Day School Ready For Planning Board Vote, But When Is Up In The Air

Photo: Brit Dewey, Belmont day School’s Board of Trustees president speaking before the Belmont Planning Board.

After nearly half a year and more than a half-dozen public hearing, the Belmont Day School’s proposal to build a new athletic and classroom building and a driveway/road on its property will be decided in early August by the Belmont Planning Board after acting Chair Barbara Fiacco said that when it holds the next meeting, “we are looking at a near final if not final plan.” 

But just which day the Planning Board will vote on the 90-year-old private K-8 school plans remain uncertain as the applicant is facing a dicey choice: move quickly and risk a devastating defeat or be patient and delay the development’s groundbreaking date.

With planning board member Karl Haglund unavailable to make the next hearing on Aug. 1, the Day School will face the bare minimum of three members to form a quorum.

As Belmont Town Planner Jeffery Wheeler noted, the Day School would need a unanimous “yes” vote for approval to move on the project. That could be a risky move since “It’s much easier to get a 3-1 decision than a 3-0 vote,” said Wheeler after the meeting.

But waiting for Hagland’s return would force the school to have to wait a fortnight for the subsequent Planning Board meeting. At issue is whether the school can afford to wait an additional two weeks before gaining the town’s OK to meet its commitment to its construction firm to begin work.

The frustration of supporters of the project of the longer-than-expected approval process came to the fore last week when Brit Dewey, the school’s Board of Trustees president, spoke formally for the first time since April when introducing the project.

“This project is about children,” said Dewey, with the school’s primary goal “to make an outstanding educational experience for children even more compelling.”

Dewey said the school had “consistently engaged in good faith and as an earnest and active partner with the Town of Belmont to move this project forward successfully” adding that the Day School had reached out to neighboring residents and the elected commission that oversees the cemetery.

“It’s time to make a decision in support of the project,” she said, adding that approving the development “is a vote to support excellence in education in Belmont; it’s a vote to support children.”

Opponents continued to focus on the proposed road that will skirt the boundary of the town’s Highland Meadow Cemetery. Those owning plots said the noise of what they contend would be 1,000 vehicle trips would destroy the serenity of the location and devaluing the burial sites.

Bellevue Road’s Joel Semuels asked that if approved, the roadway running close by a pair of burial spots he and his wife own be designated for emergency vehicles use only.

“This is not your ordinary ‘Not-In-My-Backyard’ NIMBY situation,” said Semuels, asking it’s unknown what will occupy the site of the school in 100 or 150 years, “but a cemetery … has its permanent residents and visitors to those residents and is forever.”

A homeowners group believes the added entryway to the school increase traffic and set back safety on a busy section of the upper Concord Avenue. 

The remainder of the meeting centered on construction schedules and the amount and type of landscaping that should be placed in the roadway and the graveyard, with an emphasis to “ameliorate the effect on the road to the cemetery,” said board member Charles Clark, joining Haglund in saying that the landscaping must provide a “peace of mind” to the town and residents. 

Hoping to provide something of a compromise to the board, the Day School decided to sacrifice 17 parking spaces it had planned to place along the roadway to allow a greater buffer area between the road and the cemetery’s border.

By the end of the 75-minute meeting, it appeared the next time they will meet could produce a final site plan or just another delay. 

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