Photo: The image of the compromise design for the “Town Green” parcel of the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project.
A compromise design for the “Town Green” parcel of the $2.8 million Belmont Center Reconstruction Project is being praised by leaders of the effort who sought to make the area bordered by Leonard Street, Concord Avenue and Moore Street into a pedestrian-friendly green space.
Created to incorporate the competing demands of the two sides of the issue that boiled over into a contentious Special Town Meeting in August, the new design appears to allow greater pedestrian access during off-peak times when the pass thru in front of the Belmont Savings Bank is shut to traffic and parking.
The Belmont Board of Selectmen, which requested the third plan for the “delta” after the Special Town Meeting, will discuss and vote on this enhancement at its next public meeting, Monday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.
A history of the dispute and a report on the Special Town Meeting can be found at this link.
For one of the leaders of those residents who successfully passed a Special Town Meeting article on Aug. 6 urging the Selectmen to return to the Project’s original design for the delta, this effort is a success.
“It’s a great compromise after many months of frustration with the design, disappointment with the process, efforts to resolve the conflict short of Town Meeting, collecting signatures, Special Town Meeting in the summer, and extensive dialogue in the last month,” said Bonnie Friedman, who, with Paul Roberts, led the citizen’s petition that called for the Special Town Meeting.
The third plan – dubbed the “enhancement” design – created by landscape architect and former Selectman Andy Rojas creates a brick and concrete pass thru that becomes a pedestrian walkway during off-peak hours. (see design plan here)
“The result looks beautiful. It integrates the Green in a way that Plan B and even Plan A were unable to achieve. Because of that, the Green Space looks bigger than Plan B or even Plan A. The ‘driveway’ is more like a plaza now which can be enjoyed in all sorts of ways when the road is closed,” said Friedman.
Friedman gave much of the credit for the new design to another former selectman, Ralph Jones, who worked to help forge movement towards a compromise blueprint that the Selectmen agreed to at its Aug. 17 meeting.
Paul Roberts said Rojas’ design “certainly looks better than what we have now, and better than Plan B.”
“Rojas did a great job on short notice, and he is owed thanks on this,” said Roberts.
Issues remain in the new design for Friedman and Roberts.
Friedman points to safety in crosswalks, if there are enough curb cuts for strollers and wheelchairs, the number of benches and tables and what sort of barrier to use to limit access.
“Most importantly, the selectmen will be deciding on what constitutes ‘off-peak hours,'” said Friedman.
“I would love to see the [pass thru] open just rush-hour weekday mornings when Leonard Street potentially backs up. The fewer hours [it] is open, the fewer conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars. Those hours might also adapt over time as we can use our Green,” she said.
Roberts also sees problems with the new design as it doesn’t “put pedestrians on an equal footing with automobiles and that offered a real space for residents in the Town Center to congregate without having to negotiate around automobile traffic.”
Roberts also questioned if town officials and transportation experts have vetted the Rojas design.
“Has a transportation engineering firm reviewed it? Have public safety officials signed off on this plan?” asks Roberts, wondering if limits on the size of vehicles and thru traffic need to be established.
Roberts also advises the Selectmen to allow the plan to be reviewed by the public and domain experts over a couple of weeks before voting on it.
“To simply repeat the errors of May 28 by throwing this plan up on the overhead and adopting it then and there without a full vetting by the public would be a tragedy and proof that the [Board of Selectmen] have not learned their lesson, nor heeded the many complaints of concerns of the voters who elected them,” which he calls “a dangerous course in politics.”