Developer Seeking 16 Townhouses Off Frontage Road On Belmont Hill

Photo: An architectural rendering of the proposed 16 townhouse project off Frontage Road on Belmont Hill. (EMBARC)

The email message to this media outlet was a call to arms: “How can someone even think about placing an apartment complex in our neighborhood of homes? How?”

The consternation from at least one Belmont Hill resident comes as a Florida-based developer is proposing to build 16 townhouse units on approximately half an acre of land at 91 Beatrice Cir., located off of Frontage Road between Park Avenue and Pleasant Street.

The proposed project will highlight the Select Board’s Monday, June 1 remote virtual meeting at 7 p.m.

The development team has applied for a comprehensive permit under Chapter 40B, the sometimes contentious state law enacted in 1969 to promote the construction of low- and moderate-income housing.

The law allows developers to skirt local zoning regulations – such as for density and lot restrictions – if 20 to 25 percent of the project units have long-term affordability restrictions and the town’s housing stock is less than 10 percent affordable. The development team is setting aside four units as affordable to households earning 80 percent of the median income around Boston.

And Comprehensive Land will be seeking waivers from 10 zoning bylaws – including restrictions on attached apartments in the SR-A district, the requirement that a nonconforming development undergoes the Planning Board’s Design and Site Plan Review, minimum lot area, open space limited, yard setbacks and lot coverage, to name a few – and from the town’s stormwater management and control bylaw.

In a letter to Select Board Chair Roy Epstein dated May 13, MassHousing, the state agency that oversees 450B proposals, has already begun the process of reviewing the application and seeking information from the town on moving forward with the project.

For the developer, this townhouse project will allow moderate-income families the opportunity to live in Belmont.

“Through Chapter 40B’s streamlined permitting, the proposed project creates affordable rental opportunities, with larger units that have the potential to provide much-needed family housing,” said the developer in its application to MassHousing. “The average single home sales price in Belmont over the past twelve months exceeded $1,250,000.”

Comprehensive Land Holding, LLC – made up of Joseph, Jacob and Stephen Tamposi on this project – of the Gulf Coast community of Hernando has long roots in New England (Samuel Tamposi Sr. made the family fortune in real estate and business holdings in southern New Hampshire) constructing upscale homes in upscale communities such as Wayland while expanding to the Sunshine State where it built “our family’s flagship community.

The Tamposi’s 40B project in Belmont is not their first in the area. In fact, the family has made quite a splash down in Milton where it’s proposing two large scale affordable projects totaling 252 units with 380 parking spaces.

The developers purchased the existing structure – a seven-room brick ranch built 72 years ago – after a wave of activity as the property was sold three times in the past three years. The 2,700 sq.-ft. structure was bought for $1.4 million, a cool $300,000 over the assessed value.

The project consists of a pair of buildings – laid out east to west on the lot – each with eight connected wood-framed townhouses. The southern row of housing will consist of three bedrooms in three stories, 1,480 sq.-ft townhouses; the building closest to Frontage Road will be four bedroom, four stories at 1,800 sq.-ft.

There will be a parking space inside each townhouse and 10 additional spaces for overflow parking. The lot is situated across from a number 84 MBTA bus stop with access to Alewife Red Line station.

The unnamed Belmont project is following a decade long development trend of building residential apartment and condominium blocks along Route 2 inbound towards Cambridge. Multi-unit blocks now dot the landscape from the Belmont line – including the Royal Belmont – to a recently opened 320-unit apartment complex where the Lanes & Games bowling alley and the Gateway Motel once stood.

Selectmen Balk At Hillcrest Neighbors Request on Private to Public Roads.

Photo: The roads in the Hillcrest neighborhood. 

While filing out of the Board of Selectmen’s meeting Monday night, May 23, the consensus among the majority of homeowners from Belmont’s Hillcrest neighborhood of transforming their private roads into public ways was fairly succinct.

“It’s back to the drawing board,” said David Hurley, a Birch Hill Road homeowner who is a leader of the effort to transfer several roads – including Crestview Road, Evergreen Way, Longmeadow Road, Spring Valley Road, Stony Brook Road, and Woodfall Road to name a few – on the northwestern end of Belmont from private to public stewardship.

While the homeowners who live on the streets located on Belmont Hill  and town officials agree that the increasingly worn and ragged roadways should come under local control – for safety and fairness reasons, said Hurley – a new impediment has been revealed which is a deal breaker for the town.

The potential of a big fat lawsuit.

In the opinion of the town’s legal representative, unless the group advocating the change can convince each of the approximate 180 property owners to go along with a deal, the threat of a renegade homeowner who feels cheated by the process could end up costing the town far more than any

“Anytime a government agency exercises the power of eminent domain, anyone who is dissatisfied with the amount … given for their property has a two-year period to file in Superior Court for a jury to determine the damages,” said George Hall, Belmont’s Town Counsel at the meeting that served as an update for an initial request from a neighborhood group back on March 14.

Hall said an aggrieved homeowner would not just be entitled to the fair market value of the property but also argue that the remaining land had been diminished in value. 

And the risk of litigation is real, said Selectmen Chair Mark Paolillo, recalling a few years back a “simple” taking of land on Trapelo Road resulted in the town occurring more cost than it ever expected.

“My point of view is to trying and find a way forward, but the town will need to be protected itself from future litigation,” he said,

To avoid the risk, Hall is advising the Selectmen only to move forward with the plan in which each of the 181 homeowners signs off on the town taking their property – the roadway in front of their homes to the centerline of the road – and for what cost.

But so far, the group leading the charge has received the backing of three-quarters of Hillcrest homeowners.

Currently, about 69 percent of homeowners approve the private-to-public transfer, 10 percent – 18 households in total – are opposed, and 30 have not yet been contacted to turn over the streets maintenance and ownership to the town, said Hurley.

“It would really be difficult for us to ask town meeting to accept these roads as public ways with the threat of litigation out there,” said Paolillo.

The mandate for 100 percent was hardly what the residents wanted to hear.

“You’re putting us back to square one,” said Al Murphy of Longmeadow Road, who with Hurley has been leading the neighborhood initiative. 

One solution broached by Selectman Jim Williams who suggested that some streets or stretches of roadways can be handed over to the town if those sections received unanimity for the overall plan.  

Both sides spoke on the merits of adding the seven private roads into the fold.

“It’s a safety and a fairness issue,” said Hurley, who said the town already plows and patches the streets which are accessed by vehicles and pedestrians. 

“If it were up to me there would be no private streets in town,” said Hurley, adding there are too many “gray areas” with private ways. 

While the town would like to foster the transfer of the collective roads, it will only take possession of the streets after each has been repaired and passes town muster.

Town Administrator David Kale outlined one of two ways the residents can bring the streets up to standard; either the homeowners fix the streets out of pocket or accept a betterment process – a tax assessed on owners.

According to Hall, the betterment approach has lost favor in the past three decades since the passage of Prop. 2 1/2 in the early 1980s as communities has found it harder to find a ready pot of money to pay for the upfront repairs. The Office of Community Development has estimated the total cost of upgrading the roadways at $2.1 million.

It would ultimately be a vote by Town Meeting whether the town accepts the transfer.

When Hurley asked the board’s position if the town would accept the roads if they were repaved and repaired, the selectmen suggested a willingness to present such a deal to Town Meeting, but with one very large caveat.

While in favor of such a deal, “you still need 100 percent so you’re still stuck wth that,” said Paolillo.