Letter to the Editor: Belmont Day School Expansion A Traffic Problem

Photo: Belmont Day School.

To the editor:

I sent a letter to the Belmont Planning Board yesterday (April 4, 2017) from my neighbors and my wife and me.

[See letter below]

As you can see from the letter, we only learned last week that the Belmont Day School is proposing adding a 25,000 square feet buildings on its campus and constructing a busy new 1,000-foot roadway and parking lot that would border one side of Highland Meadow Cemetery into Concord Avenue. Besides disturbing the solitude of the cemetery, the new road would lead to serious traffic and safety issues.

Belmont Day School has grown from a small neighborhood grade school with a few children to a significant institution with hundreds of students. It recently added a middle school and is now planning on adding dozens of more students shortly. Four of my children attended the school, and I support its work and mission, but the school’s traffic is overwhelming the capacity of Concord Avenue leading to daily traffic jams and safety issues and, instead of facing and dealing with these issues, the school’s proposal and additional traffic will only make things worse.

The Belmont Planning Board is meeting Thursday night at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the Homer Building to review and possibly approve the school’s plan. The plan should not be approved in its present form, and it is time for the school, the town and residents to come to an agreement on handling travel to and from the school and incorporate solutions such as remote drop off and shuttle/bus services as most other hospitals and schools in the area have done to accommodate growth and reduce traffic congestion and safety hazards in the neighborhoods where they are located.

Tommy and Jane Driscoll

Concord Avenue

[Original letter]

Re: 55 Day School Lane (Belmont Day School) Development. 

Dear Mr. Wheeler, Planning Board Members, Board of Selectmen: 

Thank you for sending us the notice of the hearing on April 6, 2017, regarding the Belmont Day School Development (the “Project”). Despite the school’s claims in its application to have informed nearby residents of its plans, none of our households have been contacted, informed or otherwise given notice by the school of this massive Project before receipt of notice from the board last week. 

It is almost certainly the case that if our three households were not made aware of the Project, neither were most other residents in the nearby area. We ask that you not grant Belmont Day School the permits needed for the Project at this time – the school should explore other alternatives if it intends on continuing to grow its population and physical plant. At the very least, the Planning Board needs to delay action for at least six months while we and others in our neighborhood whose safety may be in endangered by the Project further research matters, seek legal counsel and have time to respond appropriately. There are going to be many upset people if adequate time is not provided by the Planning Board for the community to participate in this matter. 

Had Belmont Day School acted appropriately and taken reasonable measures to provide actual notice and awareness of this project many months ago to those in the community who are impacted, this would not be necessary. Given the importance of this matter, the Planning Board must delay under any reasonable interpretation of the facts and circumstances. 

Overall, Belmont Day School’s growth and ambitious expansion plans would seem to be exceeding the capacity of its location and threaten the tranquility our residential community. This is frequently occurring in the Boston area these days as schools and other non-profit organizations are driven to expansion due to growing funds and endowments. Other private schools and hospitals voluntarily acknowledge when their growth and ambitions are no longer compatible with the residential neighborhoods where they began decades earlier – one recent example is the nearby Carrol School in Lincoln which purchased an additional facility in a more compatible location to 

support adding a middle school to its existing grade school rather than expanding its footprint and imposing a burden on its local residential neighborhood. 

The characterizations and representations of the Project in the application appear to be disingenuous at best. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a driveway as a “short private road that leads from a public road to a house or garage”. What the school is proposing is hardly a driveway. It is a new roadway connecting to Concord Ave that will accommodate close to 1,000 cars per day (by the school’s estimate) and a new parking lot within 30 feet of graves in what is today a quiet and beautiful cemetery where relatives come to visit their loved ones in solitude on a daily basis. There are material safety issues and concerns that need to be fairly considered – the Planning Board cannot simply rely on one-sided reports commissioned and paid for by the School in fairness to us and other nearby residents. 

The traffic on Concord avenue today exceeds the road’s capacity in large part because of existing Belmont Day School traffic. Many mornings we are completely unable to access the road towards Belmont center because of the volume and back up in traffic. The proposed new roadway and increased volume would likely make it impossible at times for us to leave our homes when school traffic is backed up and create an unacceptable public safety risk for residents and children in the area. 

Also, the presence of the stone wall in the cemetery and plantings do not provide sufficient visibility for any roadway or driveway – especially one connecting to an extremely busy road such as Concord Ave where cars sometimes travel at over 60 MPH when the road is not backed up. Basic safety standards prescribed by law in Massachusetts for roadways with this usage and volume cannot be ignored simply by calling the proposed roadway a “driveway”. There are serious and legitimate safety concerns that need to be fairly studied and addressed impartially. The safety issues are not hypothetical – a pedestrian was struck and severely injured recently less than 300 feet of the school’s proposed roadway, and hundreds of bicyclists use the road as the main way through Belmont every week. 

Chip and Cindy Matthes, 711 Concord Ave. 

Laura and Tim Duncan, 699 Concord Ave. 

Tom and Jane Driscoll, 689 Concord Ave.

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