Selectman Candidates’ Question of the Week: Mitigating the Impact of Belmont Uplands

Photo: Jim Williams.

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: Over the three-year term beginning on April 8, what will you do to mitigate the expected effects of the 299-unit Belmont Uplands development on town resources and the local environment?

Jim Williams

The proposed development in the Uplands is a situation where we have to prepare for the worst, and collaborate to achieve the best outcome. While it is, of course, disheartening to see the Silver Maple Forest surrounding the Uplands disappearing, there is still much that I, as Belmont Selectman, can be done to ensure that the developer adheres to 40B affordable housing regulations. The environmental impact is also of utmost concern and traffic issues must be addressed. 

We must prepare now for the impact of an additional 299 housing units will have on town resources and our already over-crowded schools.  My plan is to work with the developer and the town with the goal of ensuring the best outcome for the Uplands and the Town of Belmont. 

First, we need to determine the net cost to the town based on the number of units, number of residents, and impact on our utilities. We do not have clear estimates for the number of additional children; nor do we know how traffic patterns and congestion will impact us. It is my understanding that, as of yet, the Board of Selectmen has not run a model nor have they asked the planning board to develop a model to estimate costs of services, and look at any benefits from tax or other revenue. How can we prepare for the strains on our system if we aren’t willing to make projections?

Second, major environmental concerns are two-fold: flooding and pollution. The developer is using storm water data from 1961; when in in actuality the 2011 rainfall statistics shows 150,000 gallons in excess storm water. Not only is there a risk of flooding, the excess storm water also impacts pollution at the site.

Third, the developer needs to proactively fund and put in place certain measures to mitigate traffic. The most practical change we can implement to help with traffic would be to build the tunnel under the railroad at Alexander Avenue. This has the potential to reduce traffic on Brighton Road, one of the roads which would be most severely affected by traffic from the Uplands development.

I believe the most alarming challenge we face with the Uplands development is the sheer increase in population; which means more cars on already less-than-acceptable roads and a further strain on our town services, such as police and fire, and utilities like sewer and water and electricity.  Furthermore, our school system is growing at an unprecedented rate, and an additional rapid in-flux of students into our already overcrowded schools may push us to a breaking point.  

All of this requires fiscal discipline and diplomatic solutions to ensure that we balance the outcome of the Uplands development with our current and future needs. I have a proven track record in ensuring that the best outcomes are achieved within the parameters of our financial constraints and available revenue. My plan shows promise and potentially and optimistic outlook for the Town. Facing our financial problems head-on is the only way we are going to preserve the town we love.

Andy Rojas

As required, because all necessary state permit conditions had been met, the Community Development Department recently issued a foundation permit for the Uplands residential development; project construction will now begin in earnest. The full impact of this project on Belmont will take a number of years to be felt. However, the town must prepare for the aftermath of this unfortunate occurrence and deal with any immediate effects.

  • This is an area where my extensive site development and mitigation experience will be extremely helpful to Belmont.

Since the project is comprised of five separate residential buildings, it is likely that the impact on Belmont’s services — schools, police, fire, etc. — will be felt in waves as each construction phase is completed. However, the primary environmental impacts on flooding and habitat destruction will likely be apparent as soon as the site has been cleared of vegetation in preparation for foundation construction.

Protecting the Belmont neighborhoods most directly affected by the environmental consequences of the Uplands development will be a central theme of ongoing reviews and approvals during construction. I am committed to using my site development and mitigation expertise in helping to protect these neighborhoods.

  1. I will work with the Community Development Department and our construction control team to make sure that all construction activity adheres to the law and to all applicable environmental regulations and best practices.
  2. All environmental impacts relating to water management, stormwater control/storage and natural habitat disturbance will be monitored to make sure that the project abides by approval conditions.
Andy & Smudge Rojas - IMG_0779

Andy Rojas and Smudge.

Accommodating the Uplands’ projected post-construction requirements for town services will be very challenging. Uplands property taxes will not cover costs.

As each project phase is completed, the school-age population will increase; students must be absorbed and placed appropriately. While projections of student numbers are an inexact science, Belmont will inevitably be faced with providing quality education, transportation and perhaps additional mandated services to this larger population. I will work closely with the Schools Superintendent and the School Committee to carefully gauge and accommodate this influx from start to finish.

The Uplands’ other projected demands on town services such as police, fire and emergency response will also require constant monitoring and adjustment; much of this will happen as each construction phase is completed. Given the Uplands’ geographic location, the town departments affected may require additional personnel and vehicles to properly service the completed project.

A police sub-station within one of the buildings is a possibility. While this will be a bigger burden for Belmont, as a community, we must support the life, safety and security of our new residents.

My experience with these departments as well as with my understanding of their capabilities, needs and budgets will allow me to work with them so we can address these challenges effectively.

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

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  1. Brodi says

    Kim slack, I respectively disagree. I live on Brighton Street or as Mr. Williams calls it “Brighton Road” I can’t get out my driveway in the morning because of
    The traffic. I see 100 of cars on my street everyday and I pay close attention to the passengers,the overwhelming majority of which are single passenger commuters cutting through town to get to work, bypassing fresh pond.

    This problem is not going to be solved by a pedestrian walkway or path. The upland project is going to make things much worse and we need a better solution. I’m sure you and small % of the population would get use or of the walkway and for the record I’m not necessarily against it, but to claim this is will have any real impact on traffic on Brighton STREET absolutely raises the concern of how
    well Wiliams and perhaps you know Belmont.

  2. Stephanie Jill says

    Both candidates seem to have clear vision that there will be catastrophic adverse effect from this 298-unit development. It was difficult for me to imagine how massive this development would be until I read that the giant eye sore on Rt. 2 which was once Faces nightclub has only 227 units (about 1/3 less than the Belmont Uplands development). It’s apparent the incumbent candidate, Mr. Rojas, has advantages to claim “been there, done that” with town planning and management. My questions to Mr. Rojas are the following:

    (1) Mr. Rojas, you commented on what you described as, the aftermath of this unfortunate occurrence, “the primary environmental impacts on flooding and habitat destruction will likely be apparent …” In 03/09/2015 Belmontonian article, it stated that the developer was allowed to use outdated 1961 (53 years old) rain data instead of 2011 data showing significant increase of rainfall amount by 35.4%. While anticipating flooding disasters, why didn’t the Selectmen enforce bylaws passed by Town Meeting Members who were elected to protect and secure what is best for the town and its inhabitants?

    According to 03/11/2015 Globe article, the Belmont Town Counsel advised that the development is exempt from the local bylaws under the state’s Ch. 40B law. Recently, many city and town officials, such as Newton, Needham and others are fighting 40B developments alongside with its residents. While awaiting a disaster to happen, what did Belmont selectmen do to prevent this from happening?

    (2) When the Town Counsel advised the Selectmen dropping Belmont Conservation Commission’s 5+ years litigation against the developer; was this unexpected decision made by the Selectmen or voted by the Conservation Commissioners? Did the Town get a second opinion?

    (3) There are a lot of rumors on the Belmont streets; is it true that the Belmont Town Counsel and the Belmont Uplands developer’s attorney worked closely together for about three years at a small law firms (with possibly less than 7 lawyers at that time)? Is it also true that the firm was founded by former member of the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals; a voting member for the Belmont Uplands case? If this is true, is this information known by the Selectmen and/or other town officials? For such an important issue for the Town adding about 300 housing units in an isolated location with extensive expenses paid by the tax payers, did the Selectmen seek second or third opinions?

    (4) I have the same question as Ms. Engel; Mr. Rojas stated that the property taxes on the Uplands development will not cover the cost of town services, Why not? With such tight budget constraints for the town, are the projected costs for the Uplands development fully disclosed? Were the costs reflected in the town’s 2015/16 budget? Why are we using Belmont’s tax payers’ money for an out-of-state developer while we are voting in April for another tax increase to repair roads/sidewalks and costs associated with the already surging school enrollment?

    (5) Mr. Rojas said that “While this will be a bigger burden for Belmont, as a community, we must support the life, safety and security of our new residents.” I agree completely; we are obligated to support safety and security of our new residents. However, since the development would likely to exacerbate flooding, sewage backups, additional traffic and pollution; what additional safety measure are being made by the Selectmen in supporting the life, safety and security for current Belmont residents?

  3. Mary Lewis says

    Belmont is already at a tipping point in terms of schools and roads. We need the override even without developing the Uplands. We’ll need it even more when we do. Does either candidate have an explanation for why we’re using a Pennsylvania-based developer for this?

    • Judith Feinleib says

      The Pennsylvania based developer owns the land. It’s his right to develop it because he owns it. The town has nothing to do with that.

  4. Melina Engel says

    Thanks for that Judith, I hadn’t appreciated that re: the tunnel. Mr. Rojas stated that the prop taxes on the development won’t cover the cost of town services. Anyone have any idea why that would be?

    • Judith Feinleib says

      The Warrant Committee has done projections for the Uplands project. Annual tax revenue from the completed Uplands project is projected to be approximately $933,100. The projected school costs (estimated 112 new students) are approximately $1.4 M; that doesn’t include increases for special needs, English language learners, transportation and Out of District (OOD) students. There will also be additional costs for police, fire and other town services.

  5. Judith Feinleib says

    Mr. Williams’ answer suggests that he has not familiarized himself with the reasons for an Alexander Avenue tunnel. The Alexander Avenue tunnel is intended to provide a safe PEDESTRIAN crossing from Alexander Avenue to Belmont High School. It is expected that it will be used primarily by students and is intended to prevent the temptation to make an unsafe crossing on the tracks. The tunnel is NOT intended to accommodate vehicles and, is in a location which will NOT have any effect on the Uplands Development.

    Mr. Williams’ mistaken belief that the Alexander Avenue tunnel can have an effect on the Uplands project and his statement that it will be used for vehicular traffic raises concerns about how well he knows Belmont.

    • Kim Slack says


      The Alexander Ave tunnel would allow many students from Winn Brook to walk to Chenery and the High school, who are currently driving or being driven down Brighton St. So it seems plausible that the tunnel would reduce traffic during morning rush hours on Brighton St. and the Channing/Leonard St. intersection. Brighton St. is a likely road to have increased traffic from the Uplands, especially since there is no walking path to the schools from there.

      Perhaps Mr. Williams knows Belmont better than you think he does.

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