Letter to the Editor: Don’t Change Center Plan for Residents Like Me

To the editor:

I moved to Belmont two years ago when I was in my late 60s. I chose a location where I could easily walk or drive into town. Coming to town frequently, and staying for a while, is one of the things I plan to do to stay connected as I grow older.     

Thus far, spending time in town has meant either walking along the sidewalks or ducking into one of the stores. When I first walked around town, I was drawn to the green space in front of the bank.  However, I rarely saw anyone sitting there and quickly understood why. The green space beckoned, but I wasn’t inclined to cross a busy street to get to the small patch of green only to sit and watch cars whizzing by on all sides.  

That’s why I was delighted when I saw the original reconstruction plan for Belmont Center. The plan created a green space that was actually usable. I thought it would be a wonderful spot for people of all ages to gather, and a perfect focal point for special town events. I envisioned taking my young grandsons to get ice-cream cones and, instead of hanging out on the crammed sidewalk in front of the store, walking over to the green to enjoy them; or buying a sandwich and meeting a friend for lunch on the green; or just sitting there reading a book. I pictured special occasions with everyone in town, from the youngest child to the oldest elder, gathered on the green enjoying the newly created space. 

I feel compelled to write this – my first ever letter to an editor – because I’ve read that the reconstruction plan as modified by the selectmen, with its cut-through and parallel parking spaces in front of the bank, was adopted in deference to the elderly. Although I appreciate the concern expressed for seniors, I question whether the cut-through plan is what the majority of the elderly in town would actually choose. I, for one, am deeply disappointed that a safe and inviting gathering place has been abandoned in favor of a few parking spaces of questionable convenience relative to the original plan. Moreover, even if I thought those spaces would serve the purpose intended, I would not want the entire town to lose its carefully planned green to make them available to me.   

Joanne Birge

Common Street 

Belmont Fire Log: Sharp-Eyed Firefighter Spots Improperly-Placed Grill

Photo: Summer grilling. 

One hot car

July 16 – At twenty ’til 2 p.m., Engine 1 and the Ladder truck hustled over to a car fire on Howard Street located across from the Chenery Middle School.  Both crews assisted the other in extinguishing the car fire. The motor vehicle was towed to the Town Yard.

An downstairs disaster everted 

July 17 – Just a few ticks away from 8 p.m., all of the town’s fire equipment was sent to a single-family house on York Road where the report of smoke in the basement. The Engine 2 crew reported smoke filling the area. Rushing in, firefighters discovered a small blaze – about a foot wide and deep – in a small storage area. The blaze was put out using a Class A extinguisher while the crew from the Ladder truck helped ventilate the house. The culprit? An errant cigarette. The homeowner said a family member accidentally caused the fire.

That smell

July 18 – At 11:23 a.m., an occupant of a Westlund Road dwelling said they smelled a “distinct fuel odor” coming from the basement. Fire personnel soon found a leak from the oil burner. The line from the oil tank was shut down and SpeedyDry® was put down on ground.

On deck: grill close call 

July 18 – At 10 minutes ’til 6 p.m., fire equipment was returning back to the station when an eagle eyed firefighter noticed what appeared to be a grill fire on the rear deck of a house on Slade Street. Not only was he correct concerning the placement of the grill, it turns out the grease had just ignited in the drip pan. The fire was quickly extinguished, the grill relocated and the resident was made aware of fire regulations on the placement of grills.

Belmont High’s Pitching Ace Bartels Commits to Penn State

Photo: Cole Bartels. 

Belmont High School’s rising senior ace Cole Bartels has verbally committed to attend Division 1 Penn State University. 

The big, lanky right-hander, named the MVP of the Middlesex League and selected as a Boston Globe All-Scholastic this season, will be heading to State College, Penn. after his high school eligibility ends to pitch for the Nittany Lions in the Big 10 Conference.


On the mound, Bartels had a sub-1.00 ERA as the Marauders’ number one pitcher. He also batted at nearly a .450 clip.

Bartels, who is a high honor roll student and a member of the varsity basketball team, joins a program rebuilding in a highly-competitive league which includes teams such as Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland. He will be playing in the 5,406 seat Medlar Field, considered one of the best college facilities in the country. 

The earliest Bartels can submitted a national letter of intent to attend Penn State is Nov. 11. 


This Week: Bubbleology, OTAKUrabu and Movies for Kids and Teens

Photo: “Bubbleology,” with Keith Michael Johnson.

On the government side of the week: 

  • The Planning Board will meet on Tuesday, July 21, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall where it will discuss a new house’s design at 1 Clark Lane and will review a series of plans required for the construction of Cushing Village. 
  • The Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee will be reviewing the challenges of placing a community path in Belmont on Wednesday, July 22, at 6 p.m. in Town Hall. 

Summertime Pre-School Story Time at the Benton Library, Belmont’s independent and volunteer run library, at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 21. Stories and crafts for children age 3 to 5. Parents or caregivers must attend. Siblings may attend with adults. Registration is not required. The Benton Library is located at the intersection of Oakley and Old Middlesex.

US Rep. Katherine Clark is holding office hours at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., on Tuesday, July 21, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

• Mary Poppins Sing-Along (with lyrics) will be the Noon movies for children on Tuesday, July 21, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., in the Assembly Room of the Belmont Public Library. 

• The Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., will present “Revere Beach Then & Now Slide Show” on Tuesday, July 21, at 1:15 p.m. The presentation will include more than 100 beautiful images of historic Revere Beach and its glorious past. Once again be thrilled to recall the special memories that we share of Rotherhams Red Indian popcorn, Moxie, Korr Bros. Frozen Custard, and, of course, Kelley’s Roast Beef. Many will also remember the wonderful Big Band music always heard at the dance halls of Revere Beach such as the Oceanview Ballroom, Ocean Pier, or the Frolic nightclub.

• In his show “Bubbleology,” Keith Michael Johnson will build beautiful creations out of bubbles with enthusiasm, humor and style in the Assembly Room of the Belmont Public Library on Wednesday, July 22, at 2 p.m. One moment he will be encasing a dinosaur in a bubble and the next he’s encapsulating an audience volunteer! For kindergarteners to fourth grade.

• It is the final three concerts of the summer by the Music on the Hill (MOTH) students will be Wednesday through Friday, July 22-24, at 6:30 pm, at the Powers Music School, 404 Concord Ave. Wednesday and Thursday will be the MOTH Orchestra, with Jazz, Fiddle on Friday.

• The nation’s premier tribute to U2, The Joshua Tree, will once again grace the stage of the Payson Park Music Festival as this week’s featured artist beginning at 6:45 p.m., Wednesday, July 22, at Payson Park Playground at Payson Road and Elm Street.

• The Chillin’ With Villains Movie Series begins Tuesday, July 21, at 6:30 p.m. with The Avengers (2012) at the Belmont Public Library’s Assembly Room. 

Musician Matt Heaton plays kid-friendly folk music and surf-inspired original songs on Thursday, July 23 at 10:30 a.m. For ages 2 to 5.

• It’s OTAKUrabu at the Belmont Public Library. Watch anime, do a craft/activity, plan for future events and nibble on some Japanese snacks (while they last – they’ll go fast) on Thursday, July 23, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. in the Assembly Room. Provided free, thanks to the Friends of the Belmont Public Library. Just drop in, no registration required.

Superheroes on Film at the Library this Summer

Photo: Ironman is coming to the Belmont Public Library next week, July 28.

This summer the Friends of the Belmont Public Library will use its superpowers to transform the library’s Assembly Room into a showcase for your favorite (mostly) Marvel heroes at the “Chillin’ With Villains Movie Series.”

For the next month, head to the library to enjoy freshly popped popcorn or a sweet snow cone and watch your favorite comics come to life.

The schedule is:

Tuesday, July 21, 6:30 p.m.: The Avengers (2012) (PG-13) 142 min.

• Tuesday, July 28, 6:30 p.m.Iron Man (2008) (PG-13) 125 min.

• Tuesday, August 4, 6:30 p.m.Amazing Spiderman (2012) (PG-13) 136 min.

• Monday, August 10, 6:30 p.m.: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) (PG-13) 136 min

• Friday, August 21, 2 p.m.:  Dick Tracy (1990) (PG) 101 min.

Belmont Yard Sales, July 18 – 19

Photo: Yard sales in Belmont.

Yard sales in the “Town of Homes.” 

• 9 Anis Rd., Saturday, July 18, 8:30 a.m. to noon.

• 17 Bow Rd., Saturday, July 18, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

• 12 Chester Rd., Saturday, July 18, noon to 2 p.m.

• 13 Davis St., Saturday, July 18, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• 72 Radcliffe Rd., Saturday, July 18, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Impact on Cushing Village Unclear After Financial Partner’s Arrest

Photo: Paul Ognibene (right, obscured) (courtesy WCVB-TV).

Cushing Village has possibly suffered another setback with the arrest Tuesday of the Cambridge developer seen as the financial “White Knight” who in April appeared to rescue the 167,000 square-foot multi-use project floundering for nearly two years after it was approved by the town in July 2013. 

Paul Ognibene, 43, of Cohasset was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on Friday, July 17, on one count of sexual conduct for fee after he was arrested by Cambridge Police in a sex sting that took place in the food court of the CambridgeSide Galleria mall.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 8.56.01 PM

Cushing Village development partner Paul Ognibene, 43, of Cohasset, during his arraignment in Cambridge District Court on Friday, July 17, 2015. (courtesy WCVB-TV)

Cambridge Police allege Ognibene, the owner and principal of Cambridge-based Urban Spaces, placed a job description on Craigslist job soliciting an office assistant that an investigation by the police’s special investigation unit determined to be a “false job which is actually soliciting girls for sex.”

Ognibene, who resigned as chair of the Cohasset School Committee on Friday as a result of this arrest, pled not guilty and was released on personal recognizance. His attorney released a statement saying Ognibene “was sorry” for what had occurred.

See a chronicle of Ognibene’s arrest here, here, here and here

It is unknown at this time if Ognibene’s arrest could impact any financial arrangements he has made with lenders concerning Cushing Village. It is not unusual for business agreements to be altered or pulled due to adverse publicity. This month, Macy’s parent company ended its business partnership with New York developer Donald Trump after the Republican presidential candidate made sweeping allegations concerning Mexicans who entered the US illegally across the US/Mexican border.

On April 27, Cushing Village’s developer Smith Legacy Partners said Urban Spaces had become its “development partner” in constructing the three-building complex comprising 115 apartments, approximately 36,000 square feet of retail/commercial space and a garage complex with 230 parking spaces. 

Urban Spaces’ “development expertise will help to ensure that the vision we have for the Cushing Village project becomes a reality,” said Chris Starr, the managing partner of Smith Legacy Partners which is located in Acton.

The press release noted that Urban Spaces “acquires, develops and manages high-end residential properties in close proximity to urban centers.”

The April announcement appeared to be a turning point for the troubled development which been paying the town $20,000 a month since March 2014 in a series of  30-day extensions for the closing date of the purchase and sale agreement for the municipal parking lot. The development’s financial issues have been well chronicled from missing repeated ground breaking dates to hiring a high-powered real estate firm to find an equity partner.

An email to Starr’s PR representative has not been answered.

Rabies in Pair of Animals Has Health Department Issue Warning

Photo: Fox.

The Belmont Health Department has issued a warning to residents of an outbreak of rabies after a second non-domesticated animal tested positive for the illness in the past month.

A fox captured by Belmont Animal Control Officer John Maguranis on Monday, July 13 and a skunk on June 21 were infected by the very serious viral disease found in animals that can spread from an infected animal to a person.

Rabies is disperse through the saliva of an animal and can be transmitted from a bite, or when the animal’s saliva comes in contact with a person’s mouth, eyes or an open sore, according to the Health Department. 

The department and Belmont Police Department are urging residents to protect their families and pets by taking the following steps: 

  • Make sure your dogs and cats (including inside only cats), are up to date on their rabies vaccinations. 
  • Keep your children, loved ones, and pets from approaching, touching, or feeding wild or stray animals. 
  • Garbage should be contained in garbage cans that are closed and secured to avoid attracting wildlife. 
  • Do not feed or water your pets outdoors. Empty bowls will attract wild and stray animals. 
  • Do not let your cats and dogs roam freely. 
  • Keep your chimney capped and repair holes in attics, cellars, garages and porches to help keep wild animals like bats and raccoons out of your home. 
  • Report any animal that behaves oddly, looks sick, injured or orphaned to the Animal Control Officer or the Health Department at: Belmont Animal Control 617-993-2724. Belmont Health Department 617-993-2720. 
  • If the Animal Control Officer or Heath Department cannot be reached, notify the Belmont Police at 617-484-1212. 

If a bite or other significant exposure to rabies does occur, quick action can prevent progression to rabies disease.

• If a person has been bitten or scratched by an unfamiliar animal or an animal suspected of having rabies, immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and then seek medical attention. If you find a bite or wound on your dog or cat that cannot be explained, take your animal to a veterinarian. 

Belmont Selectmen OK Special Town Meeting Date

Photo: Belmont Center reconstruction underway.

It’s official: the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved a Special Town Meeting for Thursday, Aug. 6, location to be determined (although strong hints have been dropped that it will likely be held in the air conditioned comfort of the Chenery Middle School.)

The votes, held at an early morning meeting at Town Hall on Thursday, July 16, was a foregone conclusion as the petitioners submitted more than 200 certified signatures from registered voters.

“We had no choice but to certify the warrant,” said Mark Paolillo, who along with Chair Sami Baghdady, voted to open and close the warrant, and to approve the language of the motion.

(Selectman Jim Williams is currently on vacation and could not cast a vote).

“It’s unfortunate that we as a community should be celebrating the revitalization of Belmont Center … it just seems that this is now an issue that has divided our town,” said Paolillo. 

The article calls for the selectmen to reverse its vote on May 28 approving significant changes to the design of the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project, the $2.8 million plan to improve traffic flow and upgrade the town’s main business district.

While construction on the site had begun, the Selectmen voted unanimously to approve changes submitted in a separate citizen’s petition by Lydia Ogilby of Washington Street who called for trees to be protected (they had been removed weeks before) and to restore parking and a cut through from Concord Avenue from Moore Street adjacent to the Belmont Savings Bank. 

The petitioners who called the Special Town Meeting said the Selectmen’s overstep its authority since the town’s legislative body approved a financial plan for the project at another Special Town Meeting last November with the original design blueprint – which included removing angled parking and the bypass which creating a larger town “Green” at the location. 

According to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, under the town’s bylaws, amendments to the motion can be submitted to her office at least three business days before the Special meeting, which will be Monday, Aug. 3, at 4 p.m. 

A quorum of 101 Town Meeting members will need to show up for the up or down majority vote to take place. The vote is non-binding as Town Counsel George Hall considers the motion as “instructional,” in which Town Meeting is giving their opinion to the Selectmen, said Cushman.   

While voting to approve the meeting, Paolillo said “it is really unfortunate that [a Special Town Meeting] is taking place. It’s just a waste of money” – the Aug. 6 gathering will cost the town $5,000 – and it was a shame that a compromise plan could not have been agreed to by all sides of the issue.

But Baghdady noted that the May 28 vote itself was a compromise in which the board voted to approve design changes to assist elderly residents and ease traffic congestion.

“How do you compromise a compromise?” said Baghdady. 

Paolillo said the one point that bothers him is the process question, “but as far as changing the plan, I’m not accommodating that.” 

Baghdady said notice of the May 28 meeting was sent to Town Meeting members and the public via social media and email. 

“What more process could we have done?” he said.

Next week, the board will discuss and then vote whether to seek “favorable action” on the article.

Sold in Belmont: Capes, Colonials and Condos Take Market into July

Photo: A classic pre-war Cape. 

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

12 Bayberry Ln., Townhouse condominium (2006). Sold: $1,260,000. Listed at $ 1,298,000. Living area: 2,740 sq.-ft. 8 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bath. On the market: 92 days.

33 Homer Rd., Garrison Colonial (1940). Sold: $1,550,000. Listed at $1,639,000. Living area: 3,469 sq.-ft. 11 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths. On the market: 157 days.

64 Hoitt Rd., Classic Cape (1951). Sold: $714,000. Listed at $689,000. Living area: 1,272 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. On the market: 70 days.

3-1 Agassiz, Condominium (2006). Sold: $570,000. Listed at $ 569,000. Living area: 2,157 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bath. On the market: 63 days.

9 Gilmore Rd., Cape (1938). Sold: $755,000. Listed at $719,000. Living area: 1,488 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. On the market: 49 days.

89 Hammond Rd., Colonial (1925). Sold: $900,000. Listed at $869,000. Living area: 1,776 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. On the market: 77 days.

76 Lawrence Lane, Colonial (1937). Sold: $992,000. Listed at $1,195,000. Living area: 3,293 sq.-ft. 11 rooms, 6 bedrooms, 5 baths. On the market: 84 days.

15 Marlboro St., #1, Condominium (1906). Sold: $495,000. Listed at $489,900. Living area: 1,064 sq.-ft. 6 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 1 bath. On the market: 48 days.

The Belmont residential market appears to have returned to last year’s script: high-end houses will take a haircut before selling while prices for more modest abodes – especially lower than the town’s median value of $845,000-ish – will hold up in an environment where the inventory for more affordable units can not keep up with demand. 

A great example is the solid Colonial on Lawrence Lane up on Belmont Hill. This pre-war house is large, at approximately 3,300 square feet, with five baths and six bedrooms which appears to be what every buyer is clamoring to find. But despite great period detail such as a wonderful in-wall bookshelf in the den and an updated kitchen (including two dreadful skylights), the final sales price was $200,000 below the original list, falling before the seven figure benchmark. Could it be that while priced right for a similar-sized house built within the past five years, it may have been seen as “old” and lacking the finer points of the new mega-homes such as 15-foot ceilings and an open floor plan? 

The buyer who “won” the week was the person who purchased the beautiful Cape on Gilmore. At 1,500 square feet, it would be considered a bit of a squeeze for some families. But others would find it warm and cozy with a great three-season porch that will get a great deal of use, that is until the construction of the Uplands gets underway.