Friday, July 27, 2001
CISCO Systems development affects area water and traffic
CISCO Systems' plans to construct an additional 500,000 sq. ft. of office space in addition to the 900,000 sq. ft. of office space already approved for its 350-acre site along I-495, has stirred a number of regional concerns. The proposed changes were the primary topic of discussion at MAGIC's (Minuteman Area Group on Interlocal Coordination) meeting on July 12. The project is currently before the MEPA (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act) for review, with a deadline for comments set for July 13 (the day after the meeting).
Changed plan raises concerns
The interest in the CISCO plans was reflected in the range of comments. Many towns had submitted letters to secretary Bob Durand of the Executive Office for Environmental Affairs prior to the meeting, which included MAGIC delegates, state senator Pam Resor and representatives from Harvard, Acton and SuAsCo.
The project, originally called "Towermarc" had a MEPA review in 1987 and recently received approval for a 900,000 sq. ft. office/R&D park and 18 hole golf course. Traffic estimates and environmental and community estimates of impact were based on these plans. CISCO has since revised its plans and presently seeks to eliminate the golf course and in its place construct the proposed 500,000 sq. ft. development.
Three major areas of impact concern regional towns: traffic and concomitant safety issues, water issues, and general infrastructure issues. Strongest concern was expressed about the effect of this large development on regional traffic. Acton representative Pat Halm said, "Route 2A is not able to handle any more traffic." She added that a majority of the traffic problem is at Kelley's Corner. Littleton is concerned about the need for a full interchange at Route 111, while Lincoln's representative said that "Anything that increases traffic on Rt.117 is of concern. A representative from Harvard, (which is not in the MAGIC area) said that no other town would be more greatly impacted, a statement supported by both Boxborough and MAPC. It is generally assumed that growth will go westward and that Harvard would feel the brunt of the proposed change.
In addition there are concerns about inconsistencies in how traffic estimates are compiled and the methodology of various estimates. Clearly, a 500,000 sq. ft. building will have more impact than a golf course. Also, the CISCO estimate used the two major highways and neglected county roads and state roads, such as routes 117, 111 and, from Carlisle's point of view, 225. To complicate an already confused situation, many estimates were based on 1990 census data and did not encompass the already significant effect of buildout in the area. A brief report on an earlier I-495 "super summit" meeting expressed growth in terms of Walmarts: of the 43 communities along I-495, buildout would be equivalent to 2,330 Walmarts, with 226 Walmarts in the MAGIC area alone. The report also said that buildout would add 292 million sq. ft of added commercial and industrial growth.
Water an emerging concern
Nancy Bryant, from the SuAsCo Watershed Community Council, stated that there is not enough water for full development along I-495. Both waste water and fresh water supply are a problem for the area. Bryant said, "We should be ratcheting down real hard on them [CISCO)]." She suggested CISCO could be doing the same sort of low maintenance landscaping that Foxborough is doing. Despite general relief that there would not be a water-guzzling golf course, there was concern about the number of demands for water, the need for sewage in an area that depends heavily on wells, and the paving of recharge areas for parking lots. The attractiveness of the lush office park campus is being weighed against the human needs of an increasing population for potable water as buildout continues.
Is CISCO healthy?
Mildred Chandler of Harvard spoke about the fears that CISCO is in a downturn and may be seeking to develop as much as they can and then "have everything ready to sell." This possibility has generally been addressed by innuendo, but it is clearly one that worries other towns. Present conditions for development, such as shuttle busses to the train station, and the accuracy of present and projected traffic estimates may change dramatically with any new owner, and there is no guarantee that accommodations made to address local needs when CISCO negotiated with the towns, will still be observed.
MAGIC's next meeting will be in September and its regular legislative breakfast is scheduled for the October.
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