On Thursday, April 19th, the Burlington Planning Board voted to approve Northeastern’s plan for the new Building 5, which will join the drone cage in towering over Central Field, and both will be visible from many points within the park.
The Board had little choice. It was widely understood by everyone at the meeting (probably including the representatives of Northeastern) that the expansion plan is a mistake, poorly thought out, and will degrade Mary Cummings Park forever.
All members of the Planning Board expressed their strong negative feelings about how this plan and about how Northeastern forced it upon the town.
It is true that Northeastern made some changes to their plan. They are moving the park entrance so that it no longer sits right by the dumpster. But in order to do this, they will carve a new road through the wood into Whispering Hill Woods. The City of Woburn wants to keep their right of way to reach their water tower, so a road of sorts will be built for them. There will also be an entrance for walkers, although it is not known whether the campus will be open to the public for park access.
The Trustees of Reservations, assuming they can still raise they funds to become park managers, want to build an entirely new entrance and visitor center, so the NE campus may simply cease to be an public entrance.
Northeastern has promised to work with The Trustees to plant trees to block the view of the drone cage and the new Building 5. However it will take decades before these trees are tall enough to be effective. And since the drone cage can be seen above the existing mature trees, it is clear that the park will be visually dominated by these new structures for many years to come.
It was discussed that, in time, the drone cage might no longer be needed and could be taken down, but that sounded like a possibility in future decades.
One of the unfortunate aspects of this process is that Northeastern’s aggressive, arrogant process has been rewarded. They got their campus as they wanted, with hardly any changes. The campus faces inward, with building turning their back on the surrounding park. There will be a lovely garden and pool for campus people, which will likely not be accessible to the public. By not working with the community, The Friends, or The Trustees (until the last minute) Northeastern was able to push through an awful plan that is a giant lost opportunity to build a new campus that respects and integrates with Mary Cummings Park.
We assume that if The Trustees get their funding and go ahead to become park managers that they will work with Northeastern to minimize the damage. The Trustees have major plans for the park, but have said they will not move forward without funding between 1 and 2 million dollars.
Should the Trustees fail to find their funding, the future of the park will likely be in doubt once again. Boston may reverse their more favorable view of the park and revert to an attempt to sell it to developers. It is true that the park is zoned open space by Burlington, but that can be overturned by the State.
The Northeastern disaster has shown us that with enough money and force, developers can force their way, regardless of the consequences to community, environment, or wildlife.
We hope that the united people of Nahant can gather enough political will and money to win against Northeastern’s determined efforts to destroy Eastern Point to build a new lab and parking area.