Selectman Candidates’ Question of the Week: Where Do You Stand on the ‘McMansion’ Moratorium?

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 construction of oversized and out-of-scale residential homes – known as “McMansions” – has become a hot button issue in Belmont and in neighboring towns. The annual Town Meeting in May will be presented a demolition moratorium on new homes that exceed a maximum height and mass in Precinct 7’s Shaw Estates neighborhood. Do you support the petition or not?

Andy Rojas

The character of Belmont’s neighborhoods has been under assault for at least a decade. Teardowns of existing residences have yielded much denser replacements that max out building height and mass while reducing open space, light and air. Increased density of units on existing lots also contributes to increased physical congestion and character erosion.

Development controls such as the recent GR District By-Law and the proposed Precinct 7 Demolition Moratorium By-Law are necessary to retain the architectural character and social demographics of our neighborhoods.

  • I support these actions and would like to see them extended to most of Belmont’s residential areas.

I will initiate and carry out work with the Planning Board, Community Development Department and other appropriate town agencies so a comprehensive Subdivision Control By-Law can be developed. Such a by-law is needed to preserve the historically large lots in many Belmont residential neighborhoods, including Belmont Hill, that are threatened by:

  1. subdivision pressure, increased density and traffic; and
  2. changes to their general character and ‘feel’.

This form of increased density is just as pervasive and destructive to Belmont’s character and charm as out-of-scale building on smaller lots. Both threats must be addressed.

While it is critical to balance benefits to the entire community with the private property rights of owners, we must act now to preserve and protect what has historically made Belmont so desirable as a residential community. The rights of residents should include not having the scale, density, mass and overall character of the neighborhood they chose to live in dramatically change due to unrestrained re-development. We must protect and enhance the basic, underlying characteristics that have evolved into our ‘Town of Homes’.

Preserving Belmont’s character requires effective and targeted use of zoning by-laws and overlay districts as well as approval of projects reflecting community context and values. Our Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals are often residents’ last line of defense against overbuilding. I pledge to appoint board members who will prioritize respect for the town’s character as well as residents’ rights.

Significant professional building and site experience, work as a landscape architect plus many years of Planning Board service qualified me to plan community-sensitive projects and draft bylaws including, but not limited to, the Oakley Village Overlay District; I actively supported the Demolition Delay By-Law. Understanding the past helps me plan Belmont’s future.

I am committed to intelligent residential development and re-development that expands Belmont’s tax base, serves residents and retains our physical, cultural and social character. Belmont can achieve this by utilizing my extensive experience and expertise.

I respectfully request your vote for Selectman on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Thank you.

Jim Williams

I support the proposed moratorium on over sized teardown replacements for a number of reasons.

First, this is an example of Belmont residents stepping forward to take action, through a democratic process, regarding something that directly affects their neighborhood and quality of life. It does not prevent landowners from selling or renovating their properties, nor does it prevent the teardown and replacement of similarly-sized dwellings. Instead, it provides for a period to re-evaluate this town-wide trend toward the demolition of modest homes in favor of large so-called McMansions.

Jim Williams

Jim Williams.

These large, over-sized dwellings, can have adverse impacts on a neighborhood, and it is in response to this concern that the residents have moved this article forward. During this one-year moratorium period, I hope we can, as a town, consider planning tools that both allow for responsible re-development and also protect the character of our neighborhoods.

Large, over-sized dwellings that fill small lots up to the zoning limits of height, set-back and lot coverage are often much greater in elevation and overall mass than their neighbors. They increase impervious surface and therefore contribute to increased storm-water runoff. In many cases, they replace more modest affordable dwellings thus reducing the diversity of housing stock, particularly for young families, first-time home buyers, and families on fixed incomes such as seniors. The size of these houses can, without extreme energy-saving measures, disproportionately increase the energy demand on the town and its infrastructure and thus drive up energy costs for the town. In several instances, this trend has resulted in the demolition of historic houses and the loss of irreplaceable reminders of Belmont’s history.

Ultimately, Town Meeting will decide the fate of the proposed moratorium. But, in the interim, I wholeheartedly support this article as an example of the neighborhood’s right to shape it’s own future, and more importantly, the message it sends to Town Government regarding the need to re-evaluate and direct future development in a responsible manner town-wide.

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  1. Allison Lenk - 145 Sherman St. says

    I’m pleased to read Jim Williams’ thoughtful response to this week’s question in support of the demolition moratorium petition. I noted that he included comments about the negative effects of adding new impervious surface, which contributes to increased storm-water run off. In addition, Mr. Williams included concerns about the proliferation of “McMansions” increasing energy use, and thus, costs to the town. As Mr. Williams stated, the petition does indeed send a “message to Town Government regarding the need to re-evaluate and direct future development in a responsible manner town-wide”. As a long-term Belmont resident and environmentalist, I appreciated Mr. Williams’ response. I only wish that Belmont’s present Town Government had adopted a demolition moratorium for the Silver Maple Forest.

  2. Peter B. Wilkins says

    I fully support not just a moratorium, but a complete ban on the trend towards higher and larger homes in the Shaw Estates area, and if necessary in the whole of Belmont. These new buildings block long enjoyed vistas, they block out long enjoyed sun into garden plots, and they also block sunlight onto their neighbor’s Solar Panel arrays. What was the Town thinking, or rather, not thinking?

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