Petition to Restore Original Belmont Center Plan Coming to Selectmen

Photo: The original plan for the Belmont Center Reconstruction project.

Residents and Town Meeting members are expected to present a Petition with 400 signatures to the Belmont Board of Selectmen Monday afternoon, June 15, requesting the board reject a series of controversial last-minute changes it approved last month to the $2.8 million Belmont Center Reconstruction Project.

“We plan on presenting our petition during the … Selectmen’s Office Hours at 6 p.m. [on Monday],” said Paul Roberts, a Cross Street resident and Precinct 8 Town Meeting member, being joined by Town Meeting colleagues and members of the Traffic Advisory Committee which developed the project over four years.

If the board ignores their concerns, Roberts said he will begin collecting 200 signatures that will allow him to ask the Town Clerk to call a special Town Meeting where it will debate the project’s changes before the 300-member legislative body.

Roberts petition comes after an unanimous vote by the selectmen on May 28 to change the project’s original design – known as Plan A – after 96-year-old Lydia Ogilby approached the board with 200 signatures in an effort to alter the project’s blueprint despite the knowledge that major work had commenced.

The changes – dubbed Plan B – restored a small number of parking spaces in front of the main branch of Belmont Savings Bank and preserving a “cut through” connecting Moore Street with Concord Avenue, allowing drivers to avoid Leonard Street when seeking parking.

The result of the new changes meant the elimination of a new “town green” located in front of the bank. Under the alternative design, the green space would remain an island surrounded by vehicle traffic and parked cars.

Since the May 28 vote, an increasing number of residents have expressed their dismay at the board’s action in comments to articles and on-line. The main complaint is as much procedural as esthetic, as the Plan A design was accepted by a majority of Town Meeting members eight months earlier.

“This was the only plan that was presented to [the Special Town Meeting] in November, with the understanding that it was a plan that would be put out to bid and completed,” Roberts said.

Also, Roberts said he and many Town Meeting members “voted for that plan specifically because of the Town Lawn feature and were shocked when the board simply removed it and submitted new plans.”

“We are hopeful the [Selectmen] will recognize this and restore it to the original plan” by the board’s June 22 meeting, said Roberts.

If the Selectmen refuse to reinstate Plan A, said Roberts, it could use its authority to call a Town Meeting into an emergency session, and allow the legislative body to choose between the competing plans.

“I would support that, as well, and think that this would have been the proper response to the May 26 hearing, especially since Town Meeting was in session at the time,” he said.

If the board refuses to pursue either of the options, Roberts and his supporters can collect and submit the 200 signatures and call Town Meeting into session to clarify that the vote to fund the reconstruction was a vote to fund Plan A and not any other plan.

Roberts is confident that he could raise the number of signatures to bring Town Meeting back into session.

“I don’t believe you can simply repurpose signatures; you have to use a special form. But, again, with [more than] 400 signatures, getting 200 to request a special Town Meeting to resolve this dispute shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

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