.”
Both ACT and OSC have expressed concern that a building project on the parcel at the scale proposed would destroy acres of trees, including many very mature trees.
2 According to the project application and official, state-published income levels, relatively few (7 out of 28) units would be deemed “affordable,” and in order to apply for such a unit, a family of 2 to 3 persons would be required to earn $64,900 to $73,000 per year. A family of up to 6 individuals would be required to earn between $94,100 and $131,428 annually to be able to apply for an “affordable” unit. (Technically, a 2–3 person family could apply with an income as low as $56,800; however, as a result of decisions made by the developer, the units would be considered “affordable” for such a family beginning at the $64,900 level). This would leave out a crucial segment of our population (the many individuals and families earning less than $64,900 per year) and contribute to the number of individuals and families in Acton that, through no fault of their own, are at or near homelessness and are compelled to wait years on a waiting list, unable to afford units deemed “affordable.” Further, the decision by the developer to provide only duplex apartments, with no vertical access, makes the entire building inaccessible to many people with physical disabilities, including wheelchair users and those with mobility challenges. Our Acton 2020 plan has a goal to create a diverse town: this project, in failing to accommodate some vulnerable and diverse people in town — both very-low-income individuals and many people with disabilities — works against Acton’s stated goal.
3 The parcel was identified as a priority parcel for protection 21 years ago in the 1998 Town of Acton Open Space and Recreation Plan; the designation was confirmed in the more-recent 2014–2020 Open Space and Recreation Plan, in which the parcel received a ranking of 10 out of 10 for open space value, and 8 out of 10 for habitat value. The Open Space Committee asked, in its memo, for the Board of Selectmen to consider the natural value of this property and “the irreparable damage to one of Acton’s finest conservation lands that will result if this development proceeds.”