Lake Cochituate is a remarkable oasis of open space, in Metrowest's busiest concentration of development. Preserving its natural calm in the midst of urban crowding requires participation in our area's town governments, in various agencies on the regional and state levels of government, in civic groups, and in the news media. That takes a lot of formal and informal volunteers who care about their lake.
Chrysler Apartments developer Josh Katzen showed this aerial photo to the Natick Zoning Board of Appeals on July 9th, 2007 and shared it with me two days later. It was photographed on July 5th, looking west-southwest from a helicopter over Lake Cochituate's Middle Pond. You can click on it to expand it. Depending on your web browser and its settings, you may be able to expand it even more.
In this aerial photo, you can see the
west shoreline of Middle Pond in the foreground, with Route 9
west on the left, Route 30 stretching west on the right, Speen Street
crossing along the front of the Natick Mall Expansion construction in
the center, and the Cochituate Rail Trail generally hugging the lake
shore. You can see the painted "H" of the Boston
Scientific helipad in
the center foreground. Just beyond it and to the right, the architect
inserted red images of two related developments which would straddle
Mall Extension of the proposed Cochituate Rail Trail: Cloverleaf
Apartments (at the eastern side of Cloverleaf Mall) and Chrysler
Apartments (near the end of Chrysler Road). Each is proposed to have
11-story apartment towers (which would qualify for a 40B exemption from
normal zoning by-laws, because they include 25% low/moderate-income
apartments in perpetuity). At the extreme right, you can see the
southern end of the swimming beach at the Day Use Area of Cochituate
Users of Google Earth (http://earth.google.com) can "fly" about the area, starting from this similar view.
Obviously, Cochituate State Park is an oasis of open space amid major development pressures on this west side of Middle Pond. Its natural shoreline and high trees screen it from visual pollution, and over the years Cochituate State Park has worked hard with abutting residents and others to prevent any loss. Preservation of that screening for future generations, and protection from unnecessary helicopter noise pollution, must be given a high priority by the park's current stewards if that oasis is to serve future generations. Several years earlier, the Natick Zoning Board took comments about the developer's adjacent project, Cloverleaf Apartments. The Cochituate State Park Advisory Committee and Cochituate State Park requested this protection then and were dismayed, during a Chrysler Apartments balloon test in August 2007, to see Cloverleaf's steel framework rising high above the treetops!
It would seem wrong for 40B zoning policy to devalue park land, as in this proposal to insert high-rise apartments into the natural shoreline view. But historically, DCR has been reluctant to object. Despite its general mission of stewardship, the Massachusetts Dept. of Conservation and Recreation has inherited a weak position regarding the preservation of park quality. We brought that paradox to the DCR Stewardship Council in early 2006. The Council and, in 2007, new DCR Commissioner Rick Sullivan considered this problem. DCR's strengthened position is apparent in Commissioner Sullivan's December 2007 comment letter re the Mass. Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review of the Chrysler Apartments project. (In particular, see the four lines at the bottom of that letter's first page.) The Cochituate State Park Advisory Committee quickly supported that welcome position with a letter of its own.
In early February 2008, Chrysler Apartments developer Josh Katzen provided a new draft
map. I've put it online with his permission:
Josh explains that this map approximates the view of the lake from the top of his proposed buildings. It was developed with photos taken from atop his adjacent Cloverleaf Apartments project, which by then was constructed to full height. Other than that different rooftop, and without adjusting for the height of rooftop structures and the height of people above the water level (all of which will increase the sensitive area), this map should approximate the view in the reverse direction - that is, the view of the high-rise buildings from the lake. Generally, and before applying corrections per the above, this linked map shows that the buildings will not project above the natural shoreline for nearby lake users, but will do so for those well out on Lake Cochituate's Middle Pond or on many parts of its far shore.
At our request, the NZBA and the developer arranged a second balloon test in April 2008 - in early spring, when many trees haven't grown their leaves and provide less vegetative screening. Some of the NZBA members joined CSPAC members and Josh Katzen to view the test from various points on the water. These issues were discussed at the Natick Zoning Board of Appeals hearing for Chrysler Apartments on its next hearing night, April 14th, 2008. These two balloon-test photos, from the August 29th, 2007 test and the April 12th, 2008 test, show Cloverleaf Apartments and balloons indicating the upper corners of the proposed Chrysler Apartments. Each view is from a typical location on the far half of Middle Pond, and is less extreme than the views from those shorelines or from the abutting homes above those shorelines. To see the balloons better, click each photograph to enlarge it.
The CSPAC position is simple: We want the NZBA and other agencies to assure the preservation of Lake Cochituate's natural shoreline, now and into the future, here at Chrysler Apartments and as a precedent for other sites. We have asked that remediation measures include restoring the natural screening for Cloverleaf Apartments. We will cooperate with the developer and all parties to accomplish that, but when a project cannot accomplish that it should not be approved. As is enforced with all homes abutting the lake, a good lake view from the home is a bad home view from the lake; it's scenic pollution. Possible adjustments include plantings, raised berms, lowered buildings, greater building set-backs from the lake and, of course, smaller buildings.
The developer met informally with the Natick Conservation Commission on April 30th, in order to help the NCC determine whether and how to provide its inputs to the NZBA. The CSPAC was present, and requested that the NCC add its support to its own and that of Mass. DCR for preservation of complete natural screening.
The Natick Zoning Board of Appeals held this topic's final public hearing night on Monday, July 7th, 2008; I requested to speak for five minutes, and was refused. The NZBA decision was postponed from September 10th to September 17th (at which time I requested but was still unable to read the proposed decision). The NZBA's unanimous decision was filed the next morning.