LIVE: Belmont Annual Town Meeting: Second Night, Segment A

Photo: Waiting to start; Town Moderator Mike Widmer

Hello and welcome to the second night of the Segment A portion of the town’s annual Town Meeting, Wednesday, May 2 at Belmont High School. And this night is “Weed Wednesday” as the members of the legislative branch of town government will decide whether or not to send a Marijuana Retail Opt-Out question to town voters.

Tonight will also be voting on projects funded by the Community Preservation Committee 

According to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, Town Meeting resumes at 7 p.m. (7;05 p.m. Belmont time) starting with Article 10. The Special Town Meeting which will is being opened to take on the Opt-Out will begin at 7: 30 p.m. Town Moderator Mike Widmer has indicated the presentations and discussions for the Special Town Meeting will be taken up after the Community Preservation Committee, Article 10, or at 9 p.m., whichever comes first.

It’s a busy night starting with a proclamation to David Alper, the recently retired member of the Board of Health. There will be reports from the Committee to Study the Number of Selectmen and the new trash plan before we get to the meat of the matter with the CPA article.

7:08 p.m. And we are off!

7:15 p.m.: The CPA will be first up at 7:30 p.m. after the Special Town Meeting is convened.

7:20 p.m.: What a wonderful proclamation to Dr. David Alper, who was on the Board of Health for 30 years which equates to up to 600 meetings. He thanked all the present and former Health Directors and members of the board he served with. He then thanked his wife and kids who snuck into the auditorium for a nice surprise. A deserved standing ovation. 

7:24 p.m.: Paul Rickter, chair of the Committee to Study the Number of Selectmen, presents the method and results of his group’s report. Widmer said in his long years on Town Meeting; it was one of the most complete and informative town reports he has seen. The committee voted two-to-one in favor increasing the number to five. Read the report online here.

7:34 p.m.: Jay Marcotte, director of the Department of Public Works, reports to Town Meeting on the new trash collection. All you need to know – it begins July 1, and you’ll get your new barrels the week before. The members voted overwhelmingly to receive news about trash and recycling via email with mail trailing far behind. They also say that their neighbors should be informed by the mail. Hmmm.

7:45 p.m.: The Special Town Meeting is convened and quickly recessed, and the annual Town Meeting reconvened.

The CPA article is now up and here are the six items seeking funding:

Article 10: The fiscal 2019 Community Preservation Committee budget and projects

  • $103,000 to the Belmont Veterans Memorial.
  • $5,000 for architectural drawings for the music bandstand at Payson Park.
  • $25,000 for design documents and bid specifications for the Town Field playground.
  • $780,087 for the construction of Grove Street Park Intergenerational Walking Path.
  • $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.

Former selectmen Angelo Firenze presents the Belmont Veterans Memorial project. He presents the overall plan and discusses what the CPA funds will repair including the wall and other aspects. The Selectmen, Captial Budget, and Warrant committees ask Town Meeting for favorable action. Overwhelmingly adopted.

Tomi Olson, Pct. 5 and Payson Park Music Festival chair presents her request that will eventually create designs to build the bandstand. The Selectmen, Captial Budget, and Warrant committees ask Town Meeting for favorable action. Steve Evans, Pct. 6 ask why there is a need for a bandstand. Olson said its primary purpose would protect instruments from bad weather. Karen Bauerle, pct 6, asked if all abutters have agreed to the stand. Olson said all but one had expressed support. Corinne Olmsted, pct 1, asked if the stand will have sides which could prove to be a hindrance in seeing the many children who attend the concerts. Arto Asadoorian, pct 5, who is the school district’s art director said concerts would be 100 percent better for musicians and acoustically for audiences with a bandstand. A single no and the funding passes.

Up now is creating design drawings for the Town Field playground to start the bid process. It needs to be renovated. A quick vote Overwhelmingly adopted.

The Grove Street intergenerational path is being presented with Selectmen, Capital Budget and Warrant (11-4) seeks favorable action. Donna Ruvolo, pct 7, of Friends of Grove Street Park said it has the plans and want to implement the designs. The path will be paved and six-feet wide, seating areas, plant shade trees and accessible entries to the park. The most expenses are coming from the prep work; moving earth etc. The group has raised $40,000. It is used by so many groups, and Ruvolo is excited to see the project get started. The Rec Department supports the project. And the sledding hill will be even better! Why is it called an intergenerational path? Its name, while not technical, means it’s for everyone, said Ruvolo. Will the new features of the park effect overall maintenance costs. Don’t know. Joe DeStefano, pct 2, asks if the group had through of alternatives to the asphalt pathways which has high maintenance to be maintained. Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein said the four members who voted against the item – including himself – thought it was far too expensive when there is a great need for infrastructure (sidewalks) townwide. A few nos but the article passes.

8:48 p.m.: A five-minute break and up will come to the Special Town Meeting the pot opt-out article, which is number 1 in the special. 

9:02 p.m.: Pct 2s Tom Lowrie presents the citizens’ petition. Now George Hall, town counsel, provides an overview of the new marijuana state law approved in 2016. He points out that pot licensing is a state issue but a town can place “time, place, and manner” restrictions on retail sites but can’t limit the number of stores that are allowed by the state. In Belmont, that would be two retail operations.

The main point of the citizens’ petition is a complete opt-out. The amendments by Emma Thurston, Pct 1, would allow an opt-out with the exception for a retail operation. The Bylaw Review Committee approved the article and the amendments. The Selectmen, according to Adam Dash, is in favor of the citizens’ petition only with amendments 1 or 7 is included. But it is opposed to the complete opt-out. Lowrie made it clear the discussion is not on the legality of the 2016 ballot question number 4, it’s the law. It is about giving the town the option to vote on retail and other marijuana establishments. Lowrie said voters might have been in favor of the ballot question so that they could vote on the establishments. Will we permit a recreational marijuana establishment in Belmont? “It’s not to Town Meeting, it is up to the people,” said Lowrie. No response from the audience. 

Thurston is up to explain her three amendments, 1 and two are the same with 2 with a sunset clause. It would opt-out of marijuana-related operations except for retail operations. This a brand new industry so why kill it off before even any operation has opened its door. She said retail operations would be taxed and regulated which is far better than leave marijuana sales to the dealer down the street.

Lowrie points out the state law takes away the option of the town voters who require time to decide if it wants to have an establish at home. “Let the voters decide,” said Lowrie. 

Now … the confusion. Some members are having a hard time understanding what will be presented to voters if the amendments are accepted. So, said a member, that means we don’t have a chance for an election? Widmer is trying his best to explain it because he want’s it as clear as possible. 

If you want a bylaw that eliminates some or all of the establishments in town and limits the number, it needs to go to a town-wide election, said, Hall. How about an election with many options – a complete opt-out or a retail only choice – on the ballot? Possibly, said Hall, since you can have an election and then go to Town Meeting. But a menu of options could create mixed results. Mike McNamara, pct 7, said a local election would not have the same level of participation as it did with a national election, which would allow a small, motivated group to wield a great deal of power.

Claus Becker, pct. 5, said while people may have voted for the legalization of pot for several reasons but they didn’t want to give away local option. David Alper, pct 6, said there is local control over establishments since the Board of Health has created the first regulations in the state including raising the age of purchase to 25. Adam Dash said pot is everywhere and why to give away the potential taxes, which the town needs. Selectmen Mark Paolillo said a pot shop across the line in Cambridge could not be regulated by Belmont but having one in the Town of Homes will be. Doug John, pct. 7, said he voted for the 2016 ballot question so he could vote on the article. Silva Cruz, pct 5, said the citizens’ petition brought a question to town meeting, but it’s hijacked by the amendments.

Ann Mahon, pct 4, said marijuana is already in Belmont so why not tax it? (22) Priya Licht, pct 6, said the criticism of some who said why should there be a second bite at the apple. But that is what the original ballot question allows. Will Brownsberger, like a town meeting member, said he voted for legalization because the drug dealing culture does so much harm to many men. The public health issue is that other drugs are being introduced into pot, so it’s better to get it from licensed establishments. This is an unbelievable regulated industry, and Belmont has an incredible Health Department, so the risk to Belmont is small, said Brownsberger.

Gregory Connelly, a resident, and doctor, said just vote for or against the citizens’ petition and continued to make a strident black and white message on marijuana and how dangerous the current strength of this generation of pot. David Alper attempted to counter Connelly’s argument but quotes facts from the Cato Institute, which did not go over well with Widmer and some members in the back.

Bob McGaw, pct 1, asked Hall if the citizens’ petition failed at the election, that would allow all types of establishments into town with only the Planning Board and Board of Health regulating pot. Yes, said town counsel. Which one do you want to end up with, asked McGaw – a regulated retail operation or the Wild West.

Don Mercier moves the question. 199 to 51 to end debate. This is the vote for Amendment 2 which only allows retail with a sunset clause. It fails 53 to 193.

Now debate on amendment 1 which strictly allows retail operations without the sunset clause. Steve Rosales, pct 8, former selectmen, said people are pleading to him for the chance to have a voice to decide the quality of life. He recalled that residents voted on alcohol in Belmont, not leaving it up to Town Meeting. What are we afraid of to cast a vote. 

That was quick; the question has been called to terminate debate. The measure approved, 227-20. The moment of truth.

The amendment passes overwhelmingly, 162 to 80. The opt-out article in its original form is all but dead. Belmont will have at least two marijuana establishments in town.

Julie Crockett, one of the leading campaigners for the opt-out, calls for the meeting to be adjourned until Monday. Overwhelmingly defeated on a voice vote. The masses what to go home. 

Amendment 7, that allows two stores in town, is being voted. It passes 219-40. 

11 p.m.: Now the neutered opt-out article with the poison pill amendments is being debated. Not that much to debate. The vote is coming. Widmer asks if anyone has any questions since this is a “moving target.”

Now the vote on the article as amended: 135 to 112. That was close but undoubtedly one time supporters threw their vote to the no vote. 

Now a call for an electronic roll call vote, basically getting those who voted on the article to have their vote recorded. 134-103.

11:25 p.m.: And that’s it. What a night in Belmont. See you   

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  1. roger colton says

    One thing that struck me last night during Town Meeting’s “pot debate” was how good of a job Mike Widmer did as Town Moderator. He worked to keep debate flowing and civil. He worked hard made sure to provide explanations on an extremely complex and confusing set of options. He brought a sense of humor when called for, and a sense of discipline when called for. It was a tough three hours of work for the Town Moderator, and I thought he was tremendous. With the passions and commitment on each “side” of the debate, things could have become chaotic. And they didn’t. Well done, Mr. Moderator!

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