Photo: Belmont Center Reconstruction project.
[Correction: The latest date for a Town Meeting to take place if 200 signatures were submitted to the Town Clerk’s office on Friday, June 26, would be Aug. 10.]
It’s been some time since the Belmont Police has been called to a public meeting. But a man in blue stood outside Town Hall’s Board of Selectmen’s Room – more amused than austere – as a large contingency of supporters of a town green adjacent to the Belmont Savings Bank and traffic calming measures as part of the Belmont Center Reconstruction project to present their complaints in the form of a petition – with more than 500 signatures in support – that would reverse last-minute changes to the projects blueprint approved by the Selectmen in late May.
Supporters of the original plan said they will make plans in the next few days on rounding up 200 signatures from registered voters to call a Special Town Meeting to resolve the issue.
“According to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, if the petition with the required signatures where received by her office by Friday, June 26, the latest a Special Town Meeting could take place would be Aug. 10.”
At Monday’s meeting, shouts of “shame” accompanied by derisive catcalls and moans were heard as the chance for cooperation on the issue quickly struck the political shallows as neither side wished to surrender what they preserved as being the high ground.
After an initial statement calling for a return to what is being called design “Plan A,” the petition’s standard-bearer Paul Roberts asked that the board “hear those who wish to speak for and against” the proposed return to the original project plan.
Chair Sami Baghdady countered by saying what Robert’s statement “sums up pretty well” those who support the petition’s language. Providing additional comments, Selectman Jim Williams objected to Robert’s statement as being disrespectful to the board, charging that the selectmen did respect Town Meeting support for the project even as they voted to alter the project in May.
The town’s legislative body approved the project’s funding in November at a Special Town Meeting.
View the first 20 minute of the Selectmen’s June 22 meeting soon at the Belmont Media Center.
The board also noted that the green space adjacent to the bank would be 43 percent larger under the Board of Selectmen supported Plan B than in the original plan. Shortly after the Selectmen’s response, the board ended the comment section without acting on the complaint 0r whether it would acknowledge those who opposed the changes.
When Roberts questioned ending the comment period, he was told he was out of order, resulting in a verbal brouhaha with a police officer showing up in the background.
Speaking after the meeting, Roberts said he would be contacting supporters on gathering the required signatures to call for a Special Town Meeting to resolve the issue once and for all.
The changes were prompted by a petition with 200 signatures from 96-year-old Lydia Ogilby, a voter and Town Meeting Member from Precinct 1. Her minimal request – “Petition to reconsider the reconstruction of the green space in the upcoming Belmont Centre project. Please save the trees in the delta and across Concord Avenue. Also save the pass through in front of the bank” – resulted in the reintroduction of parking and the side street connecting Moore Street and Concord Avenue.
Yet Roberts said what’s at issue isn’t how large of a green space will ultimately be placed along Leonard Street. For him and others, the critical question is process.
“If this precedence stands, then what Town Meeting is saying is that the Selectmen can, at any point in every capital project up to the ribbon cutting, has the authority to redraw the project to their liking,” said Roberts.
“It could be based on personal preference, on a petition from a friend or who they talked to over the weekend at a barbecue over the weekend,” he said.
“It’s a complete undermining of a ground up, grass root transparent process in which people can comment on things, have them implemented and the final result is what the community wants,” he said.