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?
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.