Belmont Woman’s Club Free To Manage Its 11 Parking Spaces As It Deems Fit

Photo: The Homer House’s parking spaces.

In a split decision, the Belmont Planning Board voted to allow the Belmont Woman’s Club to manage “on their own” the 10 parking spaces and single handicapped space located at the historic Homer House across from Belmont Town Hall at 661 Pleasant St.

“I believe it’s the Woman’s Club property [and] they should be able to manage that parking spaces as they wish,” said Planning Board Chair Jeffrey Birenbaum. He called the decision a “minor modification” to the former parking lot use plan approved by the Planning Board in July 2021 which restricted the lot’s use “to Women’s Club activities and functions.”

The new language states that parking “to allowed the Belmont Women’s Club to utilize their on-site 10 parking spaces plus one handicapped for them to handle.” If any problems arise with the change in status, the Club would be required to meet with the Building Department and later with the Planning Board.

Daytime parking at the Town Hall lot – which includes the School Administrative building and several town departments in the Homer Building and Town Hall – is currently a tight fit. When the lot is full, visitors and staff are required to use on-street parking – which has time restrictions – or travel to the municipal parking lot on Claflin Street.

And it appears the Woman’s Club spaces may have an interested party to claim the lot. Town Planner Chris Ryan said he had conversations with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin expressing that “it would be fine to have town staff parking there,” albeit a memorandum of understanding would need to be negotiated to identify any possible issues, a stipulation the Club’s President Wendy Murphy said would be “very easily” completed.

“I think one of the concerns that [residents] had was some of the town staff were parking on the sides of the driveway,” said Ara Yogurtian, the Planning Board’s staff member, who advised writing in the decision and MOU that parking can only occur in the designated spaces.

Yet the decision was not unanimous. Planning Board Member Thayer Donham reminded the board that “we had a lot of meetings on this case and … a lot of history to get to the original decision.” Donham believes that a new shared parking use should not be granted unless the club returned to the Planning Board with a new application.

“I just don’t feel comfortable overturning it,” said Donham, who was the sole “no” vote in the 3-1 decision.

But Birenbaum, noting the town bylaws does speak on accessory use of shared parking spaces including a lot used by town departments.

“I don’t think what I’ve read … that we need to come down with a hard hammer and say they need special permits or they can’t use their lot.”

Belmont Hill School’s Revamped Parking Plan Finds Support From Former Critics, But Many Remain Troubled

Photo: The location of the proposed parking lot of the Belmont Hill School

Last fall, Tanya Austin was not at all happy with what the Belmont Hill School was proposing adjacent to her property line. As one of the closest abutters to a new parking development off Park Avenue, the Rutledge Road resident had become one of the leading opponents to the 150-space parking lot, which would include a 7,000 sq. ft. facilities structure while formalizing parking at the school and near the athletic complex on Marsh Street.

“The area is one of the few remaining open, wooded spaces in Belmont, and our town should be committing to the long-term preservation of our environment rather than to fulfillment of the short-term wants of the Belmont Hill School,” said Austin in November. “Our petition has 2,000 signatures [showing] how widespread people’s interest is in opposing this project.”

Fast forward to this week, Austin and two other homeowners who were the project’s closest abutters are now expressing their support of a “modified” updated parking plan, much to the disappointment of many who have lambasted the private school for its plan to raze the native landscape to pave the land to put up a parking lot. After a series of meetings with the school facilitated by Mark Paolillo, chair of the Select Board, and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, “I’m satisfied with the outcome of our negotiations,” said Austin.

The agreement by the three nearest abutting homeowners – Austin and her neighbor on Rutland and a resident whose property will be adjacent to the facilities building – came as the school presented its “modified” proposal before the Planning Board on Tuesday, Feb. 7, as the board restarts the design site plan review process that originally started in October 2022.

“This might have been different if this were a request for a special permit but based on my conversation with town council for a design site plan review, it is more of an administrative hearing … the requirements are less formal,” said Matthew Lowrie, chair of the Planning Board.

The development will occur on a total of 7.1 acres of which one acre is paved, 4.8 acres are woodlands and the remaining lawns and gardens. Under the development plans, 1.7 acres will be cleared and 1.2 acres used as parking with half-an-acre landscaped.

Primarily a day school, 437 of the school’s 464 pupils commute daily from 84 communities across New England; a new parking scheme will allow the school to manage its long-term parking goals better. The revised plan is essentially a tweaking of the original blueprints presented in the fall of 2022. Released this week, the major modifications include:

  • Removing the proposed outdoor above-ground fuel storage tanks at the facilities building.
  • Shifting the parking lot layout to increase the distance from the closest abutters.
  • Moving the fence between the parking lot and the property line; no closer than five feet from the pavement.
  • Relocating the facilities building further away from an adjacent property, reducing the number of parking spaces by three.
  • Adding additional plantings to reduce visual and environmental impact.

Those changes were enough for three owners of the most impacted properties to change their opposition to the plan to voicing their support for the school’s project.

“Our goal was convincing the school to voluntarily take the steps we would have to argue before the board or a legal appeal,” said Austin. After a series of meetings with the school facilitated by Mark Paolillo, chair of the Select Board, and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, Austin said that “I’m satisfied with the outcome of our negotiations as the increased setbacks would mean less disturbance of wildlife and “to at least try to preserve the character of the area.”

While the proposal has restarted, the school has moved forward with peer review of the development – paying for outside professionals to appraise the school’s design – to determine the impact a finished project will have on parking, lightning, waste water drainage and other issues the Planning Board will oversee in the design site review. The school also has the Belmont Animal Control Officer confirm there are no endangered species occupying the land.

Critics at Tuesday’s meeting reiterated points made earlier that the project would result in the destruction of wildlife habitat and century-old trees on some of the last significant parcels of undeveloped land in the Belmont Hill neighborhood. Campaigners have gathered approximately 2,500 signatories on a petition opposing the project and have sent nearly 100 letters and emails to the Planning Board against the school’s plans.

One thousand residents who signed a petition in 2022 in opposition to the Belmont Hill School parking project.

Residents who have spoken out against the plan are facing difficult legal hurdles in their efforts to halt the development. The first obstacle is the school’s use of parking and the facilities structure are allowed under the town’s zoning bylaw in Single Residence District A. The town simply requires site review approval rather than than the more stringent special permit for a non residential building of more than 2,500 sq.-ft. and the creation of more than six parking spaces.

The second is a state law that limits communities from hindering certain developments. When a resident asked during a recent Select Board meeting how can the school proceed to build on the property, Board member Adam Dash bluntly said “The Dover Amendment.” The Massachusetts General Law hampers communities from restricting construction for agricultural, religious, and educational uses.

Belmont has its own rich experience with the law as it was instrumental in the approval of the opening of the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ Belmont temple in 2001. Lowrie noted Belmont Town Counsel George Hall has written an advisory saying the board would be in violation of the Dover Amendment if it attempted to deny the school’s application by demanding Belmont Hill first look to its main campus to accommodate the vehicles or for it to determine the number of parking spaces that are for “educational use.” Calculating the school’s supposed parking need was a deep dive by project critic Matthew Schwartz who determined the school could easily eliminate half the lot and still meet its educational needs.

In a new challenge to the project, residents with some support from the Select Board are increasingly calling for the project to undergo a Development Impact Report which is allowed in the zoning bylaws. Under a DIR, the Planning Board would determine the scope of the report including environment, social, physical and infrastructure impact, than issue a Request For Proposal that a professional development team would perform. The team would than produce an in-depth review for the Planning Board to review.

But according to Lowrie, the process is less than ideal, noting that in the past three decades, a DIR was not requested for major town developments such as the Middle and High School, the Senior Center, and several McLean parcels.

“What’s the difference between Development Impact Reports and what we’ve been doing instead which is peer reviews? Spoiler alert, the peer review is a better process,” said Lowrie.

According to Glenn Clancy, the head of the town’s Office of Community Development, the DIR is less flexible than a peer review – who are selected by his department – which can alter the review’s scope on the fly which assists in resolving conflicts between developers and the the town. Also, the cost for a peer review is picked up by the developer. Additionally, while the town can ask a developer to pay for a DIR, it may not be permissible under the Dover Amendment.

“What would a DIR add? Certainly delay,” said Lowrie, noting that the DIR “doesn’t authorize anything that can’t be done in the peer review process,” a view Clancy seconded.

“I believe professional engineering design, peer review, and compliance with section 5 has allowed the Planning Board to achieve the same purpose as if utilizing the Development Impact Report process … I think by de facto you guys are already operating under a DIR process. It’s just not specifically by that name,” said Clancy.

The parking project will return before the Planning Board on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. with an emphasis on landscaping and the current tree layout.

With Chair’s Departure, Planning Board Left Short And Belmont Hill School Parking Project Delayed


A few weeks ago, Planning Board’s Vice Chair Matthew Lowrie had just finished writing his resignation letter from the board. The longtime Belmont resident was preparing to move from the Town of Homes “in the not so distant future” and wanted to provide the board’s chair, Steve Pinkerton, time to fill his post on a committee facing a heavy agenda for the year ahead.

But as Lowrie prepared to press ”send” on his letter, “a funny coincidence occurred,” as he noticed an email from Pinkerton. The subject of that correspondence: Pinkerton’s own resignation.

Pinkerton’s sudden resignation along with Lowrie’s pending departure has highlighted the shortage of members and has brought to a halt a proposal by the Belmont Hill School to install a parking lot and facilities building near its central campus that was going before the board for a vote at the Planning Board’s Oct. 11 meeting.

Lowrie said Pinkerton had ”very good reasons” to leave his post on the board which he has led for the past two years with ”[grace] and aplomb,” noting his leadership as ”one of the real drivers” in changing town bylaws to address the trend of “supersizing” residential properties.

With Pinkerton’s departure, Lowrie has decided to step into the chair role – “we’ll see for how long” – until new members are appointed to allow the board to move forward with some semblance of continuity.

With so many changes over the past weeks, the proposal by the Belmont Hill School to add to and revamp its campus parking got caught up in the board’s turmoil.

“I think we’re highlighting that we’re in a little bit of a tenuous place at the moment,” Lowrie told the Zoom audience.

The parking plan – made up of a new parking lot and Facilities Building on land east of Prospect Street, a more formalized parking area adjacent to the Athletic Center and redesign of existing parking and drop off site at the front of the school at Prospect and Marsh streets – has received “a lot of input from abutters and others,” said Lowrie, noting that a greater number of participants were attending via Zoom.

The delayed vote was to begin the design site review, which requires three ‘yes’ votes to proceed. The site plan review process provides a level of review that ensures the project will meet development policies and regulations as defined in the town’s bylaws as well as design practices that are commonly accepted within the community.

With Pinkerton resignation, member Karl Haglund not at Tuesday’s meeting and member Renee Guo recusing herself from the process, the school would need to receive an unanimous vote from the remaining three members to move the project forward.

While that was likely, the board and the town began talks with the school to withdraw the application for the time being to “let us get our planning board back in order” said Lowrie with the Select Board adding at least one full-time member in the next weeks.

“Do you think it would be cleaner and neater if you were to withdraw?” Lowrie asked Kelly Durfee Cardoza, a principal of the Avalon Consulting Group who was representing the school at the meeting. “I don’t see it in anybody’s best interest for there to be a vulnerability to whatever decision we reach based on the composition of the planning board,” he said.

Cardoza told the board that while the school wished to proceed with the review vote rather than having to wait an undetermined amount of time, Lowrie’s suggestion along with the board’s assurances that the delay would be a short one, the school will withdraw the current application without prejudice to refiling at the board’s next meeting on Oct. 18.

The next step is to seat a full-time member and be prepared to once again accept the school’s plan in the first weeks of November.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Lowrie.

New Rink Committee In Sprint To Meet Aug. 1 Deadline; Public Meetings Set For July 14, 20

Photo: The design of the new municipal rink (The Galante Architecture Studio)

While the majority of building committees’ work resemble a long-distance race, the newly-formed Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee is like watching Usain Bolt in full flight as the 12-member committee attempts to sprint the project onto the Nov. 8 ballot.

Facing a list of tasks that would make Hercules blush, the committee is seeking to create a completed design of the structure, a plan to revamp the fields and manage parking while coming up with a detail price tag for the entire project, all of it done in less than a month.

”We have 25 calendar days to meet our [Aug. 1] deadline,” Committee Chair Mark Haley said at the committee’s Wednesday, July 6 meeting that focused on the latest project feasibility study. And during that compressed interval, the committee is looking to introduce the project to residents.

That part of the plan starts with a pair of public meetings – on Thursday, July 14 and Wednesday, July 20, sandwiched between critical joint meetings of the Select Board and School Committee on July 18 and an informational get-together with the Planning Board on July 19. The meeting on Bastille Day will be dedicated to the rink design, while the 20th will highlight parking and the three playing surfaces ”west of Harris Field.”

The committee has been meeting weekly almost since it was created on June 13 during Town Meeting and will continue through July with the specific goal of having a debt exclusion ballot question to fund the rink before voters in November. The rush is required as the Select Board faces an August 1 deadline to make a final decision on debt exclusion measures to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman who will seek state approval to place any on the general election ballot.

And while the committee could present what it hopes is a complete package, that November vote is far from a certainty as all that work will need to come up to scratch by the expectations of the Select Board.

“It may be very difficult to meet that next timeline … because there’s a lot that needs to happen between now and Aug. 1,” said Mark Paolillo, the board’s chair, pointing to a volumes of recommendations it must produce to the Select Board and School Committee to meet its mandate.

”I’m just suggesting that, perhaps, it could be challenging,” said Paolillo.

As of the July 6 meeting, the rink design is fairly straight forward with architect Ted Galante using the steel skeleton of the existing structure, more detailed – but not yet finalized – design with the building expanding more in the front and the rear with the programs enclosed with the building creeping closer to Harris Field bleachers in an attempt not to impact the fields and eliminate a small alleyway between the two structures.

Take a peak at the July 6 municipal rink feasibility study here

Galante of The Galante Architecture Studio brought to the July 6 meeting a blueprint that severed the project into two parts with the majority of the program – the rink, community room, restrooms, hockey locker rooms – to be built in a first phase with the Harris Field locker rooms for fall and spring sports left for a later date with separate funding.

The dual construction phasing was quickly scuttled by the committee. “If it’s not done now, it will never happen,” said Ann Marie Mahoney. “It needs to be a complete project” brought before the Select Board and the public.

The full range of locker rooms are necessary as the new Middle and High School only has two full-scale locker rooms, for boys’ and girls’ varsity a limit imposed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority in its partnership with the town. According to Superintendent John Phelan who met with Haley and School Committee Chair Meg Moriarty the day before, the four lockers at the rink will barely meet the demands of the school’s athletic teams.

While the design is moving forward, the west fields and just how much parking is proving to be stickier issues to resolve. The fields as well as the parking component were “inherited” by the rink committee when they were orphaned by the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee which abandoned the fields and the associated parking from its original plan to reallocate $5 million to its contingency funds.

“This complicates the picture,” said Tom Gatzunis, the committee’s owners project manager, with the committee forced to add the scope of the fields and the need for parking under its watch with a substantial increase to the building’s price tag and complexity.

With the BMHSBC washing its hands of West of Harris Field, the need for 120 parking spaces negotiated with the Planning Board more than four years ago has been taken off the board. With the ability to start anew, Galante said earlier analysis of the rink revealed a demand for 88 spaces on game days. Galante’s current intention is to utilize the ”jug handle” parking across Concord Avenue from the Underwood Pool along with new spaces where the White Field House currently sits.

Members noted that parking will be “a very hot button issue” for neighbors as they fought hard to take vehicles off side streets. Frank French, Jr. pondered the idea the committee could simply leave parking the way it is currently with patrons and fans using on-street parking along Concord Avenue when using the rink. The committee believes it will have a more detailed parking plan by the time it meets with the Select Board and School Committee on July 18 and for a critical Planning Board meeting the next day.

With the elements of the project increased with the addition of the fields and parking, the price tag on the expanded rink has increased by a third from the first estimate in of $19 million, currently in a range between $28-$32 million. Dante Muzzioli said the project must come in below $30 million, a price point that, if that number was breeched, would prove difficult for residents to support.

“We are going to get one bite of the apple,” said Muzzioli.

The members of the new committee are chair Mark Haley, Dante Muzzioli, Anthony Ferrante, Stephen Sala, Frank French, Jr, Catherine Oakes, Megan Moriarty, Bill Shea, Tom Caputo, Dan Halston, Ann Marie Mahoney and Dynelle Long.

First Public Say On Tenative Retail Marijuana Regs June 19

Photo: Interior of a pot shop.

Planning Board Chair Charles Clark said while “very strong” arguments were made on both sides of the opt-out marijuana sales debate during Town Meeting earlier in the month, the cases for and against the article was limited to a small number of the members. 

Now, the board wants to hear from the rest of the town on what should be the “time, manner and place” of the first pot shops in Belmont.

At its Monday, May 14 meeting, Clark said the process of creating a new set of bylaws needs to begin soon.

“While it’s more than half a year away, it’s really just around the corner,” said Clark as the board released a draft schedule on writing the local ordinance ready to be enforced by the beginning of next year. 

“We want to hear a range of opinions” from the public on the placement and times of operation “which we didn’t hear the first time,” said Clark.

Scheduled for June 19 at the Beech Street Center to catch people before they leave town on summer vacation, the meeting will have the feel of the public “forum” rather than a more formal public hearing, said Town Planner Jeffrey Wheeler.

“We’ll ask, ‘Is this [regulation] good?’ Should [the stores] be placed in LB1 (business) zoning districts? We want to hear ideas,” said Clark. He said the board will also present data on how other towns are proceeding with establishing regulations and restrictions. 

Clark said the forum will be the first, but not last time the public will have their say on the matter. The board will be holding public meetings on the new “pot” zoning before the Special Election on Sept. 25, where voters will either approve or reject the opt-out article amended to only allow pot sales in town.

The proposed zoning bylaw on the wheres and whens of the stores will be before the fall Special Town Meeting starting Tuesday, Nov. 13. If passed by a two-thirds majority of the members, the regulations will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

[Correction: An earlier version of the article indicated Special Town Meeting begins on Nov. 8. The Town Clerk has selected Nov. 13, a Tuesday, as the first night of the “Special.”]

Letter to the Editor: Planning Board Chaos Underscores Need for Accountability

Photo: The Planning Board

To the editor:

And then there were three. With the unexpected resignations this week of former Planning Board Chairwoman Liz Allison and Board member Barbara Fiacco, Belmont’s Planning Board has been reduced to just three members, having lost half its members to resignation in the past month – all three under clouds of controversy. 

The unraveling of this critical body as major projects, like Cushing Village, demand attention and others like Belmont High School loom poses a serious challenge to the Town’s leadership. It also offers a powerful argument in favor of a motion I have put before Town Meeting on Nov. 13 that will bring accountability and order to Planning Board by letting the town’s voters choose its members, as 35 of 39 other towns in Middlesex county already do.

For those readers who are hearing about this for the first time, I’ve taken the opportunity to answer some “frequently asked questions”. I hope this help inform you about this important, citizen-driven initiative. 

Why are you doing this? 

Amending our bylaws to have voters elect our Planning Board will bring transparency, accountability, and professionalism to a critical body whose jurisdiction extends to every private home and commercial property in town. Popular election of Planning Board will give voters the opportunity to evaluate all candidates for open positions on the Planning Board and to choose those who are best qualified and suited to represent the community’s interests. 

This critical change to our bylaws will also bring Planning Board in line with our Town’s other administrative boards and committees, namely: Selectmen, School Committee, Board of Assessors, Board of Library Trustees and the Board of Health, members of which are all elected by voters.

Do other communities elect their Planning Boards? 

Yes. If we consider Middlesex County of which we are a part, 35 of 39 (or 90 percent) of communities with Belmont’s form of government like Newton, Cambridge, Lowell, Somerville have opted for popularly elected Planning Boards. This list includes Winchester, Lexington, Lincoln, Sudbury, Weston, Natick, Sherborn, Stoneham, Wakefield, Westford, Holliston, Hopkinton, and on and on. Belmont is one of just four that still have Planning Boards that are appointed by the Board of Selectmen.  

Why Planning Board? Why now? 

Planning Board is one of the most critical public bodies in our town. It helps shape the town through its decisions concerning both residential and commercial development and has the power to shape public and private spaces within a town.  As it stands, however, there is no mechanism in Belmont’s bylaws to ensure that Planning Board is accountable to voters and the public in any way. This is a critical omission in Belmont’s bylaws that has directly contributed to the erratic and damaging behavior of our Planning Board in recent months. 

If elected, won’t Planning Board start kowtowing to voters instead of being independent?

Of course not. Elected Planning Board members, like other elected officials, will be expected to think independently and to use their best judgment and make decisions that they feel are in the best interest of the whole community. That’s no different than what we expect of appointed officials. 

Let’s face it: Planning Board is an unpaid, volunteer position. Election to Planning Board is no more likely to engender self-serving, short-term decision making by members than an election to other unpaid positions like Town Meeting or School Committee. Consider: the punishment for losing re-election to Planning Board for a decision that voters disagree with is that the individual is forced to volunteer less. That’s hardly the kind of punishment that will have members betraying their values and common sense.  

What’s wrong with an appointed Board? 

It is critical that voters in Belmont have a means to express their preferences for Planning Board as they do for other administrative bodies like School Committee or the Selectmen themselves.  Under our current bylaws, they do not. 

Consider: it is the Selectmen, not the public, who receive and review applications from community members who are interested in a seat on the Planning Board. Voters in Belmont are not privy to who has applied for open seats or their qualifications, nor are they given the benefit of the Board of Selectmen’s reasons for eliminating any particular candidate or ultimately appointing one over another. Yes, voters may appeal to the Board to choose a specific candidate, assuming they even know who has applied, but the Selectmen are under no obligation to heed the voters. 

Don’t we affect Planning Board with our choice of Selectman?  

It might be argued that voters can express their Planning Board preferences in their vote for a Selectman. As a practical matter, however, this never happens. Planning Board appointments are not an issue in Board of Selectman races nor have promised appointments been deciding factors – or even talking points – in selectman races. Our bylaws left unchanged will continue to shield the selection, decisions, and actions of the Planning Board from voters and any accountability. 

I hope you will support this citizen-driven effort to make an important change to Belmont’s bylaws and inject democratic accountability to this critical body. I urge you to contact Town Meeting members from your precinct and ask them to support the Planning Board article. 

Paul Roberts

Town Meeting Member, Precinct 8

Day School Ready For Planning Board Vote, But When Is Up In The Air

Photo: Brit Dewey, Belmont day School’s Board of Trustees president speaking before the Belmont Planning Board.

After nearly half a year and more than a half-dozen public hearing, the Belmont Day School’s proposal to build a new athletic and classroom building and a driveway/road on its property will be decided in early August by the Belmont Planning Board after acting Chair Barbara Fiacco said that when it holds the next meeting, “we are looking at a near final if not final plan.” 

But just which day the Planning Board will vote on the 90-year-old private K-8 school plans remain uncertain as the applicant is facing a dicey choice: move quickly and risk a devastating defeat or be patient and delay the development’s groundbreaking date.

With planning board member Karl Haglund unavailable to make the next hearing on Aug. 1, the Day School will face the bare minimum of three members to form a quorum.

As Belmont Town Planner Jeffery Wheeler noted, the Day School would need a unanimous “yes” vote for approval to move on the project. That could be a risky move since “It’s much easier to get a 3-1 decision than a 3-0 vote,” said Wheeler after the meeting.

But waiting for Hagland’s return would force the school to have to wait a fortnight for the subsequent Planning Board meeting. At issue is whether the school can afford to wait an additional two weeks before gaining the town’s OK to meet its commitment to its construction firm to begin work.

The frustration of supporters of the project of the longer-than-expected approval process came to the fore last week when Brit Dewey, the school’s Board of Trustees president, spoke formally for the first time since April when introducing the project.

“This project is about children,” said Dewey, with the school’s primary goal “to make an outstanding educational experience for children even more compelling.”

Dewey said the school had “consistently engaged in good faith and as an earnest and active partner with the Town of Belmont to move this project forward successfully” adding that the Day School had reached out to neighboring residents and the elected commission that oversees the cemetery.

“It’s time to make a decision in support of the project,” she said, adding that approving the development “is a vote to support excellence in education in Belmont; it’s a vote to support children.”

Opponents continued to focus on the proposed road that will skirt the boundary of the town’s Highland Meadow Cemetery. Those owning plots said the noise of what they contend would be 1,000 vehicle trips would destroy the serenity of the location and devaluing the burial sites.

Bellevue Road’s Joel Semuels asked that if approved, the roadway running close by a pair of burial spots he and his wife own be designated for emergency vehicles use only.

“This is not your ordinary ‘Not-In-My-Backyard’ NIMBY situation,” said Semuels, asking it’s unknown what will occupy the site of the school in 100 or 150 years, “but a cemetery … has its permanent residents and visitors to those residents and is forever.”

A homeowners group believes the added entryway to the school increase traffic and set back safety on a busy section of the upper Concord Avenue. 

The remainder of the meeting centered on construction schedules and the amount and type of landscaping that should be placed in the roadway and the graveyard, with an emphasis to “ameliorate the effect on the road to the cemetery,” said board member Charles Clark, joining Haglund in saying that the landscaping must provide a “peace of mind” to the town and residents. 

Hoping to provide something of a compromise to the board, the Day School decided to sacrifice 17 parking spaces it had planned to place along the roadway to allow a greater buffer area between the road and the cemetery’s border.

By the end of the 75-minute meeting, it appeared the next time they will meet could produce a final site plan or just another delay. 

Will Belmont Day School’s Extended Stay With The Planning Board End Tonight?

Photo: Barbara Fiacco, the Planning Board’s acting chair

Amidst the months of deep-in-the-weeds technical reports and legal speculation associated with the Belmont Day School’s proposal before the Belmont Planning Board, there was a “Miss Emily Litella” moment at the most recent public hearing held on Tuesday, July 10.

A person who owns a burial plot in the town-owned Highland Meadow Cemetery adjacent to where the school, spoke of the impact the development could have on his last resting place including displacing the wildlife while creating a great place “for kids to do drugs and have sex.” 

But his concern also extended to the construction of the school’s newest structure, a 25,000 sq.-ft, building known as the “Barn.”

“I thought we weren’t allowed to have farm animals in the town, horses, and everything. Do they have permits for this type of agricultural use? Am I going to go there and hear the roosters crowing, am I going to smell the cow’s feces?” the longtime resident proclaimed, as a quiet tittering made its way around the Beech Street Center.

“We can’t have a barn in Belmont,” he said.

For residents who have been following the extended stay of the private K-8 school on Day School Lane off upper Concord Avenue during its Design and Site Plan Review, the new gymnasium and classroom space is being dubbed the “barn” because, well, it resembles from afar a large grange.

When informed by the Day School’s lead spokesperson Kelly Durfee Cardoza from Avalon Consulting that it’s just called “the barn,” the resident didn’t say “Never mind,” but quipped that “that sounds awful cute to me.” 

While likely unintentional, the resident’s confusion has been the comic outlier from what has been hours of back and forth between the board, the school, two sets of residents opposing the plan, a town board and discussions between the town’s attorney and the school’s legal rep which has extended the school’s stay before the board well past the initial date the school had hoped to have the review completed.

That may change tonight as the board, and the school is expected to come to a possible agreement on what appears to be the final two components of the project that require a resolution.

At the end of the July 10 meeting, Barbara Fiacco, the Planning Board’s acting chair, requested the school’s representatives to provide a more extensive landscaping plan in an effort to shield the proposed roadway from the cemetery and provide a more detail plan on how Shawmut Design and  Construction – the school’s general contractor – will ferry workers on the site and where trucks and other heavy equipment vehicles will be parked during the construction.

For the school, the end of the public process is likely needed soon for the school to begin construction by the fall. The school recently accepted a $15.5 million tax-exempt bond from the state’s economic development and finance agency, MassDevelopment to begin construction with a construction team waiting for the word to proceed.

While many of the technical issues – including the building and maintenance of the proposed roadway running from Concord Avenue to a school parking lot – have been argued over to some level compromise, there remains one major sticking point that could continue to hold up closing the public meeting and issuing a ruling.

State General Law 40a (3) (2) – known as the Dover amendment – protects education and religious entities from land use regulations and limiting the town to “reasonable regulations” to mitigate the development’s effect on surrounding areas.

What would appear to be a straight forward legal issue remains somewhat muddled as the school’s attorney, Robinson & Cole’s Katherine Bailey, and town counsel George Hall have differing views on whether the roadway is protected by the Dover amendment, with Hall arguing there are not enough rulings to definitely say one way or another.

How the legal issue of the roadway’s status will be resolved could put another roadblock before the school with the new academic year ready to begin in six weeks.

Library Trustee Blasts Planning Board On New Library Placement

Photo: (from left) Raffi Manjikian and Liz Allison on the Planning Board speaking to Kathleen Keohane of the Library Trustees (foreground)

Kathleen Keohane was more than a bit perturbed outside of the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday night, July 18.

It wasn’t because she had a busy day at work and that she was missing dinner to attend the scheduled meeting at Town Hall. Just a few days previous, Keohane, the chair of the Board of Trustees of the Belmont Public Library, was told by a resident that the Planning Board had presented an ambitious plan last week to construct a new town library as part of a public/private partnership to be located at  the Belmont Car Wash in Waverley Square.

Just one problem with the proposal in Keohane view: no one told her or any other trustee about the project. And she wanted everyone in town to know that was unacceptable.

 “I am astonished and dismayed that there has been no outreach to the Library Director (or the trustees of substance to discuss this,” Keohane told the Belmontonian Tuesday. She said the Planning Board’s release of the proposal came after the Trustees spent 14 months and $40,000 of Town Meeting approved funds to conduct a far-ranging feasibility study for the construction of a new library.

Keohane said the study revealed that patrons and residents want the library to stay put at its current location on Concord Avenue near the Underwood Pool. And with 1,000 unique visits, the library attracts vehicle traffic which could hamper its use in the highly traveled Waverley Square.

“We have heard pretty clearly what residents want,” said Keohane.

Keohane said the only time she spoke to the Planning Board on anything close to a new library was when she “ran into [Allison] in the hallway” at the Chenery Middle School during the Belmont League of Women Voters’ candidates’ debate in March. 

“She said she left me a message on my home phone to introduced this idea, but since then there has been absolutely no outreach. I don’t even know what the concept is,” she said.

What makes the entire scenario difficult for the trustees is because they are on the cusp of moving forward with a major fundraising effort to pay for the $23 million building. But that effort has been delayed until the fall after the trustees agreed to a request to hold back its plans by the Capital Budget Committee at this year’s Town Meeting as it studied the major capital projects around town. 

“We have been open and transparent in trying to move things forward, and the courtesy of outreach would have been much appreciated,” said Keohane.

Keohane said she has not attempted to reach out to the Planning Board “because honestly, I thought someone would have the courtesy to reach out.” She was at the meeting “to learn as much information as I can.”

And 75 minutes after arriving, Keohane strode to the cable television microphone to express how awestruck she was about the proposal.

“We are eager to learn more because we have been put in a tough spot because we have been receiving a lot of calls from folks for more information,” Keohane told the board.

Allison responded by reminding Keohane of the “brief and even more informal conversation” they had in March.

“We had a hallway conversation … where you raised this issue to me and I said I was not speaking for the trustees and I expressed my concern that it was not the right site for a library,” said Keohane, calling the meeting “out of the blue.”

Keohane noted that the trustees had met multiple times with all the town’s major stakeholders on its path towards the construction of a new library “so we want to be in on the conversation and not feel like we’re left out on the side(lines). We were just caught off guard.”

Allison responded that the board’s feeling is it’s happy to have any conversation in any form.

“It’s an idea,” said the Planning Board’s Raffi Manjikian of the Waverley Square proposal. “It’s one to throw out on the table for consideration, and there are a lot of stakeholders that will need to be engaged and get their support and express their support.”

“We will have a better idea by the end of the month whether this has any reality to it,” Allison said.

Planning Board Parks il Casale’s Next Belmont Eatery

Photo: Dante de Magistris before the Planning Board.

Everything appeared to be going swimmingly for the local team seeking to open a new restaurant in the former Macy’s building in Belmont Center.

The site review application before the Planning Board which met on Monday, June 10 at the Beech Street Center couldn’t have come with a better pedigree. The de Magistris brothers (“We all grow up in Belmont,” said one brother at the introductions) who run the prestigious award-winning il Casale restaurant at 50 Leonard St. are seeking to open a second Belmont location, a new dining experience for residents to experience.

Likely dubbed Roast 75 (as in 75 Leonard St. the street address), the new site would be a “new warm, inviting neighborhood restaurant,” according to Dante de Magistris, the chef, and co-owner of il Casale, speaking for the family. The eatery would incorporate an inexpensive, farm-to-table concept “that you can go to every day,” he said.

The “front” door would be the back entrance facing the two parking lots along Claflin Street. ‘It’s a nice beautiful spot there,” said de Magistris.

Architect Neli Ialamov of South End-based McMahon Architects said little would be done to the brick exterior. The interior would consist of a lower basement storage area and a main floor dining area with an open “show” kitchen so diners can see the cooks in action. 

Architect Neli Ialamov of South End-based McMahon Architects.

But for the Planning Board, it wasn’t what the customers would be ordering that interested them; rather where those patrons would park their cars that held their interest.

Len Simons, an attorney for landlord Locatelli Properties assisting the de Magistris family with its application, told the board it would be seeking relief from the town’s zoning bylaw requirement of supplying one parking space for every two seats in the restaurant. With the new site set to hold 133 seats, the de Magistris family will need to provide 67 spaces.

That would be an issue as the landlord’s parking lot located adjacent to the operation only has 61 spaces total which needs to supply existing retail and restaurants.

In the family and Simons’ view, the restaurant could get by with 54 dedicated spaces in which several spots would be daytime permitted commuter parking in the nearby lot behind the Leonard Street fire station and the municipal location.

With a total of 382 parking spaces in lots and on the street in Belmont Center,”[t]he thought is that there should be enough parking to satisfy the requirements of the zoning bylaw albeit not on the same lot as the restaurant,” said Simons.

Simons also said 70 percent of the expected 25 employees would take mass transit to work and since a growing number of diners are arriving via ride-hailing companies such as Lyft and Uber, the actual number of spots the restaurant would need will be reduced even further.

But as Board Chair Elizabeth Allison noted, “the numbers [of space] are not the problem.” While not disputing the data presented to the board, Allison wanted to see “firmer” facts on the number of restaurant seats and parking spaces in lots and on the street in the Center in chart form rather than just off the top-of-the-head figures. She also said the board would be reviewing past actions on relaxing the parking bylaw for restaurants to be “consistent” if it would grant relief.

And while the board wishes to be “business friendly,” Allison said it also wanted to “be friendly to all business” in the center, not crowding out one set of retailers for another.

But it was when they realized that the board was not going to vote on the application Monday – scheduling a return visit of the application on Aug. 1 – that the faces of the de Magistris brothers took a distinctly anxious turn. And little wonder as it was revealed the board’s three-week delay on a possible vote was putting the il Casale team “between a rock and a hard place,” according to Simons.

Apparently, the de Magistris’ are “on the cusp of obtaining a liquor license” from the Board of Selectmen, said Simons, which, in turn, will allow them to finalize a financing package needed to begin construction on a space they are paying rent.

“At the risk of seeming aggressive,” Simons asked if approval of the site review application could be granted at present with conditions attached. But Allison nixed the suggestion, and Aug 1 would be the next time the team can plead its case to the board.

After spending 10 minutes discussing strategy with Simons in the Beech Street Center’s parking lot, Dante de Magistris summed up the board’s decision with a shrug of the shoulders.

“It’s an ongoing process. It’s a beautiful process,” he said without a bit of cynicism in his voice.