Town Meeting Warrant Opening For a Month for Citizen’s Petitions

Always wanted to change Belmont? How about requiring new homes to be painted one of only eight colors (an actual petition in another state), force model aircraft operators to be licensed pilots (another one) and make dogs wear pants (that hasn’t been petitioned … yet).

Your chance is coming next week when the town warrant – the document which Board of Selectmen approved to call a Town Meeting – will be open for residents who wish to add their own article to be heard and voted by the 290-member Town Meeting which will begin this year on Monday, May 4.

“Citizens are welcomed to submit petitions,” said Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, who said the warrant will be open on Monday, Feb. 2 at 9 a.m. and will remain so until Monday, March 2, no later than 3 p.m.

Under Massachusetts law, residents may place articles on an Annual Town Meeting warrant without approval by the Selectmen by petitioning the Town Clerk to insert the article. Officially, it only requires 10 signatures on the petition from residents to secure a place on the warrant (although Cushman suggests getting 15 to be on the safe side.)

While not all petitions are successful, a good portion have succeeded before the Belmont Town Meeting. In the past few years, citizen’s petitions on banning smoking in town playgrounds, combining school and town building supervision, restricting yard sales and requiring residents to shovel snow from sidewalks have passed Town Meeting muster and included into the bylaws.

In fact, a citizen’s petition before this spring’s annual Town Meeting restricting the height of residential homes near Grove Street Playground was inspired by the successful passage of a citizen’s petition in 2013 halting for a year the tear down of single-family homes to build two-families structures in the Waverley Square neighborhood.

For those residents thinking about putting their stamp on the town’s bylaws, Cushman advise petitioners to do their homework and be prepared to work with town officials and government groups to construct their appeal to have the chance of a favorable vote before Town Meeting.

For those seeking changes to the town’s zoning bylaws should meet with the Planning Board and the town’s Office of Community Development while those looking to alter the town’s budget priorities need to get in touch with the Warrant and Capital Budget committees and the town’s financial departments, said Cushman.

With all petitions, the town counsel, George Hall, is required to review them, so they do not violate the state or US constitutions.

“So it’s important that citizens start the process earlier than later to receive advice in drafting their petitions and getting the support they need to give themselves a good chance before Town Meeting,” said Cushman.