Photo: The residents behind the citizens’ petition to create an elected board (from left): Anne Mahon, Paul Roberts, and Wayne Mesard. Town Clerk Ellen Cushman is collecting the petitions.
Three residents filed a citizens’ petition with Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman to transform the appointed Planning Board into an elected body on Tuesday morning, Oct. 10.
Town Meeting Members Paul Roberts (Pct. 8), Anne Mahon (Pct. 4) and Wayne Mesard (Pct. 3) are seeking to have the measure approved as an article by the Special Town Meeting when it meets on Monday, Nov. 13.
“The Planning Board is an incredibly important body of the town of Belmont,” said Roberts, who handed in the petition to Cushman with 162 signatures, much more than the 100 required by the town’s bylaws.
“It has jurisdiction over the physical shape of our community,” Roberts said about the board which is charged under the town’s bylaws to “protect and preserve the character and the quality of life that defines Belmont.”
But as it stands today, the appointed board is not accountable to the voters, but only to the selectmen, said Roberts. As an elected body, the petitioners believe the professionalism of the board will increase with a larger pool of interested people who will run.
Mahon said too many times in the past outstanding candidates were passed over with little explanation. Under an elected form, those seeking a seat at the table will be able to demonstrate their skills and ideas to the town electorate rather than the three selectmen.
“This isn’t an advisory board. This is an administrative board, an operational part of the government,” said Mesard, which Roberts noted is similar to the selectmen, school committee and the library board of trustees.
The five-member board – which includes an associate member – drafts zoning proposals, studies land-use patterns, reviews traffic concerns and evaluates specific development projects such as the Cushing Village project and recently the Belmont Day School’s classroom/gym development and roadway.
For more than a decade, the Planning Board and its members have come under fire by critics. Complaints of being unfriendly to business surfaced with the Cushing Village site and design review which took 18 months to conclude or in overstepping its jurisdiction with the proposal to move the town’s public library to Waverley Square as part of a redevelopment of the business center without reaching out to the Board of Library Trustees beforehand.
Roberts pointed out that Belmont’s board, whose members are appointed by the Board of Selectmen, is an anomaly when compared to neighboring towns. Communities such as Newton, Weston, Watertown, Lexington, and Winchester are just a few municipalities that elect their planning boards.
The petition will first be certified by the Town Clerk – due to technology issues Cushman was unable to make that call as of 3:45 p.m. Tuesday – before proceeding to the Bylaw Review Committee which reviews proposals for General Bylaw changes to make sure that they do not conflict with existing bylaws.