Selectman Candidates’ Question of the Week: A Vision for Future Development in Belmont

Photo: Andy Rojas.

Every Wednesday leading up the Town Election on Tuesday, April 7, the Belmontonian will be asking a “Question of the Week” to the candidates running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen: incumbent Andy Rojas and Glenn Road resident Jim Williams.

This weekly feature will allow the candidates seeking a three-year term on the board to answer topical questions concerning Belmont and help demonstrate their ability to lead the town.

This week’s question: There is a critical need in Belmont to promote new growth and increase the tax base. What is your vision for future development in Belmont? Where do you think those opportunities exist within the town?

Andy Rojas

Belmont’s development future must be guided by the needs of our residents, the expansion of our commercial tax base and the enhancement of Belmont’s physical character. My entire adult life has been spent managing development so it fits the neighborhood and environmental context contained in each proposal. Applying my professional experience to town service has demonstrated my commitment to sensitive development that respects and enhances Belmont.

Belmont’s budget struggles often end up imposing a financial burden on the primary revenue generators — residential taxpayers. Well planned economic development in our business districts can change that; commercial taxpayers typically use fewer town services and therefore, have fewer negative impacts on town expenditures.

New development potential exists in Cushing Square, Waverley Square, Belmont Center, South Pleasant Street and Brighton Street among other key business areas. Transitional commercial areas such as Benton Square, Palfrey Square and other small neighborhood commercial areas also have potential for suitable contextual development.

Planning and design must provide necessary commercial services while limiting and mitigating traffic, mass and density impacts. Residents and neighborhoods must be protected with appropriate controls including overlay districts, zoning laws and demolition delay among others.

  • I have worked on revitalizing Belmont’s business districts — large and small — for the past decade and can combine my professional expertise with the Belmont background and experience needed to make these projects successful.

Fitting development to Belmont’s needs can be done most effectively by creating thoughtful overlay districts in key areas. My experience with Belmont’s overlay districts, zoning laws and demolition moratoriums will let me move Belmont forward.

The Cushing Square Overlay District (CSOD) should be updated in light of the Cushing Village developers’ interpretation of the by-law; tighter controls on mass, height and density are needed. CSOD allows for additional development; I will work with the Planning Board and the neighborhood to update and clarify the by-law’s requirements so future development adheres to better targeted, community-based standards.

New overlay district by-laws should be considered for Waverley Square and South Pleasant Street, which will likely see increased development pressure. Partnering with surrounding neighborhoods is critical to their success and effectiveness as important, protective planning tools. I am committed to leading this effort and to using my expertise and Belmont know-how to make them work.

Business district revitalization has begun with restaurants and stores such as Savinos, Il Casale, Spirited Gourmet, Vintages, Craft Beer Store and El Centro; they have opened because Belmont has issued more restaurant and alcohol licenses. The Belmont Center Reconstruction Project, Trapelo Road Reconstruction Project, Macy’s building redevelopment and the construction of Cushing Village will provide even greater commercial growth that will help alleviate the residential taxpayer burden.

Expanding Belmont’s commercial tax base is vital to the long term financial stability of the town, will help mitigate the impact of residential taxes that currently comprise approximately 94 percent of Belmont’s revenue, and will provide the vibrant shopping and dining environment residents deserve.

I respectfully request your vote for Selectman on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Thank you.

Jim Williams

Belmont is as close to fully developed in terms of available land as any town I know. We have an interesting conundrum here in that we aim to preserve a small-town, community feel, while continuing to advance the growing needs of our community.  

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I truly believe that development opportunities reside in Belmont’s commercial centers – Cushing and Waverly Squares, Belmont Center, and along Belmont Street – in order to capitalize on increased revenue (from taxes). Encouraging mixed-use development such as the Cushing Square development plan would promote a business- and commuter-friendly eco-system, while increasing our revenue. Because trains and buses serve the centers, there would be an inherent increase in foot traffic desirable to our local businesses.

Thriving commercial centers promote a sense of community and energy, while increasing engagement in the town.  On the flip side is the fact that our public services are overwhelmed and underfunded, which need to be addressed before expanding our tax base for the sake of revenue while increasing costs to serve the needs of our newest residents.  This balance is best achieved by a fully-functional town management that prioritizes fiscal responsibility and servicing our community and infrastructure. I consider development part of a larger solution within the plan I have offered our beloved Belmont.

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