2023 Town Meeting; Second, Third Nights, Segment A: No On Fee Holiday For Payson Park Music Fest, Members OK Rink Appropriation

Photo: With citizen petitioner Tomi Olsen listening, Select Board Chair Mark Paolillo speaks on the Town Meeting article on exempting nonprofit music events from town fees

The final two nights of the annual Town Meeting Segment A found members with little to get excited about – that’s expected to take place in Segment B – yet enough to keep busy with changes to bylaws and voting to allow the construction of a next-generation skating rink for the town.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the highlight was the passage to amend a bylaw that would clamp down vehicles that jut into the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into the roadway to bypass the obstacle. Citizens Petitioner Gi Yoon-Huang, precinct 8, said the purpose of the bylaw “is to bring awareness to the town” that sidewalks are not an extension of a driveway and that vehicles can also obstruct sidewalks “and to educate the public” via “annual communications” about the law.

“By passing this petition, we are sending the message that we are prioritizing pedestrian safety over vehicles to the rest of the town and those enforcing them,” said Yoon-Huang.

While Town Meeting members were largely OK with the new bylaw – some questioned Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac told the meeting he would be a little leery if his officers issued tickets under the new regulation as it goes beyond the existing Traffic Rules and Regulations, which allows the police to enforce 26 violations including speeding, parking, and obstructions. Unlike the regulations, the bylaw will require the police to identify who parked the vehicle to become an obstacle, which could be a drawback.

Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac

In addition, because the ticket is issued for violating a bylaw, anyone seeking to appeal the ticket has to do so before a Cambridge District Court magistrate rather than a traffic clerk. “If we start writing bylaw violations for parking tickets, I guarantee you I will hear back from the Cambridge District Court asking why [Belmont] is talking about backing up the process,” the chief said.

Speaking after the meeting, MacIsaac said “only the most persistent violators” would be fined under the newly worded bylaw, a sentiment that Yoon-Huang felt would be fair.

“I wanted this petition to be changing the culture and behavior” among residents rather than “another reason to ticket them,” said Yoon-Huang.

Despite concern from members who questioned the need for a bylaw reiterating existing regulations against obstructing the sidewalk, the article was easily adopted, 176-41-6.

Also, on the second night, the Meeting approved the authorization to borrow $28.7 million – which reflects $1.3 million in donations – to construct the new municipal skating rink. Town voters approved the debt exclusion at the April 4 annual town election with 61.7 percent approval after the measure was initially defeated in November by a 350 vote margin.

“The biggest thing I want to tell you is it’s not just a skating rink,” said Mark Haley, chair of the Municipal Rink Building Committee. “We’re creating a community center for high school sports and youth programs around the town.”

While most speakers congratulated the building committee for getting the project over the line by “sharpening our pencils” and reducing costs, others expressed apprehension that piling on debt with the rink and a new $32 million library approved in November could hamper the passage of a critical $9.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 vote due in April 2024.

“If we are facing a [fiscal] cliff after [an override] failure, the town’s elected representatives must be prepared to take responsibility for past votes and our votes tonight,” said Paul Gormisky, precinct 7.

But even those who opposed the rink would not thwart the will of the voters, and the article passed with a 200 vote margin, 210-9-1.

The highlight of the last night of Segment A was whether the legislative body would assist a resident who runs a beloved summer music festival from having to pay the fee for using town property.

Tomi Olsen, Precinct 5, is the founder and producer of the Payson Park Music Festival, which has hosted a dozen weekly performances during the summer for the past 32 years. But a long-standing bugaboo for Olsen has been the $75-hourly fee imposed by the town’s Recreation Department on events to provide clean-up services and maintenance.

“The amount of $1,120 may appear small, but in our budget, it is very substantial,” said Olsen. In the past two seasons, Olsen has not paid the PPMF fee; in 2021, Select Board Chair Mark Paolillo paid the tab, and 2022’s assessment was not picked up.

The original language in Olsen’s citizens’ petition would exempt all Belmont-based non-profit organizations from paying the hourly fee for using public lands as those entities provide a common good to the community.”

But in the run-up to Town Meeting, Olsen’s petition was barely treading water. The Select Board, Warrant Committee, and everyone else was lining up against the measure as it would allow more than 300 non-profits “residing” in Belmont to use space in town parks and land rent-free.

In a last-minute attempt to narrow the number of entities that would warrant a discount, Olsen submitted an amendment at the town-imposed deadline for revising articles. Working with the Bylaw Review Committee, the newly worded article – presented to the Select Board three hours before the start of the Town Meeting – whittled down the exemption to music-oriented non-profits producing free-fee concerts, which left only a pair of popular and well-attended musical events: PPMF and Porchfest.

But the Select Board was having none of that. At the board’s meeting preceding Monday’s assembly, Select Board Chair Mark Paolillo put the hammer down on both the late submittal of the amendment and what he and the board believed were “significant” changes to the article, explicitly adding the word “musical” to the article.

In a rare move, the board sent for Town Moderator Mike Widmer to attend the pre-Meeting Select Board confab to explain and defend the amendment.

Upon hearing the Select Board’s displeasure, Olsen attempted an end run around the stubborn opposition to the article by requesting a postponement of the debate and vote until the start of Segment B – which begins May 31 – allowing the amended article a chance to circulate in an attempt to garner support.

But facing a contentious and bustling budget segment, most Town Meeting demanded a final up-or-down on Olsen’s article by voting down the proposed postponement, 40-175-4.

Despite town committees and boards voting unanimously unfavorable action to her proposal, Olsen put on a brave face and questioned why the festival and Porchfest should be burdened

“If these gifts of talent can be provided for free-for-all by these non-profits, why wouldn’t we as a town want to help by waiving such a small fee for the town?” said Olsen.

While all who spoke praised the festival and promised to donate to it, members said they didn’t want to set the precedent of carving out a special exemption for the festival or any other worthy cause in the future.

Members also pointed out that Olsen has other options to reduce the PPMF’s financial burden. Recreation Department Director Brendan Fitz acknowledged his office has an existing mechanism in which individuals or non-profits can request reductions of payments, “which happens quite regularly.”

The last-second changes didn’t convince many to come to Olsen’s side, as the article was defeated 41-174-3.

Earlier in the evening, Town Meeting approved authorizing 10-year terms for town leases and procurement agreements for electric vehicles, expanding from the current state-approved three-year term. The article will allow a greater option to purchase large electric vehicles with an eye on the next generation of school buses. Since there are environmental and costs advantages to accepting the measure, Town Meeting gave the article a big thumbs up, 212-5-5

On the final article of the night, the meeting found itself scratching its collective heads when it came to the seemingly innocuous request for a property easement to allow the approved Subaru expansion along Pleasant Street to proceed. The original article used standard boilerplate language for granting all the necessary infrastructure changes for development.

What caused the article to become a glorious gallimaufry was a Substitute for the Main Motion authored by Robert McGaw, precinct 1, which town officials described as an exercise in heavy-handed “redlining” copyediting. But beyond that, they couldn’t say why the amendment was necessary. McGaw’s rewrite didn’t alter the easement’s purpose or make the article any more understandable to the members.

“Speaking for myself, and I think also for my colleagues, we were mystified, wondering what changed with this amendment. As far as I can tell, nothing has changed,” said the Select Board’s Roy Epstein.

But, as Epstein pointed out, the amendment did have real-world implications “because I can tell you a lot of time was devoted by town staff, Town Counsel – at some expense – and by the Select Board to evaluate this amendment to seemingly no purpose.”

At this moment, McGaw and Town Moderator Mike Widmer could not agree on which of the versions of the amendment the meeting would be voting on. The process became so muddled that Widmer called for a five-minute break as Town Counsel George Hall, Garvin, McGaw, and Epstein held a sidebar that got a tad animated at one point. When all was said and done, the Select Board decided it was best to move on and accept the amendment as “red.”

Director of the Office of Community Development Glen Clancy did his usual masterful job explaining the need for the easement to the assembly, which garnered not a single question. After passing with a handful of no’s, a second vote was required due to some “confusion” on what version the body was being polled. The article finally passed 207-0-2. Whew.

Town Meeting will return on May 31 with Segment B, the budget portion of the annual meeting.

2023 Town Meeting; First Night, Segment A: CPA Articles Go 7 for 7 As Town Meeting Returns Live

Photo: Mike Widmer, Belmont Town Moderator, opens the 2023 annual Town Meeting on May 1

It was a clean sweep for the seven Community Preservation Act projects as they were overwhelmingly accepted by members on the opening night of the annual Belmont Town Meeting held in person for the first time since November 2019.

“I’m delighted we’re back in person,” said Town Moderator Mike Widmer as he greeted the approximately 235 members to the Belmont High School Auditorium on Monday, May 1.

New and re-elected members being sworn in

Widmer acknowledged several members remained concerned about being indoors with the coronavirus remaining a health issue, which was one of the reasons Belmont trailed other communities returning to public meetings. With the help of the Board of Health, a special section in the auditorium’s balcony was set aside for those residents seeking a comfortable distance from their fellow members.

“Obviously, nothing is 100 percent perfect, but I’m confident that we’re making this step in a responsible way,” Widmer told the assembled body.

The night felt like a long-delayed family reunion, with members happily reintroducing themselves in the High School auditorium with hugs and pats on the back. Some expressed an almost nostalgic fondness for the battered original seats in the old High School “that poked you so you’d pay attention.”

The Boy Scouts from Troop 304 and Girl Scouts Troop 82109 presented the colors while Life Scout Karina Kinzinger led the meeting in the Pledge of Alliance. The Belmont High Chorus sang the national anthem, and Bishop Christopher Palmer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints provided the invocation.

The Meeting has seen a historical change in its demographics since that last in-person get-together three-and-a-half years ago, noted Widmer. Since 2019, 100 new Town Meeting members have been elected, nearly a third of the legislative body, with 25 elected in April. Those include an 18-year-old and a growing number of People of Color joining the Meeting’s ranks.

Thanks, Fred

Long-standing Town Meeting stalwart Fred Paulsen was honored with a proclamation from the Select Board. Paulsen served 62 years as a Member, starting in 1959 as a member of the School Committee, which is likely the longest tenure of any resident on the body.

Fred Paulsen

“I think I’m safe to say it’s gonna be a long time before that record is broken,” said Widmer.

“Fred, you were always very incredibly thoughtful and respectful,” said Mark Paolillo, Select Board chair. “You always did your homework and were very analytical about the points that you made. I think you convinced a lot of people including myself, to vote your way when I felt differently about it.”

“Sixty-two years has passed in a flash,” said Paulsen as he received a standing ovation from the body. “I enjoyed every Town Meeting and always hoped I made a positive impact, even those times where my comments and ideas were cast aside.”

As is keeping with tradition, long-serving Town Meeting members who are no longer representing their precincts were recognized, with Katherine Lind (39 years), Linda Oates (36), Henry Kazarian (29), and Brett Sorenson (27) leaving with more than a quarter of a century of service.

The first night was dedicated to Article 11, the seven Community Preservation Committee projects presented by its chair and recently elected Select Board member Elizabeth Dionne.

Elizabeth Dioone

“The good news is that after adding interest on funds, Belmont’s total CAC funds raised to date (since 2012) is $16,694,344,” Dionne told the meeting, with the annual CPA charge for each residential taxpayer at $245.

The fiscal ’24 projects – and their price tags – included:

  • Conservation Fund, $200,000
  • Support for the creation of new affordable housing, $250,000
  • Grove Street basketball/baseball reconstruction, $941,935
  • Library historic objects preservation plan, $86,787
  • PQ Park basketball replacement in kind, $124,592
  • Rejuvenation of Sherman Gardens, $400,000
  • Homer House third-floor window restoration installation, $31,500

To take a deep dive into each project, a link to the Community Preservation Committee’s page is here.

The Grove Street project – the reconstruction of the basketball court and renovation and seeding of the baseball fields – was the only presentation in which an amendment was submitted. Presenting for a fellow Precinct 4 resident, Kate Bowen requested the article carve out the baseball field appropriation and leave $290,370 to replace the court.

Beyond the purview

While saying she values the three areas that the CPC funding targets – affordable housing, historic preservation, and open spaces that include recreation projects – Bowen said the amendment enables “Town Meeting to consider the proposal in greater detail than we would be allowed without the amendment.”

“Over these years, there is a growing concern that we are overbuilding for basic needs and basic maintenance oversights,” said Bowen. She pointed out the project is two proposals, one urgently needing repair while the baseball diamonds were deemed a want rather than a need.

Coming up to the mic

Yet the CPC Committee said the amendment went beyond the purview of Town Meeting. Dionne noted earlier that while the legislative body can reduce the amount of funding or reject the project, “the stated rational for the amendment to eliminate reconstruction of the baseball fields changes the project as recommended by the CPC.” If the amendment had passed, the reduced funding amount would be insufficient to construct the CPC-approved project, both the Select Board and Committee would then exercise their prerogative to table the project.

But the meeting would have none of that as member after member spoke out to make the ball fields safe to play on.

“You’re right, we are supposed to be critical when things come before us,” said Kathleen “Fitzie” Cowing, Precinct 8. But Cowing said there had been ample opportunities to attend the months-long CPC vetting process and countless Recreation Commission meetings to debate separating the proposed work at Grove Street.

“Now is not the time for us to decide to pick it apart because we didn’t like how it panned out,” said Cowing.

Bowen’s amendment was pushed overboard, 10-224-3, and the project sailed through 219-3-0.

Each project was approved with little opposition, and the affordable housing appropriation passed by the “narrowest” margin of 215-13-1 with the PQ basketball court – all three public hoops courts are now under repair – being accepted unanimously, 221 yeas, zero nays.

Wendy Murphy (left) and Mark Paolillo

With the goal of finishing before 10:30 p.m., the final four presentations were presented under the “brevity is your friend” maxim. The last Article 11 project, the third-floor windows reconstruction at the Homer House, took Belmont Woman’s Club’s presenter Wendy Murphy a quick two minutes to present and then one minute for the meeting to approve.

Town Meeting returns for the final two nights on Wednesday, May 3, and Monday, May 8.

League Of Women Voters Town Meeting Warrant Briefing On Thursday, April 27

Photo: A screenshot of last year’s meeting

The Belmont League of Women Voters will hold its annual Warrant Briefing before the start of the annual Town Meeting on Thursday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m.

At this virtual meeting held over Zoom and broadcast via the Belmont Media Center, the briefing – cosponsored by the Warrant Committee and the League’s Education Fund – will allow Town Meeting members and residents to ask questions about Warrant Articles prior to Town Meeting, Segment A, that begins on Monday, May 1.

Town Officials and Department Heads will be present to provide information. Leading the meeting will be Geoffrey Lubien, chair of the Warrant Committee.

Viewing options include:

Participating on Zoom


Zoom meeting ID: 867 1988 6843

Watching on cable television or live stream

Live broadcast: Belmont Ch 8 (Comcast); Ch 28 (Verizon). Livestream or on-demand: belmontmedia.org/watch/govtv

Select Board Increases Most Parking Tickets To $25

Photo: A close call whether this vehicle is impeding sidewalk travel

For the first time in more than a decade, most parking ticket fines are increasing, going up $10 to $25 after a vote by the Select Board on Monday, April 11. But it could take a while before scofflaws hand over the higher fine.

The hike in the parking penalties came as part of a presentation of a citizens’ petition that will come before Town Meeting on May 3.

Town Meeting Member Gi Yoon-Huang of Winn Street (Precinct 8) told the Board of a safety issue involving vehicles that jut out of driveways and block the sidewalk. She said in her precinct, this is forcing children and parents heading to the Winn Brook School to enter the street to go around them.

She was spurred to launch this effort after speaking to a resident who uses a walker and fell attempting to move past a car blocking the sidewalk.

Yoon-Huang said while police would respond quickly to calls and the owners eventually move their vehicles, “it would often be a repeat offender … and it took us years to have this one street cleared.”

“The main goal [of the petition] is to bring awareness that this is a problem, but also to further clarify it further,” said Yoon-Huang.

Her petition would also increase the parking fine for this offense – after a first warning – which will increase with each infraction; a second ticket would be $50 and a third and more at $100. The petition would require stepped up communication with residents on the new bylaw.

“This is to help improve safety for everyone,” said Yoon-Huang, who has agreed to make a presentation before Town Meeting at which time the town will adopt the bylaw provisions into the existing parking regulations. Her petition will then be tabled, and a motion to dismiss will be presented to Town Meeting.

Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac said his department actively targets any vehicle that is an obstruction, including those crammed into driveways to avoid violating the town’s 60-year-old overnight parking ban enforced between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m.

“So they have a choice to make. They leave the car out at night, and they absolutely get a ticket, or they squeeze it in the driveway. An officer working the midnight shift is not going to probably tag those cars in the drive way as they are making an effort to be off the street,” said MacIsaac.

But for a group of residents, the current $15 fine isn’t much of a deterrent. “Some people pay them and just go on violating it,” he said, noting the last time Belmont increased ticket fees was 2005, and before that, in the 1980s.

A few parking violations have unique penalties, such as parking at an MBTA bus stop which is $100, and $50 for stopping in a designated bike lane.

MacIsaac noted that during his nearly quarter century in law enforcement, residents’ first and overriding complaint about his department is parking tickets. “I’ve been people get ten times more upset getting a $15 parking ticket than a $200 speeding ticket.” The chief said officers issue an average of 28 parking tickets daily, of which eight to nine are overnight violations.

MacIsaac said that of the two sections of state law (MGL 9020) governing traffic citations, Belmont adopted the one where most tickets top out at $25. He said creating a unique violation with an increasing fee would run counter to state law. If the town wants to raise ticket fees, it should adopt the other section of the ticketing law – which only Boston and Cambridge have adopted – under which Belmont can jack up parking ticket fees to $60.

“I actually think that the dollar fine would really spur good behavior,” said Elizabeth Dionne on her first meeting as a board member. “I think $20 is not that significant. I think $50 and $100. The goal is never to collect the money. The goal is to have clear sidewalks.”

Board member Roy Epstein believes that “it’s not necessary to jump to a very high fine right away” to force compliance; instead using the existing enforcement options available to the town. He said under the current traffic citation law, the police can return to towing vehicles (suspended during COVID) for someone with a significant number of tickets as well as “boot” vehicles “just to let them know that we are serious about this.”

While not wanting to impose a significant increase in the parking fee structure, Epstein said it was time to bring these penalties to a more realistic level.

“I think its time to increase all of the $15 to $20 because of 20 years of inflation,” said Epstein, with Dionne suggesting upping it to $25.

The discussion then proceeded to whether the town needed to include vehicles as an “obstruction” impeding pedestrian travel on a sidewalk. Town Moderator Patrice Garvin said town bylaws already call for action on any “obstruction,” whether it’s a car, shrubbery, or snow.

Rather than bringing complicated issues on enforcement before the 290-member Town Meeting, Paolillo said the board would “combine the spirit of some of the things [in the citizens’ petition] into our parking regulations and increase our fines. I think that goes a long way to address the concerns of the petitioners.”

While the board quickly passed the new $25 parking fine, there will be some leeway before the bylaw goes into effect. MacIsaac said the department will need to finish the existing supply of ticket books with the old fine before ordering a new batch with the $25 fee.

Back Live! Annual Town Meeting Begins On May Day At BHS Auditorium

Photo: Town Meeting is coming to the Belmont High auditorium

For the first time since November 2019, Belmont’s Town Meeting will be held live and in person at the Belmont High School auditorium.

The 2023 annual Town Meeting begins at 7 p.m. on the following dates:

  • May 1, 3, 8, 10  (Segment A); and
  • May 31, June 5, 7, 12 (Segment B, the budget section). 

These dates the town has reserved as per custom; it is not likely that all eight nights will be required.  

The meeting will not be using any mobile voting for in-person, rather there will be a return to using of handheld voting devices, often referred to as “clickers.”

The Town Moderator has designated specific areas of the Belmont High School Auditorium for those Town Meeting Members who wish to observe a social distance from other Town Meeting Members during the meeting.

For those Town Meeting Members whose email or phone has changed, and for all new Town Meeting Members, submit a new contact sheet to the Town Clerk as soon as possible.

The order of articles will be determined by the Town Moderator, Mike Widmer, and will be distributed with the motions. In addition to articles and citizen petitions, the town meeting will have a “special” dropped into the proceedings.

How the Special Town Meeting will work

On the second night May 3, the meeting will begin at 7 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., the Town Moderator will briefly adjourn the annual Town Meeting and convene the Special Town Meeting to take action on the only article, the appropriation for the Rink and Sports Facility, the debt exclusion approved by Belmont voters on April 4. Once the votes under the Special Town Meeting are completed, the Moderator will dissolve the Special Town Meeting, and we will return to the business of the annual Town Meeting.

The Handbook for Belmont Town Meeting Members is available on that webpage but here’s a direct link.

Amending Articles

The deadline for amendments to the articles is at the close of business, three business days before the date the article will be taken up:

For Segment A:

  • Monday, May 1 deadline is 4 PM April 26
  • Wednesday, May 3, deadline is Noon April 28
  • Monday, May 8 deadline is 4 PM May 3
  • Wednesday, May 10 deadline is Noon May 5

Precinct 6 caucus

Due to a failure to elect at the annual Town Election held on April 4, Precinct 6 Town Meeting Members will attend an in-person caucus at 7 p.m. on April 27 at the Homer Building in the Town Hall complex. All Precinct 6 Town Meeting Members have been sent the notice.

“I hope that the caucus will be completed in time for members to participate in the warrant briefing that has since been scheduled for the same night.,” said Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

Community Preservation Committee Votes Six Projects Worth $1.7 Million Forward To Town Meeting

Photo: The Grove Street basketball court will be reconstructed as part of the $1.7 million CPC package

The town’s Community Preservation Committee is sending six applications totaling $1.7 million to the annual Town Meeting for the body’s approval in the spring.

After some wrangling and reductions in two grant amounts, the projects which won the committee’s recommendation on Wednesday, Jan. 18 are:

Each project, which has undergone five months of financial scrutiny and applicability by the committee, was approved unanimously by the six members who attended the meeting.

Passed by town voters in November 2010, Belmont raises money for its Community Preservation Fund by imposing a 1.5 percent surcharge on local real estate taxes, collecting approximately $1 million annually. Additionally, each year the state distributes limited matching funds to the towns that have passed the CPA. These funds are collected from existing fees on real estate transactions at the Registry of Deeds.

CPC Chair Elizabeth Dionne noted that for the first time in many years, the dollar amount of the grants – $1,753,343 – nearly reached this year’s available funds of $1,757,666.

A preliminary grant application for $50,000 to begin design and engineering drawings for a renovation of the Underwood Playground above the Underwood Pool was withdrawn in December when CPC members felt the project could be delayed until the next CPC cycle beginning in the summer of 2023. Dionne also pointed to advocates of a Belmont Skate Park who view the park as a possible location for its park which would require the applicant to redefine the project’s scope.

Due to rules that require the CPC to have an adequate reserve for the three CPC “buckets” – the committee funds projects in historic preservation, affordable housing, and land conservation – the CPC approved cutting the original ask for the affordable housing application and the new conservation fund by $30,000 each with the $60,000 going into the historic reserve. The two grants will revert to the initial request if current projects turn back any extra funds when they close.

In addition to the final vote, the CPC voted unanimously to establish a reserve fund, serving as an “escape hatch” for emergency, off-cycle requests; the most recent example was the Town Hall slate roof that was underfunded at its initial request and the collapse last year of the Benton Library’s chimney.

Dionne’s suggestion was for 10 percent of CPC total budget, which would be approximately $140,000, but it was reduced to $100,000.