It’s not often that one can say a large “40B” development project has been completely stopped in its tracks, but in the case of the Milton Mews, we are very happy to report that it’s true.
The Milton Mews project was put forward by Mill Creek Development and would have placed 276 units of housing in three buildings of up to five stories each on an extremely environmentally sensitive site off Brush Hill Road in Milton. The site is located completely inside the Fowl Meadow Area of Critical Environmental Concern and includes large areas mapped as endangered species habitat. The proposed development would have resulted in paving and developing almost the entire property.
The project was brought forward under the state’s “40B” affordable housing law which exempts certain projects from local zoning and wetland bylaws unless at least 10% of the community’s total housing stock is deemed affordable. The well-intentioned, but often controversial law, is designed to give developers greater leverage in negotiating with towns to build large residential developments. While dense housing development can provide environmental benefits when they take place near transit options and on sites that are already paved, that same density can be problematic when projects are proposed in natural areas which lack sufficient surrounding infrastructure.
In the end, it was likely a combination of factors that contributed to the downfall of the project. Requirements under the Wetlands Act were stricter than normal because the area was part of the Fowl Meadow Area of Critical Environmental Concern or “ACEC.” The Watershed Association successfully nominated the Fowl Meadow for ACEC status in the 1990’s along with the area around Ponkapoag Pond and the Neponset River Estuary. Adding to the difficulty, not only is the site mapped as endangered species habitat, but local activists documented the presence of endangered species at the site, while permitting was getting underway.
Community opposition to the project was widespread, with the Watershed Association submitting a petition to the state with more than 1,300 signatures asking for the project to be denied. A very well organized and resourceful group of neighbors lead the opposition to the project, with the active involvement of Fuller Village, the Friends of Hemenway Woods and the Friends of Blue Hills . Ultimately, the project came apart when the developer’s land acquisition agreements with three underlying property owners broke down. Without the ability to assemble all three pieces of land involved, the project was at a dead end.
While the Watershed Association is pleased that the area is not facing imminent destruction, the most sensitive portions of the property are still somewhat vulnerable to the possibility of smaller subdivision plans. The Watershed Association hopes to see large parts of the site permanently protected as conservation land and ideally added to the state’s Neponset River Reservation so that the special habitats in this corner of the Fowl Meadow are preserved in perpetuity.
In the meantime, many thanks to the individuals, organizations and institutions who worked together to achieve this unusual and very positive outcome!
Ian Cooke, Executive Director
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