Town Meeting Puts Kibosh On McMansions Passing Limits On Residential Homes

Photo: Peg Callanan speaking before Town Meeting on Monday. Steve Pinkerton is behind Callahan.

Late in 2014, Sargent Road’s Peg Callanan and Stephen Pinkerton of Dalton Road decided something had to be done to put a halt the sudden explosion of oversized structures – dubbed McMansions – being built in their neighborhood of single-family homes adjacent to the Grove Street Playground.

Nearly 18 months since they formed the Belmont Citizens for Responsible Zoning (BCRZ) to bring attention to what they called “a threat to the character of our community,” Callanan and Pinkerton were present to see their concerns answered when Belmont Town Meeting on Monday, June 6, overwhelmingly approved major changes to the zoning bylaw that places permanent restrictions on the size of new construction or major renovations in seven of Belmont’s eight precincts.

“The vote shows that you can change what some said was too complicated to do,” said Callanan, after the 195-32 vote to give its blessing to Article 6 which sets limits to the height and space around new homes.

The vote on the article – which took 15 minutes – came after nearly three hours of debate on four amendments that would allow the construction of a second floor by right, the placement of HVAC units and design issues. Each was defeated handily with the exception of the final amendment on another HVAC-related issue voted down by a margin of two votes, 114-112. 

While the overall article had overwhelming support, many Town Meeting members were dreading the prospect of up to nine amendments which would take time to debate and vote. Advantageously, many of the pending amendments were withdrawn before the meeting, and when Charles Hamann, chair of the Bylaw Review Committee removed three more at the last minute, he received a kiss in gratitude from Planning Board Chair Liz Allison.

See how the new bylaw effects the size and mass of single-family homes going forward in the SR-C district.

Among the new rules are:

  • An applicant that demolishes a house to build a larger home, and on a different foot print, or increases the original gross floor area by more than 30 percent during a renovation will now require obtaining a Special Permit.
  • New homes will be limited in height to 30 feet from the midpoint of the roof line and 34 feet at its highest.
  • The front set back must be the average footage of the abutting houses.
What the new bylaw does is close “two critical loop-holes” in town zoning, said Pinkerton: the lack of a total height limit and the absence of a Special Permit requirement for significant work in residential neighborhoods. 

The new bylaw expands on a one-year moratorium approved at last year’s Town Meeting placing restrictions on the total height (at 32 feet) on any new or reconstructed single-family dwelling unit in a small section of Precinct 7 that saw a rapid increase in demolitions and the construction of mega-homes.

Since that vote, the BCRZ began working with the town’s Planning Board to develop Zoning By-Law amendments to “help preserve the neighborhood’s distinctive character” by mitigating the effects of oversized construction throughout the Single Residence C Zoning District, according to a committee letter to Town Meeting.

“We pledged last year that we would work collaboratively, and that started right away and it just never stopped,” Callahan told the Belmontonian after the meeting.

“We believe that Article 6 is the best solution … that will balance the interests of today’s homeowners for larger homes while respecting the rights of its existing owners,” Callanan told Town Meeting before the vote. 

Pinkerton told Town Meeting members who were thinking of opposing the article as it does not allow “as right” the construction of a second floor or it appears to grants more power to the Planning Board, “not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

“Come to the Planning Board and work with them and with us. This has been a remarkable collaborative effort from all kinds of people,” said Pinkerton. 

There was some opposition, on forcing design parameters being placed on homeowners and builders, and whether new residents would be heard by the Planning Board, yet those issues were brushed aside allow the article to pass comfortably.

Belmont Town Meeting, First Night, Session One

Photo: Mike Widmer, Town Moderator

7 p.m.: Welcome to the first night of Belmont’s annual Town Meeting. We are waiting for Town Moderator Mike Widmer to open the town’s legislative body.

We are at Belmont High School’s Auditorium. The 290 members will spend Monday discussing and voting on non-budgetary articles on the warrant. All budget and financial reports will be discussed and voted on in the June session.

Tonight, Monday, Town Meeting will tackle Articles 1-7 in the Town Meeting Warrant. They include:

  • Article 1: Reports (there will be no reports this evening.)
  • Article 2: Authorize, the Board of Selectmen, to represent the town’s legal interests.
  • Article 3: Authorize the town to abandon an existing utility easement along Trapelo Road and Common Street.
  • Article 4: Extend the Demolition Delay Bylaw by one year to allow for the completion of the Historic District Commission Town-wide survey of historic properties.
  • Article 5: Remove the “sunset” provision from the Residential Property Snow Removal Bylaw.
  • Article 6: Limiting the size and mass of dwellings in the Single Residence C Zoning District. This article could be tabled.
  • Article 7: Individual votes on the eight projects put forward by the Community Preservation Committee.

7:22 p.m.: We are underway with the Articles. This is abandoning the utility easement in Cushing Square. Pretty straight forward. Glenn Clancy of the Office of Community Development gives his usual folksy explanation; this easement is to allow Cushing Village to move forward. No discussion? Darn, two questions. Sue Bass, Pct. 1 asks where the Cushing Village development now stands. Town Administrator David Kale says Toll Brothers, the large national developer, have until August to make a purchase and sale of the property. They are doing its due diligence to execute the sale. Don Mercier, Pct. 8, asks if the easement has economic value and why to give it away without getting paid for it. Clancy said town didn’t actually own it to sell it. The vote is unanimous yes.

7:36 p.m.: Now up is to extend the Demolition Delay Bylaw by one year. Selectmen, Warrant and Joe Cornish of the Historic District Commission said the extension would give sufficient time to complete updated town survey of historic properties and work with stakeholders in the community to draft a new bylaw by Spring 2017 Town Meeting. He said that only two properties were subject to the demolition process.

Funny moment: Just as questions are underway, the High School jazz band began to practice. “We’ll have a little interlude,” said Widmer,

No real questions, it passes 227-13.

7:40 p.m.: Now up is extending the snow removal bylaw. It’s been around for three years and let’s make it permanent. Joe White, Pct. 4, said some people have asked if a resident breaks a finger or have a heart attack while shoveling, who is liable? There is no shift of liability on civil claims if the bylaw was or was not in effect. If the sidewalk was defective, then you might have a claim, but not if the bylaw is in force. And yes, the bylaw also holds the town to shovel public walks. Mark Paolillo, Selectman chair, tells Don Mercier, Pct. 8, that the bylaw was created to change behavior, and it’s been successful. The vote is underway the bylaw is now permanent by a 230-9 margin.

7:53 p.m.: Article 6, which will limit the height and mass of single family homes in many sections of town, has been tabled due to technical changes that still need to be made. It will be brought up at the June meeting. It passes 226-8. 

7:55 p.m.: The Community Preservation Committee projects are up. Margaret Baily, CPC chair, gives an overview of what the CPA does. 

Jim Stanton, Pct. 3, made a comment saying that he knows of no grant program that approves 85 percent of applications. The town would be better served if twice as many applications were presented to the CPC and there would be a competition of ideas rather than just approve what is presented.  

For this coming fiscal year, the six projects seeking Town Meeting approval are:

  1. Construction of Intergenerational Walking Path at Clay Pit Pond: $228,350
  2. Preserving Belmont’s Original Vital Records: $80,000
  3. Digitizing Belmont’s Town Meeting Records: $85,000
  4. Town Hall Exterior Railings Improvements: $75,000
  5. PQ Park Playground Project: $25,000
  6. Winn Brook Tennis Courts: $325,000

TOTAL: $818,350

Mary Trudeau gives an overview of the Clay Pit walking path. The path will have a 6-8 foot wide compacted stone pathway, have a restored entrance to the Veteran’s Memorial Area from Concord Avenue to the flag pole and have brick pavers at points with the water’s edge. Kevin Cunningham, Pct. 4, asks what official “hoops” would this project need to pass to get an OK. Trudeau said the construction would need to get state approval because it is within wetlands protected the land. But she does not see it as a problem. Stanton, Pct. 3, said since the plans for the community path were developed, the renovation of the High School has been approved, and there could be a community bike/walk path included in the area. More comment than a question. Janet Kruse, Pct. 3, ask if the path will be wheelchair user accessible. It will be with ramps at all entry points. The Vote: Unanimously adopted.

Up now is PQ Park. It will be focusing on the one-acre playground area. A landscape architect would be hired to include a preliminary design, construction documents and position the group asking for the money to move to Phase 2, which will be actual construction. Joe White, Pct. 4, wants to know if the area will be fenced off from dogs. He then went off to doggie daycare. Jack Weis, Pct. 1, asked if approval of this article will require the town to pay for work proposed if the next phase is not done. Selectman Sami Baghdady said any Request for Proposal will go through the Selectmen’s office, and they would make sure the town isn’t liable for such non-work. The vote and the motion was adopted with a few nos. 

Winn Brook tennis courts is being debated. Lots of questions on the hole in the fence. Maryann Scali, tennis lover, Pct. 2, said since courts are disappearing, the town has to protect what’s left because tennis is a sport that people who of her age can still play. Yes with a scattering of nos.

Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said she hoped that she wouldn’t take that much time presenting her request in preserving Belmont’s original vital records and digitizing the town meeting records. Only one question, both articles passing unanimously. 

Gerry Boyle, Facilities Director, presents the town’s request to replace and refurbish the ornamental railings on the Concord Avenue side of Town Hall. Ed Kazanjian, Pct. 6, asks why weren’t this type of improvement done during the Town Hall renovation about 15 years ago. Is this the end of this sort of work? Boyle said he could not say if this was the final project at Town Hall “because all buildings are living and breathing things” which grow old and need repairs. Passes with a few nos.

Belmont’s Annual Town Meeting Convenes Tonight at 7 PM

Photo: Town Meeting.
Legislative democracy is back in session tonight as Belmont’s Annual Town Meeting convenes tonight, Monday, May 2 at 7 p.m. in the Belmont High School Auditorium.
The 290 members will spend Monday and Wednesday, May 4, voting on non-budgetary articles on the warrant. All budget and financial articles will be discussed and voted on in the June session.
Tonight, Monday, Town Meeting will tackle Articles 1-7 in the Town Meeting Warrant. They include:
  • Article 1: Reports (there will be no reports this evening.)
  • Article 2: Authorize the Board of Selectmen to represent the town’s legal interests.
  • Article 3: Authorize the town to abandon an existing utility easement along Trapelo Road and Common Street.
  • Article 4: Extend the Demolition Delay Bylaw by one year to allow for the completion of the Historic District Commmision Town-wide survey of historic properties.
  • Article 5: Remove the “sunset” provision from the Residential Property Snow Removal Bylaw.
  • Article 6: Limiting the size and mass of dwellings in the Single Residence C Zoning District. There is discussion that this article could be tabled.
  • Article 7: Individual votes on the eight projects put forward by the Community Preservation Committee. More information on the projects can be found here.

On Wednesday, May 4, the annual meeting will close temporarily to allow for a Special Town Meeting to convene. The Special Town Meeting will have three articles: 

  1. A funding authorization to finance a new $144 million Minuteman Regional Vocational School.
  2. Appropriate $1.75 million, the proceeds from the sale of town owned land off Woodfall Road, to fund initial expenses of the Belmont High School Building Committee.
  3. Transfer $1.3 million from free cash to fund the purchase of six modular classrooms to be used at the Chenery Middle School. 
Jack Weis, Belmont’s Representative to the Minuteman School Committee, has provided a preview of the slides he intends to present under Article 3 of the Special Town Meeting, and is asking Town Meeting Members to look through the new presentation in advance of Wednesday’s meeting in hope of covering the entire presentation in an efficient manner. To permit everyone to receive and view these slides without being constrained by computer power, please follow this link to the slides that are on the Town Clerk’s Town Meeting Information page of the website: 

Town’s Financial ‘Watchdog’ Follows Selectmen Recommending ‘No’ On Minuteman

Photo: The interior of the new Minuteman Tech High School.

In a vote that was not unexpected, the town’s Warrant Committee voted Wednesday, April 27, to recommend next week’s Town Meeting rejects a $144 million funding plan for a new building to house the Minuteman Career and Technical High School.

The 8 to 6 vote came two days after the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted Monday, April 25, unanimously to recommend “unfavorable action” on the financing program that would have the 10 communities that now represent a newly reconstituted Minuteman school district – which Belmont Town Meeting Members overwhelmingly approved in February at a Special Town Meeting – picking up about $100 million in expenses as the state will reimburse $45 million in costs. 

Under the financing plan, each of the ten district communities Town Meetings must approve the building project. So far, most of the smaller towns such as Acton, Stowe and Boxborough have voted in favor of the plan. In an important decision just days before the two Belmont votes, Arlington’s financial committee which has the same role as Belmont’s Warrant Committee, recommended a “yes” vote to Arlington’s Town Meeting which convenes in mid-May.

As with the selectmen’s vote the previous night, a majority of the committee expressed that the building, designed to house 630 students, is too large for the ten member communities in the Minuteman School District who send about 340 high schoolers to the Lexington campus.

Belmont currently sends 26 students to the school, which is about the average number over the past decade. 

In addition, those opposing the plan contend there is no assurance other than recent favorable comments from officials from Everett and Watertown – two communities outside the district that pays a higher tuition per pupil to send them to Minuteman – that any of the out-of-district cities and towns that send students to Minuteman are willing to join the district and take on a sizable chunk of the capital expense of a new school, or are prepared to back a $8,400 per student surcharge the district is seeking to help defer the cost of the building. 

Finally, even if others would step up to the plate to subsidize the cost, Belmont would be saddled with an annual payment over 20 years of between $372,000 and $500,000 of its share of the construction costs. 

“We simply don’t have the money. It would require us to cut [town and school] programs to find the funds,” said Paolillo, saying the town would need to request a debt exclusion to pay for the building around the same time the town will approach residents seeking a possible $100 million debt exclusion for the renovation and new construction at Belmont High School.  

“We really have no other options,” said Paolillo, who believes a no vote – which will scuttle the plan – will require the Minuteman district to come up with a Plan B, which the district members can take a new look at the issues facing the school. 

Pleading the case for a new school building, Minuteman Superintendent Ed Bouquillon reiterated the hope that a new school building, sized to allow for the teaching a wide range of trades and areas of engineering studies in addition to greater interest nationwide among high school aged student in learning technical subjects.

Bouquillon also noted that a school built for 435 student – the smallest that the state will reimburse – would cost $120 million. While admitting that the $24 million difference “is significant,” it should be seen as an “incremental cost” when you understand the upside of having a school with greater potential of serving a wider population with a significant number of programs.

Supporters on the committee, including newly installed chair Roy Epstein, said despite the cost, “it was better off going forward than stopping and starting over” without the assurance that the new plan would be better for Belmont and its students.

But the majority decided a “rethink on this whole district” is needed, said committee member Bob McLaughlin.

Unanimous: Selectmen Recommend No on $144 Million Minuteman Building

Photo: A rendering of the new Minuteman School.

In a surprise vote of unity, the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to recommend a “no” vote by the annual Town Meeting on a request to finance a new $144 million building for the Minuteman 

“I was not expecting a 3-0 vote from the board,” said John McLaughlin, who has been advocating that the town rejects the proposal.

“That said, I am delighted with the vote,” said McLaughlin, who was part of the town’s task force that spent two years atttempting to construct a new district plan and attempt to build and finance a new school.

McLaughlin noted that nearly all the remaining nine community town meetings have or are likely to approve the measure, saying the Selectmen were showing the same courage to act on principal as is the theme of the play “Twelve Angry Men.”

“It shows leadership to vote and not be influenced or motivated what others are doing,” he said.

For Jack Weis, Belmont’s representative on the Minuteman School Committee, the negative vote was not unexpected.

“I not surprised by the vote because [the Middlesex school authorities] had a high bar to clear” which it could not do because “the project had major flaws,” said Weis. 

“This is a really tough call,” said Mark Paolillo, chair of the board, as the selectmen reviewed and voted on each of the articles that will be before Town Meeting in the May session which includes all non-budgetary items as well as the scheduled Special Town Meeting.

“As a group, we are not ready to move forward” on the measure since the building selected is “too big” for the students committed to attend, said Paolillo.

Saying that while the board is not saying a new school building – the current structure dates from the early 1970s and was nearly shut down by the Lexington Fire Department four years ago for safety concerns – “it’s just that we could have a white elephant” on the town’s financial books, said Paolillo.

In the end, the selectmen could not justify building a new school for roughly 630 students when the now reconstituted ten community Minuteman school district is sending little more than half – 330 pupils –of that number.

“It really is froth with uncertainity,” said Selectman Jim Williams.  

In addition, the Selectmen were concerned that many assumptions being made by the Minuteman administration – of increasing enrollment, the hope the state would approve placing a $8,400 tuition surcharge on the nearly 45 percent of the school’s population that come from “out of district” communities (such as Watertown and Waltham) to help pay for the new school – were too risky to undertake considering that Belmont would be saddled with between an annual charge of $372,000 to $500,000 in capital expenses for the next 20 years. 

“That’s a lot of money to spend when [Belmont] sends 26 students there a year,” said McLaughlin, 

The selectmen’s vote came two days before the Warrant Committee, the Town Meeting’s financial watchdog also votes on the Minuteman measure. In previous meetings, a majority of Warrant Committee members voiced similar concerns with the proposal.

If Belmont rejects the Minuteman school, the new building scheme – which the Massachusetts School Building Authority has pledged nearly $45 million to its construction – would be set aside while several options are considered by the state and Minuteman administration. 

One alternative would be a district-wide vote in the remaining 10 communities in which a simple majority of the 10 communities would ratify the deal or if the district ejects the town from the school district. 

The vote came after the town in February voted to overwhelmingly approve joining an newly structured Minuteman School District.

But McLaughlin said Town Meeting Members should not confuse that approval of a new district structure should automatically lead to approving a new building,

“For towns like Belmont and Arlington that rely on their residential tax base, it would really hurt if something that is overbuilt and over priced is crammed down their throats,” he said. 

Six Community Preservation Projects Heading to Town Meeting for OK

Photo: Clay Pit Pond and the location of the intergenerational path.

Projects encompassing a path for all ages, preserving the town’s history and sprucing up community play areas will seek Town Meeting approval as the Community Preservation Committee presents its list of recommended projects to the town’s legislative body next month.

Now in its fourth year, the Committee receives requests for grants that are funded by a 1.5 percent surcharge on property taxes (about $156 for an average household) which was approved by Belmont voters in November 2010. On average, Belmont generates approximately $1.2 million annually to fund CPC projects.

Funding is restricted for use in four categories: community housing, historic resources, open space and recreation. The committee is responsible for reviewing all submitted applications and send to Town Meeting its recommendations for funding.

For this coming fiscal year, the six projects seeking Town Meeting approval are:

  1. Construction of Intergenerational Walking Path at Clay Pit Pond: $228,350 
  2. Preserving Belmont’s Original Vital Records: $80,000 
  3. Digitizing Belmont’s Town Meeting Records: $85,000 
  4. Town Hall Exterior Railings Improvements: $75,000 
  5. PQ Park Playground Project: $25,000 
  6. Winn Brook Tennis Courts: $325,000 

TOTAL: $818,350

After discussions with Town Officials on Tuesday, April 18, the CPC recommendations vote will place on the first night of Town Meeting, Monday, May 2 at Belmont High School.

For more detailed information on each project, head to the Community Preservation Committee’s web page on the town’s website.

Q&A: Daniel Vernick, Town Meeting’s 18-Year-Old Top Vote Getter

Photo: Daniel Vernick, Town Meeting Member, Precinct 1.

When the annual Belmont Town Meeting convenes on Monday, May 2, sitting with his Precinct 1 colleagues will be an 18-year-old who won his seat in the town’s legislative branch by topping all the candidates in the eight precincts by running on bringing “new energy and a fresh perspective” to Town Meeting.

Daniel Vernick of Fairmont Street and New Haven, Conn (he is a member of Yale’s Class of 2019) ran a campaign – with door-to-door appeals, social media, professional brochures and organizing a group of friend from high school to cover Precinct 1 with material and stand with his signs on election day – that one longtime resident and Town Meeting member called “better than most seasoned candidates, and this from a teenager.” 

But for anyone who knows Vernick would not be surprised by his enthusiasm for the political process; he has been active in town Democrat politics since he was 12 years old, taking an active role in passing progressive measures – supporting the Prop. 2 1/2 overrides of 2010 and 2015 – and being an active member of groups such as the Belmont Human Rights Commission and the Belmont Democratic Town Committee. 

In his run, Vernick decried the lack of representation of college and high school students on Town Meeting.

“That’s unacceptable. Leading the high school override effort made me realize that many in town just don’t understand where we’re coming from. There are so many issues that young people are uniquely impacted by and have an important perspective on, from social justice to a new high school to the latest technology and its integration into education,” said Vernick in a letter to the Belmontonian.

The Belmontonian asked Vernick a few questions on how he became one of the youngest Town Meeting Members in town (and state) history. (Some of Vernick’s answers were edited for length.)

Belmontonian: What was your feeling hearing that you won on Election night? What were you doing when you learned of the results?

Vernick: I was in my dorm room and had just finished talking to two friends that had been holding signs for me outside the library. One of them texted a picture of the results from Precinct 1, and I felt overwhelmed with an intense combination of excitement, humility, empowerment, and gratitude.

I felt deeply humbled by everyone that put their faith and their trust in an 18-year-old as their representative. It was a surreal moment, and I vowed to do my utmost to live up to the incredible support.

This victory happened because of the people who put time and effort into supporting my campaign; holding signs, sending emails, posting on Facebook, talking to friends, and spreading the word on social media. For instance, friends designed graphics and spread hashtags such as #FeeltheVern to engage BHS students and grads. Class of 2015 President Sophie Kurz-Cosgrove has been particularly integral to the campaign. I truly couldn’t have done this without such incredible friends and supporters, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Belmont, you’ve inspired me to stand up and fight harder, and I’ll do everything I can to return your incredible support. I can assure you that the student perspective will be heard and that town leaders will know our priorities. Feel free to contact me anytime at 781-697-9732 or if you ever have any questions, ideas, or concerns about town government. You got me here, and I plan to work for you. I want to be your advocate, and the fight has only just begun.

Belmontonian: How difficult was it to run in Belmont when you’re down in New Haven studying?

Vernick: When I decided to run, I wanted to do it right. Since I’m a college student, I wanted to make sure that Belmontians understood my commitment and dedication to Belmont and that I am serious about devoting effort to Town Meeting. I spent my spring break knocking on hundreds of doors. From Myrtle Street to Baker Street to Adams Street to Mannix Circle to Chenery Terrace, it was an honor to talk to residents in every corner of Precinct 1. I made sure that I didn’t leave any part of the Precinct behind, and I was inspired by so many people who took the time to talk to me about their concerns and ideas for our community.

I organized the bulk of my campaign during spring break, though I still ended up spending a fair amount of time on it in New Haven. Election Day and the couple days leading up to it were the most intense, and it was certainly chaotic and at times stressful to run the campaign from afar. I was on the phone calling, texting, and emailing during class throughout Election Day and it was probably my first time waking up before 7 a.m. on a weekday since high school. Campaigning from New Haven was obviously not easy but certainly worth the effort.

Belmontonian: How old were you the first time you thought about running for office?

Vernick: The 2008 Obama presidential campaign inspired me to get involved in politics while in 5th grade. I’ve cared deeply about politics and government ever since (for instance, I realized that you wrote an article in 2012 about my involvement in politics–seems so long ago! Since at least 6th grade, I’ve thought about running for office with varying degrees of knowledge and certainty.

My first run was for Chenery’s Lower School Student Council in 6th grade. I stayed involved in Chenery and then Belmont High School, working to take action through various elected offices such as Student Senate, Student Representative to the School Committee, and Class Vice President.

This campaign was unique because it was run and operated by students; thank you to all the high school and college students that volunteered, spread the word, and voted! Like with the override and Save Sully efforts, we again showed Belmont that students have power and that we are not the politically apathetic generation that many in the media claim us to be. I believe that it is extremely important to expand student representation and hope to encourage more young people to become involved in town government and to run for office.

Belmontonian: What are some important issues you’d like to bring up/promote at this coming Town Meeting?

Vernick: I envision a Belmont with per-pupil spending above the state average, strengthened solar net metering, responsible Airbnb policies that embrace innovation, justice for Mr. Sullivan, and an equal rights bylaw that includes transgender equal accommodations. I refuse to be constrained by political boundaries, and I will stand up to the status quo.

There are so many areas that Belmont can improve and really become a leader on, and I am more energized than ever to fight for them. The fight has only just begun. For instance, the Zoning Board’s recent decision to deny a permit to the Pleasant Street hotel project reinforces Belmont’s image as an anti-business community. To maintain the quality of our schools, it is essential to expand the corporate tax base by eliminating the complex bureaucratic regulations that are discouraging businesses from establishing themselves in Belmont. I’ll work to support an amendment to the bylaw that the Zoning Board used to prevent viable and important Pleasant Street developments.

I was inspired to run by beloved 15-year Belmont teacher Mr. John Sullivan, who was unjustly fired last June. Mr. Sullivan was a mentor, a leader, and the definition of a 21st-century educator. His philosophy for learning is exactly what Belmont needs more of. Students led the effort to #SaveSully and although we ended up making a difference, few in town government or the school administration would even acknowledge us. The way to change that is to run for office and force them to listen. I ran to bring attention to the issues that people ignore and try to forget, to give voice to those who aren’t able to speak out. I’ll never forget Sullivan, and I’ll never stop fighting for the respect and dignity that my teachers deserve.

I envision a bold Belmont at the forefront of progressive change. A few priorities:

  • Schools. Build on the progress of the override. Our schools remain underfunded and often improperly managed. Belmont schools have done an enormous amount for me, and I’ll do everything in my power to preserve and improve them for future generations.
  • Environment. Belmont should be a leader in sustainability and clean energy. I’ll work to preserve conservation land, advocate for solar net metering, improve public transportation, and support the Community Path and other new recreation areas. I’ll also push for Belmont to follow the lead of cities from Cambridge to Framingham in divesting from fossil fuel corporations.
  • Teachers. I’ll voice the concerns of teachers and elevate their influence in the school administration. Mr. John Sullivan should not have been victimized by the BHS administration.
  • Innovation. Make Belmont business-friendly, and attract businesses to build the tax base. Improve town infrastructure and technological capabilities; Belmont’s restrictions on social media make its web presence lacking and archaic. Resist town regulation of Airbnb and other new technologies.
  • Equality. Belmont doesn’t have an equal rights bylaw that officially states racial and LGBT equality. I’ll advocate for a comprehensive bylaw that includes transgender equal accommodations. We must do more to combat prejudice and create an inclusive community.
  • Responsive government. Stand up for greater transparency and hold town leaders accountable.

Belmontonian: What’s next for you? Run for Elizabeth Warren’s seat in a few years?

Vernick: I’ll be focused on working hard to return the incredible support I received, fighting to empower young people and to make Belmont a leader.

Politics should not be about perpetually aiming for a higher office; it should be about creating meaningful change and making sure that the truth – even if it’s unpopular – is heard. Political office should be about fighting for those without a voice and creating meaningful change, not obtaining a title, padding a resume, or ascending the political ladder. I ran because I care deeply about Belmont and want to give voice to my generation, and that’s what I plan to do.

In terms of Belmont elections, I have already heard from a few students that are now interested in running for Town Meeting. My goal is to make sure that they succeed. To any students reading this: let me know if you’re interested in running and I can help you get started!

Town Meeting Preview: Warrant Briefing Thursday Night at the Beech

Photo: The warrant briefing from October 2014.

Think of today’s Warrant Briefing as a movie trailer; attending will give the public the “coming attractions” of Belmont’s annual Town Meeting in three weeks time.

Tonight, Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m., the Belmont League of Women Voters and the Warrant Committee is co-sponsoring this briefing at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.

This is an opportunity for Town Meeting member and the general public to ask questions of town officials and department heads each of the warrant articles prior to the annual Town Meeting beginning on May 2. 

Michael Libenson, Warrant Committee chair, will preside.