Fingers Crossed: Third (And Final) Night Of 2018 Town Meeting Segment A [LIVE]

 Photo: Belmont Town Meeting.

6:50 p.m.: After the highly anticipated debate on marijuana along with votes on banning plastic bags, zoning bylaws and most of the Community Preservation Committee grant applicants, the Belmont 2018 annual Town Meeting will hopefully finish up the non-budgetary warrant articles (known as Segment A) tonight, May 7, as it reconvenes at Belmont High School’s auditorium.

The hot topic tonight will the citizens’ petition to increase the size of the Board of Selectmen from three to five members. If it passes, it would start the process which the town will seek state legislative approval of the proposal. But already the petition will have a hurdle to scale as the current Board of Selectmen voted to seek unfavorable action on the measure.  

A second citizens’ petition that would change the procedural rules on roll call votes will also be discussed but it has not garnered member support. 

Also up tonight are the final two Community Reinvestment Committee grant applicants:

  • $250,000 to fund eligible commitments by the Belmont Housing Trust that would increase housing units where new housing is being built, provide incentives to developers to develop affordable housing units, or fund pre-development work to determine if sites are suitable for community housing development.
  • $175,000 to stabilize the McLean Barn.

There will also be a proclamation to the Belmont Garden Club, reports from the Council on Aging and the Energy Committee.

7:08 p.m.: Town Moderator Mike Widmer says there’s a quorum and we are underway. Widmer said the Community Preservation Committee, the roll call article that will be withdrawn. The budget section of Town Meeting will begin Wednesday, May 30. Widmer said the Town Meeting did not hold up to the tradition of respectful discourse. “Let’s have a civil debate tonight.” 

7:16 p.m.: Selectman Thomas Caputo reads the proclamation to the Belmont Garden Club, which is sort of long. But it is an important town resource by making the town a more beautiful community. Cheers all around.

7:23 p.m.: Now the reports, first Nava Niv Vogel, the town’s Council of Aging Director, who speaks on the Age-Friendly Movement. The town received an $8,000 grant from Tufts Foundation and a UMass grant to do a study on needs. There will be a community-wide presentation on June 5 at 3 p.m. at the Beech Street Center. 

7:30 p.m.: The Energy Committee’s James Booth is presenting the town’s Climate Action Plan. While there has been some decrease in carbon pollution, it’s not nearly at the level to meet the plan’s goal in 2050. There is a need to reduce automobiles and oil/gas heating. More electric cars (50 percent by 2030) and use of heat pumps in homes. This is a roadmap for the town to follow.

7:36 p.m.: The final two CPC grants: first up is $250,000 that the Belmont Housing Trust will use for affordable housing and suitable for community housing development. Housing Trust members Elizabeth Lipson and Rachel Heller present its plans in using the CPA set-asides. It can be used to maximize transit-oriented development opportunities, keep existing housing and shape housing rather than have development come without a plan in hand. Why approve these funds? We don’t have enough homes to house all workers. CPA housing funds is an excellent way for towns to show they are committed to their plans. The Housing Trust said it will allow the trust to use the money to leverage additional money. Liz Allison, pct. 3, asked about the grant agreement which is still being developed and will the agreement will only approve by the Housing Trust. George Hall, town counsel, said the Housing Trust is a quasi-independent committee that has the opportunity  Bob McLaughlin said the grant/agreement is a “slush” fund but you need a slush fund to have a chance to get everything done, it needs to move fast.

The vote is a voice vote and passes unanimously. 

8:02 p.m. Now is the $175,000 to stabilize the McLean Barn – on the National  to stop its deterioration and make the building secure so the town can decide what to do with it. The warrant committee voted 10 against and 5 for favorable action. This is the work that the CPA was created for,” said Lauren Meier of the Historic District Commission. 

Mark Carthy, ptc. 1, said it would be hard to determine the true cost of renovating the building will come only when future use is known so he has problem spending funds on it. Glenn Clancy, director of Community Development, said the only funds being asked to protect the building to allow future use later.

Folks, this is a waste of money, said Bob McLaughlin, pct. 2, said it will cost up to $2 million but there is no practical use due to restrictions on the use. Peter Whitmer, pct. 6, said reject it, talk to McLean Hospital on what it wants to do with it, then come back. Ellen Cushman, not as town clerk but as a member of McLean Land Management Committee, said McLean supports keeping the barn viable so the money is a start not the end of the process, Liz Pew, pct 2, said you have to walk around the building and see its potential, like she did with the old fire stations back in the 1970s. The town is asking $20 per household to save a unique resource. 

Celtics falling behind the Sixers by 12 with 7:32 remaining in the game. 

“I like old things. I am an old thing,” said Mike Chesson, pct 4, who said he sees this “rare” barn – which he visits – said the Town Meeting can think of a use. Smart, dedicated people saved the old fire stations and it can do so with the barn. A “powerful” speech, said Anne-Marie Lambert, pct 8, of Chesson’s speech. Mike McNamara, pct 7, asked Belmont Police on the safety of the barn. Richard McLaughlin, Belmont’s Police chief, said he’s aware of attempted break-ins and anything to help prevent that will be a benefit. Bob McGaw, pct. 1, we heard promises and dreams of the Clark House – which was demolished after a long time attempting to save it. This is much the same and predicts that Town Meeting to “shovel money into a black hole” to keep the barn viable. Ellen Schreiber, pct 8, said if the town doesn’t protect the structure, McLean will be freed from obligations such as building affordable housing on the land. “It’s penny wise but pound foolish.”

Roy Epstein, chair of the Warrant Committee, said the deed restriction on use should be decided first before spending any money on the barn. “We think it’s advisable to seek a long-run solution” before spending the funds.

Dash said this is a three-part process: mothball it, find a use and do the use. “We are looking to work with sddMcLean in the future” and why would they cooperate with Belmont if we can meet our obligations, said Dash. The barn is a poster child for the CPA in historic preservation, he said.

Those in favor see the barn as a valuable asset while opponents want to see future use up front before spending town funds. It’s been an hour of debate.

Donald Mercier moves the question. It’s an electronic vote.

It passes 181 to 59. 

Widmer asked if the masses want to finish tonight or adjourn until Wednesday. Only Jack Weis wants to come back in two days. We are going to finish tonight come hell or high water.

Mary Bradley, pct 5, is withdrawing her citizens’ petition on roll call voting.

9:22 p.m.: Sue Bass, pct 3, presents the citizens’ petition that would increase the number of selectmen from three to five. Bass said she is in favor of a larger board due to the “group dynamics” – less disagreement and more diversity. She said the selectmen should be a policy board. And it doesn’t mean you need to change the role of the Town Administrator to a manager, they already have that authority. The cost would not be that great. And the public meeting laws is not an issue with five which allows for a greater ability to bounce off ideas without the worry concerning a quota. 

Marianne Scali, pct. 2, who was a member of the committee on the number of said her analysis shows three selectmen is effective and manageable. Five would take more time and 

Amy Trotsky, pct 2, another committee member, said what the board really needs is more women and people of other cultures. Trotsky said two more members could see policy done out of the light of the public view. She said don’t fix what’s not broken.

Charles Hamann, pct 3, said it’s “bizarre” two selectmen can’t talk about a subject because of the open meeting law. 

Ellen Schrieber, pct 8, makes a passionate argument against the change, arguing that a five-member board is not 

Steve Rosales, pct 8, former selectmen, gives a rousing barnburner of a speech to defend the current number. 

Ann Paulsen, pct 1, speaks for a five-member board, saying during her seven years on the board her opinion was not always heard. She suggests that women do not seek membership on the board due to the lack of cooperation. 

Jessica Bennett, pct 1, said it’s too big a change without taking a comprehensive look at town government as a whole while also calling for more diversity. 

Ralph Jones, pct 3, as a member of the number of selectmen committee, urge the selectmen to meet with the committee to discuss how to make the board better. He said a five-member board doesn’t mean you will always have qualified candidates/members. “Because I can’t be sure on the downside risk, I vote down,” said Jones.

Julie Crockett, pct 5, talked about barriers of entry to run for selectmen, with the need to raise $50K. She calls for socio-economic diversity on the board. 

Dash said the article is the most important in many years and if they get it wrong, “it will screw up the town for years to come.” He doesn’t see any problem as the board has changed many problem areas. When does increasing the size of the bureaucracy make anything better? “Please, please don’t do it,” said Dash.

David Alper, pct 6, said as a member of the Board of Health for the past 30 years that working within a three-person committee is quite doable. 

Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said she would need to hire a new member of her staff 

The question is moved – a two/thirds vote needed – and it’s 162 – 66.

Now the vote on article 12 … and it’s defeated 171- 59. Not even close. The board of selectmen will stay at three members.

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