Belmont FY ’24 Property Tax Rate Falls But Not Owners Bill; Average Single Family Price Tag Tops $1.6M

Photo: Assessors Charles Laverty III and Bob Reardon with Assessing Administrator Dan Dargon before the Select Board during the annual property tax rate hearing, Monday, Dec. 4

In what could be the final time an elected Belmont Board of Assessors makes the presentation, the three-member board announced a drop in the fiscal year 2024 property tax rate during its annual property classification tax rate hearing before the Select Board on Monday, Dec. 4.

“The tax rate that’s going to be proposed by the Board of Assessors will be a decrease from a rate [of] $11.24 [per $1,000 of assessed value] for this year, down to $10.57 for fiscal year ’24,” Bob Reardon, the long-time Assessor’s chair, told the Select Board.

While it may initially sound like a windfall for homeowners, members from both boards told property owners not to expect a drop in their bills in the new year. Reardon said the vast majority of the decline of 67 cents was due to the increase in the value of all properties over the past year.

“Just because the tax rates are coming down doesn’t necessarily lead to people paying less,” said Reardon. “The tax rate is simply computed by the amount being raised divided by the total assessed value.”

“I think people hear, ‘Oh, the rates have gone down, great,'” said Select Board Vice Chair Elizabeth Dionne. “No, that is not what it means. This just means your [home’s] value is higher.”

Values for all Belmont property classifications increased in the past year. The town’s total residential and personal property assessment is $11.3 billion, up from $9.0 billion in fiscal year ’23.

The actual tax levy – how much the town can raise after increasing real estate by the maximum annual 2.5 percent – to be raised in fiscal year ’24 is $119.5 million, of which $106.3 million comes from the total levy for residential and commercial property. An additional $13.1 million comes from eight debt exclusions for everything from the construction of the Beech Street Center to the new Middle/High school. The debt exclusions for the new rink and library will be included in the calculation for the fiscal year 2025. According to Reardon, new growth collected in the past year “remains strong,” raising $876,069.

Despite higher-than-average mortgage rates, during which property values “usually take a dip,” Reardon told the board that due to a lack of inventory of houses for sale, the average single-family home in Belmont jumped to $1,615,200, an increase of more than 10 percent from $1,436,500 in fiscal year 2023.

With its presentation on Monday, the Board of Assessors will face a Special Town Meeting in the next two months, where members will be asked to change the board from its current elected members to an appointed board. Similar to the recent change of the town Treasurer from an elected to an appointed position, the Town Meeting would follow a recommendation of the Collins Center Report.

As in past years, the assessors recommended, and the Select Board agreed to a single tax classification and not to enact real estate exemptions. With barely five percent of Belmont’s property base commercial, Reardon reiterated past statements that commercial property must reach 30 percent to make a split rate effective and not deter businesses from staying or coming to Belmont.

While voting to approve the Assessors’ rate recommendation, the Select Board decides on two related issues: whether to implement a singular “split” rate for commercial and residential properties and to approve a residential exemption that would reduce the rate on owner-occupied properties at the expense of non-occupied residences. 

As for residential exemptions, the administrative costs to run such a program would be prohibitive for a revenue-neutral initiative. As with the split rate, two-thirds of rate payers would see little reductions or increases in their tax bill.

Belmont’s Property Tax Rate Drops But Average Yearly Bill Will Jump $900

Photo: Belmont property owners will see an increase in next fiscal year’s tax bill

Property owners would see Belmont’s property tax rate decrease as the Board of Assessors presented a series of recommendations at a public meeting before the Belmont Select Board at its Dec. 5 meeting.

The Assessors propose a property tax rate for fiscal year 2023 of $11.25 per $1,000 of assessed value, a drop from the current rate of $11.56 per $1,000, according to Robert Reardon, long-time chair of the Board of Assessors. The Select Board voted unanimously to adopt the new rate.

But due to a hot residential real estate market that resulted in escalating home values, the average property tax bill for households will increase. According to the Assessors, the average value of a single family house in Belmont rose to $1,463,000, up a robust $116,800 from $1,346,300 in fiscal year 2022. The average value of a single family house statewide is $525,788.

With the Proposition 2 1/2 increase of the tax levy and the impact on the tax rate of nine debt exclusions – which includes the Senior Center, the Wellington Elementary School and three segments of the new Middle and High School – which makes up 12 percent of the total tax rate, the expected property tax increase on an average house will be approximately $900 for this coming fiscal year, according to Reardon. Without that additional debt, the tax rate would be $9.90 per $1,000.

In addition, the Assessors are recommending the town not create a split tax classification where commercial property would be taxed at a higher rate than residential homes., Reardon said since commercial real estate makes up just five percent of Belmont’s property base, a split rate would not raise any more in taxes while businesses would be hit with a significant rate increase while homeowners would see a very small reduction. The Select Board supported the recommendation.

Comella’s Leaving Belmont Center Location For New Home At Former Loading Dock Site

Photo: The current site at 43 Leonard St.

One of Belmont Center’s largest and most popular eateries will be leaving its Leonard Street storefront this fall for its new home on the Cambridge/Belmont line.

At its Monday, July 11 meeting, the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a special permit for a fast food license to the owners of Comella’s Restaurant to allow them to move the eatery known for its Italian cuisine and pizza to the former site of the Loading Dock at 11 Brighton St.

Attorney Stephen B Rosales, who represented the Comella family, told the board that after 10 successful years leasing the 43 Leonard St. location, the had to opportunity to purchase the property at 11 Brighton St. … which will ”cement and control their future here in town.” Rosales said the owners ”have applied to basically operate the same way and in the same manner as they have” at their current site.

”Same menu, same pizza. At $6.99, it’s a great deal,” said Rosales.

The loss of Comella’s will be a blow to Belmont Center which has seen the number of empty storefronts grow since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Located at the former home of The Loading Dock restaurant, the new site will have 60 seats with 48 at tables and 12 at the bar. Under Belmont zoning requirements, the site will have 30 parking spaces, with 12 out in front, 10 permitted spaces across Brighton at the F. A. Williams’ property and nine off street.

The Comellas’ will soon seek a transfer of the beer and wine license it has at the Leonard Street store. A minimum build out will be required and the new site will be open in the fall. As part of the permit, the board restricted outdoor seating at the site even though the restaurant’s patio is private property, as opposed to town-owned sidewalk on Leonard Street.

Emma Thurston of Baker Street said the proposed new site – which is a block from her house – has been empty for a really long time, and since Comella’s is a household favorite, ”we’d be very happy to add them to the community over here” as it will become “a strong [business] anchor” along with Hillside Gardens in the area.

State OKs 40B Project Adjacent To Beatrice Circle; 12 Total Units, 3 Affordable

Photo: The title page of the 91 Beatrice Cir. project

Despite misgivings with aspects of the design and massing, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development nevertheless approved a controversial 40B project to allow 12 rental units to be constructed on a half-acre lot adjacent to Beatrice Circle on Belmont Hill.

In an eight-page letter released Nov. 3, DHCD Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox said the application by 91 Beatrice Circle LLC “is sufficient to show compliance” with the state’s criteria for the construction of much needed affordable housing.

The developer has two years to seek a comprehensive permit from the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals.

The state’s action brings an end to a year-long process that began when the developer – made up of members of the Tamposi family – purchased a 2,700 sq.-ft. single-family home located off of Frontage Road between Park Avenue and Pleasant Street for $1.4 million.

The state’s action came as a disappointment to the Select Board, and abutting neighbors who contend the housing project was an intrusion.

“While there were some parts of the decision that I found helpful, I was disappointed, honestly, with the bulk of it,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein, who led the town’s efforts to halt and amend the project by authoring two letters pointing out a myriad of problems generated by the developer’s first set of designs

Epstein said the state continues to ignore the two major concerns of town and neighbors: overall density of the two-building project and allowing the development to be 10 feet from the rear property line.

After reviewing the initial 16-unit plan for the site released in June, Epstein penned a list of concerns the town held about the design and sent it to MassHousing. In the view of the town, the proposal was:

  • Too dense and imposing for the surrounding neighborhood.
  • The project requires a retaining wall to a similar height as Fenway Park’s Green Monster.
  • It does not provide the necessary space to accommodate fire and police vehicles.
  • It lacks open space and adequate parking spaces. (“A large number of children who will have a parking lot to play on,” said Epstein.
  • The site would increase traffic congestion.
  • The plans did not address drainage and stormwater issues.

After Epstein’s initial letter, the development team, in response to discussions with MassHousing, in late August reduced the number of units by four to the current dozen with three-set aside as affordable for those earning 80 percent of the median income in greater Boston. That would be an income of $96,250 for a family of four.

The state said the changes reduced the project’s massing, improved circulation within the development and helped with the transition from a single-family neighborhood.

Epstein’s second letter pointing to continued flaws in the project did not appear to move those at MassHousing who signed off on the project to move forward.

“It is now up to the Zoning Board of Appeals … the role of the Select Board, I’m afraid, has ended,” he said.

In its approval letter, MassHousing did set down seven concerns that it expects the development team will deal with during the ZBA process:

  • Be in compliance with the town’s stormwater and drainage issues that could affect abutting properties.
  • Respond to offsite traffic and parking concerns.
  • Fully comply with public safety standards for emergency vehicles.
  • Be ready to discuss ways of softening the project’s massing and design, reduce light pollution and support pedestrian access.
  • Work to increase open space on the site.

The Select Board’s Adam Dash said the state’s extensive list of concerns is not the ringing approval for a project, which points to a possible opening from MassHousing to the residents.

“It did provide a roadmap for the Zoning Board of Appeals to focus on certain areas which I thought is helpful,” said Dash.

While some residents have indicated that there could be a legal challenge echoing many of the same themes as the town, history shows that unless the project is significantly flawed, it’s unlikely an individual suit will be successful.

Epstein said after this experience, Town Meeting needs to give more thought to the future of affordable housing developments because 91 Beatrice will not be likely the final multiple unit development in Belmont.

“We need to create more affordable housing on our terms so that people don’t come and put it in on their terms,” he said.

Belmont Street Undergoes Restoration, July 6-10

Photo: Map of Belmont Street to be restored next week

Approximately third-quarters of a mile of Belmont Street will be under construction beginning Monday, July 6 to restore the roadway which was dug up late last year.

Bannon Paving of Hyde Park will be grinding and overlaying this large second on Belmont Street from the Watertown line on Lexington Street to Common Street for the entire week from July 6 to July 10.

The work will repair the street impacted by the installation of new PVC gas-main installed by National Grid/Feeney Brothers late last construction season to connect the new Toll Brothers development in Cushing Square.

Belmont Saves Millions Waiting To Sell $100M Bonds On Middle/High School, Police HQ Projects

Photo: The Belmont Police Headquarters renovation.

Patience is a virtue and, in the case of Belmont, a way to pocket a few million dollars.

By holding off selling more than $103.5 million in municipal bonds on a pair of building projects from March to May, Belmont will reap a $6 to $7 million savings to taxpayers, according to Belmont’s Town Treasurer Floyd Carman as the Belmont Select Board voted to approve the bond sale at its remote meeting on Monday, June 1.

Originally, the sale of the triple-A rated, 30-year municipal bond to finance a portion of the $240 million Belmont Middle and High School project and the Police Headquarters renovation was schedule for mid-March. At the time, the financial markets began reeling due to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Initial interest was anemic; just two firms showed any

Rather than chance an auction during rising volatility in the market, Carman pulled the paper and proceeded to reaffirm the town’s top status with the credit rating agencies.

Due to its long-standing policy of conservative budgeting and spending, a small default rate by homeowners and a willingness to payoff long-standing debt and keeping cash reserves – free cash – above what agencies require, Belmont is seen as having a high level of creditworthiness resulting in the coveted top ranking.

Belmont is one of just 11 municipalities in Massachusetts and one of fifty nationwide in which two of the three rating agencies – Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s – declared its “paper” at a AAA rate, the highest possible rating that may be assigned to an issuer’s bonds.

“We are truly in a category of our own,” Carman told Select Board Member Tom Caputo.

By retreating to the sidelines, Belmont could afford to bide its time toward a recovery and a more receptive market.

By late May, according to Carman, the number of bidders drawn to Belmont’s triple-A muni spiked to 10 and the resulting auction resulted in a “fantastic rate” of 2.178 percent – sold to JP Morgan Securities – a whopping 1.124 percent decrease from the 3.302 percent the town received at last year’s $111 million bond sale to support the middle/high school.

“Let me thank Carman for just a wonderful job … bringing these bonds to market and achieving a terrific result that the auction,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein who noted the sale occurred during the depressed state of the bond market in the last few months.

Developer Seeking 16 Townhouses Off Frontage Road On Belmont Hill

Photo: An architectural rendering of the proposed 16 townhouse project off Frontage Road on Belmont Hill. (EMBARC)

The email message to this media outlet was a call to arms: “How can someone even think about placing an apartment complex in our neighborhood of homes? How?”

The consternation from at least one Belmont Hill resident comes as a Florida-based developer is proposing to build 16 townhouse units on approximately half an acre of land at 91 Beatrice Cir., located off of Frontage Road between Park Avenue and Pleasant Street.

The proposed project will highlight the Select Board’s Monday, June 1 remote virtual meeting at 7 p.m.

The development team has applied for a comprehensive permit under Chapter 40B, the sometimes contentious state law enacted in 1969 to promote the construction of low- and moderate-income housing.

The law allows developers to skirt local zoning regulations – such as for density and lot restrictions – if 20 to 25 percent of the project units have long-term affordability restrictions and the town’s housing stock is less than 10 percent affordable. The development team is setting aside four units as affordable to households earning 80 percent of the median income around Boston.

And Comprehensive Land will be seeking waivers from 10 zoning bylaws – including restrictions on attached apartments in the SR-A district, the requirement that a nonconforming development undergoes the Planning Board’s Design and Site Plan Review, minimum lot area, open space limited, yard setbacks and lot coverage, to name a few – and from the town’s stormwater management and control bylaw.

In a letter to Select Board Chair Roy Epstein dated May 13, MassHousing, the state agency that oversees 450B proposals, has already begun the process of reviewing the application and seeking information from the town on moving forward with the project.

For the developer, this townhouse project will allow moderate-income families the opportunity to live in Belmont.

“Through Chapter 40B’s streamlined permitting, the proposed project creates affordable rental opportunities, with larger units that have the potential to provide much-needed family housing,” said the developer in its application to MassHousing. “The average single home sales price in Belmont over the past twelve months exceeded $1,250,000.”

Comprehensive Land Holding, LLC – made up of Joseph, Jacob and Stephen Tamposi on this project – of the Gulf Coast community of Hernando has long roots in New England (Samuel Tamposi Sr. made the family fortune in real estate and business holdings in southern New Hampshire) constructing upscale homes in upscale communities such as Wayland while expanding to the Sunshine State where it built “our family’s flagship community.

The Tamposi’s 40B project in Belmont is not their first in the area. In fact, the family has made quite a splash down in Milton where it’s proposing two large scale affordable projects totaling 252 units with 380 parking spaces.

The developers purchased the existing structure – a seven-room brick ranch built 72 years ago – after a wave of activity as the property was sold three times in the past three years. The 2,700 sq.-ft. structure was bought for $1.4 million, a cool $300,000 over the assessed value.

The project consists of a pair of buildings – laid out east to west on the lot – each with eight connected wood-framed townhouses. The southern row of housing will consist of three bedrooms in three stories, 1,480 sq.-ft townhouses; the building closest to Frontage Road will be four bedroom, four stories at 1,800 sq.-ft.

There will be a parking space inside each townhouse and 10 additional spaces for overflow parking. The lot is situated across from a number 84 MBTA bus stop with access to Alewife Red Line station.

The unnamed Belmont project is following a decade long development trend of building residential apartment and condominium blocks along Route 2 inbound towards Cambridge. Multi-unit blocks now dot the landscape from the Belmont line – including the Royal Belmont – to a recently opened 320-unit apartment complex where the Lanes & Games bowling alley and the Gateway Motel once stood.

As FY ’21 Tax Rate Falls, Average Tax Bill Jumps 11% As High School Debt Exclusion Kicks In

Photo: The Assessors before the Select Board (from left) Martin Millane, Robert Reardon and Charles Laverty III

Belmont homeowners knew the day of reckoning was coming.

And that day will be July 1, 2020 when the dual impact of the successful vote on the $213 million debt exclusion to build the new Middle and High School and continued skyrocketing property values will result in one of the largest annual property tax increases in recent memory, according to Robert Reardon, the long-time chair of the Belmont Board of Assessors.

“This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but maybe the amount will,” said Reardon.

The red hot Belmont property market contributed in pushing up the “average” single family home value (made up of the sum of all home values divided by the number of homes) to $1,285,000 with property values on single family homes increased a whopping 18 percent in the past 12 months outpacing all other categories such as condos (6 percent) and multi-families (10 percent), Reardon told a special meeting of the Select Board held Wednesday, Dec. 18.

“[Belmont] remains a desireable place to live and it has a good school system. And while it’s very close to Boston, you can still get a good yard and a garage while in Cambridge for the same price you’ll likely get off street parking,” said Reardon whose day job is as director of Cambridge’s Assessing Department.

The total annual taxes on that “average” house comes to $14,135, an 11 percent increase from the $12,720 set the previous fiscal year, with half of the $1,415 increase attributed to the debt exclusion passed by voters in November, 2018, said Reardon, who attended the meeting with his fellow board members Charles Laverty, III and Martin Millane.

Taxes %

The rest of the increase consists of the annual two-and-a-half percent ceiling on total property taxes the town can levy and new growth which came in at $1.1 million.

Reardon also noted this year’s debt exclusion only covers the first half of the construction funding with a second, equally large increase coming in fiscal 2021.

Reardon came before the board to reveal the town’s property tax rate for the coming fiscal year – which begins on July 1, 2020 – at $11 per $1,000 assessed value, a reduction of two-thirds of a buck from the fiscal ’19 rate of $11.67.

The total assessed value of property in Belmont shot up to $9.210 billion from $7.947 billion in fiscal ’19.

As in past years, the assessors recommended, and the selectmen agreed to, a single tax classification and no real estate exemptions. Reardon said Belmont does not have anywhere near the amount of commercial and industrial space (at must be least a minimum of 20 percent, said Reardon) to creating separate tax rates for residential and commercial properties. Belmont’s commercial base is 3.9 percent of the total real estate.

“There’s always this misconception that if you have a split rate it’s going to be beneficial for homeowners but that’s not the case,” said Reardon.

Housing Trust Applaud Increase In Affordable Units At ‘Final’ McLean Parcel

Photo: Northland Residential President and CEO John Dawley

You know you are doing something “right” when the same group that jeered you earlier is now cheering.

That’s what occurred at the Select Board’s meeting Monday, Nov. 18 after Northland Residential President and CEO John Dawley presented a revised residential development proposal at one of largest parcels remaining in Belmont’s McLean Hospital.

After coming under fire for a proposal critics called a “cut and paste” of its three existing developments at McLean, Northland’s revised blueprint for its fourth development in Zone 3 boosting the number of affordable units as well as provide housing to a broader spectrum of both income and population.

“I’m here tonight to try and be responsive to the voices that spoke at various meetings back in March on a project that appears to be responsive to the concerns that were articulated,” said Dawley Monday night.

The announcement brought praise from the representatives of the Belmont Housing Trust which has been a driving force in expanding economical living units in town.

“I’m really excited about this proposal and this is, indeed, a big win for Belmont,” said Trust Co-Chair Rachel Heller.

In January, Dawley’s firm presented to the town plans to build a “senior directed, independent living residential community” on nearly 13 acres of land set aside for housing when Town Meeting approved a mixed-use development program with McLean two decades ago in July 1999.

Similar to the Northland’s Woodlands development on the site, the project consisted of 34 large 2-to-3 bedroom townhouses with a sales price of upwards of $1.5 million along with 91 “flat” 1-to-2 bedroom apartments located in four-story buildings.

That first proposal was widely panned by affordable housing advocates and in March was quickly shelved by the Belmont Planning Board as it deemed the project was unlikely to pass Town Meeting’s two-thirds muster to alter six zoning bylaws required by the town.

“It was the belief, mistaken as it may have been, that replicating what I did on those parcels would be appropriate for Zone 3,” he said “I left on March 13, wounded but not dead.”

Fast forward nearly eight months and Dawley came before the Select Board after meeting with the town and housing advocates who asked Northland to take its plan “and think of it in a different way.” He spoke to his McLean partners telling them “I think I can make this work.”

The new proposal will be of the same scale and massing as presented in March but the project’s programming has been changed resulting in a broader income and age component, said Dawley:

  • The original 125 units has been increased to 144 total units with 40 townhouses and 104 apartments located in a pair of structures.
  • The garden style units will all be rentals, smaller than originally designed as condominiums. There will be no age restriction on the units A quarter of the apartments, 26, will be under the town’s exclusionary housing allocation.
  • The townhouses – which will be senior directed – will have reduced square-footage to lower the initial price with five or six units set aside as affordable.
  • The project will commit to LEED Certifiable Design Standard while focusing on “electrification.”
  • Traffic in and out of the new residential with a traffic light at Olmsted and Pleasant across from Star Market. There will also be shuttle bus from the area to a transportation hub such as Waverley Square and/or Alewife T station.

While Dawley cautioned the proposal is in its genesis and will undergo changes and “times where I’ll have to say ‘no’ to requests’,” the response from housing campaigners and the Select Board was enthusiastic and positive, as those in attendance gave Dawley a round of applause at the end of his presentation.

“I really appreciate that rather than walk away, they chose to engage with us and work with us,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash.

“Northland’s proposed development at McLean will expand opportunities for seniors and families to have an affordable place to call home here in Belmont,” said Heller, whose day job is running the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, which encourage the production and preservation of housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income families.

“Providing more affordable homeownership and rental opportunities is key to meeting the needs of people who live, work, or go to school here as well as ensuring that Belmont is a welcoming and inclusive community,” she added.

Town Issues Cushing Sq. Starbucks Occupancy Permit

Photo: The location of the new Starbucks in town.

The Belmont Office of Community Development issued a certificate of occupancy to Starbucks Coffee Company on Tuesday, June 19, to allow its cafe at 110 Trapelo Rd. to open for business, said Glenn Clancy, the town’s director of community development.

“It will be opening up any day now,” Clancy told the Belmontonian at the School Committee meeting at the Chenery Middle School.

The cafe is located on the ground floor of the Winslow building in the Bradford development which occupies the block surrounding Common Street, Trapelo Road, Belmont Street, and Williston Road. The apartment/retail/parking project is being built by Toll Brothers Apartment Living.

The 42 seat store staffed with 25 to 35 employees will have approximately 20 off-street parking spaces adjacent to the location.

While the store will be open daily from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., the company will likely ask the town to approve a closing time of 10 p.m. which was permitted in the special permit approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.