Belmont’s Battle of the Snow Now Turns to Potholes and Sidewalks

Photo: The sidewalk leading to the commuter rail station along Concord Avenue in Belmont Center. 

It was bad enough Belmont resident Christina Long had to suffer through stoppages and delays to the MBTA commuter rail system due to the four snow storms that passed through the region in the past month.

She didn’t think it should be as much of a struggle just getting to the Belmont Center station.

Not only did Long need to maneuver through and around sidewalks on residential streets still filled with some of the seven feet of snow that fell on Belmont, she also found walkways on municipal property untouched including the path she uses to reach the station.

“It is amazing that this is the center of town at a busy train station,” Long said after showing a series of photos of her journey to the station.

“What about the regulation that sidewalks need to be cleared of snow? And yesterday when I went for a run, I could not believe that the sidewalk along Concord [Avenue] on the high school property was unplowed,” said Long.

“Why can I not commute to work or go for a run in safety? Has the town government all gone to Florida for the February recess?” she said.


According to town officials, resources are continuing to be marshaled to make a dent in clearing away snow to allow pedestrians and drivers to travel around Belmont.

“We are currently doing that right now,” said Jay Marcotte, the new Department of Public Work’s Director whose has spent about half of his time since starting the job in January leading the town’s effort to clear snow.

Municipal crews are targeting crosswalks, handicap parking spots, paths and 0ther areas that residents use to get around, said Town Administrator David Kale. The teams are using large and small snow plows as well as shovels to reach a growing number of trouble spots around town.

“Residents know that there are lots of places that need clearing,” said Kale.

Belmont is not alone in literally being snowed under by the four storms – with a fifth forecasted to arrive on Wednesday, Feb. 25; Every municipality in eastern Massachusetts has been straining to get out from under the snowiest 30 day period on record with approximately 90 inches on the ground.

In addition to the DPW’s effort, town inspectors from the Office of Community Development have been enforcing compliance of the town’s municipal snow removal bylaw in the business districts, said Kale.

But Long remains skeptical officials are doing all it can in removing snow from town property.

“How can the town enforce the wonderful snow removal law when they don’t clean their own sidewalks?” she said.

“The lack of clean sidewalks not only affects me and other commuters walking to the train station but it also impacts all the kids walking to school or the library. We are forced to walk on the road,” she said.

And while the town has been successful in making main and side streets passable within 36 hours, it’s difficult to reach every trouble point with the DPW’s Highway Division staff.

The piles of snow has also impacted businesses in Belmont’s three commercial hubs – Belmont Center, Waverley and Cushing squares – as a white wall of now solid slush is hampering commerce.

According to Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods, and president of the Belmont Center Business Association, snow “is overwhelming in the center, it has become a hazard and a safety issue especially to the elderly, the sidewalks are very narrow, crossing the street is dangerous as drivers don’t see the pedestrians with the snow mounds so high.”

Dickhaut said the association of more than two dozen businesses urged the DPW to use its heavy equipment and remove the snow to allow for greater customer access to stores, restaurants, and shops.


That was one request that the town can not accommodate.

“We’re trying to keep up with the problem, but there is a resource issue,” said Kale. While Belmont is doing its best, “Simply put, removing snow from the business districts would be very expensive and time [intensive],” said Kale.

Money is an ever-present concern with the number and severity of the storms so far this year.

Kale said the town’s $600,000 snow removal budget was $175,000 in the red after the first two storms. He can not say the current deficit because the town has yet to tally the bills from the last pair of blizzards.

“We need to be watchful” of how the town is spending, said Kale. The town has approximately $400,000 in reserves that can be used to fill the growing expenditure gap.

Even the town’s success in pushing the snow off the roads has a downside as a field of potholes have emerged on many well-traveled streets. Attempting to travel along Concord Avenue near the library or through Cushing Square have become a game of chicken between the driver and the deep depressions in the road.


“They aren’t potholes,” said one Belmont residents who had traveled on Trapelo Road. “They’re a realignment waiting to happen.”

Marcotte said the DPW has “on our radar” the “real, real bad” potholes around town and emergency repairs will be done. Once the weather “cooperates, we’ll have two crews out” making repairs, said Michael Santoro, the Highway Division’s manager. That would include dry weather and moderating temperatures.

The good news is that some of the most noticeable depressions are in areas that will be completely renovated due to roadway projects; the Trapelo/Belmont project that is now entering Cushing Square and the Belmont Center Reconstruction beginning this spring.

For residents who wish to report a problem or request a repair can call the main DPW number at 617-993-2680 or go online to fill out a detailed request form.

Siberian Cold to Envelop Belmont Friday with Lows Below Zero

Records will be broken tomorrow morning as dangerous cold that originated in Siberia will barrel into Belmont Thursday night and last until Saturday morning.

The National Weather Service issued a Wind Chill Advisory at 4:42 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, for eastern Massachusetts from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 20 as the wind chill index is likely to reach -15 to -24 degrees.

Low temperatures Friday morning will be at or below zero with winds up to 14 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 36 mph.

Frostbite can develop in just 30 minutes with a wind chill index of -20. If you are heading outdoors, dress in layers and wear a hat and gloves.

The arctic cold will leave the region Saturday and by Sunday, highs will range near 40 degrees with rain expected most of the day. But by Monday night, even colder temperatures could be arriving.

Sold in Belmont: Century-Old Two Family Only Sale during Snowy Week

Photo: Two family on Hull Street.

A weekly recap of residential properties sold in the past seven days in the “Town of Homes.”

 60 Hull St. Multi-family (1930) Sold: $607,000. Listed at $625,000. Living area: 2,432 sq.-ft. 11 rooms, 5 bedrooms, 2 baths. On the market: 126 days.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 4.18.01 PM

The Voice of Belmont: When the Town Wants You to Know, Dan MacAuley is On the Call

There are some people whose voice you immediately associated with a place or time.

The voice of the Fenway Park for old-timers will always be Sherm Feller while recent generations remember the late Carl Beame.

Cantankerous Johnny Most is still the radio heart of the Boston Celtics.

And the voice of Belmont is a life-long resident you’ve heard a great deal in the past month.

“This is Dan MacAuley of the Belmont Police Department.”

Since the first of nearly a dozen calls since the last week of January when the first of four major snow storms began, adults reactively begin reaching for shovels and students leaping for joy as MacAuley’s unmistakable Boston accent rattles off yet another list of snow emergencies, parking bans and school cancellations over the phone.

Turns out MacAuley is a natural for the job.

“Believe it or not, I usually get it done in one or two takes,” MacAuley told the Belmontonian.

“I’m pretty hard on myself, and if it’s not close to perfect, I’ll do it again,” he said.

And when you come to think about it, MacAuley is a perfect person to represent the voice of a town living here nearly all of his life.

MacAuley has lived 53 of my 55 years in Belmont, straying only to Waltham for two years after marrying his wife, Jackie.

“I grew up on Sherman Street and attended the Winn Brook School, the Chenery Middle School, and graduated from Belmont High School in 1978,” said MacAuley, who went on to obtain his Associates Degree in Criminal Justice from Middlesex Community College.

His involvement in town began when he was elected to Town Meeting while still a high school student (where he is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame.) You have likely seen MacAuley selling Christmas tree during the holiday season at the Lions Club where he is a past president.

He has also led the Belmont Boosters Club (past president and treasurer) and Belmont Recreation Committee (past chair).

He and Jackie have a son, Danny, a senior at Adelphi University on Long Island, and Katie, their daughter who is a junior at Belmont High School.

“I have only had two jobs in my life,” he said; working part time at the First National Grocery store in Belmont Center until it closed in the early 1980’s then being hired – along with current Belmont Police Sgt. Kevin Shea – as one of the first full-time police dispatchers in August, 1982.

In his four decades on the force, MacAuley has worked as a police dispatcher, fire alarm operator, communications supervisor, and now 9-1-1 Operations Manager where he is in charge of the entire dispatch center that includes eight full-time dispatchers, a full-time communications supervisor and three per-diem dispatchers.

It was through his involvement in selecting the present company, Blackboard Connect, which runs the town’s “Community Notification System” (similar to the popular “Reverse 9-1-1” operation which is a trademark term of a competing company) that he became the town’s “voice.”

“When they were chosen [in July 2008], [Belmont Police] Chief [Richard] McLaughlin asked me to be the coordinator and voice of the program,” MacAuley said.

Scheduled calls are approved by Town Administrator David Kale, Police Chief McLaughlin or Fire Chief David Frizzell while emergency notifications are sent out with the approval of the Police Officer or Fire Captain in charge.

Approximately 11,000 residents, businesses, and employees are contacted by MacAuley for weather-related issues, missing people bulletins, road closures, power outages and small items such what streets will have their hydrants flushed.

And in the past month, MacAuley has been coming into Belmont homes at a rapid clip due to snow emergencies, school closings and whether residents’ trash will be picked up on its scheduled days.

With that exposure has come a bit of notoriety.

“When I am around and about, and people see the name tag on my uniform, I almost always get ‘Oh, you’re the guy that calls us all the time,'” he said.

“And my daughter and wife get asked all the time if I’m the guy who makes all the calls,” said MacAuley.


Town Schedules Meetings to Discuss Grove Street Playground Master Plan

The town of Belmont has announced a pair of public meetings targeting specific audiences in March to discuss the creation of a master plan for the Grove Street Playground.

The town’s Department of Public Works and Activitas Inc. – a Dedham-based development company that worked on the redevelopment of Belmont High School’s Harris Field – will be hosting two meetings in the Board of Selectmen Room of Belmont Town Hall as they begin writing a comprehensive long-term strategy for the heavily-used open space/playground on the Cambridge town-line in east Belmont. 

The first meeting will be on March 4 at 7 p.m. when Activitas Inc. and town officials will speak to neighborhood residents as they seek their input and to better understand their issues.

The second meeting is on March 9 at 7 p.m. when youth organizations representing soccer, baseball and other sports that use the playground will give their input to their concerns.

After the meetings, Activitas and town departments will discuss the public information acquired which will be used to set a course for the Master Plan.

Further public discussions will be scheduled with neighbors, youth organizations and others at future public meetings.

Belmont Fire Log: Damn the Ice Dams, Time Out for the Fire Alarm

Now that’s a deep sleep

Feb. 9 – Just a few minutes ’til 5 a.m., Engine 1 was sent to a two-family on Harding Avenue because a smoke detractor was blaring and blaring. The people on the first floor said the second-floor residents were there, but they could not raise them. The crew forced their way into the apartment where they discovered visible smoke in the unit. Firefighters found and woke up the sound sleepers and along with the first-floor residents were evacuated. Turns out the smoke came from the fireplace where a small blaze was filling the apartment with smoke. Yup, a resident, closed the flue before making sure the fire was completely out. The fire was put out, and the place ventilated.

Damn, that ice dam

Feb. 9 – At a quarter past 9 a.m., firefighters arrived at a Hawthorne Street house where a resident was having an issue with a small amount of water leaking through the ceiling. Turns out there was an ice dam behind the gutter. Unfortunately for the resident, “there was nothing we could do nothing to rectify the issue,” stated firefighters.

Low-tech solution 

Feb. 9 – About ten minutes past 2 p.m., Engine 2 was dispatched to a location on Richardson Road by the town’s Water Department to investigate water flowing around a sidewalk/retaining wall area. The water was running down an occupant’s driveway and into his garage. The sump pump wasn’t working because the water level in a garage too shallow. So firefighters dammed up the water at the sidewalk by using snow and pushed water into the street using the homeowner’s shovel.

A poke a day

Feb. 10 – At a quarter past 5 a.m., a concerned call came from a Clark Street resident: water was dripping through a first-floor ceiling. A crew member used a pike pole to penetrate the ceiling to relieve the pressure and direct the flow of water. The homeowner was advised to call a contractor to remove the snow from the roof and also to assess any interior water damage.

Smokey flavor

Feb. 10 – At a quarter ’til 8 p.m., crews were sent to a home on Birch Hill Road for smoke in the house. Since it was around dinner time, one would suspect something to do with cooking causing the incident. Sure enough; the owner forgot about the food he was cooking on the stove top.

More damned dams

Feb. 11– At a quarter ’til 8 a.m., Engine 1 cruised over to a house on Payson Terrace for a reported “small water leak” from a roof ice dam that was leaking through a light fixture. The resident was told not to use the light, and the circuit breaker was shut down to the fixture. Firefighters advised the resident to call a roofer or contractor to fix the leak and have an electrician look at the fixture before turning the circuit back on.

Another damn dam

Feb. 11 – At 5:24 p.m., units were dispatched to a multifamily on Gordon Terrace as was water was falling through the kitchen smoke detector. The firefighters removed the damaged smoke detector, and the hazard removed.

Time out, fire alarm

Feb. 11 – At just about 6:30 p.m., Engine 2, Ladder 1, and Rescue 1 were sent to the High School when the fire alarm activated. Was it smoke, fire, a leaking roof that set the alarm off? Try a basketball. As the Belmont/Lexington Girls’ Basketball match (see featured image) was underway on the ground floor of the Wenner Field House, someone in the upstairs “Little Gym” used a ball to hit the alarm with a bulls-eye of a shot. The alarm was reset, and the game resumed (which Belmont won.)

Where there’s smoke, it’s probably steam

Feb. 11 – At 9:23 p.m., Engine 1 was sent to Robin Wood Road close-by the Lexington line for the report of smoke in the area. It wasn’t smoke; it was steam vapor coming from the house.

Love stalled

On Valentine’s Day, just before 7 p.m., a crew was sent to a house on Benton Road to free an elderly resident who became trapped in a stalled elevator. They got the person out, AOK.

A Race for Belmont Selectman as Nomination Period Closed Tuesday

There will be a single competitive race for a town-wide office when Belmont voters go to the ballot at Town Election, April 7, after Town Clerk Ellen Cushman officially closed the nomination process at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Incumbent Andy Rojas and James Williams, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 8, will square off for the open seat on the Board of Selectmen while the other races will have either candidate seeking re-election or newcomers running unopposed.

Rojas will defend the seat he won three years ago by the narrowest of margins against Williams, a Glenn Road resident who came to live in Belmont in 2011.

If nothing drastically changes in the next seven weeks, the Belmont School Committee will welcome Susan Burgess-Cox to the group as she is the only resident to seek one of the two three-year terms up for grabs. The other candidate for a full-term is incumbent Lisa Fiore.

Current School Committee member Thomas Caputo is running unopposed to fill the remaining two years of the seat he was appointed to in November.

Tara Donner pulled nomination papers to run for a School Committee seat but did not return them to Cushman by Tuesday’s deadline.

Also running unopposed are:

  • Mike Widmer, Town Moderator
  • Martin B. Millane, Jr. (incumbent), Board of Assessors
  • Dr. David Alper (incumbent), Board of Health
  • Donna Brescia (incumbent), Belmont Housing Authority
  • Ellen Cushman (incumbent), Cemetery Commission

The race for the two seats on Board of Library Trustees saw Chair Matthew Lowrie did not seek re-election. In his place, Mary Alice Wistman, a past president of the Friends of the Belmont Public Library, will run to fill that seat.



‘A Brave Decision’: Selectmen Place $4.5M Override Vote on Town Election Ballot

Photo: Belmont Superintendent John Phelan speaking to the Belmont Board of Selectmen and the School Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen unanimously voted Tuesday night, Feb. 18, to place before voters a $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override that will coincide with the annual Town Election set for Tuesday, April 7.

“I think we should make a brave decision to place the appropriate override on the ballot,” said Selectman Sami Baghdady as the three-member board decided not to delay a decision on the override until next week’s selectmen’s meeting.

“There, it’s on the ballot,” said Andy Rojas, chair of the board to the applause from two dozen residents and members of the Belmont Education Association, the union representing teachers and staff in the district.

This is the first override question facing Belmont voters since the unsuccessful attempt in June 2010 when residents rejected a $2.5 million initiative targeting schools and roads, 53 percent to 47 percent. A $2 million roads override was defeated by the same percentage in 2008.

The vote came after a joint meeting of the Selectmen and Belmont School Committee which heard Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan present the stark budgetary options facing the school district in the coming fiscal year which starts on July 1.

Under a budget relying on anticipated revenues for fiscal 2016, the school district will face a $1.7 million funding gap that will be resolved by eliminating 22 full-time teaching and staff positions, allow class sizes to exceed the district’s benchmarks for effective teaching and increase fees for all student activities.

“We really felt that this was important for Belmont,” Rojas told the Belmontonian after the vote.

“We hear all sides [of the override issue], and I certainly understand and we will try to mitigate the impact on the elderly and those on fixed incomes. However, once you see the presentation by [Phelan] and where the available budget leads you, it’s almost negligent not to consider an override,” said Rojas.

“Whatever the outcome of the vote, the efforts of the Financial Task Force will not die,” said Baghdady.

Before voting for the measure, the selectmen each spoke of the override as just one component of a wider approach to tackling the structural deficit facing the town and schools, recommendations raised in the final report of the Financial Task Force, the Selectmen appointed committee that spent a year analyzing Belmont’s long-range financial outlook.

“We are taking all the Task Force’s recommendations very seriously. It will include reforms both structurally and non-structural, it’s creativity on how we run both government and schools and, of course, making sure we fund the programs that are obviously the key part of the override,” said Rojas.

The vote came after a joint meeting of the Selectmen, and Belmont School Committee heard Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan present the budgetary options facing the school district in the coming fiscal year which starts on July 1.

“I should know this as this is the fourth time in six days I’ve made the presentation,” said Phelan told the joint meeting.

Reiterating in detail the pressures facing the school district in his meeting with the School Committee last Thursday, Feb. 12, (see “Belmont Schools Face ‘Significant, Negative Impact’ in Fiscal ’16 Budget; Loss of 22 Positions, Larger Class Sizes” Feb. 12) Phelan presented a stark reality for education in Belmont under an available revenue budget in the next school year: Staff cuts, greater class sizes, less material and supplies, an increase in free time and study halls for middle and high school students and higher fees for students and parents.

Speaking of the student fee increase, families with two children in athletics, a club, and the arts, “you very quickly get to $6,000 to $7,000,” said Phelan.

Phelan told the board the cuts will have a human face to them at next week’s School Committee when he and the Leadership Council – made up of senior staff, principals and department and curriculum heads – pinpoint specific positions and areas which will be eliminated.

“It’s a very disturbing picture,” said Phelan, noting that 80 percent of the school budget “is people so the biggest part of the cuts will be from there.”

As with the previous presentations, Phelan told the meeting the Task Force’s recommendation of a $4.5 million override to stabilize town expenditures will allow the district to keep existing staff and teachers, meet state-mandated required hirings due to a doubling of students requiring English Learning tutoring as well as new hires to meet the exploding enrollment and reduce the free time an ever increasing number of middle and high school students are handed.

“There are no new bikes” in the budget with the $4.5 million increase, said Phelan; the district will not introduce new classes, only retaining the current level of instruction.

“We do believe that we are at a crossroads,” Phelan said of the district, adding that he and the Leadership Council “believe the town needs to make an investment in the schools.”

During a citizen comment period, several teachers and residents expressed their support for the override to assist them in educating Belmont students.

“We teach children, I teach children,” said Dori Pulizzi, a seven-year veteran teacher at the Chenery Middle School. But the only way to effectively do so is with a ratio that she can meet the social/emotional needs of each student. With 28 in a class, Pulizzi said she can only give each student a minute of her time within a 50-minute class after providing the class lesson.

Suzanne Pomponio, a third grade teacher at the Winn Brook with 23 students in her class, said teaching “is just getting harder for students to do what is expected with the demands of Common Core [being introduced to Belmont schools].”

“It’s more stressful for the students, and they need that emotional support but we have less and less time to provide it,” said Pomponio.

After the vote, John Sullivan, the president of the BEA and a Belmont resident, said a vote for the override “is a chance to maintain quality of our outstanding schools.”

“Now we need to get community support, to work together to provide Belmont teachers what they need,” said Sullivan.


Belmont Food Holding Cooking Classes for Kids and Adults

The Belmont Food Collaborative – the residents who run and manage the Belmont Farmers Market – will be holding a fun activity for parents and children as it teams up with Powisset Cooks! and The Trustees of the Reservations to hold two fun cooking classes for adults and kids where they will be cooking seasonal winter recipes here in Belmont.

A pair of cooking classes, taking place in the kitchen of the First Church of Belmont, 404 Concord Ave., will be held on Sunday, Feb. 22 and March 22 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The fee is $35 for an adult/child pair
. Each class is limited to seven pairs.

The first class is “One Potato, Two Potato, Lots of Potato Pancakes,” an exciting, hands-on exploration in potato-pancake making with Powisset Cooks! culinary educator, Rachel Kaplan. The group will experiment with making and eating a variety of potato pancake recipes.

The second class is “Late Winter Soup,” is for soup lovers! Kaplan will guide the pairs through making and sampling a few soup recipes, and you’ll learn more about local, seasonal vegetables along the way.

Register online here. Please register by Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Belmont Business Leader Backs School District as Selectmen Discuss Override Tonight

Photo: Robert Mahoney (right) of Belmont Savings Bank with Ellen Schreiber. 

As the Belmont Board of Selectmen prepare to discuss tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 17, a recommendation from the Financial Task Force for a possible property tax increase to fund the town’s structural budget deficit, one of Belmont’s leading business leaders has threw his support behind the town’s school district as it faces substantial cuts in staff and programs under current budget assumptions for next year.

Belmont Savings Bank’s President and CEO Robert Mahoney wrote a comment to an article in the Belmontonian (Belmont Schools Face ‘Significant, Negative Impact’ in Fiscal ’16 Budget; Loss of 22 Positions, Larger Class Sizes, Feb. 12) that highlighted a pending $1.7 million gap in the district’s fiscal 2016 budget if the schools are required to work within the available revenue that the town has calculated for next year.

Mahoney is the first prominent individual outside of the district to speak out concerning the negative impact on Belmont from possible inaction in securing the necessary funding to keep town schools high ranked.

“[Belmont Superintendent] John Phelan is so right. It took decades for Belmont’s schools to become top tier. At the rate we are going we will be third tier soon,” Mahoney bluntly wrote in a comment posted Feb. 14.

“Once the parents of high potential students move out, and they will, the biggest economic engine in Belmont will sputter to mediocrity and property values will quickly follow the schools down. This is not theory. This pattern has happened over and over in short-sighted communities that have not invested in their future,” Mahoney wrote.

In the past few years, Belmont Savings has become more involved in Belmont, starting a foundation to assist organizations and individuals funding community activities. The most prominent of those was the foundation’s donation of $200,000 this fall that jump started a community drive to raise $400,000 to start construction of a new Underwood Pool adjacent to Concord Avenue.

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting – at 6 p.m. in the Selectmen’s room at Town Hall – the board will join up with the Belmont School Committee for a presentation from the district concerning the pending $1.7 million deficit in the pending fiscal ’16 available revenue budget totaling $47.5 million. In two previous public meetings to discuss the budget, Phelan has said the rapid increase in enrollment over the past five years and for years to come has sent expenses skyrocketing as the district. Phelan has advocated the selectmen call for, and voters pass a three-year, $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override to fund the gap.

After the budget meeting, the Selectmen will reconvene to discuss placing an override before voters. If it decides to move in that direction, the board will also have to set a date for the override vote.