2019 Belmont Annual Town Meeting, Segment A, Day 1

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Welcome to the 2019 edition of the Belmont Town Meeting! We’ll get underway about 10 minutes late, which isn’t all that bad. Town Moderator Mike Widmer has called the meeting to order

We had the invocation and the flag ceremony thanks to the Boy and Girls scouts of Belmont.

And the annual check of the electronic voting machines. Seems to be working. New and re-elected members are sworn in by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman. The rules are read and the warrant is called. And longtime meeting members who are no longer serving are honored with Charles Hamon with the most years of service with 48 years.

The Town Meeting will be hearing the motions in the following order tonight: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 10.

The first two articles are housekeeping items.

The meeting now has Article 3 before it: Amending the “Inclusionary Housing” Zoning By-Law (which needs a two-thirds vote) – which sets the number of affordable units in residential housing projects – bringing Belmont’s By-Law into alignment with peer communities and clarifies and simplify subsections of the By-Law. It’s to reduce the threshold for when affordable housing is required, from 40 dwelling units to 20 (in which 12 percent of the development will be affordable); delete a provision that regulates mixed-use developments differently and simplifies the cash option to building affordable units.

Rachel Heller who is making the presentation said that Belmont needs affordable housing as home prices have outpaced income with nearly a third of Belmont residents could apply for affordable units.

The change will increase the production of affordable units and create a town’s policy is better suited for the current environment, said Heller.

The new amendments will not increase density in any one area, said the Planning Board. Anne Mahon asked if developers who construct across town can come under the law in the aggregate of units they build. Nope, is the answer.

The vote on the article is underway and passes easily 224-25. A roll call request is being asked which needs 35 votes. That is approved with 90 votes. This vote will be part of the public record. I wonder if this is a bit unneighborly.

Article 4 is now before the meeting. Another Zoning By-Law change which involves a small section of Pleasant Street within two blocks of the Route 2 off-ramp that will “ensure that tear down/rebuilds and additions reflect the current character of the neighborhood in terms of density, mass, bulk, height, etc.”

This originally came to the Planning Board as a petition to ask that their neighborhood be protected from oversized mega homes. This is a neighborhood that is much like the zoning of the nearby streets (SRC) with 2/3 of lots being non-conforming which could lead to additions or added floors in his hilly location to have an oversized visual impact.

The changes will make the area much like the zoning nearby. You’ll now need a special permit from the Planning Board if your addition is more than 30 percent or 700 sq.-ft. or increase in stories or the overall height to the ridge on nonconforming lots. The special permit can be granted if the height and mass are in harmony with surrounding homes and is sensitive to topographical considerations.

Questions are not actually pertaining to the measure Rachel Berger, Pct. 2 and SRB resident, said this article is the continuation of protecting homeowners from overbuilding and large expansion that started in the General Residences zone. “We are all one Belmont.”

This requires a 2/3s vote. It’s 236 to 15 in favor, 96 percent to 6 percent.

Article 5 is to amend the General Bylaw concerning kennels. George Hall, Town Counsel, said this article is simply keeping up with state law which changed the monetary fines of violating the kennel bylaw. A voice vote approval.

Article 6, the end of tradition! The selectmen will become members of the “Select Board.” Already cheers from a few members. Selectman Adam Dash said it’s not just cosmetic; it’s the only elected body with a gender-specific title. “I only wish we did this long ago,” said Dash. Cheers.

With the exception of Don Mercier, Pct. 8, who, as a traditionalist, is opposing the article, overwhelming support for the name change. 238 to 11. It will take effect after the state AG accepts the results of the meeting, in about three months. A roll call request passes with 118. Now the margin is 243 to 4 with 4 abstained.

Article 7 is dismissed as its the citizens petition for the name change for the board of selectmen.

The final article of the night, number 10, is to support a home rule amendment to change the term of the Town Moderator from 1 to 3 years. Mike Widmer, who recused himself from his position for this article, said the trend statewide is moving to a three-year term.

Jack Weis, Pct 1, said continuity is important to do the job well so a three years is preferred.

Anne Mahon, Pct 4, said to have a three-year term for a position who selects members of many important committees such as the Warrant Committee could easily be abused. Claus Becker, Pct. 6, said it’s better to have someone who can learn as an assistant rather than having someone with so much power. Julie Crockett, Pct 5, said it’s comforting to have to vote for this position. The question has been moved.

Easily passed, so the vote on the article: Wow: 122 to 124 against the article. Did not see that coming. A roll call vote has been asked. It will need 35 votes. It passes so here we go with the roll call. 126 to 124! It passes! And I called it! Four members who didn’t vote the first time tallied their votes while the no votes stayed solid.

And that’s that for the night. See you on Wednesday, May 1.


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