Photo: Jim Williams
Every Wednesday leading up the Town Election on Tuesday, April 7, the Belmontonian will be asking a “Question of the Week” to the candidates running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen: incumbent Andy Rojas and Glenn Road resident Jim Williams.
This weekly feature will allow the candidates seeking a three-year term on the board to answer topical questions concerning Belmont and help demonstrate their ability to lead the town.
This week’s question:
The long-standing perception – going back generations – held by many business owners is that existing town bylaws and how they are interpreted by town departments creates a negative environment for retail and commercial ventures in Belmont. As Selectman, how would you make Belmont more “business friendly” for small retail and mid-size commercial companies?
I am running for Selectman because I know that Belmont is a great town that needs more in the way of support for our residents and businesses.
Having worked with small and large companies my entire career, I am of the belief that local business helps round out the community – from contributions to tax revenue to the donations they make to our neighbors. The specific ways Belmont can support its local business community is outlined in the Vision 21 Business and Economic Development Committee’s recommendations from 2005.
We should immediately implement this town-appointed committee’s recommendations, as we should with other thoughtful recommendations that have come from similar committees. One specific example of what I would recommend is the finalization of the Community Path, because research shows that community paths in other towns improve business vitality. The same should be true in Belmont.
As I have repeated, initiatives that support our whole community are my first priority which is why you should consider me for Selectman.
Streamlining the various approvals and permit processes within Town departments is critical to attracting new businesses – large and small. Many new business owners are:
- confused by the many requirements for permits which vary by use and must be obtained from departments with jurisdiction over specific permits and approvals, including the Building and Health Departments; and
- overwhelmed by the length of time, number of hearings and professional fees needed to obtain approvals from the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
Streamlined Communications & Checklists
The Planning Board and the ZBA are implementing streamlined applicant communications to reduce project review and approval time. My appointees to the Planning Board and ZBA have in-depth professional process experience that allows practical goals to be developed and requirements to be communicated clearly.
- A well-defined checklist for each required regulatory process — Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Building Permit, Health Department, etc. — should be created so applicants can tailor approval efforts.
I have begun the work needed to produce efficient, transparent approvals and permitting processes. Many cities and towns have fully electronic building permit processes that let applicants track, monitor and pay for permit request processing without contacting departments or plan reviewers. Electronic transparency also allows department heads to monitor and evaluate reviewers to determine whether each application is being processed efficiently. While Belmont’s computer software permits this level of electronic building permit processing, further implementation is needed.
- I will partner with the Community Development Department so a fully transparent electronic building permit application and review process can be implemented within the next year.
Business — Specific Districts
The Cushing Square Overlay District (CSOD) should be updated to incorporate these efficiency measures. Revisions should be such that requirements are communicated to business applicants effectively and approval criteria are efficient and transparent.
New overlay district by-laws should be considered for Waverley Square and South Pleasant Street which will likely see development. They should be written to protect residents and, so they include clear goals and approvals processes; all business should know what to expect from day 1.
- I am committed to leading this effort and to using my expertise and Belmont know-how to make it work.
Business district retail and commercial ventures such as Alchemy 925, Savinos, Il Casale, Spirited Gourmet, and Foodies (coming soon) have increased as issuing more restaurant and alcohol licenses has made Belmont more attractive to businesses. The Belmont Center and Trapelo Road Reconstruction Projects, Macy’s redevelopment and Cushing Village construction will provide even greater commercial and retail growth and improve the prospects for existing small and midsize retail and commercial firms.
Providing businesses with clear, easy-to-navigate building and permit processes will expand Belmont’s commercial tax base, something vital to our long term financial stability, help mitigate the impact of residential taxes that currently comprise approximately 94 percent of Belmont’s revenue and result in a business-friendly vibrant shopping and dining environment.
I respectfully request your vote for Selectman on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Thank you.