In Brief: Belmont Town Meeting, Day 3: Regulations on the Side, Please

On the final night of debating and voting on the non-budgetary articles before the 155th edition of the Belmont Town Meeting, it was clear that Belmont’s Town Meeting members believe that when times call for them, as one attendee stated, “there are times for rules and regulations on who we all behave.”

With overwhelming support, Town Meeting disapproved of an attempt to remove the town’s new Residential Snow Removal bylaw, supported a new and improved set of regulations on how many yard sales a resident can have in a year (that would be three) and approved – with a wink and a nod – the Planning Board’s set of regulations on where (and that would not be many places) a medical marijuana dispensary can be placed.

Town Meeting will resume with the town, school and capital budgets on June 2 at the Chenery Middle School at 7 p.m.

In brief:

• Resident Eric Anderson’s citizen’s petition to strike the snow removal bylaw – mandating home and property owners shovel the sidewalks adjacent to their homes 36 hours after a declared snow “event” or be subject to fines – as unworkable and unjust did not garner the libertarian support one would suspect as many members rose to state they are now able to walk on the sidewalk rather than the street after storms and that a small amount of regulations make for good neighbors. Others stated that the law will sunset in two years, a good time frame to see if the bylaw actually works.

• In his second go around to pass a yard sale bylaw – it was defeated at the special Town Meeting in November of last year – Stephen Ganak of Hurley Street won overwhelming support on a simplified permit application (done online through the Town Clerk’s office at no cost) that will limit a resident to only three sales in a calendar year. Some members believed it was an overreach to ask every resident to acquire a permit in an effort to halt a few “outliers” (Ganak’s own word) who spoil it for everyone. But most members stated the requirements wasn’t that much of a burden and vote “yes” for the measure. 

• The Planning Board’s creation of three areas – in two locations on South Pleasant Street (including the Shaw’s parking lot), next to the Loading Dock convenance store on Brighton, and at the Uplands property off of Route 2  – where a medical marijuana dispensary can be located was seen by several members as locations where, as Town Meeting member Julie Crockett of Precinct 5 observed, that a retail facility is “possible but not plausible.” For example, while the town points to the Uplands property (that borders Cambridge on the Alewife Reservation) as a site where it is permitted, the town’s Chief Planning Coordinator, Jeffrey Wheeler, admitted the entire site is slated for development. In addition, the one parcel next to Shaw’s would be in violation of state codes that prohibits a dispensary to be located adjacent to a pharmacy.

But Planning Board members and town counsel George Hall said the intention of of the Planning Board was to place reasonable regulations on the location of dispensaries – being 300 feet from residential areas and schools, for example – to protect residents. Belmont has such limited open space or commercial land that the four parcels are the only places the facilities can be placed.

Belmont Town Meeting, Night 3: Shelving Shoveling Petition Being Considered

Three is the magic number as the 155th annual Belmont Town Meeting will likely finish the non-budgetary section of the annual gathering of the town’s legislative body with a trio of articles representing the diverse subjects of medical marijuana, shoveling snow off of sidewalks and just how many yard sales a resident can hold a year.

And the members could be debating and voting on just two of the articles as the resident who is petitioning to have the four month-old bylaw requiring homeowners to shovel adjacent sidewalks shelved is asking that his article be “tabled” until the anticipated special Town Meeting in the fall.

The 2014 edition of the yearly meeting will resume tonight, Monday, May 12, at  at 7 p.m., at Belmont High School’s auditorium.

Members are asked to be in the auditorium before 7 p.m. so the meeting can start on time.

A copy of the warrant which contains the articles can be found here on the Town Clerk’s web page.

Tonight’s meeting will be broadcasted live by the Belmont Media Center.

First up on the agenda will be the petition by Pleasant Street resident Eric Anderson who is seeking to strike from the town’s bylaws the recently-enacted Residential Snow Removal bylaw approved by the November 2013 special Town Meeting and OK’d by the state’s Attorney General in February.

But according to Anderson and Precinct 4’s Joe White who will present the article tonight – Anderson is not a Town Meeting member – after the petition is set before Town Meeting, a motion will be made by White to “table” the measure until a special Town Meeting that is expected this fall.

White told The Belmontonian this past Wednesday, May 7, he and others have spoken to Anderson to delay the article so that Town Counsel George Hall can address a series of questions on liability issues and other concerns of residents being required to shovel what is essentially town-owned property, the sidewalks.

“We can wait [until a special Town Meeting] so we can get a reading on the law,” said White, adding that “it probably won’t snow until [the meeting].”

Also up for debate will be a citizen’s petition from Stephen Ganak of Hurley Street who would like to restrict the number of yard sales to three a year with a requirement to obtain a free permit from the Town Clerk. At last November’s special Town Meeting, it was initially thought that Ganak’s initial sales petition had been passed by the members only to discover that a calculation mistake saw the measure fail by a handful of votes. This time around, Ganak has simplified the wording with a hope that this effort will pass member muster.

Finally, members will vote on the creation of a medical marijuana overlay district. By using restrictions that the state has allowed – such as buffers  that force facilities to keep a distance from schools, residential areas – a Belmont marijuana dispensary will be restricted to far off locations. The members will also discuss

If the members do conclude their business tonight, the meeting will be adjourn to meet again for budget items including the town and school budget as well as capital budget expenditures on Monday, June 2 at 7 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School Auditorium.

LIVE FEED: Belmont Town Meeting, Night 2: Pool, Pot, Shoveling and Yard Sales

7 p.m.: Welcome to the second night of the 155th edition of the Belmont Town Meeting here at the Belmont High School auditorium.

Tonight will see the – hopefully – the final night for non-budget articles.

First up is an update report on the “quaint” Belmont Center reconstruction being presented by Glenn Clancy, director of Community Development and Selectmen chair Andy Rojas. The days of doing nothing or just fixing the pavement is not what is needed, said Clancy.

The work, costing around $2.6 million, could be funded with a state grant, capital funds from the Cushing Square parking lot ($850,000) and the Woodfall Road payment (just north of $2 million), a debt exclusion, Chapter 90 fund, town reserves or existing pavement management funds, said Town Administrator David Kale. The town will come back at the fall Special Town Meeting on how to pay for it.

This presentation is the first volley by the town in the public campaign for funding.

7:35 p.m.: Long-term Town Meeting members are being honored. And Marty Cohen, 39 years of service, speaks before his colleagues on the differences from when he first came to the meeting in 1974 including that women now constitutes 50 percent of Town Meeeting. Speak loud and learn the rules, is his advice.IMG_5549

Dave Rogers, our active State Rep., is going over what’s happening on Beacon Hill impacting Belmont. There is largely good news with an increase in state aid for general government and schools along with special funding for energy efficient buildings.

7:50 p.m.: First up for debate and a vote tonight will be the two articles concerning the funding of the proposed new Underwood Pools complex scheduled to replace in June, 2015 the 102-year-old swimming “pond” adjacent to the Belmont Public Library at the corner of Concord Avenue.

Members will vote on a $2 million grant from the town’s Community Preservation Committee as well as allowing the town to borrow $2.9 million the town’s voters approved by 62 percent on Town Election on April 1.

Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas wants to give an update on some design changes after the April 1 vote. Rojas said that the design voters selected is a preliminary one so new revisions and changes can be made with a “more rigorous” process. This process could save money, but please note there will be more public comment on the pool. “Tell us what your thought are.”

Ann Paulsen, the Pool Building Chair, is presenting the history of the design process. She highlights that there were many meetings, multiple changes the committee made with other groups, and a design that has won the approval of the Underwood family. “This will keep a community amenity for the next 50 years.”

8 p.m.: “Let’s dive in,” said Underwood Pool Building Committee member Adam Dash – to a collective groan – who is reviewing the design and changes that will be made.IMG_5565

Much of what Dash is explaining has been reported in the Belmontonian, including a detail of the current design – a two pool complex (a “kiddy” pool and a more “adult” oriented one with laps and a diving pool) with updated bathhouses on both ends, greater green space, and a revamped parking lot design.

For more information, go to the Underwood Pool Building Committee Facebook page.

This is what people wanted to see [in the pool design]” said Dash.

Now for something different: the first image of the new design for the bath houses, on a more historic theme. With HIP roof, nice airy design, easy to clean and a “Belmont” feel. And the view from Concord Avenue is “inviting.”

Dash also explains how the money is coming from. “We got our monies worth out of the pool,” he said. Will he get a hand for his presentation? He does.

Questions? Jim Stanton, Pct. 1, asks why there is a historic preservation element in the CPA funding when the bath house is being razed? Floyd Carman, town treasurer and vice chair of the CPC, said the committee just doesn’t look at small bits of money but how it effects Belmont as a whole. Stanton, who said he will be voting for the pool, said the CPA is a “law” and it should be followed and is “not for us to decide the Belmont way” in interpreting the law. Paulsen then comes up and said that what is historic is that the site is the location of the first outdoor municipal pool in the country “and we are maintaining the site that is historic.”

Funny moment: Dash explaining why two pools: “If there is a child has an ‘accident’ in the kiddy pool, and let the record show that I am using air quotes when referring to ‘accident’,” to the laughter of the members.

The article is called and is passed with a single “no” vote.

8:44 p.m.: Now up is article 17 allowing the town to borrow $2.9 million from the town election. It will cost residents $48 but that will be offset by a $108 reduction with the expiration of the Chenery Middle School debt to considerable cheers.

The article is called and easily passes the 2/3 barrier to applause. The town officially has a new pool!

8:48 p.m.: Now up, CPA grants. You can approve or deny, said CPC chair Paul Solomon.

Five grants to be approved:

  • $8,700 for the JV Field irrigation upgrade.
  • $165,000 for the electrical upgrade at town-owned housing.
  • $66,524 for phase 2 of the Butler Elementary playground project.
  • $100,000 for the renovation of the Winn Brook field (Belmont Second Soccer)
  • $375,000 for first-time homebuyer’s assistance (Belmont Housing Trust)
  • $12,000 for the Belmont Community Moving Image Archive.
Only the first-time homebuyer’s program could come under some questioning as the Warrant Committee overwhelmingly voted against the grant.
Jim Stanton, Pct. 1, questions the $56,000 administrative costs of the Community Preservation Committee including hiring a person – who works in the Treasurer’s Office – to do the stand alone committee work. He’d like to see more transparency of costs. Rojas said that the money is well spent as the CPC has to do a great deal of work each year. If the entire amount is not used, the remaining money is put back into the CPA fund. While not disputing the need for the money, Paul Roberts of Pct. 8, said the committee could it saved itself the grief of having the members pull the information from the committee’s documentation. Solomon agreed and said they will do better.
9:13 p.m.: We are back after a short break and the members will debate and vote on the individual grants. First is $8,700 for the JV field, a request from the Belmont Soccer Association. It’s approved unanimously.
The electric upgrade at Belmont Village (circa 1949), a $165,000 request from the Belmont Housing Authority. Sue Bass, Pct. 2, asks if this is the first of several future requests as the current amount will only revamps 25 units. Donna Hamilton of the BHA said that is likely as they do not receive sufficient monies from the state and federal government. Fred Paulsen, Pct. 1, said Belmont’s legislators should seek state funds as the town should not use taxpayers funds (the CPA is funded by a property surtax) for state housing. Jack Weis, Pct. 1, said that he was told that any maintenance is the town’s responsibility so the use of the money is appropriate. But lots of residents, such as Roger Wrubel, Pct. 5, Anne-Marie Lambert, Pct. 8, and Tomi Olson, Pct. 5, contend that this work should be the state’s responsibility and it should fund it. “I will vote for it but this doesn’t feel good,” said Ellen Schreiber, Pct. 8, who asked if this is about safety, why only fix a quarter of the units? Hamilton said $165,000 is a lot of money to ask Town Meeting to pass.
The question is called and this amount is approved. This took a half-hour to debate so it’s looking unlikely that we’ll get through all the articles tonight. Sigh!
9:45 p.m.: Really? One person voted against $66,524 for improvements to the new Butler playground? Come on!
Belmont Second Soccer’s request for $100,000 for their $302,000 project to renovation the Winn Brook field so kindergarteners can chase in a moving cluster after a soccer ball on a well-maintained pitch is approved unanimously.
9:54 p.m.: A real debate is expected with this request: Belmont Housing Trust’s $375,000 grant for a first-time homebuyer’s assistance. Mike Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee, said the Town Meeting’s watchdog members voted 10-3 with one not voting against the request as it’s so limited – just three households will be added to the town’s affordable housing stock which is only 3.8 percent, nearly 600 units from the state benchmark of 10 percent.
Judith Feins of the BHT, defends the request as being cost effective and allowing families with a medium household income of 80 percent ($61,000 for a three person family) to live in the community. They will be selected in a lottery. Gloria Leipzig, BHT vice chair, gives a real person example of a family who sees their monthly housing expenses don’t exceed what they can afford. One purpose of the CPA funds is to increase and preserve community housing. Sure, it’s not going to help reach the 10 percent but it is a concrete example of Belmont’s commitment to affordable housing. Treasurer Floyd Carman gives the request a boost by comparing a first-time homebuyer’s program (which adds taxes to the town) or a fully-subsized housing model like Waverley Oaks (no tax money).
Selectman Sami Baghdady, who appears to be speaking for those opposing the measure, said the money could be better spent elsewhere as the $325,000 is a large amount of money to spend that will not nudge the affordable housing gauge. To reach the 10 percent state goal can be better made by developments such as Cushing Village where 12 units will be added with no cost to the town.
Bob McLaughlin, Pct. 2, and warrant committee member said that Belmont does not have a [housing/economically] diversity problem and this proposal is a “waste of $325,000” as it doesn’t help the town meet the 10 percent state benchmark.
Paul Roberts and Fred Paulsen spoke very strongly to this measure. “This is the type of affordable housing that Belmont wants”  “You want to see Belmont freak out, propose 600-units of affordable housing,” he said. Don’t get hung up on 10 percent, “do it because its the right thing to do.” Paulsen pointed out that the Cushing Village model is not realistic as Belmont doesn’t have the land to create another Cushing Village.
Roger Colton, Pct. 6, said in the past, Belmont spent $1.5 million to build four units; this grant will produce three units. “This is the right thing as policy; it’s the right thing morally.”
Richard Hanson, Pct. 5, gave an economics lesson on why the members should vote against the proposal including the impact of lost equity that is part of urban blight; Lucia Sullivan, Pct. 3, of B Street – who is a neighbor of three affordable apartments – said she supports this request as she has great neighbors.
Ralph Jones, notes the town over the past 20 years have approved small numbers of units not to reach the 10 percent goal but because it is the right thing to do.
It’s 10:52 p.m. We might get through this by 11:15 p.m. Maybe.
Devin Brown, Pct. 5, worries that owners will not have the equity which could be a determent to making repairs.
Bonnie Friedman, Pct. 3, said she knows of a lot of renters that would love to own. “We can make this work.”
Jack Weis, Pct. 1, said there is nothing in this request that precludes the town from seeking more developments to add affordable housing. “This is not an either/or question,” he said. The public voted for the CPA with the understanding that housing would be used.
Now the vote. And it’s not even close: 129 for, 70 against. It passes.
One final vote, for $12,000 to moving image. And the Town Meeting is now adjourned until next Monday, May 12 at 7 p.m.

Belmont Town Meeting Resumes at 7 PM

After an opening session that was a two dog (article) night, the 2014 annual Belmont Town Meeting will resume at 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 7, with the remaining non-budgetary articles with a real chance of finishing the May portion of the yearly assemblage of the town’s legislative body.

The approximately 300 representatives who will gather at Belmont High School’s auditorium are tackling a number of new issues and others returning to Town Meeting for subsequent votes.

Representatives are asked to be in the auditorium before 7 p.m. so the meeting can start on time.

A copy of the warrant which contains the articles can be found here on the Town Clerk’s web page.

Tonight’s meeting will be broadcasted live by the Belmont Media Center.

First up for debate and a vote tonight will be the two articles concerning the funding of the proposed new Underwood Pools complex scheduled to replace in June, 2015 the 102-year-old swimming “pond” adjacent to the Belmont Public Library at the corner of Concord Avenue.

Reps will vote on a $2 million grant from the town’s Community Preservation Committee as well as allowing the town to borrow $2.9 million the town’s voters approved by 62 percent on Town Election on April 1.

Next will be the remaining six CPA grants including a first-time homebuyer’s program that could come under some questioning as the Warrant Committee overwhelmingly voted against the funding. 

Back for a second try is a proposed bylaw regulating yard sales to three a year. The citizen’s petition was defeated in the Special Town Meeting in November. 

A second citizen’s petition will attempt to kill a bylaw that passed in November: the new residential snow removal bylaw that has been enforced for just one snow “event” this year.

The last article on tonight’s agenda will be where residents will have to travel to get their medical marijuana with the creation of an overlay district.

Housing Trust’s CPA Affordable Housing Plan Gets Mixed Results

For the majority of articles being brought before the Belmont Town Meeting tonight, Monday, May 5, the Warrant Committee and the Board of Selectmen are of one mind; they will be nodding in sync approvingly with nearly all the proposals facing the approximate 300 representatives.

But there is one article where the two groups have decided to take diverging paths on the Community Preservation Committee’s $375,000 grant to the Belmont Housing Trust’s first-time homebuyer’s proposal.

The plan will help three homebuyers –  it would target those making less than 80 percent of the area median household income which is approximately $92,000 – to lower their mortgages by approximately $125,000 each to make them affordable. In return, the three units will remain affordable “in perpetuity” due to a deed restriction that limits the amount the homeowner can receive in a resale.

“There are six units of this same housing in Belmont, on Oakley and B Street,” noted Gloria Leipzig, the Housing Trust’s vice chair at a Warrant Briefing meeting in April.

While the Warrant Committee – which is the Town Meeting’s financial watchdog – voted overwhelmingly against the plan by 10-3 in April, the Belmont Board of Selectmen, in a two to one vote, will be supporting the proposal when it comes before the Town Meeting likely at Monday’s first night.

The disagreement between backers of the Housing Trust’s initiative and those opposed is not based on support of affordable housing as all members believe that Belmont should push to increase the supply of this housing – Belmont has about 300 units or 3.8 percent of the total housing stock.

Rather it’s the approach the Housing Trust hopes to use to increase affordable housing that has come under fire. According to several Warrant Committee members and Selectman Sami Baghdady, using nearly $400,000 to move a limited number of people into moderate-rate housing is simply not cost effective.

With Belmont nearly 600 units away from reach the state’s goal of 10 percent affordability in housing (which will also prohibit developers from using the Chapter 40B law allowing developers of affordable housing to override most town zoning bylaws and other requirements), the money would better be spent as part of a larger expenditure to build a great number of units or on other causes. 

“[The Community Preservation Act] is all tax money and it shouldn’t be used as a slush fund” for ineffective programs, said Baghdady at a May 1 Selectmen’s meeting.

Supporters of the CPA request contend that any increase in housing is better than staying pat on this societal problem.

“Our goal is to increase the number of affordable housing in Belmont, just to show the state we are trying to meet its requirements,” said Leipzig. 

For Selectman Mark Paolillo, the realization that the town may “never” meet the 10 percent goal doesn’t mean that the town should seek the perfect at the expense of doing nothing.

“It’s not perfect but I support the concept,” said Paolillo.

“We need to show our commitment to affordability and this is a fairly easy way to do it,” said Selectmen’s chair Andy Rojas.

Three Words: Belmont Town Meeting

Regulating dog day care, removing the snow removal bylaw, financing a new pool and grants to several organizations will be debated and voted on in the first part of the Belmont annual Town Meeting beginning tonight at 7 p.m. in the Belmont High School auditorium.

As with recent custom, the first part of this year’s Town Meeting – now in its 155th edition – will take up non-budgetary issues such as voting on bylaws, changes to the zoning regulations and the approval of funds through the Community Preservation Act.

To view the articles, head to this PDF page on the Town Clerk’s website.

If Town Meeting can not finish its business tonight, it will continue on Wednesday, May 7 and then Monday, May 12 and Wednesday, May 14.

The approximately 290 representatives, moderated by Michael Widmer, will debate the fiscal year 2015 budget on Monday, June 2 when Town Meeting will reconvene.

According to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, the articles will be called in the following order:

1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 12, 16, 17, 15, 7, 6, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 3, 14.