Automated ‘Smart’ Water Meters in Belmont By 2020

Photo: A typical automated water meter.

You can do your banking, book a vacation and buy your groceries with your smartphone. So, the town of Belmont want to know, why not pay a monthly water bill while monitoring your water usage all via the same phone?

By 2020, Belmont residents will have that option as the Water Division of the town’s Department of Public Works replaces the old manual-recorded meters currently in use with “smart” meters over the next three years. The new meters will be installed at no cost to consumers.

The plan, announced by DPW chief Jay Marcotte at Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Monday, March 28, will piggyback existing technology created by Belmont Light in its metering system, reading data via radio frequencies. 

The $2.75 million project – paid through the Water Division’s retained earnings – will take between 12 to 18 months to implement as contractors install between 20 to 30 new meters each business day, said Marcotte.

Other communities are moving towards wireless reading including Melrose, Lincoln, Wellesley and Woburn. 

The advantage of using 21st-century technology in recording utility usage is “a no-brainer,” said Mike Bishop, Water Division manager. For his department, it will bring efficiencies such as reading meters from a central location rather than sending meter readers to each residence or business. It will also be used as an “early warning system” to identify possible leaking pipes when a spike in usage levels.

For customers, it will allow for monthly billing which will provide resident and commercial users more reliable data on water consumption.

“It will allow our customers to do things like creating ‘red flags’ in which the meter will inform you if you exceed a certain usage level for a specific month. You then will be able to monitor a history of what you are using on your smartphone which will improve conservation of water in town,” said Bishop. 

Letter to the Editor: Mike Crowley for Town Meeting, Precinct 8

Photo: Vote on April 5.
To the editor: 
I’m asking for your support for Town Meeting member for Precinct 8 on April 5. My family is relatively new to Belmont, but we love our community and want to see it improve.
We need to continue investing in our schools and attending to critical infrastructure needs, including a new high school building and the repair of streets and sidewalks. We should support and expand green commuting options and recreation by constructing the Belmont Community Path. We need to attend to our long-term liabilities like pensions and retiree benefits without resorting to risky, quick-fix solutions like pension obligation bonds that have injured the financial health of so many communities. We can be more attentive to business development in our commercial districts, and more creative about improving town revenues through ideas like fee-based overnight parking on neighborhood streets. Finally, we need a community preservation focus to ensure the continuity and livability of our neighborhoods; therefore, I would support a temporary moratorium on teardowns and new home construction in Precinct 8 until we can institute a review process to ensure construction appropriate for our community.
I enjoyed a career in Washington, DC that included almost 25 years with the White House Office of Management and Budget. I bring a unique view to town governance, including a focus on the budget, revenue, and government efficiency from my time in government. Since 2013, I also have been consulting and serving on the boards of organizations focused on improving criminal justice policy and our society’s responses to violence. 
Please consider me on April 5 and be sure to vote!
Mike Crowley
Farnham Street

Not Holding It In: ‘Urinetown’ Belmont High’s Number One Musical

Photo: Rehearsal for “Urinetown.”

For three days in April, the Belmont High School Performing Arts Company is turning the “Town of Homes” into “Urinetown.”

But don’t worry folks. Unlike the residents of the mythical city, it’ll still be free to pee for the steady stream attending this year’s spring musical. Rumors to the contrary are just yellow journalism.

With a big banner over Belmont Center and placards dotting yards announcing the show, the response from many curious residents upon seeing BHS PAC’s choice for the spring musical is:

  1. “Urinetown? What the … !”
  2.  Yew!

But before you pass judgment, even the characters know that the show’s title and subject matter “could a kill a show pretty good!” as Little Sally tells the audience. Urinetown is, if anything, full of wit and humor about a subject that isn’t normal musical material.

Anyone who might be squeamish to buy a ticket due to the title, cast member Belmont High senior Jocelyn Cubstead said the show has universal appeal, for obvious reasons. 

“If you know what it’s like to go to the bathroom really bad, this show is for you,” said Cubstead who portrays Penelope Pennywise, the strict matron of the filthiest urinal in the city.

While many might initially believe a musical about urinating is limited to a more mature audience, “‘Urinetown’ is anything but an ‘adults only’ event,” said Ezra Flam, the producer and director of this edition of the award-winning musical.

“People who aren’t familiar with ‘Urinetown’ and just hear the title or a brief description might not realize that this show is a musical comedy at heart, and the bizarre premise and dark plot are part of the humor and comedy,” said Flam, who has been rehearsing the students since December. 

The musical is just as much about civil revolution and star-crossed lovers as it is the need to pay for “the privilege to pee.”

“Anyone from 4th grade and will get the show and appreciate the humor. Parents of kids younger than 4th grade might want to do a little more research before coming, but the title is definitely the most “un-PG” thing in the show,” said Flam, who noted the musical has “been a high school, college and community theater staple for the past decade.

And the plot is as contemporary as a billionaire trying to take control of the people only to have a courageous progressive standing in his way.

In a Depression-era metropolis, a 20-year drought has caused such a water shortage that the city government has banned private toilets. The citizens must use “public amenities,” regulated by a monopoly that profits by charging admission for one of humanity’s most basic needs.

Amid the people, a young, idealistic hero, Bobby Strong, decides he’s had enough and plans a revolution to lead them running to freedom! Along the way, the audience is kept informed of the plot with Officer Lockstock assisted by a street urchin named Little Sally.  But, by the end, good intentions don’t always lead to the best outcome. But you’ll have to see the musical to find out what happens.

The plot moves along with a raw, jazzy Kurt Weill-inspired score (think of Urinetown as the “Spend a Penny Opera”) and lyrics that could have come from 1930’s progressive musicals such as “The Cradle Will Rock” only that the characters are not just freeing the masses but also their bladders.

The show was a hit on Broadway with Hunter Foster in the lead with Broadway legend John Cullum in the role of the ‘evil’ Caldwell B. Cladwell. The musical won Tony Awards for the script, score and direction in 2001.

“It opened on Broadway just after 9/11, (it was originally scheduled to open on Sept. 13 but was pushed back a week) which was a tough time for theater in New York, so that’s a big reason people haven’t heard of it,” said Flam.

But once the word filters out, Belmont will be ready to stand in line for the privilege to see “Urinetown.”

Performances are:

  • Thursday and Friday, April 7 and 8, at 7 p.m. 
  • Saturday, April 9 at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Tickets will be online and at Champions Sporting Goods in Belmont Center. Tickets are $10 for students (BHS students get half price tickets Thursday) and $15 for adults ($18 if they wait to buy them at the show).

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The Stand-Up Campaign Comes To Belmont Tuesday

Photo: Logo.

The Stand-up Campaign, a new initiative based in Belmont, will hold a listening and information sharing meeting, “Kindness, Decency and Civil Discourse” on Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. at the First Church Belmont, Unitarian Universalist Church, 404 Concord Ave.

This will be the first in a series of events to explore strategies to promote kindness, decency, civil discourse and civic engagement in schools, sports and the larger community.

Adults, teens, educators and school officials, town administrators and elected officials, coaches and sports administrators, public health and safety officers from Belmont and surrounding communities are encouraged to attend and to share their concerns, experiences and best practices, as well as suggestions for future programming.

The Stand-up Campaign was formed to address the uptick in targeted taunting and bullying in area schools and sporting events in recent months and to promote civil discourse between individuals and parties with opposing views.

The Stand-up Campaign has partnered with Belmont Against Racism and the Unitarian Universalist Social Action Committee for this event. For more information, contact Donna Ruvolo at 617-489-5446.  

Gone in a Flash at Belmont’s Annual Egg Hunt

Photo: Out of the way!

A field covered with several hundred candy-filled plastic eggs. A few hundred children anticipating the hunt. You know the rest.

On the day before Easter, kids and parents descended on the Chenery Middle School playground for the 16th annual Belmont Egg Hunt, sponsored by the Belmont Savings Bank. 

At 10 a.m., like a scene out of a junior version of “The Hunger Games,” the hoard of kid humanity enveloped the playground with one aim in mind: get eggs. For some, it was a chance to romp and scream as they collected the plastic shells; others had an all-business look in their eyes.

Within five minutes, the children had stripped bare the land of all but a few broken plastic containers. The 10 egg limit was not strictly followed by the tributes as the end result was to get as much as they could throw into their bags.

Over at the toddler section – at the playground equipment – the “action” was a bit less competative with some of the participants picking up an egg, putting it back down and then happily going off to find another. 

The yearly hunt is geared towards being a family friendly event, said Susan Condrick of Gibson Sothebys International Realty, who along with her good friend, Carolyn Boyle of Hammond Real Estate, has been organizing the activity for the past few years.

Condrick praised Belmont Savings for “coming through each year” as the lead sponsor and for providing 200 “gold coins” that were included in the eggs. Pediatric Dental Arts of Watertown and the Toy Shop of Belmont provided gift certificates for bikes that were given to a child and toddler.

“This is really a community event for us, getting the volunteers together and coordinating the entire event. With middle and high school students helping, it takes 80 man-hours to put all the eggs together,” said Condrick.

“It’s a really fun event. Most kids are just excited to get two pieces of candy instead of one in an egg,” she said.

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Sold in Belmont: Big is So Passé, Small Is The Way to Go

Photo: Small and livable on the Elm.

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17 Little Pond Rd., Colonial (1947). Sold: $750,000.

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54 Elm St., Brick Colonial condo (1928). Sold: $549,000.

A weekly recap of residential properties sold in the past seven-plus days in the “Town of Homes”:

17 Little Pond Rd., Colonial (1947). Sold: $750,000. Listed at $779,000. Living area: 1,542 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. On the market: 123 days.

54 Elm St., Brick Colonial condo (1928). Sold: $549,000. Listed at $549,000. Living area: 1,162 sq.-ft. 6 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. On the market: 62 days.

Today, many home buyers wouldn’t deem it worth their time to view a house that is smaller than 2,000 square feet. And as for new construction, 3,000 square feet appears the new minimum. Anything smaller is too “cozy” (translation: SMALL) for most modern families, the thinking goes. 

But do you need a “great room” – remember when they were called living rooms? – with a kitchen the size of would equip a good-sized restaurant (so you can microwave dinner) in a floor plan in which you need roller skates to navigate the manse? Is it necessary to have five bedrooms when you only have two kids and relatives come by once a year and stay at the Meridian? A full size “play” space with the jacuzzi that no one uses? You’re a success of what you do, not what you own.

For a growing number of people, minimizing their footprint and their lives has become an important aspect of their lives. And there is a segment of the housing market to match these new demands. There is the extreme “tiny” home (300 square feet) phenomenon going on in the South and West – there aren’t any of these in Belmont … yet! – and the growing popularity of home designs and plans for homes with under 1,000 square feet, again outside of New England. 

A pair of properties that sold this week in Belmont show why you would be wrong to think that big is better. The classic center-entry Colonial – just a bit over 1,500 square feet – on Little Pond shows what a little living care can go a long way to bring warmth and a modern feel to a fairly standard post-war design. The kitchen was upgraded with design smarts behind it, with new appliances and warm cherry color cabinets and Cambria countertop (Yes! anything but granite!). Space is not wasted here; you do most of your eating at the kitchen table adjacent where you cook (what a concept), and the bikes are parked beside the side door. The living room is a hop and step way and there is a dining room that is fine for most events; the stairway leads to three bedrooms and the full bathroom which was updated. Again, not a master suite in the boudoir but a bedroom that serves its function. Not a half acre out back for the coyotes to roam but a place for a grill and games. 

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The condo on Elm is fascinating as it was a single family segmented into condos. I know something of this as my grandfather and his employer, a banker, “bought” – they foreclosed on an elderly man and threw him into the street in 1930 – a beautiful 1874 Colonial Revival with Victorian elements on Aldersey Street in Somerville. They literally split the house down the middle including dividing the grand staircase (!) and master bathroom.

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The Tucker half of the house on Aldersey Street in Somerville.

But here, a magnificent brick and frame Colonial was converted into condominiums in 2010 with the space separated horizontally (thankfully!) with the first-floor space having 38 percent ownership and the second and third floor with 62 percent (with 1,900 square feet).

As a side note; what a great way to foster affordability to Belmont by taking those big homes and turning it into condos or apartments. Solidly built, they can be converted with a little care allowing buyers who can’t afford a seven-figure mortgage into Belmont.

Sure it’s 1,100 square feet, but the buyer is getting a condo with a sense of largeness, big rooms and lots of windows, which, if smartly used, you can create a loft feel which is pretty cool. The kitchen is spare but again, just a few upgrades and you can have a combo kitchen/dining area. Plus, no stairs and a big porch where you can spend summers getting a bit tipsy on wine coolers. 

3,500 square feet? So passé! Go small.

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Letter to the Editor: Common, Inclusive Solutions Needed In Belmont

Photo: Belmont Town Hall.

To the editor:

Good day, Belmont.

It is another town election cycle and this time, I am hearing some strange things that people believe is truth. Because I am on the campaign for Alexandra Ruban, I hope to share some of who I have learned Alexandra is.

Alexandra is a wife, mother and consultant who moved to Belmont for its great schools and active community. When she attended Town Day in 2013, she, like others, heard that part of the due diligence was that the town was seeking Request for Proposals from other trash and recycling vendors, having had the same vendor for 15 years without assessing the market. Three years later, we have not requested any bids, just bids like you would get if you were seeking a roofer, painter, driveway paver – and we have locked ourselves into another two-year contract with a 12 percent increase. 

The reason I joined Alexandra in her bid for Selectman is because I, too, have been frustrated with policy and decision making in town: from global insights being used as a way to stall the adoption of solar energy, to really talented, committed experts in their fields being passed over for those who have successfully implemented moratoriums without any further policies and guidelines to help us when the moratorium lifts. There is unbelievable work happening in our town committees that takes herculean efforts (to gather data needed to be informed and make recommendations, years of complaints by few overshadowing the solutions presented that could accommodate all involved).

I gladly serve on the Economic Development Advisory Council under Tomi Olson, who has been a champion of mine as we bring forth proposals to help our home and business owners with real economic relief. Without a forward-thinking ally like Tomi, whether Alexandra has her vote or not, new, common-sense ideas would not be possible to consider at the Selectmen level. I, like Alexandra, am a business owner and present to and represent the highest level of senior executives often, yet I am afraid of how our Board of Selectmen will react to our proposal because I have experienced public and private backlash a few times already. Is this the way you want it to be?

Common, inclusive solutions, from establishing frameworks to allow us to preserve the tangible and intangible assets in Belmont are needed. Policy-making has to begin and end with an inclusive agenda to help our home and business owners thrive. For those who argue about the smallest number of transient residents who bring their families for a short period and leave, how about we figure out how to woo them to stay instead of blaming them, incorrectly, I may add, for taxing our public services.  

Finally, become informed. That is the purpose of our campaign. Whether you have decided on one candidate or the other, get informed on what each of them has and can accomplish. And determine whose values, vision, and ability to make progress while preserving our town of homes match yours. 

Erin Lubien

Unity Avenue

Three Belmont High Scouts Earn Their Eagle Wings

Photo: Belmont’s Eagle Scouts: Clay Moyles, Luke Peterson, Calvin Reinhardt-Ertman.

On Sunday, March 20, Belmont’s Troop 66 awarded Eagle Scout awards to three distinguished Belmont High School students: Clay Moyles, Calvin Reinhardt-Ertman and Luke Peterson.

As the highest rank in Scouting, the Eagle Badge requires notable discipline and sustained effort to achieve. It is estimated that fewer than seven percent of all Scouts attain this goal. Research indicates that those who do continue to distinguish themselves in later life through community volunteerism, charitable donations, environmental stewardship and professional leadership.

“Clay, Calvin and Luke are dedicated and accomplish Scouters who, through their Eagle Projects, have made a lasting impact on the town of Belmont. They personify the spirit of service and leadership that Scouting is all about,” said Scoutmaster Jesse Barnes.  

Their combined Eagle Projects resulted in more than 500 hours of community service rendered by Scouts and other volunteers that have benefitted the Town of Belmont and its residents in multiple ways.

Clay Moyles, a senior at Belmont High School, created a new logo for the Belmont Food Pantry, as well as a 24/7 drop-off container and signs to direct Belmont residents to the Pantry’s drop-off location. 

A BHS Honors student, Clays plays the alto saxophone in the Wind Ensemble and played varsity Golf and Lacrosse. He was the recipient of Boston Globe Silver Key for Arts in 2012.

Calvin Reinhardt-Ertman organized Scouts and other volunteers to re-landscape a portion of Belmont Town Hall’s grounds, planting them with winterberry, bearberry and other hardy native plants.

A junior at BHS, Calvin plays the violin in the orchestra. In summer 2015, he participated in the National Outdoor Leadership School, kayaking several canyons on the Green River in Utah and Colorado.

Luke Peterson worked with the Belmont Department of Public Works to direct groups of Scouts in building three A-frame picnic tables that have been placed on Belmont parks to increase use and enjoyment. 

Luke is an Honors and AP student at Belmont High School who has excelled in soccer and track and was a standout player for the Marauder’s varsity Basketball.

Clay, Calvin, and Luke participated in Troop 66’s 2014 High Adventure Trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.  They hiked extensively in Kings Canyon National Park and summited Mount Whitney—which, at 14,505 feet, is the highest peak in the lower 48 States.

Letter to the Editor: Prestwich Professional Experience Value to School Committee

Photo: Andrea Prestwich

To the editor:

I met Andrea Prestwich and her husband Steve Saar ten years ago. Our kids have sung in the choir and attended Sunday School together, and more recently participated in Chenery Middle School’s extraordinary instrumental music program together. We have become good friends as our kids have aged from 2 to 12.  

That’s why I was delighted when Andrea told me she was running for Belmont School Committee.  She has a fascinating career in astronomy, and in her time at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Andrea has taken and active role in STEM education. She has been involved in science outreach, writing articles and giving presentations to the general public on all aspects of astronomy, making complex concepts understandable for people untrained in the discipline.   

She was instrumental in starting a highly successful Research Experience for Undergraduates  program at the Smithsonian-funded by the National  Science Foundation. She has supervised graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and for several years, she was director of the NASA Einstein Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program.  

Andrea has a “top down” view of STEM education that would be very valuable on the School Committee. She has an analytical mind and professional experience that make her uniquely qualified to serve on curriculum and policy subcommittees. I urge you to vote for Andrea on April 5.

Kate Searle

Beech Street

Selectmen Question of the Week (QW): How Would You Promote Business in Belmont

Photo: Alexandra Ruban and Mark Paolillo.

The Selectmen candidates answers this week’s QW (Question of the Week).

Rightly or wrongly, Belmont has a reputation as being “bad for business.” Examples are small group of people stopping a redevelopment of South Pleasant Street, the inability to see any progress in Waverley Square, the planning process for Cushing Village that took 18 months to complete, the rejection of the Dunkin’ Donuts on Pleasant Street and of people using their private homes as Airbnb housing, a lackluster business community (Belmont does not have its own chamber of commerce) and so forth. There hasn’t been a report on the town’s future financial health that doesn’t emphasize growing commerce. Question: What will you do in the next three years to promote existing business and new business in Belmont?

Alexandra Ruban

Our businesses, new and old, make our community whole, both as convenient shopping or dining retreats and by generating revenue to diversify our tax base. The commitment our business owners have to Belmont is astounding – from continuously meeting donation requests, to supporting the annual Town Day, our businesses deliver dividends to every corner of our community. However, businesses in Belmont struggle with our policies, regulations and processes. Licensing policies are inconsistent from year to year, so a business plan that is thoroughly reviewed and approved during planning can be denied or altered shortly thereafter. A sensible and consistent framework for establishing, operating and growing businesses in Belmont is a necessity and does not have to conflict with residential concerns.

I have spent considerable time speaking with individuals, groups, and business owners about the state of affairs in Belmont and how town decisions impact our businesses, and surrounding neighborhoods.

Belmont has yet to implement recommended design specifications and rezoning for our few commercial areas which would define what type of business structure would be acceptable to town before developers come in. Once that is in place, I would work with our boards and committees to reach out to developers to publicize updated parameters to make sure that our few commercial spaces are no longer vacant.

Furthermore, Belmont has a written and agreed-upon vision to be a walkable town. Because we have not realized that vision yet, we must implement better, more modernized parking options, including setting uniform space designations, handicapped accessibility, and crosswalk markings. This would encourage shopper accessibility and also create a consistent and affordable way to generate additional limited revenue.

As a Town of Homes we need to create additional and diverse revenue streams. As your Selectwoman, I will help establish a streamlined, consistent, easy to navigate, and business friendly permitting process, implement uniformed parking practices that enable our businesses to build foot traffic without interfering with streets of abutting neighborhoods, and create a process by which we monitor, regulate and attract new, local business. I will work with the town committees and Town Meeting to adopt better, supportive policies and practices for licensing and regulations. Belmont will not be able to depend on tax revenue from its business sector without fostering a sense that our businesses are an important part of our town’s ecosystem.

Mark Paolillo

This is a question I’ve been concerned with for several years; I created the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) as a first step toward addressing it. The EDAC’s purpose is to promote balanced, long-term economic development within the Town and to advise the Board of Selectmen on issues concerning policies and zoning that foster commercial and business growth. But we need to do more. 

My next step would be to start with retail businesses. I would identify the recently established, successful businesses in towns like Lexington that have a thriving retail base. We can have Community Development take on the project of interviewing each of those businesses so that we understand what drove their decision to locate in a town other than Belmont. That will give initial direction to our efforts to attract new businesses. 

I would explore some big ideas that would give us a comparative advantage in attracting the most advanced digital companies. One that has not been fully explored would be broadband internet – gigabit service at reasonable prices provided by the Belmont Light Department.  The commercial vendors (AT&T and Verizon) do not readily offer this service. We could run fiber optic from the Belmont Light Department to South Pleasant Street directly, an area already zoned for commercial R&D space. The creation of high-tech tenants in South Pleasant Street could attract others to the McLean space.

Prior to doing this, however, I would want to address the concerns of homeowners, by looking at the experience of communities like Falls Church, Virginia. It is smaller than Belmont, and it is a town of homes.  Along the major transportation corridors, however, Falls Church has attracted high-tech firms, with strict limits on their locations.  They cannot expand beyond those major corridors, and the adjoining streets are quiet, residential neighborhoods.