Photo: The Planning Board.
In one way or another, the future of the Belmont Day School’s proposed development of a new gym/classroom structure and a roadway adjacent to the town’s active cemetery off of upper Concord Avenue reaches a critical crossroads at tonight’s meeting of the Belmont Planning Board to be held at the Beech Street Center at 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 31.
It will either be one which the private K-8 school will quickly move forward with a set of restrictions or remedies on the land and road, as it will attempt to have the new structure up and running a year from now.
Or due to a final minute legal roadblock thrown by a resident from across Concord Avenue, the school and town could begin a meandering retracing of what appeared to be agreements on contentious issues including the amount of landscaping along the road and the structure of the road itself.
Less than a month ago, it appeared the Planning Board – reduced to four members due to the recusal of Chair Liz Allison (she is an abutter to the school) and the resignation of Joseph DiStefano – was ready to end the four-month long design and site plan review as interim chair Barbara Fiacco announced that the board would “wrap up” its oversight by Aug. 14.
While the 25,000 sq.-ft. Multi-Use structure – dubbed the Barn – was relatively free of controversy, the same could not be said for the roadway which would allow the school a second avenue of access to and from Concord Avenue. Several residents making up two community groups opposed the road as introducing both traffic and safety problems to an already congested main thoroughfare.
The school contends the new road would provide ease of entry and exit from the school which currently has just one street, Day School Lane, to access the campus.
In addition, the town’s Board of Cemetery Trustees and several people who own burial plots in Belmont’s Highland Meadow Cemetery contend the roadway will create a myriad of problems to the graveyard, including possible ground water and disturbance of the pastoral environs of peoples final resting places. The school believes that adequate landscaping will resolve the issue.
But a final decision was rendered moot as the Board was the recipient of a local legal action by Concord Avenue resident Tim Duncan who contends in an Aug. 11 complaint he filed with the Belmont Town Clerk. He states the Planning Board violated the state’s Open Meeting Law by holding what was described as “working groups” with the Day School to resolve technical issues facing the project usually conducted between one person from either side. He contends the agreements hammered out in this setting were not legal as they were done behind closed doors, without adequate notice and without minutes of the meetings kept.
He contends the agreements hammered out in this setting were not legal as they were done behind closed doors, without adequate notice and without minutes of the meetings kept.
Tonight’s meeting will begin with the Planning Board – through the legal opinion of Town Counsel George Hall – answering Duncan’s complaint. If it continues to proceed with the meeting, the Planning Board will vote on any restrictions it believes is warranted to mitigate the creation of the road and building. Duncan has said if he doesn’t think the board or town is willing to answer the Open Meeting Law question, he will file a complaint with the state Attorney General.
But according to some who have reviewed the case, the Planning Board could delay a final resolution on the road and building to “redo” the working group sessions in a formal open meeting session. This would create a further pushing back of final order from the board and delay the building of the Barn and road possibly until the spring.