Above It All: Night Road Paving In Belmont Center [VIDEO]

Photo: A still from a video of the night paving in Belmont Center.

To see up close the paving of Leonard Street and its connecting roads over the past few nights has been to experience the cacophony and heat produced by massive machines as they grind and lay out a new top coat surface for Belmont Center.

But viewed from the air, the same action has an expansive grace, as the equipment appear more accessible and the entire operation has an elegance not before seen.

The video is by Belmont resident Lucas Tragos who last weekend received a national video award for a 22-minute sports documentary on the 2015 Belmont High School football team. His recent aerial video of Boston and Cambridge has been receiving great reviews.

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Belmont Center Paving Starts: Friday Morning, Aug. 19

Photo: Paving Belmont Center starts … now!

It’s been delayed for about a year but beginning this morning, Friday, Aug. 19; Belmont Center will undergo the paving of its main and secondary roadways, a major part of the $2.8 million reconstruction of the town’s major business hub.

Watertown’s Charles Contracting will begin the final paving on Friday, Aug. 19, in the morning, focusing on side streets away from Leonard Street. The morning commute through the center will experience “minor delays” only, according to town officials.

Starting Monday night, Aug. 22, the remainder of Belmont Center including Leonard Street will be paved. Weather permitting, work is expected to occur between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Aug. 22, 23, 24, and be completed by Thursday, Aug. 25.

Belmont Center businesses will be open and accessible during their regular hours.

Access to driveways in the work area may be restricted, so residents should park away from the project limits if you will need access to your vehicle overnight.

If residents have any questions, contact Belmont’s Resident Engineer Robert Bosselman at 617-993-2657.

Night Time Is The Right Time: Center’s Final Paving Starts Monday, Aug. 22

Photo: Laying down a new roadway.

With the big bumps and potholes in and around Belmont Center smoothed out last week and the final sidewalks being laid near the commuter rail bridge, the Board of Selectmen voted Monday, Aug. 8, to OK the final layer of asphalt to be applied to Leonard Street and adjacent roadways as the $2.8 million Belmont Center Rehabilitation Project nears its completion.

But unlike the recent milling and smoothing of the streets which caused morning and evening commuters to endure detours and endless lines of traffic for nearly a week, this street restoration will be performed under the moon rather than the sun.

The selectmen voted to allow Charles Contracting of Watertown to do major paving between 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning Monday, Aug. 22 and running through Thursday, Aug. 25. As with the repair of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road by the state in the past year, the paving schedule will occur overnight so not to disrupt Center businesses (with the exception of restaurants and other eateries) or clog the main way for commuters through the town’s retail center, according to David Kale, Belmont’s town administrator. 

Neighborhoods and business in the Belmont Center area will be leafleted and a “reverse 911” call will be made to notify residents when the work takes place. 

Kale said the same prohibitions on lights, radios, loud noise and idling equipment and vehicles the town placed on work on Belmont and Trapelo will be in effect. 

Once the paving is completed, the new roadway will undergo the marking of lane lines, parking spaces and crosswalks beginning on Monday, Aug. 29 with that work also being done during the overnight. That work should take approximately a day less than the paving, said Kale.

With Asphalt Being Laid, End To Belmont Center Reconstruction In Sight

Photo: The Center under construction.

Just a little bit longer.

That was the word to the Belmont Board of Selectmen Monday afternoon, July 25, as town officials expressed hope that nearly all the work associated with the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project will be complete by mid-August.

When the project’s financing was approved in November 2014 at a Special Town Meeting, the project was expected to be completed in the fall of 2015.

After having the roadway milled last week, Leonard Street and adjacent roads – including Concord Avenue under the commuter rail tunnel and running to the Post Office – will have their road surfaces paved beginning Friday, July 29, three weeks ahead of the original starting date. 

The spreading and compacting of asphalt will continue through Tuesday, Aug. 2.

As with the milling, Project General Contractor Charles Contracting of Watertown will be performing the paving operations.

Leonard Street, Channing Road, and  Concord Avenue will remain open. However, traffic will be limited to one lane of traffic in one direction with detours expected for some travel lanes. 

Residents should expect delays and plan accordingly. On-street parking on both sides of Leonard Street, Concord Avenue, and Channing Road will be unavailable during paving. 

Kale said one segment of the reconstruction that will take a bit longer to finish is the “delta” in front of the Belmont Savings Bank at the corner of Leonard and Concord. Due to the need for turf and vegetation to take hold on the triangle-shaped common, that section will not be open to the public once the roadway is finished. 

After the roads are paved, the town will begin implementing a comprehensive parking plan that will include metering stations for vehicles parked on Leonard Street. Kale said a plan is being devised to help generate turnover in parking spaces. 

“We are organizing the parking so at the extent possible we can have available spots for patrons and utilize the parking areas to generate parking turnover,” said Kale.

High on the board’s concerns about the $2.8 million project is its impact on employee parking in the town’s commercial hub. Business owners are worried the cost of permits and the prospect of a reduced number of parking spaces after the former Macy’s location on Leonard Street opens this fall could make it difficult to retain workers. 

Currently, monthly municipal lot passes for Belmont Center business employees are $90. 

“That is something that we need to think about,” said Sami Baghdady, the board’s vice-chair.

Kale said some slots and cost would be determined after the site’s landlord Locatelli Properties signs a lease to fill the second of two large retail spaces in the location. Last year, Locatelli landed Foodies Supermarket, a Boston-based independent grocery chain known for its prepared meals. 

“Depending on what type of tenants moves into … Macy’s property will dictate what sort of patron parking is required,” said Kale.

Among those rumored businesses eager to locate into the building is a new CVS Pharmacy to replace the small outlet in the Center and an independent bookstore – tentatively dubbed Belmont Books – that has created a lot of buzz among residents.


Belmont Center Roadways Repaved Starting Tuesday, July 19

Photo: Leonard Street to be paved.


After more than a year of construction on the infrastructure and sidewalks in Belmont Center, the long-anticipated paving of Leonard Street and connecting streets will begin Tuesday, July 19 and hopefully be completed by Thursday, July 21.

Beginning Tuesday, Watertown’s Charles Contracting – the project’s general contractor – will begin milling (the process of removing at least part of the surface of a paved area the roadway surface) within the Belmont Center project limits. The hours of construction will take place between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There will be no parking along the affected streets while construction is underway. Belmont Center businesses will remain open with parking available in the Claflin Street Parking Lot behind Leonard Street during construction.

The paving work is one of the final segments of the $2.8 million Belmont Center Reconstruction Plan, a project whose genesis began with a report from the transportation advisory firm the BSC Group in 2010.

When the funding for the project was approved by a Special Town Meeting in Nov. 2014, it was anticipated the project would be completed by Oct. 30, 2015. 

The schedule of roads to be milled, 

Tuesday, July 19:

  • Mill the roadway surface on Channing Road (during the morning) and Moore Street (afternoon). 
  • One travel lane in one direction will be provided at all times during the milling operations. The other direction of travel will be detoured. The travel and detoured lanes will be determined based on where the milling operation is occurring.
  • There will be no parking between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. on both sides of Channing Road, from Leonard Street to Farm Road, and Moore Street, from Pleasant Street to Leonard Street.

Wednesday July 20, and Thursday July 21:

  • Mill the roadway surface on Concord Avenue (next to the US Post Office and near the Lions Club Building) and continuing under the bridge onto Leonard Street extending to Pleasant Street.
  • There will be no parking between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. on both sides of Concord Avenue, from the Post Office to the Lions Club Building, and both sides of Leonard Street, from under the bridge to Pleasant Street. Please note: Individual parking spaces along Concord Avenue and Leonard Street will be made available as soon as possible after the milling operation has cleared an area.
  • Two lanes of traffic will be accommodated on Concord Avenue. One travel lane providing one direction of travel will be provided at all times on Leonard Street. The other direction of travel will be detoured. The travel and detoured lanes will be determined based on where the milling operation is occurring. 

For any questions or concerns about the project please contact Robert Bosselman, resident engineer in the Office of Community Development, at 617-993-2665.

Road/Sidewalk Work At Center’s Tunnel To Continue for Next 2 Weeks

Photo: Tunnel 

Beginning on Thursday, June 23 and continuing for approximately two weeks, Charles Contracting will begin curbing and sidewalk construction under the Belmont Center bridge on Concord Avenue. Construction hours are anticipated to be from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Two-way traffic flow will be maintained at most times, however, residents are advised that at times, and only during off-peak traffic hours, alternating traffic flow will be required. 

Traffic impacts during the morning rush hour, between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., are expected to be minimal.

For additional information, refer to the Town of Belmont website for additional information.

Opinion: No Short Cuts on the Cut Through

Photo: Paul Roberts (right) speaking at the Special Town Meeting in August.

Six weeks after Belmont’s Town Meeting urged the Board of Selectmen to adhere to the original design for a pedestrian friendly lawn in Belmont Center, it has, instead, unveiled yet another plan to transform a haggard and little used traffic island in front of the downtown Belmont Savings Bank, the third such design since May. The Board will formally present its new plan to the public on Monday, Sept. 28.  If you care about the running of our “Town of Homes,” you should plan on attending. 

The latest design, dubbed the “Belmont Center Green Space Enhancement Concept” does not accede to Town Meeting’s request, made at an Aug. 6 Special Town Meeting at which a motion was adopted that urged the Board to restore directly the original design for the Town Center. I stand with the majority of Town Meeting members in believing that the original plan – “Plan A” – is the best path forward to realizing the vision for a 21st century Town Center that puts pedestrians on an equal footing with automobiles and motorists. 

As for the Selectmen’s new design, I’ll say this: it is more attractive than both the cut through road that exists today and the “Plan B” design that the Selectmen adopted in their May Meeting. The compromise vision includes a narrower, brick-paved roadway with parallel parking spaces and pavers. But, it falls far well short of Plan A, which created a real space for residents in the Town Center to congregate without having to negotiate street crossings and automobile traffic. In short: the latest design is a step in that direction – but only a step. 

That’s why I will encourage the Selectmen, on Monday, to look at this “Enhancement Concept,” appreciate its strengths, thank the citizens who worked hard on realizing the compromise, including Town Meeting members Bonnie Friedman, Ralph Jones and Andy Rojas and then kindly return to Plan A. 

However, if (as I suspect) the Board is intent on pursuing its own vision for the Town Center, then they need to do what they did not do in May, namely: to step back and allow the Belmont community to consider their plan and ways to improve it. To do otherwise, by stifling public comment on the plan at their meeting, or by introducing and formally adopting a redesign would be a huge mistake. It would also be a sad reprise of the Board’s ill-considered May 28 meeting, at which they used a citizens’ petition as justification for unceremoniously ditching the blueprint for the Town Center redesign in favor of a never-before-seen “Plan B.“ That, despite that fact that construction on the Town Center had begun. 

The justification for allowing time for consideration is simple: there are many questions that must be answered about the new design. We see an artist’s rendering of the new plan, and it looks nice – but it is just a picture. The Town needs to know if this byway will it work once constructed. And that’s a much bigger question.  Among the questions, I pose to the Board are these: has a qualified engineering firm reviewed the new plans and deemed them compliant with state and federal guidelines for safety? How will the town control access to this narrow roadway to ensure pedestrian safety? Will there be limits on thru traffic for particular times of day? If so, what hours will the road be accessible? How will the town prevent motorists from using the cut through during off hours? What will the posted speed limit be? Will there be limits on vehicle size over this road? How many and what kinds of parking will be placed on the cut-through? How will traffic in and out of the Belmont Savings Bank garage be managed to ensure pedestrian safety? 

There are many other questions that might be asked, as well, and the Board of Selectmen needs to be open to hearing them. It should provide adequate time – measured in weeks, not days –for the community to make sense of their proposal and to ask for modifications to the design where needed. Only then can Belmont be sure the roadway constructed will be both safe and practical in a heavily used and congested town center. 

The unfortunate truth is that our Selectmen were presented with the opportunity to achieve a new and grander vision for Belmont Center in this redesign – a vision that would position us for the America of the next 50 years, not the last 50 years. In the face of that opportunity, however, the Board blinked. Rather than gaze steadily into the future, they opted to look backward and cling to what felt familiar. As a community, we’re still trying to pick up the pieces from that and recover a modest share of what might have been. The Selectmen can use their position, their authority and what good will they have left to help achieve that. 

That work starts Monday evening. I’ll see you there.

Paul Roberts is a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 8 and the editor of Blogging Belmont. 

Detour: Road Work to Impact Belmont Center for Week

Photo: Big machines taking apart the Concord Avenue roadway. 

For the remainder of the week – which includes the first day of school and the beginning of the Labor Day getaway – Belmont Center will be a good place to actively avoid.

Beginning Monday Aug. 31 and lasting until Friday, Sept. 4, General Contractor Charles Contracting will begin road pulverization and full-depth reconstruction for

  • a portion of Concord Avenue, westbound  between the Leonard Street and the Belmont Police headquarters on Pleasant Street, and
  • along Leonard Street from Alexander Avenue southbound towards the underpass. 

During construction, the roadways will be closed between 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Detours around the work site will be in effect at these times.  After 4 p.m., typical traffic flow will be restored and the road will be made passable.

For any questions or concerns about the project please contact Robert Bosselman, resident engineer in the Belmont Office of Community Development, at 617-993-2657.

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Both Sides of Town Green Dispute Seeking Something Like A Compromise

Photo: Bonnie Friedman at the Board of Selectmen meeting, August 2015.

Where two months previous shouting, demands, and a Belmont Police officer were evident, on Monday, Aug. 17, the two sides of the “Town Green” dispute came together at Town Hall to start the process of finding a lasting compromise to a dispute in the $2.8 million Belmont Center Reconstruction Project one resident called “disappointing.”

The once warring sides – the Belmont Board of Selectmen opposed by a large group of citizen advocates who called for a Special Town Meeting two weeks ago – met during Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting speaking in largely conciliatory terms, having reached a rapprochement through the efforts of one of the selectmen’s former colleagues, Ralph Jones. 

According to both sides, Jones – who served as a selectman from 2008 to 2014 – has been working as a go-between to find if elements of the design the selectmen approved, known as Plan B, and the original blueprint, which won a non-binding vote at the Special Town Meeting, can be incorporated into a compromise design.

“The message I walked out [from Town Meeting] was that the Plan B we had approved fell short” in creating a safe pedestrian space for congregating, said Belmont Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady, adding that the approved plan “needs to be made more inviting.”

“It’s my hope that we can achieve a balance” between the competing plans, “to bring people together.”

The dispute has its origins in a unanimous vote by the selectmen on May 28, approving changes to the project’s design around the small green “delta” in front of the Belmont Savings Bank. Already under construction, the original model called for a new “Town Green” that would require the removal of nine parallel parking spaces and the “cut through” path between Concord Avenue and Moore Street. 

That blueprint, which accompanied the financing for the project that a Special Town Meeting approved in November 2014, was the design in the bid contract. 

The alterations, prescribed in a petition written by Washington Street’s Lydia Ogilby, restore four parking spaces in front of the bank that supporters claimed the bank’s elderly customers need. Also, the modification would also preserve a “cut through,” allowing drivers to avoid Leonard Street.

The changes eliminate the creation of a new “town green” in front of the bank. Under the altered design, the green space would remain an island surrounded by vehicle traffic and parked cars.

The Board’s action brought a swift and, at times, confrontational response from residents who sought to establish an inviting green space in Belmont’s leading business center, and from residents who felt the process in which Town Meeting Members’ mandate in November – the result of a four-year planning task – was subverted by the selectmen at a single meeting.

The culmination of the dispute came at the Special Town Meeting on Aug. 6 where a non-binding article “urging” the selectmen to revert to the original design was approved 112-102. 

Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for the selectmen to muse publically about the Town Meeting vote and begin the exercise of finding something like a middle ground. 

Bonnie Friedman, who was a leader in the opposition and in holding the Special Town Meeting, said one thing she learned from attending Town Meeting “was to really listen to the other side.”

She said talking with Jones and others “has given me a perspective on what we might be able to do to reach a compromise and come with a plan that everybody in which a lot more people can be accepting of.”

The selectmen and Friedman acknowledged Jones’ leading a mediation effort “to find that middle ground.” 

Another former selectman, Andy Rojas – a leading landscape architect – could be brought in to assist with a compromise design, said Baghdady. 

Yet it appears that, in this early stage of an understanding, the sticking point is the cut through, called “an important aspect of Plan B” by Selectman Mark Paolillo but what Friedman said “I’m not here to accept a cut through that’s in Plan B. I believe there is another way to compromise.” 

Knowing the contractor had planned to have a majority of the project’s work completed by Labor Day and there is a limited amount of dollars available for a new design, Baghdady said he hopes to have meetings completed and a new blueprint ready for public viewing within 30 to 45 days.

Special Town Meeting Passes Article Urging Return of ‘Original’ Center Design

Photo: Gi Yoon Huang, Paul Roberts, Bonnie Friedman, Jack Weis and a resident celebrating the “yes” vote at Special Town Meeting. 

Setting aside concerns it was descending a “slippery slope” of interfering with town governance, the Belmont’s Town Meeting members declared Thursday night, Aug. 6, that its opinion would be heard.

At the end of the three-and-a-half hour session, the Special Town Meeting passed a citizen’s petition, 112 to 102 (with 4 abstentions) to “urge” the Board of Selectmen to reconsider its decision on May 28 making significant changes to the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project.

Those changes included the retention of a cut through road between Concord Avenue and Moore Street and including parking spaces to a location originally set aside for the creation of a new “Town Green” in front of the Belmont Savings Bank.

“We’re all thrilled and relieved that Town Meeting voted in favor of the original plan,” said Paul Roberts, who with Bonnie Friedman, led the petition effort.

“I think this was really a vote about respecting the process in how we do big projects in town,” he said.

While the article is non-binding – and there is an indication the selectmen will not change its earlier decision when they meet on Aug. 17 – those on both sides of the debate said the vote will almost certainly affect how Town Meeting takes up capital projects from now on.

“In the future, [Town Meeting is] going to be very clear that we are only funding a particular plan and if there are any major design changes, you have to come back to Town Meeting,” said Friedman.


Paul Roberts addressing Town Meeting.

With Belmont expected in the next few years encounter several large capital projects before Town Meeting and voters – including a skating rink, new high school and a Department of Public Works headquarters – the Board of Selectmen is not eager to see another confrontation with the members on design issues.

“The lesson we learned is that when we come to Town Meeting with a project, we should be as close to finalized as possible,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo.

“Appropriation is really based on a design because we are asking for the money for a specific plan. This project was 90 percent designed when the funding was attached and we kept hearing that we needed a meeting to address concerns of our seniors,” said Paolillo, who said he did not regret his vote making the late minute change to the project.

In 2014, incorporating the work of the Traffic Advisory Committee and other groups, the Board of Selectmen OK’d for the town’s Office of Community Development created plans making up the $2.8 million reconstruction project. At the Nov. 17, 2014, Special Town Meeting, the members approved by a margin of five votes a $2.8 million financing plan for the project based on the designs presented.

Several residents at the time had questions concerning the design, specifically the loss of nine existing parking spaces adjacent to the front of Belmont Savings Bank and the so-called access road running in front of the bank.

Despite a promise to have a community meeting to discuss the issues in the winter before bids were accepted, the gathering did not occur until the May 28th meeting after a petition from Washington Street’s Lydia Ogilby with 200 signatures was presented to the board asking to save a grove of trees (which had already been taken down) and the drive through.

Despite both the selectmen and public viewing the new plan that evening and with construction already underway, the Selectmen voted to re-establish the roadway and add four parallel parking spots as a courtesy to seniors.

The resulting change prompted angry supporters of the original design to circulate its petition – with nearly 400 residents – at first to secure a public meeting with the Selectmen before working towards calling a Special Town Meeting.

In a peace offering presented at the meeting, the petitioners sought to lower the temperature that the confrontation had produced in the past two months – Town Moderator Mike Widmer advised the members to “recognize and respect that we have honest difference and we honor those differences” by “taking a positive approach to our debate” – by swapping a single word from the original article, no longer “directed” but to “urged” the selectmen to reconsider its earlier vote since “nobody in this room wishes to rewrite the laws by which this town has long operated,” said Roberts.

Yet Roberts, in his opening remarks, said Town Meeting needed to be heard after weeks of laboring and lobbying to restore the original vision of the center.

“This Special Town Meeting is the last remaining option available to voters to make sure that a conversation that desperately needs to take place is not silenced,” he said.


Belmont Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady.

In response, Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady reiterated the board’s contention the changes were well within its rights to alter the design as the board, under the town bylaws, has oversight control over such capital projects.

“Our decision is what we think is best for Belmont, Belmont residents, and the Center,” said Baghdady.

Rather than debate the issues of the competing plans, “I urge you to support the authority of the Board of Selectmen to do its job,” said Baghdady.

For supporters of the petitioners, the debate was fought on two levels; design and process. For Gi Yoon Huang, a mother of two young children, the original blueprint would create a green space protected from traffic in which people could use for passive activities such as eating lunch, taking a break, relaxing; a community space that draws residents into the location.


Gi Yoon Huang.

“Plan A can become a vibrant and vital part of the community where people can spontaneously gather and provide energy … to the community. Plan B will be a dead space,” said Yoon Huang.

Jack Weis said while the board appears to have the authority to make the change from plan A to B, members was told at the November’s Special Town Meeting the design was “90 percent complete” with only inconsequential “nonmaterial modifications” remaining as it approved the financing.

“[T]o insert new traffic circulation and reduce the amount of green space that was a stated key objective, that now constitutes a material change,” said Weis, stating Town Meeting members would have voted that plan down back in November.

“Regardless, if you think Plan A or Plan B is better, it’s important to respect what Town Meeting approved … and we ought to give the benefit of the doubt to the plan that was the result of years of discussion and analysis as oppose to 90 minutes of discussion at a Board of Selectmen meeting,” said Weis.


Town Meeting.

For those supporting the alternative, the selectmen’s acceptance of Plan B was the culmination of a promise by the Board and Town Meeting to hear and judge the concerns from the a segment of Belmont’s elderly.

Resident Joel Semuels, who serves on the Council on Aging, said the council never had the opportunity since the November meeting to “raise the facts” of safety and accessibility that the COA felt was not fully investigated by town officials and committees.

Paolillo reiterated his support for the alternative plan as “being what’s best for the overall community. It’s not where or not I agree or disagree with Town Meeting.”

Other members, while amenable to either plan, protested the notion Town Meeting has the authority to press the Selectmen to alter their opinion.

“The process for me is far more important to me than [the selected plan],” said Bob McLaughlin.

“The Board of Selectmen get elected; they do their job. If you don’t like, talk to them in April [when Town Election is held],” he said.

“If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, what’s the horse going to look like if this is the way we run our town government?” asked McLaughlin.

When the vote was taken, and the outcome revealed, the petitioners felt Town Meeting had revealed to the selectmen the direction it wants the reconstruction to proceed.

“We wanted nothing more than to show that major changes can not be done without Town Meeting oversight,” said Roberts.