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.

One-Way Leonard Street Returns For Spring, Summer and The Fall

Photo: A return to one-way traffic through Belmont Center

The second “summer” of a pedestrian-friendly one-way Leonard Street – with several refinements included for this year – is being extended from mid-spring to Halloween as the Select Board OK’d the town’s blueprint at its meeting Monday, March 29.

The one-way season will begin Monday, May 3 and last to Sunday, Oct. 31.

Considered a huge success by the public – more than 300 emails were sent to the Select Board in favor of its return – many businesses, and town officials, it wasn’t a surprise the Select Board would enthusiastically approve the return to outdoor seating for restaurants while creating a haven for strollers and shoppers.

“This new proposal strikes a somewhat better balance recognizing the very different constituencies in terms of accommodates the non-restaurant businesses better,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein.

Glenn Clancy, head of the Office of Community Development, said the town had two guiding principals viewing the project; build on what was seen as a success of the previous year and be responsive to feedback from several sets of stakeholders.

“We should always strive to make it better than it was,” said Clancy.

As a result, there are five changes to the previous year’s plan:

  • Moore Street will be made a one way from Leonard to Pleasant streets;
  • The former MBTA bus stop at the former Belmont Savings Bank will become a loading zone for businesses in the center;
  • The four parking spaces on Leonard Street entering Belmont Center will be short-term parking with a 15-minute limit;
  • Parking will be allowed on the northside of Leonard from Alexander Avenue and CVS with accessible spaces at both ends of the roadway; and
  • The parking spaces on the southside of Leonard at Alexander will become a public space where community seating, park benches, and other amenities will create “a place where if you are wandering around Belmont Center and you feel like you just want to sit and relax for a minute, there’s a place for you,” said Clancy.

The Select Board’s Adam Dash questioned the need for parking on the north side from CVS to Alexander Avenue after residents and visitors did not want any parking along Leonard Street. Clancy said last year business owners and office spaces would continually open and close the temporary metal gates to allow customers to park in front of the businesses. The new arrangement would allow a less cumbersome parking arrangement.

Epstein said his one concern would be the “unintended consequences” when traffic returns to pre-COVID levels which resulted in long-lines of vehicles attempting to navigate the Center.

“We need to be prepared to react,” he said.

But Dash took a counter view saying it’s not all that bad “if we can put up a little roadblock” in the Center, forcing commuters who cut through the town to reconsider that route. He noted that popular travel apps used by commuters to cut their time traveling home will likely send users to other towns than Belmont.

Glenn Clancy, Director, Office of Community Development

New ‘Fast Food’ Eatery, Market Coming To Former Seta’s Site On Belmont Street

Photo: The former Seta’s will soon become a “fast food” eatery with a new market/convenience store next door

An establishment doling out “fast food” will be opening in the next few weeks on Belmont Street at the corner of Newton. But don’t expect another Dunkins’ or a franchise operation coming to the Town of Homes.

To owner Zohreh Beheshti, the fast food she’ll be serving is an eclectic variety of specialty dishes – fried chicken, deli sandwiches, dairy samples, falafel “and maybe hamburgers … and coffee.”

On Monday, March 8, the Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a special permit under the zoning bylaws to operate a fast-food restaurant, joining an international market the couple are about to open next door.

The store – which will sell Middle Eastern staples and spices along with the usual convenience store fare – is located at 273-5 Belmont and the 16-seat restaurant will be at 271 Belmont taking over the former Seta’s Cafe (which closed in September 2019) located across Newton Street from Sophia’s Greek Pantry. The businesses will be connected in the rear so employees can move between the two locations.

Parking will be in the rear of the building off of Newton. The town said the new store will run on the same hours as Seta’s: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Beheshti and her husband are running Roksana’s Persian Foods, a small 800-square foot storefront at 509 Mt. Auburn in Watertown.

“My customers actually pushed me to do this and that’s why we’re doing this,” said Beheshti

Even before opening, Beheshti has her fans in town as the board was bombarded with supportive emails and one town employee can attest to the food she sells.

“I’m just gonna warn everyone here that anything from her store that’s called gata is very fattening,” said Ara Yogurtian, assistant director of the town’s Planning Division. “It’s full of butter, full of sugar; it’s so tasty that once you begin [you can’t stop],” he said.

Belmont Center Reopens For Two-Way Traffic: Will There Be A Repeat Next Summer?

Photo: Back to normal on Leonard Street

There are two ways to view the return of two-way traffic on Leonard Street through Belmont Center on Monday, Oct. 27: a return to normality for commuters after 137 days of detours and alternative routes or an end to a new way to view and use Belmont’s business and restaurant hub.

According to the head of the group that advocates for Belmont Center’s businesses, there is a good chance the merchants and restauranteurs will ask the town to return to the more pedestrian-friendly arrangement for next summer.

With the concrete New Jersey barriers and steel gates removed just after the morning rush hour, Leonard Street returned to the two way traffic after the town’s Select Board voted in early June to close down Belmont Center until Labor Day as a way of supporting the prominent restaurant trade during the COVID-19 pandemic which forced them to halt indoor dining.

With traffic restricted through the center, restaurants and retail stores were able to expand their operations onto the sidewalk for al fresco dining.

After first voting to halt all but emergency vehicles and MBTA buses, the Select Board moved to limit travel on Leonard Street from Alexander Avenue to Moore Street in the direction to the commuter rail tunnel after hearing from several merchants protest the elimination of all off-street parking.

The restrictions were extended from Labor Day to the end of October to assist eateries as state continued to limit the number of diners in establishments.

Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods and president of the Belmont Center Business Association said the more than four months of the new traffic configuration resulted in “an excellent summer” as “a lot of people loved it, just to get outside during these tough times.”

“It was very successful for the majority of merchants,” said Dickhaut.

With the recent experience under its belt, Dickhaut said the business association is eager for a return to a more pedestrian-friendly center for 2021.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it next year after [Belmont] Town Day (which takes place in mid-June), and make this an annual thing,” he said.

With permission from the select board and town officials, Dickhaut would like to see the one-way traffic configuration for the calendar summer from June to September.

“It was well worthwhile maybe we should add some music next year, make it a festival,” he envisions. “We heard that some of the merchants said, ‘it’s great to have it for the summer but a little longer is maybe hurtful for some of the business.’ There were a couple of businesses that didn’t like it, but the majority of the business did like it.”

Craft Beer Cellar Move To New, Larger Home Set For End Of October

Photo: Kate Baker (left) and Suzanne Schalow inspect the soon to be completed new Craft Beer Cellar store in the formers Macys site.

The date is set for Craft Beer Cellar to move into its new home.

“We’re excited to share that we will be opening in our new space at 87 Leonard St. on Wednesday, Oct. 28!” “just a short walk” from its original location at 51 Leonard St., twitted the owners Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow.

The new 4,500 sq.-ft. store is at the site formerly occupied by Foodies and before that Macys at the corner of Leonard and Alexander Avenue.

To make this move possible, the current store’s last day of business will be Sunday, Oct. 25.

“Thank you all for your continued support!” they wrote.

The flagship store of the national franchise opened in November 2012.

Kate and Schalow are also working to open a new eatery/pub business named Trinktisch at the same location.

“Trinktisch@trinktisch A new neighborhood drinking table coming soon to Belmont Center. Brought to you by the team behind @cbc_belmont and @craftbeercellar” read the tweet.

One More Month: Leonard Street To Remain One Lane ‘Til Oct. 25; And Free Lot Parking!

Photo: Traffic flowing on Leonard Street

Belmont residents will have four additional weeks of al fresco dining and one way traffic along Leonard Street as the Belmont Select Board voted 2-1 to extend the closure of the main thoroughfare in the town’s business center until Sunday, Oct. 25.

The board majority – Adam Dash and Tom Caputo – felt the extra time will continue to benefit eateries in the Center and across town which have been particularly hit hard due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I heard a lot of support from the [Belmont] community for continuing it that is addition to what the business community in Belmont Center,” said Caputo.

The sole dissent came from Roy Epstein, the board’s chair, who said he was keeping a promise made to the business community that includes retail operations that the roadway would be opened on Sept. 28 which will free up dozens of on-street parking.

“Maybe it’s going well for the restaurants but I think the harm to the other businesses is actually invisible to us,” said Dash.

“I think we should give them the best shot,” said Dash.

Along with the continuation of one-way traffic on Leonard Street, free parking will continue for residents and visitors in the Claflin Street municipal lot located off Channing Road in Belmont Center.

Leonard Street Remains One Way Until Sept. 28; Free Parking In Center ‘Til Then

Photo: One way on the way out come Sept 28

The Belmont Select Board has extended by nearly a month the one-way traffic on Leonard Street allowing restaurants in Belmont Center to continue al fresco dining into the fall.

The street through Belmont’s main business hub will revert back to two-way traffic in the early morning hours of Monday, Sept. 28. In addition, licensed outdoor table service will be extended to Sunday, Sept. 27 throughout the town.

The board also approved that free parking in the Claflin Street municipal parking lot located behind Belmont Center will also end on Sunday, Sept. 27.

At yet another marathon Select Board session held Monday, Aug. 24, members acknowledged that several Center merchants have “expressed some unhappiness” with the plan that began on June 18 as it has taken valuable on-street parking spaces out of circulation, according to board member Adam Dash.

The traffic change was installed as an opportunity to provide extra outside dining areas to local restaurants which are still not allowed to use their interior dining space due to restrictions imposed by the state to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Belmont Board of Health had some concerns in regards to Leonard Street being “a little congested” during the height of dinner service along with complaints that people were not diligent in wearing masks or being aware of social distancing, said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin.

“We were hoping to have an opportunity to go down there and to see if the requirements of the permits were being adhered to,” said Garvin.

While saying “the last thing we want is the community to be concerned that people are acting irresponsibly when they’re out and about in Belmont Center,” Glenn Clancy, town engineer, and director of community development, said he has been on Leonard Street “quite a bit and I haven’t really been seeing problems,” an observation seconded by Dash who is a regular diner.

The three-plus week extension of the one-way direction of Leonard Street has required the town to inform at least one resident of Moore Street – a principal detour of vehicles traveling northbound onto Pleasant Street – that the board would extend the one-way experience past a promised end around Labor Day deadline.

Clancy said he does worry about traffic in nearby neighborhoods and along specific streets – Moore, Alexander Avenue and Pleasant Street – during the expected increase in post-Labor Day traffic.

Clancy believes that it’s prudent for the town to take these issues incrementally “and I think if we’re talking about the end of September [to return to two-way traffic], I think that’s far.”

Since many restaurants made investments in furnishing and in the appearance of the outdoor space, “I’d like to give them the maximum ability” to take advantage of the money spent, said Dash.

“I think there is a great community atmosphere that been created down there,” said the Board’s Tom Caputo. “I do think that this isn’t going to last forever but certainly going through the end of September very likely makes some sense.”

Sehr Gut! Craft Beer Moving To Foodies Site And Opening New Eatery The ‘Trinktisch’

Photo: The current store at 51 Leonard

The owners of the successful Craft Beer Cellars at 51 Leonard St. in Belmont Center is moving their flagship store down the street and into the former Foodies Market site at the corner of Alexander Avenue where it will join a new restaurant/bar venture the partners had longed sought to open.

“The plan is to create a family friendly and welcoming environment, both inside and out, for all people,” said Suzanne Schalow, who with partner Kate Baker opened the business in November 2010.

And the move of the current shop and the new restaurant were made “official” as the Select Board granted last week a full liquor license for the restaurant and a second license for the beer store’s new location.

And the eatery will be called Trinktisch, German for “drink table.” [Trinktisch is also a popular game in Germany among teens and young adults similar to Shoots and Ladders/Chutes and Ladders.] And while food will be featured at the site, Schalow said they will not be competing directly with the other eateries on the street.

“Certainly ‘beer’ is currently our middle name so we plan to largely support that as we go forth into the world,” she said.

While a request for a new liquor license or its transfer can be contentious, the board’s sentiment to the requests was framed by Chair Roy Epstein who found only one misstep in the application: a missing umlaut over a letter in the menu.

The lack of any conflict between town and business was due in no great part that the owners have been the definition of good business stewards for the past decade, according to Board Member Adam Dash.

“I think an expansion of an existing successful business is a good thing to see,” said Dash. “It’s a great addition to the Center.”

And the public’s viewpoint was just as supportive as Alexander Avenue resident and School Committee Chair Andrea Prestwich proclaimed, “Go beer ladies. We love you.”

The restaurant will have approximately 2,400 square feet of bar space with just under 10,000 square feet of common seating, a kitchen, four restrooms, office and meeting spaces and an events space. The bar/eatery will be adjacent to the new location of the Beer Cellar which take 3,800 square feet, It will have a 200-square foot walk-in refrigerator

The Trinktisch will service beer, wine and cider along with non-alcoholic beverages. Schalow said it will also have a limited menu that will source local suppliers.

The restaurant/bar will be located on the lower level of the building and will be accessed by three entries – one on Leonard Street and two off the Locatelli parking lot adjacent to Claflin Street.

“Kate and I never forget, for one second that having a liquor license … is not our right, it’s a privilege. And we think about that every single day when we get up and go to work and we make sure that we’re upholding the virtues and the values that are required by business owners that have a liquor license,” said Schalow.

“I don’t think that’s the same everywhere but we’re not trying to compare ourselves to other people. We’re just trying to do what we feel is right and take care of a community that we do really care about.”

Leonard Street Altered To One Way Traffic At Behest Of Belmont Center Businesses

Photo: Traffic and parking has returned to Belmont Center.

One week after Leonard Street in Belmont Center was shut down for the summer, drivers today – Thursday, June 18 – discovered the street now allows one-way traffic through Belmont’s business hub after town officials implemented a traffic plan from business owners that they hope will help retail shops as well as restaurants that have been closed for the past three months due to COVID-19.

The change comes four days after businesses expressed their concerns to the Select Board on Monday, June 15.

Starting today, traffic from Pleasant Street can travel through the center to the commuter rail tunnel. Vehicles can also use the parking spaces along Leonard Street. Jersey barriers are used to create bump-outs into the street to allow outside dining and seating for three eateries – rancatore’s ice cream & yogurt, il Casale and El Centro – along the western side of the street.

Vehicles traveling from the tunnel towards the Center will need to detour at Moore Street as the street to Alexander Avenue is closed to accommodate outdoor dining and retail space.

Town officials said the change to the street is an effort to follow through with the concerns of the town’s business leaders.

“The Town was eager to be responsive to the merchants in Belmont Center,” said Patrice Garvin, town administrator.

“We hoped the first plan would be received well, but we quickly realized we needed to give the merchants and patrons more flexibility. We implemented the current plan and will be monitoring its┬áprogress,” said Garvin.

Retailers said they were happy that the town took quick action on what they felt was a workable compromise that will assist all businesses in the center.

“I expected that they would move quickly because there were so many people that weren’t happy,” said Lisa Castagno, owner of Revolve who helped generate a response to the initial plan.

Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods and president of the Belmont Center Business Association, said the group used a portion of the $4,600 raised from businesses and landlords to rent the jersey barriers along the street to create a safety border between vehicles and customers and employees. It will use the remaining funds to beautify the barricades and bring in live music to the newly pedestrian street.

“I’ve got to tell you the Select Board, [Garvin], Glenn Clancy [town engineer] and Mike Santoro [director of the DPW’s Highway Department] all have been so helpful to get this going. It took just a week from when we approach them for the compromise to be in place. We all worked together and got it done.”

Town To Take Second Look On Closing Leonard As Stores Seek Compromise

Photo: Lauren Castagno, manager at Revolve Boutiques on Pleasant Street.

Laura Castagno said she had growing hope the first-week Revolve Boutiques in Belmont Center was reopened would get increasingly busy after three months being locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been open since the first day we were able to open on Monday [June 8]” and customers were coming back to the store, said the manager of the Leonard Street consignment store.

But on Thursday morning, June 10, as she and other retailers were opening their doors, DPW trucks were outside their shops delivering crowd control barriers and earthmovers had placed jersey barriers at either end of the street to block traffic from entering.

By 11:30 a.m., the roadway through Belmont’s largest commercial district was closed to all traffic until Labor Day. The only exceptions: MBTA buses and emergency vehicles.

Since then, Castagno has seen the town’s business center grind to a halt.

“I’ve never seen Belmont Center in the morning as quiet as it has been for the last few days” as the lack of foot traffic had “significantly reduced sales,” she said.

The shutting down of the Center’s main thoroughfare was approved three days earlier by the Belmont Select Board in an effort to assist the town’s restaurants with alfresco dining after Gov. Charlie Baker approved outdoor service as the state slowly begins reopening from the economic standstill caused by the coronavirus.

The only information she and her commercial colleagues received on the closing was “via an email for the Belmont Center Business Association, but that didn’t provide all the details,” said Castagno, daughter of Lisa Castagno who owns Revolve stores in Winchester, Lexington, Newton, two in Belmont and one on Boston’s Newbury Street.

“We were just a little bit disheartened with the decision to close Leonard Street … with minimal consulting of retail businesses,” said Castagno. “We feel that that didn’t really happen in Belmont so we’re a little bit upset about that,” she said.

It was that concern that Castagno and her mother joined several fellow retailers on the Select Board’s Monday, June 15, Zoom meeting as the town was scheduled to review the new setup for Belmont Center.

Deran Muckjian, the owner of The Toy Shop of Belmont on Leonard Street, spoke for the center’s business association members saying many of their customers are unwilling to park in the Claflin Street lot behind the shops and trek around the buildings – there is no direct cut through from the lot to the Center – while seniors with mobility issues require on-street and handicap parking close to the shops they patronize.

“Retail these days is really about the experience, the actual shopping in the store and it’s also about the convenience,” Castagno said.

Castagno said Belmont’s traffic plan is similar to Waltham’s layout for Moody Street that relies on the street being closed. Yet the two locations are quite different as Waltham is “very restaurant heavy center and so that’s why people go there. So I understand a 24/7 closure there [but] I think a modified closure would be what’s best” along Leonard Street, she said.

She points to Winchester, where she managed one of the company’s operations, where all sides appeared to be heard. There, the main business district is closed from 5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and all day on Sunday, allowing the restaurants to bring their tables and chairs out for the afternoon and night service. And parking is allowed all day from Monday to Wednesday.

With the Winchester plan in hand, Castagno said the center’s business owners meet on Friday, to layout their own blueprint for the street. The proposal, approved by a 19-7 vote, would make Leonard Street one way going north to south from the fire station to the commuter bridge. Barriers would remain on the eastern side of Leonard where most of the Center’s restaurants are located.

The western side of Leonard would allow on-street parking while the only barriers would be in front of il Casale and El Centro restaurants to allow tables to be placed on the sidewalk and in the street.

After hearing the difficulties store owners are facing, town officials are taking a second look at the layout with an eye on a possible compromise that will allow some parking and traffic to return to Leonard Street.

And while it appears the business association’s proposal is doable, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said there are two caveats facing any change to the status quo. The first is safety. According to Glenn Clancy, director of Community Development, the inclusion of an active roadway adjacent to diners will require far more stringent barriers to separate the two on Leonard Street.

The second is money. “The cost is going to be directly related to any public safety measures,” said Garvin. After an initial consultation with Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac, Garvin said it appears the only option to address keeping everyone safe is installing concrete jersey barriers, a far less aesthetic measure, even if you can find them at a reasonable cost.

Garvin noted the town’s fiscal 2021 budget had been cut by $5 million due to COVID-19 reductions in state and local revenue receipts.

“[The town] won’t have the DPW that would have the ability to break down or set up anything during the day and necessarily don’t have the ability to purchase the barriers that we would need to make it so that the public was safe,” said Garvin.

But business leaders such as Lee Gaston, owner of Bessie Blue, a clothing store at the southern end of the center, believe once the plan is fleshed out and presented, the retail and restaurant owners will step up with money already pledged to both make their plan workable, safe and appealing to the public.

The town and business association will be meeting this week to create a plan and present it to public safety for review and to Community Development on the final price tag. It will come before the board at its next meeting in June.

For Castagno, “[t]he businesses in the center of town are like a team. And so what we need to find a decision that’s best for everyone. We feel like the decision that’s made right now doesn’t really strike the best compromise for both the restaurants and the retailers.”