Belmont Yard Sales: Aug. 5-6

Photo: Yard sales in Belmont.

Here are this weekend’s yard/moving/garage sales happening in the 02478 zip code:

• 1 Chester Rd., Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 5 and Aug. 6, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 

• Lexington Street (at Riply Road), Saturday, Aug. 5, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

4 Worcester St.Sunday, Aug. 6, 9 a.m. to noon.

New Thayer Road Landmark: A 75 Foot Pole Thanks To MBTA

Photo: MBTA in Belmont

It will be easier to find Thayer Road next year if the MBTA has its way.

The out-of-the-way road – two roads as it splits half way down the street before entering Waltham – behind Sycamore Street on the western edge of Belmont could soon have its own landmark as the regional transportation system is proposing to place a 75 feet tall monopole on its right-of-way next to the Fitchburg line commuter rail tracks. 

Since the pole will be on MBTA property, it is exempt from local zoning bylaws. 

According to interim Belmont Town Manager Phyllis Marshall who spoke before the Board of Selectmen on Monday, July 31, the MBTA isn’t singling out Belmont as it is planning to install 300 of the poles in 60 communities along all its commuter rail lines to improve the WiFi and internet service on its trains. One mitigating factor in Belmont: the rail bed is about 20 feet below grade so the pole’s height will appear approximately 55 feet tall. 

Currently, any construction associated with the $150 million project – which was finalized between the state and a private company which will share in revenue from sponsorships, infrastructure leasing, and a premium wireless service – has been put on hold. After a growing number of communities on the North Shore protested the planned poles, a 30-day review was initiated by the MBTA to hear more comments on the project. 

After a growing number of communities on the North Shore protested the planned poles, a 30-day review was initiated by the MBTA to hear more comments on the project. And two weeks ago, the Massachusetts congressional delegation asked the Federal Communications Commission to “carefully” review the T’s application. 

But Marshall said the review will soon be completed. It is unknown when or if the project will come to Belmont.

Offering his opinion, Selectmen Chair Jim Williams wondered why a new installation for internet service is needed as his smart phone works just fine on the trains.

Light Board Cuts Ties With Belmont Light GM, Will Not Renew Contract

Photo: Jim Palmer before the Light Board.

The Belmont Light Board announced Monday, July 31, that it would not extend an offer for a new contract to Belmont Light General Manager Jim Palmer. 

The decision by the three member board – the Light Board is made up of the Board of Selectmen – was made after an hour-long executive session. 

“The parties have reached a mutual understanding that the general manager’s contract will not be renewed,’ said Board Chair Jim Williams reading from a statement. A severance agreement and a possible part in the transition to find a new general manager was provided to Palmer.

The decision came two weeks after a contentious meeting between the board and Palmer during the general manager’s performance review which revealed a growing chasm between Palmer and other department heads in town. 

“It was time for a change,” Board member Mark Paolillo told the Belmontonian. “It was the right breaking point with the contract up and the substation complete.” 

“We need a general manager that is willing to work with the town and collaborate with department heads and because of that change was necessary,” he said.

An emotional Palmer told the board that he took over the general manager’s position seven years ago, Belmont Light “was in turmoil” and he accepted the job to protect his fellow workers. “I wasn’t taking the job for me but for the employees,” he said.

Palmer was the Light Department’s director of operation when in October 2010 he took over for Tim Richardson who was pressured to resign after irregularities in the department.

“Everything I’ve done has been being to the betterment of the town of Belmont” and that Belmont Light is now “like a jewel and you don’t want to lose it.” He recalled the construction of the new Blair Pond substation which will meet the town’s electrical needs for nearly 40 years as “the pinnacle” of his time as manager but the “stress of that project probably led to my demise, and that’s fine. I’m OK with that.” 

After the brief meeting, Palmer told the Belmontonian that the department had a lot of positive accomplishments in the nearly seven years since he was named interim manager, including the difficulties of building and then selling the new substation. Palmer reiterated that the stress of the work did create problems with others official in town, “at the end of the day, there is only so much you can do.” 

“You can’t dance with everybody,” said Palmer.

“I did the best I could do but … people want a fresh start,” he said. “And if you want a fresh start, you replace the top executive. It happens all the time in business. That’s what it is.” 

Palmer said all his memories in Belmont had been good ones, and it has been a “learning experience. And I’m going to take what I’ve learned with me and applying it where ever I may end up.” 

Library Supporters Tell Planning Board Its ‘Big Idea’ Is Not So Grand

Photo: Kathleen Keohane speaking before the Planning Board. Selectman Mark Paolillo stands next to Keohane.

In a possible preview of the anticipated encounter before the Library Board of Trustees tentatively scheduled for Aug. 24, the Belmont Planning Board heard at its Tuesday, Aug. 1 meeting a less than enthusiastic response to its ‘Big Idea’ of placing a new town library in a private development in Waverley Square.

In fact, the overwhelming sentiment of library supporters Tuesday and in emails and letters sent to the Planning Board since it announced the preliminary proposal last month, have been far from affirming, according to Board Chair Liz Allison.

“The overall tone … is negative,” said Allison, so much so that the numerous unfavorable responses the Planning Board received could be placed into four broad categories (process, substance, misunderstanding and global reactions) with their own subsets. Some responses, noted Allison, included language that best not be used over the cable network broadcasting the meeting.

The proposal dubbed the “big idea” by the Planning Board’s Raffi Manjikian who suggested the scheme, would place a new library at the present location of the Belmont Car Wash combined with a senior housing center in a multi-use development. The library would be built by a private developer who would then lease back the facility to the town.

“[Waverley Square] is a center that has languished for more than 50 years,” said Manjikian, who said the proposal was part of an “exercise” to revitalize an important “community center” that has more people in Belmont than any other section of town. The Planning Board’s Barbara Fiacco said it was an opportunity for the town to be proactive in creating a new vibrant neighborhood rather than playing catch up to future development.

But for library supporters, the big idea is a big fail in more than just where the library would be located but also how it was presented to the community in July. 

“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” said Kathleen Keohane, the chair of the Library Trustees who has been leading the charge in questioning both the idea and the process in which it was presented to the public.

“When you read this concept, this ‘big idea’ that’s characterized as the ‘library proposal’ … when there is no discussion with the key stakeholders who are in charge of managing the building, I think we had a process [breakdown],” said Keohane.

“I think publishing [the proposal] with pictures was off putting to me personally and to many folks,” she said. 

She said the library has recently finished an extensive a year-and-a-half long feasibility study that showed “great engagement from the community” for keeping the library at its current location on Concord Avenue within walking distance to five of six public schools and close by to Belmont Center, the town’s business hub.

“You need to respect the input that we got,” Keohane told the Planning Board.

Those who spoke at the meeting voiced a myriad of concerns with moving the library to the heart of Waverley Square. Azra Nelson of Vincent Avenue expressed “alarm” on adding library traffic and the associated parking demands to an area that is already congested with vehicles while Jessica Bennett of Thornbridge Road said it was “really unsettled” that something as important to the public as the library would not be in the town’s possession. Following in Bennett’s lead, Mary Lewis from Precinct 1 that it “insanity” for the town not to build a new library with interest rates at such low levels. She joined others who questioned the roll out of the plan in the summer when residents are away and not following the news. 

In response, the Planning Board’s Manjikian said the impetus for the proposal was not in response to one of the three owners of the land stretching along South Pleasant Street from the car wash to just north of the Cityside Subaru location who are contemplating developing their properties (“Yes, it’s going to happen,” said Manjikian).

Rather, the “idea” is just that, said Manjikian, giving the Planning Board and the town the opportunity to revitalize the area while also seeking a creative way to assist in solving the town’s challenge of renovating or building four critical capital projects; the high school, police station, library and Department of Public Works.

With a total cost of $262 million to “fix” the outstanding capital projects, Board of Selectman Mark Paolillo said it would be difficult to find the votes at Town Meeting or among voters to approve four debt exclusions and a possible town operating override over a short period.

“We will need creative solutions to solve all these issues,” he told the Belmontonian after the meeting.

Keohane did leave the door open for the library trustees to join the Planning Board and other stakeholders to assist in solving the major capital building. 

“I think we are at an early stage and this is the time to brainstorm and get ideas from people, pros, and cons of what they are looking for, and I think that’s starting tonight with public input and follow up … to share their comments, whatever that might be,” she said.

Final Day of Winter Street Repaving Underway Wednesday, Aug. 2

Photo: Perkins truck ready to go.

On Wednesday, August 2, Hudson-based E.H. Perkins will begin paving the final section of Winter Street between Concord Avenue and the Lexington town line.

Work will begin at 6 a.m. with the hope of completing the work in one day. The road will be closed, and delays are expected during construction hours between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Residents and Commuters are advised to seek alternate routes.

Winter Street residents will not have vehicular access to their homes and properties during work hours. 

For any questions or concerns about the project, contact Arthur O’Brian, resident engineer in the Office of Community Development, at 617-993-2665.