The Summer Of Al Fresco: Belmont Closes Leonard Street To Help Eateries Recover [VIDEO]

Photo: Work closing Leonard Street in Belmont Center

When the Belmont Select Board voted to allow the closure of Leonard Street for the summer at its Monday, June 8 meeting, most people were expecting the actual shutdown of the roadway through Belmont’s largest business center to take place sometime during the summer.

But only two and a half days later on Thursday morning, jersey barriers were in place, a long-line of rusting crowd-control steel barricades were coming being set up by Belmont Department of Public Works crews and town officials had completed the task they said they would do be done.

And while some business owners were caught unawares and the stray parked SUV was suddenly fenced in, the operation was completed without that much of a snag and Belmont Center will be vehicle free until the day after Labor Day, Tuesday, Sept. 8.

And if the change to a walkable center is a success, it could continue into the late fall.

The closing of the street – from Alexander and Moore streets – is an attempt to help restaurants and eateries during the Phase 2 reopening of the state economy during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. During this stage, restaurants are allowed to serve al fresco with outdoor dining.

Belmont town officials decided to help out the eatery owners by providing added space to the limited sidewalk area they could use by expanding in the street.

And despite some hiccups, by Saturday, the first tables and chairs were out in the warm spring night with customers waiting to finally eat out by eating outside.

Belmont Center’s Leonard Street Closing On Thursday at 10 AM ’til Labor Day

Photo: The map of the changes coming to Belmont Center with the closure of Leonard Street.

Just two days after the Select Board approved a plan to increase outdoor dining in Belmont Center to help restaurants and retail hurt by the COVID-19 shutdown, the Community Development Office announced Wednesday, June 10 that Leonard Street will be closed as soon as 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 11 and continuing until the day after Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 8.

“Pending available DPW crews, we will be closing the road a soon as tomorrow,” said Glenn Clancy, director of Community Development.

The street through Belmont Center will be shut down from Alexander Avenue to Moore Street with no parking allowed during that time. The roadway will have a 15-foot center lane that will allow for accessed by emergency vehicles, deliveries and MBTA buses only.

The closure could be extended into the fall depending on how successful it is assisting eateries weather the COVID-19 storm.

Vehicles traveling northbound will turn right onto Moore Street to Pleasant Street. Southbound traffic will travel on Alexander Avenue to Cross Street.

With the loss of parking along Leonard Street, parking in the Claflin Street Parking Lot will be free until July 6. Time restricted parking spaces in the Belmont Center area will be enforced starting July 6.

As Projects Near Finish, Belmont Center Parking Plan Returns (As Does Free 2-Hr Parking in June)

Photo: Leonard Street’s newest structure.

While the daily encounters with construction equipment and traffic delays along Leonard Street may feel like an eternal visit to Purgatory, the reconstruction of Belmont’s commercial hub’s roadways is just months from completion. 

And with the finale of one task, the town has begun the next big chore, implementing the long-talked about parking plan for Belmont Center.

According to Belmont’s Town Administrator David Kale at Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, as the major work in Belmont Center comes to an end – the roadway and sidewalk component will be finished by the end of July or early August and the former Macy’s/Foodies Urban Market is now scheduled to open before Thanksgiving – now is the time for the town to begin presenting a comprehensive parking program for Leonard Street, the surrounding side streets and the Claflin municipal parking lot to residents.

“Let’s gear up and make contengency plans with businesses and others so when [Foodies] is open,” the town will be ready for a critical mass of parking coming to the 199-space Claflin lot, said Kale.

The most immediate announcement on parking is that the town, in association with Belmont Savings Bank, will provide two-hour free parking in the Claflin lot for June. 

Using as its guide the parking plan created by Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associate in March 2012, there are several operating principles that will lead the process. The most significant of the principles, said Kale, is finding ways to increase parking spaces in the Claflin lot and on town streets.

“That become more important with retail spaces coming online,” said Kale, noting the introduction of Foodies Urban Market, the independent supermarket which caters to selling prepared foods and fresh produce. 

That need for upping the number of spaces, or just as important, freeing up spaces on a regular basis will necessitate the establishment of metered parking along Leonard Street as well as changing the current two-hour free parking in the first two rows of the Claflin lot. 

“We are looking to increase quick stops” to augment the number of total customers who can shop in the Center. One aspect of that goal will be increased enforcement of parking regulations on Leonard and Claflin, including patroling the lots and streets into the evening. 

Other areas that will need to be changed is revisiting the designated commuter parking areas – since the program began last year, only six commuter parking stickers have been sold by the town – and the location of parking for owners and employees of Center businesses.

“We may want them to be situation somewhere other than” the municipal lot,” said Kale.

Kale also said the town will work with businesses in an attempt to steamline delivery times to merchants to prevent the current backup of traffic along Leonard Street. 

“We have started a conversation with the Belmont Center Business Association” and we’ll have public meetings” to discuss the town’s plans in the next few months, said Kale.