2018 Town Meeting Recap, Night 1: Plastic Bags Trashed, No Sunset On The GR Bylaw

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting 2018

You knew it was going to be a quiet time on the first night of the 2018 Belmont annual Town Meeting when three members in a row focused on copy editing an article rather than debating it. 

To read a blow by blow account and all the measures voted on, head over to the live-blog of Monday’s meeting.

It was not that the articles were inconsequential – one will change the way residents shop and the shape of most single-family homes in the “Town of Homes” – yet none possessed a level of contention that would lead to rising tensions among the members. It was a night to help save the environment, keep newly-constructed residential houses within neighborhood standards and vote to make pot a town cash cow. It was akin to voting against apple pie and mom.

With more than 80 percent of members showing up on Monday, April 30 at Belmont High School, the initial session of the non-financial segment saw overwhelming support for nearly all the articles, led by the town’s ban on plastic shopping bags. While there was some opposition to the article, led by Don Mercier from Precinct 8, the zoning bylaw article presented by newly elected member Linda Levin-Scherz, Pct. 2, swept through 228-32. Star Market shoppers will feel the pinch first as “large” size stories will need to comply in November (how am I going to carry all my Thanksgiving items to the car?) while the remaining retailers have an extra four months before doing away with the bags.

The Planning Board’s two sponsored articles sailed through as the residents saw no reason to put the kibosh on the popular 2015 zoning bylaw that placed restrictions on the height and density of new single and multi-family homes in the General Residence Zoning District which covers a wide swath of Belmont. The “McMansion” bylaw, crafted three years ago by the Planning Board’s Steve Pinkerton who presented the article Monday, included “sunset” language killing off the bylaw if not repealed. The legislative body voted 238-16 to let the sunset language fade off in the distance. A housekeeping change in the bylaw that shuffles off to the Zoning Board of Appeals all the smaller changes/additions to nonconforming homes – dubbed the “deck and dormers” article – passed by a 242-9 margin.

While the three marijuana-related articles were initially set to be voted on Wednesday, Moderator Mike Widmer decided to allow the members a chance to experiment with the least controversial of the trio. Some members felt placing a moratorium on retail weed and edible sales until Dec. 31 was just another delaying tactic. But by a wide margin, 190 to 52, Town Meeting agreed with the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen that since the state still hasn’t hashed out a wide variety of issues with the state law that passed in 2016, Belmont would be better off delaying by a few more months and allow the Planning Board time to write new regulations. OK-ing the town taxing pot sales at three percent was one of the most popular votes taken on the night, 231- 7.

The debate on the tax got the biggest laugh of the night through Town Meeting stalwart Bob McLaughlin who suggested the moderator should ask only those in the hall who were against the tax to speak (figuring there was less of them) because the Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics were still playing and he wanted to see them.

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