Cityside Subaru To Supersize Pleasant Street Location With Big New Dealership

Photo: A preliminary design of the proposed new Cityside Subaru dealership on Pleasant Street.

Belmont-based Cityside Subaru is about to supersize itself as it will bring before the town a proposal to double the size of its location by building a nearly 40,000 square foot all-purpose dealership on Pleasant Street.

When completed, the new multi-level structure will occupy 39,900 square feet on 1.6 acres and rise to nearly 40 feet overlooking the roadway. So far no price tag has been placed on the project or when construction will commence and a proposed opening day.

While details are still sketchy, the dealership will pull the curtain back on its intentions on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at a virtual Zoom meeting of the Belmont Planning Board.

One important thing Cityside does have in its hands is a variance on the proposed building’s height and the number of stories as well as a special permit on lot coverage coming from a 2020 ruling by the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals. Those actions by the ZBA will allow the new building to reach 38 feet and three stories, an additional six feet and one floor above existing zoning requirements.

But the most significant allowance for the developer is in commercial lot coverage which doubles under the proposal from 38 percent to 73 percent.

In an effort “to create a more efficient customer experience,” Cityside’s proposes to demolish the existing building at 790 Pleasant St. – constructed in 2003 – in addition to the pair of adjacent structures on parcels Cityside purchased in the past few years. The new building will be completed in phases to allow the existing dealership to operate while the new structure – which occupies 774A and 778 Pleasant St. – is under construction.

The ground floor will have 24 service bays, pull-in spaces, parts, retail and storage. The rear of the building will be for customer and employee parking and new vehicle storage. The second or main level will be a new showroom, offices, conference rooms and customer “amenities.” The top third level will be structured parking where new vehicles will be stored.

Cityside – which is a member of the Colonial Automotive Group – is proposing hours of operation to be: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

In its application to the Planning Board, Cityside broached what will be one of the most contentious issues it will face: traffic, suggesting the redesign will “reduce unnecessary vehicle movements” along Pleasant Street.

News reports from across the country reveal the new Cityside building will be one of the larger structures constructed by a Subaru dealer.

Community Meeting Thursday, July 9, For Pleasant St. Pot Shop

Photo: A Mint retail facility in Tempe, AZ

A proposed retail marijuana establishment is holding a virtual public meeting on Thursday, July 9 to allow residents to ask questions of the venture located on Pleasant Street.

Arizona-based Mint Retail Facilities, a firm described as “an industry leader in the blossoming cannabis industry,” is holding the community outreach meeting at 6 p.m. on Zoom or via a dial-in connection. The Mensing Group, a cannabis advisory firm, will be hosting the meeting.

Join Zoom: (ID: 845 9355 3591)

Dial In: 646-558-8656 then enter the ID 845 9355 3591

The proposed pot shop will be located at 768 Pleasant St. in a one-story building constructed where Lenny’s Service Center is currently operating, adjacent to My Other Kitchen and Auto Engineering Body Work and Cityside Subaru.

A second community meeting will be held in September.

Public Meeting On Impact To Pleasant St. From Proposed McLean Development Set For March 2

Photo: The intersection of Pleasant Street and Olmstead Drive.

The proposed 144-unit townhouse/rental apartment development on the McLean Hospital campus will not only create a new residential neighborhood in Belmont, it will also bring a slew of vehicles onto Pleasant Street as locals drive off to work and do their daily tasks.

A public discussion on the traffic implications related to the potential McLean Hospital on Pleasant Street near Olmstead Drive will be held on Monday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. during a joint session of the Select and Planning boards at the Little Theater in the Belmont High School, 221 Concord Ave.

In previous meetings before the boards, discussions included adding a traffic light at the intersection of Pleasant and Olmstead as well as a possible van/bus option for residents to cut down on the number of trips to and from the development.

For any questions, please contact Patrice Garvin, Town Administrator at 617-993-2610 or

Religion Or Business: Neighbors Say Church Traded God For Cell Money

Photo: Plymouth Congregational Church on Pleasant Street.

Ron Creamer did not mince words.

In the view of the Pleasant Street resident, what occurs inside the historic Plymouth Congregation Church on Sundays no longer represents the main purpose of the long-time house of worship.

When told by the chair of the Belmont Historic District Commission that for federal oversight review to halt the placement of telecommunication equipment in the Pleasant Street church’s steeple,  opponents would need to show how an interior cellular tower would “change the character [of Plymouth Congregation] in a “fairly major” way, Cramer responded by declaring the congregation’s pursuit of thousands of dollars in rental fees from telecommunication giant Verizon Wireless is transforming the church “from a religious institution into a cell phone business.”

“It’s a significant change” of what church was initially built to be, Creamer told the commission, a statement the chair, Lauren Meier, deemed “subjective.” 

The rather strident proclamation – reiterated later by another leader of nearly 250 neighbors who currently oppose the plan on aesthetic and health reasons – came at the tail end of Tuesday night’s meeting which saw yet another barrier to Verizon’s plan to place an array of antennas in Plymouth Congregational’s white steeple fall to the wayside.

On Tuesday, Verizon’s attorney Mike Giaimo of Boston’s Robinson & Cole presented the six-member commission a set of new plans – approved by the Planning Board a fortnight before – which no longer required modifications to the exterior of the steeple. Earlier proposals called for removing wooden louvers and creating openings in the steeple. 

Since the purview of the Historic District Commission is to investigate and question exterior changes that can be seen from the public way, the commission determined it had no standing to question the revised plans and was left with little to do than simply sign off on the project using either a certificate of appropriateness or one of non-applicability.

Once the project has received the OK from all town bodies, a building permit could then be issued when requested, Glenn Clancy, director of the Office of Community Development, noted earlier this year.

While Verizon was seeking a quick resolution, the commission pondered whether to hold a public meeting in June before issuing the notice, which Giaimo was adamant was unnecessary and that the certificate be issued sooner-than-later.

Glenn Herosian, one of leaders of the opposition and who lives across Pleasant Street from the church, sought answers to the Verizon design changes. Herosian said he was concerned the removal of an air condition unit to cool the equipment could possibly do long-term damage to the structure, which then could affect the overall integrity of the steeple.

But Verizon’s Giaimo would not take the bait, saying he would only speak on the items on the Historic Commission’s agenda, despite Meier’s pleas that it would be “polite” if he or the Verizon representatives would speak on the neighbors’ worries.

In the end, Meier said the committee would work with Community Development on the necessity for a public meeting. 

Tuesday was also an opportunity for Verizon to proceed with a Section 106 review mandated in the requires consideration of historic preservation in the multitude of projects with federal involvement, such as the Federal Communications Commission which licenses telecommunication operations. 

While usually a fairly standard appraisal – Meier said she had done “hundreds” in her 30-year career – Creamer took the opportunity to fire questions at the employee of EBI Consulting, which manages the Section 106 processes for Verizon, resulting in a rhetorical exercise of competing interpretations of the review.

Creamer soon directed the commission’s attention to the section of the review that specified how a project could be altered that would diminish the integrity of the property, approaching Meier to show a screen on his cell phone asking if she agreed that “change in the character of the property’s use or setting” would trigger federal involvement and a lengthy public process of gathering information and actions. 

After contending the church should not be viewed as a structure of worship but of commerce, Creamer noted that the religious component for the church is “only a few hours a week” while the cell tower transmits continuously. 

For the opponents of the project, any means of delaying the installation of the equipment is seen as beneficial to their cause as the number of process roadblocks has dwindled to nearly zero.

The neighbors are now pinning their hopes of halting the interior cell tower with a favorable Special Town Meeting. Initiated via a citizen’s petition, the opponents are seeking a change to zoning bylaws to require telecommunication firms to obtain a Special Permit to install an interior cell tower throughout most of Belmont.

The opponents believe forcing an application before the Zoning Board of Appeals – which has been highly suspected of high profile businesses entering Belmont – will effectively add months to the process as the neighbors, according to Herosian, are prepared to present a significant amount of technical and scientific data before the ZBA, challenging existing federal standards on radiofrequency levels.

In addition, Herosian said the neighbors will ask the Belmont Board of Selectmen to hire a technical expert to determine the adverse effects of cellular transmission in a densely populated residential area. 

Herosian said since the church initially broached the idea of placing mobile communication equipment in the steeple, the neighbors have been eager to help the church secure funds to allow it to continue its social ministry and discussed partnering the church leaders to approach the town to use Community Reinvestment Committee grants to repair and upgrade the building.

“But they never came back to us with an answer,” Herosian told the Belmontonian after the meeting.

“They’ve turned their backs to their neighbors and our real concerns.” 

Despite Dunkin’s Postponed ZBA Presentation; Owner Confident He’ll Get An OK for Store

Photo: An image of how the Dunkin’ Donuts on Pleasant Street would look like.

Belmont residents will need to wait until the New Year before getting their chance to debate whether the town wants to run with a third Dunkin’ Donuts, located at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets.

Belmont’s Joseph Noone, the attorney for Vincent and Nicholas Leo, asked the board for a postponement on Monday, Dec. 7, due to attorney/client “issues,” resulting in a dozen or so residents who came to speak to keep their powder dry for a month.

The ZBA rescheduled the hearing for January.

While the decision was a bit unexpected, according to the property owner, Vincent Leo – who also is a well-known Dunkin’ Donuts owner/operator – isn’t fazed by the delay, confident that once residents hear from him and his family, any “concerns” to having a donut shop as a neighbor will be set aside.

“We have been in business for over 35 years, and I am one of the premier Dunkin’ Donut franchisees in the system,” said Vincent, whose family business owns and operates 19 locations in both Massachusetts and Florida.

Vincent said the Pleasant Street property has been an eyesore for decades “and we are trying to make it right.” The Getty Corporation is currently remediating the land. 

“We are going to enhance that whole corner, elevating all of the property values in the surrounding neighborhood,” he said. The family purchased the property for $1,060,000 in July 2014.

Read about the proposed plans for the site here.

Leo said that the City of Cambridge had complimented his operations “many, many times for our passion with the landscape as well as the maintenance of the property.

He reiterated that there would “never be a drive through” at the Pleasant Street location. 

Leo said he believes a Belmont store “will enhance our little micro-market” that includes shops on Mass. Ave., Alewife and Fresh Pond.


Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner Vincent Leo (at the door, left) and his son, Nicholas, (door, right) listen to their attorney, Joe Noone, as he speaks before the Zoning Board of Appeals, Dec. 7, 2015.

“It’s just another niche we’re trying to protect and develop as an investment,” he said. 

As for issues of traffic – the intersection of Pleasant and Brighton is known as a choke point for both daily rush hours – Leo said a traffic study that he included with his application to the town, predicts no added vehicle trips due to the inclusion of a donut shop on that spot. 

While some residents have pointed to how close the site is to Route 2, Leo said his experience with his stores in Medford just off Route 93 shows that “no one gets off a highway to grab a coffee then heads back on it.” 

“It’s always a concern when they hear a brand like Dunkin’ Donuts is coming into a neighborhood. But at the end of the day, when the restaurant is in place, you’d be very surprised that it’s not a hindrance at all,” said Leo, noting there are several “as of right” businesses he could locate there that would increase traffic flow and litter. 

“With the type of building we are putting in, it will not be a barnburner regarding sales. This will be a nice neighborhood location that should be profitable and help us with the investment we made,” said Leo.

“It will be a nice place to come in for a cup of coffee,” he said. 

First Look: Will Belmont Run to a New Dunkin’ Donuts on Pleasant Street?

Photo: The Dunkin’ Donuts building on Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, that a Belmont store on Pleasant Street would look like.

Vincent and Nick Leo knows something about selling donuts. The Cambridge-based family operation runs 17 Dunkin’ Donut franchises in Massachusetts and Florida. In fact, if you go to Fresh Pond for your morning donut and coffee, it’s a Leo-run business. The DD in Alewife Station? Most of the Dunkins’ in Medford? Those are Leo’s too. And if you have a hankering for a “coffee regular” in Clearwater, Florida, say hello to someone from the Leo family who’s behind the counter.

And now, the Leos hope to expand their donut and coffee empire to Belmont.

Tonight, the Leos will be before the Zoning Board of Appeals seeking a special permit and site review of their proposed 18th franchise location at 344 Pleasant St. at the intersection of Brighton Road, a hop and a skip from Route 2 and Arlington.

The location, a hop, and a skip from Route 2 and Arlington are the former home of a gas station/repair shop that the Leos hope to build a 3,500 sq.-ft. building in which the franchise would take half the space with a pair of 1,000 sq.-ft. store fronts, creating a small strip mall.

The building, which will look like the family’s franchise at 2480 Mass Ave. in Cambridge, will have 21 indoor seats and eight outdoor. Like its Mass. Ave. store, parking for about ten vehicles will be in the rear of the building. 

The proposed hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The restaurant operation will abut the intersection with the small retail operations along Pleasant. There will be a free standing “Dunkin’ Donuts” sign – approximately three feet by five feet – along Pleasant Street 

The Belmont operation will not have a drive-thru component like many of Leos operations. All food will be made off-site and delivered to the store. The store will employ between one and six employees on each shift. Trash would be collected three times during the week. 

The Leos had commissioned a traffic study by Design Consultants that said a restaurant “will not negatively impact the neighborhood by increasing traffic to the site,” as it would have “less impact traffic than the current gas station.”

How the community views the Leos coming into their neighborhood is not yet known. While there are several letters of support for the business (the Leos posted flyers on their Fresh Pond outlets asking patrons to write to Belmont officials with kind words), a town official said that several people have been calling his office for the past month to know the date of the meeting “so they can say what a bad idea this is.” 

In April 2014, the neighborhood banded together to persuaded the town to deny a retail liquor license to Waltham-based D&L Liquor to put its fourth store in the former Mini-Mart opposite Brighton Street from the proposed Dunkin’ Donuts.

Plymouth Ponders Renting Its Steeple to House Cell Tower

Rev. Joe Zarro has been the spiritual leader of Plymouth Church on Pleasant Street coming on a year in the fall. The Harvard Divinity School grad said that he, his wife and nearly one-year-old son have enjoyed their time in Belmont.

“It’s been a great experience for us,” said Zarro as his family prepares to venture out to Cape Cod for the first time later in the week.

One thing Zarro would like to do increasingly is to spread the church’s message to people in Belmont and the surrounding communities.

“I would like to do more missionary work and outreach,” Zarro told the Belmontonian. But that would require a larger budget to accomplish that and other goals he has on his “to do” list.

Now, Zarro and the Plymouth congregation believe they may have found the answer to their wishes outlined in the sky.
But rather than heavenly intervention, it’s the church’s steeple that could provide the means to strengthen the church’s calling. A pair of telecommunication giants want to use the steeple’s interior as the home for a slew of antennas to boost cellular communications and data in a town with a well-earned reputation of having “spotty” reception for smart phones and other personal devices.

For the church, leasing their property would provide “a meaningful amount of revenue that others in town have benefitted from” that the church could use “to support our lofty goals of our mission,” said Myron Kassaraba, who leads the church’s Cell Antenna Committee.IMG_1428

As the church prepares to decide whether to move forward on an agreement, several neighbors are concerned that the radiation from a cell tower near their homes and looming over where many send children to study and play could prove to be a long-term health risk.

Their colorful posters, plastered on posts and poles in and around Belmont Center, pleaded for the church to “Please keep our neighbors healthy and happy” by saying “No to Cell Towers on Plymouth Church.”
“I think with all the studies so far (on radiation emanating from cell towers), I don’t think there is enough observation especially since it’s a very new technology,” said Marsh Street’s Zhao Gang.

“We only started using cell phones continuously recently so we don’t know if this will be harmful in the future. So it’s better to be on the cautious side,” said Gang.

On Monday, June 30, the church held a public meeting to provide neighbors with information on a possible tower inside the steeple – in fact, there is some talk of replacing the original structure with a fiberglass version.

“We feel that this is an opportunity for the church,” said Kassaraba, who stated the church’s view at the meeting.

Plymouth has been around since 1899 with more than 100 member families, a community run by a church council and a board of trustees, many “who are very active in local, civic and government,” said Kassaraba.

With each church an independent entity and self-funding, the church’s missions – whether in town to its globally aspirations – is dependent on raising available funds.

While Plymouth trustees have yet to propose a cell steeple to the congregation, the funds coming into the church’s coffers could be significant. According to the website, the price of a leasing agreement is based on “location, location, location” and Belmont appears to possess prime residential and cellular property.

“The average cell tower rent is going to vary from county to county and state to state — and they also differ depending on which carrier you are dealing with, they amount of pain they have (bad coverage and tough zoning laws), and their budgets,” states the website of AirWave Management, which negotiates leases for landowners with telecom carriers and tower companies.

On average nationwide, the typical lease is about $1,500 a month or $18,000 annually. But lease rates can vary drastically, “from $400 a month for a paging company on a rural Tennessee site to $3,900 or more for a New England prime highway corridor for a PCS carrier, rates are based upon the location of the tower and the location and size of the antennas and lines as well as the ground space required,” according to the site.

Can you hear me now in Belmont Center?

For AT&T and Verizon – each contacted the church in October 2013 on placing a tower at the church – the area along Pleasant Street which the AT&T representative Peter Cook called by its Massachusetts highway name, Route 60, has been a trouble spot for its customers.

“We do have problems on 60 and in Belmont Center,” said Cook, noting that his company has been “looking for several years for an ideal location to serve a lot of customers and businesses.”

And it’s not that Belmont is bereft of cell towers. The Town of Homes has nine existing cell towers; two in Belmont Center (at Belmont Police headquarters and on top of Belmont Savings Bank), a giant tower adjacent to the new Highland Cemetery on Concord Avenue and one atop of 125 Trapelo Road in Cushing Square which handles the four largest cell providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint).

“It’s not as if this is new technology to Belmont,” said Kassaraba.

If the church does decide to move forward, the would only need approval from the Planning Board to secure permission to place the cellular equipment into the steeple.

But for several in attendance, the cell tower on Pleasant Street is unnecessary and potentially harmful to those who will live within the most concentrated areas.

While saying she is for “progress,” for Elfriede Anderson, who has lived for 40 years on Pleasant Street, added “that I am also for health.” She contended that the cellular service is very good around Belmont Center – she conducts a great deal of business overseas with her mobile phone from home – and if the problem is calls being dropped in other parts of town, “they should put [a tower] up there.”

“I don’t think as a congregation that your mission should be above the health of the community,” said Anderson, who has been successfully treated for cancer.

Kassaraba countered by citing international, US and the town’s Health Board to claim that in the 15 years cell phone towers have proliferated, “there have been no adverse health impact.”

“We would not have considered this move if we had concerns of health issues,” said Kassaraba, noting that one is on the roof of a large and populated apartment building at the Hills Estates in east Belmont.

But critics point to a study that reportedly established a direct link between 7,000 cancer deaths in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city, with that city’s cell phone network.

Noting that there is a significant number of children who use the church for after-school studying and as a preschool, Annie Wang said that 15 years are likely too short of a time to determine if “many chronic diseases” will be triggered by the radio frequency fields used to transmit the data and calls to personal devices.

“It’s not enough time to determine the potential harm, in particular for children,” said Wang.

Dr. Don Haes, a radiation safety consultant working for the church, said the level of radio fields transmitted from the steeple tower – directed towards Belmont Center and along Pleasant Street – would be, at .08 watts per kilogram, less than 1 percent of what is allowed under current safety guidelines.

While few minds were made up by the end of the meeting, Kassaraba said the church’s objective for the meeting was to show the community “that we want this to be a transparent decision, that we did not want to exclude anyone who has concerns with the process.”