Our Response to Northeastern Development

Mockup of how the new drone cage and building 5 may look over Central Field.

NOTE: The building was approved by Burlington and construction is underway. There is no value in trying to influence Northeastern University on this project, but the situation in Nahant is still open and your help there may be appreciated.

On Thursday, March 1st, at the Burlington Planning Board, we delivered a detailed response to Northeastern’s proposed expansion plans. Here is the BCAT (Burlington Cable Access TV) video of the meeting, edited to our portion of the hearing.

You may watch the 30 minute video and/or review the document that our input was based on, in PDF form.

Shown above is our mockup of how the new drone cage and building 5 may look over Central Field.

Below the video there is an outline of our concerns and thoughts about this project. Please note our contention that any financial and schedule stresses that our objection is causing Northeastern is their fault for proceeding in secret till now. We greatly dislike being cast in role of enemies of education, science, and research.

If you wish to view the entire Planning Board video (which contains over a hour of unrelated discussion, it is linked here.)

Outline of Concerns by The Friends of Mary Cummings Park
(in somewhat random order…)

  1. Northeastern planned the new development on their own, with no input from the town, The Trustees of Reservations (the incoming park manager), or the Friends of Mary Cummings Park.
  2. The plan places a 69 foot building right next to Central Field, one of the few open meadows in our part of the state, and one of the most scenic areas of the park.
  3. Central Field is also an area that is designated as Special Conservation Concern by The Commonwealth of Mass.
  4. The already-constructed drone cage is another unfortunate addition to distractions on the park boundary.
  5. The site plan for the new building places the attractive areas inside the campus with a large glass and concrete wall facing the park.
  6. The site plan place the loading dock and dumpsters exactly where the trail from the park enters the campus.
  7. There is no plan in place for how the existing rusted chain-link fence will be dealt with.
  8. There is no plan in place for whether the public will continue to have access to Mary Cummings Park through the campus, as has been true for decades.
  9. A proposed row of trees that could block the view of the new building(s) might have to be planted inside the park, which is a violation of the Area of Concern mentioned in #3 above.)
  10. Mary Cummings Park is a rare piece of open space for Burlington (along with the Landlocked Forest and the Mill Pond) that needs to be preserved for current and future generations.
  11. The Northeastern Campus that is surrounded on all sides by Mary Cummings Park is an accident of history, as it was an Air Force Nike Missle base, that should have been returned as part of the Park when the Air Force left.
  12. Adding dense development inside Mary Cummings Park is not in keeping with its future as a park, and as one of the newest parks in The Trustees park network.
  13. Over the next years, The Trustees will be making enormous improvements to Mary Cummings Park and restoring much of the habitat overgrown by invasive species.
  14. The negative impacts of Northeastern’s new projects on the park will become even more pronounced after The Trustees make their improvements.
  15. Northeastern is rushing this project through, asking Burlington Planning Board for fast-track approval. Are they attempting to get their buildings built before the Trustees take control of the park?
  16. Having been ignored until the public Planning Board hearings, The Friends of Mary Cummings Park has to either accept the plan and watch the park degraded by the new structures, or rally as much support as possible against this plan.
  17. The Friends of Mary Cummings Park does not want to act as obstructionists to progress, but given the fast-track timing, we see no other course of action other than to rally as much support against this plan as possible.
  18. Nobody outside of Northeastern is aware of what sort of research will take place at this new facility, and what the implications of that research might be. For example, if there is chemical activity, the HVAC system that is currently planned to face the park, will have to be particularly strong and noisy to deal with fumes.
  19. The new site plan will continue to drain “parking-lot” water directly into Mary Cummings Park, through a 24-inch pipe. The volume of water is to be reduced to a degree, and the quality of the water is to be improved, but it would appear that water with oil, gas, anti-freeze and salt will drain through the park, into the large wetland near Muller Road.
  20. We have spoken at a community meeting in Nahant, where a nearly identical situation has developed: an oversize Northeastern U. project plan, rushed into action with no community input, and meeting widespread resistance (wider resistance than in Burlington where Mary Cummings Park remains largely unknown.)
  21. The new buildings will bring additional traffic to already crowded South Bedford Street.
  22. The new, enlarged campus will not contribute to Burlington’s tax base, because even though corporate research will take place there, it will be tax-sheltered by Northeastern’s non-profit status.

Summary: this is a bad development plan being rushed through for unclear reasons. This aggressive approach, both in Burlington and Nahant, is not worthy of a great University such as Northeastern. These projects will cause a backlash that will hurt Northeastern’s reputation, and cause communities and community groups (such as ours) to spend a great deal of time, energy, and our very limited funds to oppose them. We urge Northeastern to take a fresh look at their practices in both towns and take the high road, rethink, and work as a real partner with both communities.

Actions you can take to move this forward in a positive direction:

  • Contact Northeastern and register your concerns.
  • If you are a Northeastern alum, leverage your connection; alert your peers.
  • Contact Burlington’s Planning Department and/or Planning Board and register your concerns.
  • Write letters to papers in Burlington, Woburn, and Boston
  • Sign up for our mailing list if you are not already on it, so we can keep you up to date.
  • Contribute to The Friends of Mary Cummings, as this effort is costing us money for posters, ink, and paper.