Photo: The face page of the online petition concerning Belmont Center Reconstruction project.
After expressing their anger in on-line comments and message boards to a Belmont Board of Selectmen decision to approve a last-second petition driven design change to the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project, one resident has started his own petition in an attempt to have the Selectmen change their vote.
“I am circulating a petition calling for the restoration of Plan A and will be asking my fellow Town Meeting members and neighbors to join me in signing it,” wrote Paul Roberts, a Cross Street resident and Precinct 8 member, who placed his petition on the change.org website.
Roberts said he hoped the petition will spark the selectmen to reverse its earlier decision and call another public meeting, this time “to clear the air, explain their actions and discuss ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
So far, there is no word from individual selectmen on this petition.
Roberts joined others expressing their surprise, discontent and disappointment to an unanimous vote by the selectmen at an unusual Thursday night meeting, on May 28, prompted by a petition drive led by 96-year-old Lydia Ogilby who sought to make changes to the project’s blueprints as work had already begun on the plan.
The changes Ogilby advocated restores a small number of parking spaces in front of the main branch of Belmont Savings Bank that supporters claimed are needed by the bank’s elderly customers. Also, the modification would also preserve a “cut through” connecting Moore Street with Concord Avenue, allowing drivers to avoid Leonard Street when seeking parking in the area.
The result of the new changes would eliminate the creation of a new “town green” in front of the bank. Under the altered design, the green space would become an island surrounded by vehicle traffic and parked cars.
The alterations came seven months after a November 2014 Special Town Meeting approved the drawings and the project’s financing package.
Despite opposition to “Plan B” by residents and some stinging comments from Linda Nickens, Traffic Advisory Committee chair, which held four years of public meetings before approving the design which was approved by the Selectmen and Town Meeting, the Selectmen voted 3-0 for the changes.
The resulting comments – online in the Belmontonian and Google’s Belmont Moms community and public conversations – to the selectmen’s decision were quick to come with some pointed political jabs included.
“This seems like a poor precedent to set and an incredibly dangerous one that. I am very disappointed to be so poorly represented. Perhaps if my pedigree were better documented, I could bring about some real change… ” wrote Miriam Lapson in a Belmontonian comment.
“We have a major process problem if a small (and the apparently well-connected) group can make arbitrary last-minute changes to a plan that has been developed over years with broad community input,” wrote Mike Campisano.
“The result of these arbitrary changes to the plan will be to make Belmont Center less welcoming to pedestrians and more efficient as a pass through for drivers. How does that help any of the stakeholders?” he said.
Two days ago, Bonnie Friedman of Hay Road and Precinct 3, wrote a letter to the editor in the Belmontonian addressed to the selectmen in which she scolded the board for allowing it to be swayed by a small minority of residents in town.
“If a change is to be made at this point, a public process must be offered once again; no last minute substitutions to appease one small vocal minority. If this is not done correctly, the whole process is tainted and will be very difficult for the Selectmen to gain the confidence and monetary support of the town again,” she said.
For Roberts, the selectmen’s vote was “disgraceful” as it threw out the window “a months-long process out the window” hundreds of hours of volunteer time Traffic Advisory Committee.
“Their decision makes a mockery of this Town’s efforts to create a transparent, consensus-based, bottom-up process for planning and investment. Instead, it sends the clear message that the word of the Selectmen is written in sand. That even the most straight-forward projects in this town are political footballs to be kicked around and subject to the whims of powerful constituencies, rather than the will of the majority of voters and their representatives at Town Meeting,” he said.