At first glance, Belmont appears to love the future look of Belmont Center.
The proposal including refurbished roads, new sidewalks, more parking, a new greens-space “common” and modern electronic parking plan was presented to 60 residents during a Town Hall meeting held Monday, Sept. 8 as town officials reintroduced the four-year Belmont Center Reconstruction Project.
“A lot of these improvements, besides being aesthetically pleasing, are really about creating a plan for Belmont Center … and something to be proud of,” said Belmont Board of Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas, praising the initial design that could begin early in 2015 with completion on Halloween of next year.
The public’s reaction to the presentation was upbeat – Town Meeting member Don Mercier did object to replacing “valuable parking spaces” with a small village common that will be located in front of Belmont Savings Bank on Leonard Street – with several suggesting “tweaks” to control traffic and pedestrian safety.
With utility and water infrastructure work completed around Belmont Center in the past two years, “the project is ready to go,” said David Kale, Belmont’s town administrator.
But while the project’s important features have been nailed down, the town’s blueprint to finance the $2.6 million project has come apart as anticipated money from Beacon Hill and the one-time sale of town properties failed to emerge.
“We will have to come up with a funding plan that will need to be shared and approved by the Board of Selectmen, the Warrant Committee and Capital Budget if we choice to get this project underway,” said Kale.
In the past year, a proposal to fund the project with a state grant and a predicted increase in highway funding never materialized due to budgetary constraints and alternative priorities.
“Our likelihood of receiving extra money for [state highway funds] is probably not likely,” said Kale.
No decision on “sold” town-owned parcels
At the same time, an alternative trial balloon to use the proceeds of town-owned land sold to the developers of a pair of high-profile building projects – the 186,000 sq.-ft. Cushing Village and luxury housing near Woodfall Road – has been derailed as each team has put on hold purchasing those parcels anytime soon.
“Those conversations and negotiations are ongoing and hopefully there will be a positive conclusion,” he said.
But Kale said he is not expecting either sale to be completed by the time the Special Town Meeting convenes on Nov. 17. The 290 member legislative body will need to determine how to finance the $2.6 million reconstruction project for it to meet the scheduled construction timeline.
“What we are doing tonight is allow you some time to ask questions … and show you what we are faced with in terms of funding sources,” said Kale.
The funding uncertainty had some asking aloud if the project should be presented before Town Meeting in its current state.
“I don’t see how we can talk about this project with no funding in place. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Joseph White of Maple Terrace.
It appears Town Meeting members will be presented with three funding scenarios, according to Kale: do nothing, partially funded from the town coffers or fully fund the project through the issuance of debt.
“No one believes nothing should be done,” said Rojas.
While Glenn Clancy, the town’s director of Community Development, said the stop gap plan is to place a new asphalt layer on the Center’s streets, Kale and the Board of Selectmen are moving towards crafting a funding plan for the project “that will shape Belmont Center for the next 30 year,” said Clancy.
“Right now, more than likely, it will be from reserves from a debt issuance or some appropriation,” said Kale.
“Basically float a bond for x number of years and amortized the cost of the $2.6 million” over that time period,” he said, with the possibility of using money in the “free” cash account – the town’s “savings” account – or procuring funds from the town’s pavement management program to reduce the debt amount.
Rojas admitted that structuring the financing for a “new” Belmont Center “is going to be a challenge” – the Special Town Meeting will also hear a report on the new $5.2 million Underwood Pool complex which is $400,000 over the low bid, resulting in a “lost” pool season next summer – “but this is about a vision for your Town Center and that is what we really want to focus on.”