LIVE FEED: Belmont Town Meeting, Night 2: Pool, Pot, Shoveling and Yard Sales

7 p.m.: Welcome to the second night of the 155th edition of the Belmont Town Meeting here at the Belmont High School auditorium.

Tonight will see the – hopefully – the final night for non-budget articles.

First up is an update report on the “quaint” Belmont Center reconstruction being presented by Glenn Clancy, director of Community Development and Selectmen chair Andy Rojas. The days of doing nothing or just fixing the pavement is not what is needed, said Clancy.

The work, costing around $2.6 million, could be funded with a state grant, capital funds from the Cushing Square parking lot ($850,000) and the Woodfall Road payment (just north of $2 million), a debt exclusion, Chapter 90 fund, town reserves or existing pavement management funds, said Town Administrator David Kale. The town will come back at the fall Special Town Meeting on how to pay for it.

This presentation is the first volley by the town in the public campaign for funding.

7:35 p.m.: Long-term Town Meeting members are being honored. And Marty Cohen, 39 years of service, speaks before his colleagues on the differences from when he first came to the meeting in 1974 including that women now constitutes 50 percent of Town Meeeting. Speak loud and learn the rules, is his advice.IMG_5549

Dave Rogers, our active State Rep., is going over what’s happening on Beacon Hill impacting Belmont. There is largely good news with an increase in state aid for general government and schools along with special funding for energy efficient buildings.

7:50 p.m.: First up for debate and a vote tonight will be the two articles concerning the funding of the proposed new Underwood Pools complex scheduled to replace in June, 2015 the 102-year-old swimming “pond” adjacent to the Belmont Public Library at the corner of Concord Avenue.

Members will vote on a $2 million grant from the town’s Community Preservation Committee as well as allowing the town to borrow $2.9 million the town’s voters approved by 62 percent on Town Election on April 1.

Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas wants to give an update on some design changes after the April 1 vote. Rojas said that the design voters selected is a preliminary one so new revisions and changes can be made with a “more rigorous” process. This process could save money, but please note there will be more public comment on the pool. “Tell us what your thought are.”

Ann Paulsen, the Pool Building Chair, is presenting the history of the design process. She highlights that there were many meetings, multiple changes the committee made with other groups, and a design that has won the approval of the Underwood family. “This will keep a community amenity for the next 50 years.”

8 p.m.: “Let’s dive in,” said Underwood Pool Building Committee member Adam Dash – to a collective groan – who is reviewing the design and changes that will be made.IMG_5565

Much of what Dash is explaining has been reported in the Belmontonian, including a detail of the current design – a two pool complex (a “kiddy” pool and a more “adult” oriented one with laps and a diving pool) with updated bathhouses on both ends, greater green space, and a revamped parking lot design.

For more information, go to the Underwood Pool Building Committee Facebook page.

This is what people wanted to see [in the pool design]” said Dash.

Now for something different: the first image of the new design for the bath houses, on a more historic theme. With HIP roof, nice airy design, easy to clean and a “Belmont” feel. And the view from Concord Avenue is “inviting.”

Dash also explains how the money is coming from. “We got our monies worth out of the pool,” he said. Will he get a hand for his presentation? He does.

Questions? Jim Stanton, Pct. 1, asks why there is a historic preservation element in the CPA funding when the bath house is being razed? Floyd Carman, town treasurer and vice chair of the CPC, said the committee just doesn’t look at small bits of money but how it effects Belmont as a whole. Stanton, who said he will be voting for the pool, said the CPA is a “law” and it should be followed and is “not for us to decide the Belmont way” in interpreting the law. Paulsen then comes up and said that what is historic is that the site is the location of the first outdoor municipal pool in the country “and we are maintaining the site that is historic.”

Funny moment: Dash explaining why two pools: “If there is a child has an ‘accident’ in the kiddy pool, and let the record show that I am using air quotes when referring to ‘accident’,” to the laughter of the members.

The article is called and is passed with a single “no” vote.

8:44 p.m.: Now up is article 17 allowing the town to borrow $2.9 million from the town election. It will cost residents $48 but that will be offset by a $108 reduction with the expiration of the Chenery Middle School debt to considerable cheers.

The article is called and easily passes the 2/3 barrier to applause. The town officially has a new pool!

8:48 p.m.: Now up, CPA grants. You can approve or deny, said CPC chair Paul Solomon.

Five grants to be approved:

  • $8,700 for the JV Field irrigation upgrade.
  • $165,000 for the electrical upgrade at town-owned housing.
  • $66,524 for phase 2 of the Butler Elementary playground project.
  • $100,000 for the renovation of the Winn Brook field (Belmont Second Soccer)
  • $375,000 for first-time homebuyer’s assistance (Belmont Housing Trust)
  • $12,000 for the Belmont Community Moving Image Archive.
Only the first-time homebuyer’s program could come under some questioning as the Warrant Committee overwhelmingly voted against the grant.
Jim Stanton, Pct. 1, questions the $56,000 administrative costs of the Community Preservation Committee including hiring a person – who works in the Treasurer’s Office – to do the stand alone committee work. He’d like to see more transparency of costs. Rojas said that the money is well spent as the CPC has to do a great deal of work each year. If the entire amount is not used, the remaining money is put back into the CPA fund. While not disputing the need for the money, Paul Roberts of Pct. 8, said the committee could it saved itself the grief of having the members pull the information from the committee’s documentation. Solomon agreed and said they will do better.
9:13 p.m.: We are back after a short break and the members will debate and vote on the individual grants. First is $8,700 for the JV field, a request from the Belmont Soccer Association. It’s approved unanimously.
The electric upgrade at Belmont Village (circa 1949), a $165,000 request from the Belmont Housing Authority. Sue Bass, Pct. 2, asks if this is the first of several future requests as the current amount will only revamps 25 units. Donna Hamilton of the BHA said that is likely as they do not receive sufficient monies from the state and federal government. Fred Paulsen, Pct. 1, said Belmont’s legislators should seek state funds as the town should not use taxpayers funds (the CPA is funded by a property surtax) for state housing. Jack Weis, Pct. 1, said that he was told that any maintenance is the town’s responsibility so the use of the money is appropriate. But lots of residents, such as Roger Wrubel, Pct. 5, Anne-Marie Lambert, Pct. 8, and Tomi Olson, Pct. 5, contend that this work should be the state’s responsibility and it should fund it. “I will vote for it but this doesn’t feel good,” said Ellen Schreiber, Pct. 8, who asked if this is about safety, why only fix a quarter of the units? Hamilton said $165,000 is a lot of money to ask Town Meeting to pass.
The question is called and this amount is approved. This took a half-hour to debate so it’s looking unlikely that we’ll get through all the articles tonight. Sigh!
9:45 p.m.: Really? One person voted against $66,524 for improvements to the new Butler playground? Come on!
Belmont Second Soccer’s request for $100,000 for their $302,000 project to renovation the Winn Brook field so kindergarteners can chase in a moving cluster after a soccer ball on a well-maintained pitch is approved unanimously.
9:54 p.m.: A real debate is expected with this request: Belmont Housing Trust’s $375,000 grant for a first-time homebuyer’s assistance. Mike Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee, said the Town Meeting’s watchdog members voted 10-3 with one not voting against the request as it’s so limited – just three households will be added to the town’s affordable housing stock which is only 3.8 percent, nearly 600 units from the state benchmark of 10 percent.
Judith Feins of the BHT, defends the request as being cost effective and allowing families with a medium household income of 80 percent ($61,000 for a three person family) to live in the community. They will be selected in a lottery. Gloria Leipzig, BHT vice chair, gives a real person example of a family who sees their monthly housing expenses don’t exceed what they can afford. One purpose of the CPA funds is to increase and preserve community housing. Sure, it’s not going to help reach the 10 percent but it is a concrete example of Belmont’s commitment to affordable housing. Treasurer Floyd Carman gives the request a boost by comparing a first-time homebuyer’s program (which adds taxes to the town) or a fully-subsized housing model like Waverley Oaks (no tax money).
Selectman Sami Baghdady, who appears to be speaking for those opposing the measure, said the money could be better spent elsewhere as the $325,000 is a large amount of money to spend that will not nudge the affordable housing gauge. To reach the 10 percent state goal can be better made by developments such as Cushing Village where 12 units will be added with no cost to the town.
Bob McLaughlin, Pct. 2, and warrant committee member said that Belmont does not have a [housing/economically] diversity problem and this proposal is a “waste of $325,000” as it doesn’t help the town meet the 10 percent state benchmark.
Paul Roberts and Fred Paulsen spoke very strongly to this measure. “This is the type of affordable housing that Belmont wants”  “You want to see Belmont freak out, propose 600-units of affordable housing,” he said. Don’t get hung up on 10 percent, “do it because its the right thing to do.” Paulsen pointed out that the Cushing Village model is not realistic as Belmont doesn’t have the land to create another Cushing Village.
Roger Colton, Pct. 6, said in the past, Belmont spent $1.5 million to build four units; this grant will produce three units. “This is the right thing as policy; it’s the right thing morally.”
Richard Hanson, Pct. 5, gave an economics lesson on why the members should vote against the proposal including the impact of lost equity that is part of urban blight; Lucia Sullivan, Pct. 3, of B Street – who is a neighbor of three affordable apartments – said she supports this request as she has great neighbors.
Ralph Jones, notes the town over the past 20 years have approved small numbers of units not to reach the 10 percent goal but because it is the right thing to do.
It’s 10:52 p.m. We might get through this by 11:15 p.m. Maybe.
Devin Brown, Pct. 5, worries that owners will not have the equity which could be a determent to making repairs.
Bonnie Friedman, Pct. 3, said she knows of a lot of renters that would love to own. “We can make this work.”
Jack Weis, Pct. 1, said there is nothing in this request that precludes the town from seeking more developments to add affordable housing. “This is not an either/or question,” he said. The public voted for the CPA with the understanding that housing would be used.
Now the vote. And it’s not even close: 129 for, 70 against. It passes.
One final vote, for $12,000 to moving image. And the Town Meeting is now adjourned until next Monday, May 12 at 7 p.m.
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