Selectmen OKs Feasibility Study for Proposed Community Path

Photo: Russell Leino (center), chair of the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee with Heather Ivestor (left) and Brian Burke.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen took a significant step in moving the idea of a town community path towards reality when it approved the hiring an engineering consultant to create a feasibility study of a dozen proposed routes from the Waltham line to the Alewife bike path off of Brighton Street.

“Once [the Selectmen] makes a decision, we can make this happen,” said Russell Leino, chair of the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee, which is overseeing the process for the town.

“Let’s get going with a [request for proposal] and move forward,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo, after hearing from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee at its meeting Monday, Dec. 15 at Town Hall.

Bowing to residents along Channing Road whose south-lying properties abut a favorite proposed path, the selectmen approved a suggestion by Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady to have an additional route, traveling along a portion of Concord Avenue, added to the list of reviewed paths.

In his presentation, Leino said the guiding principle of the five-member group is not to “reinvent the wheel” instead build on the work of its predecessor, the Community Path Advisory Committee, which did the heavy lifting of carving out the possible routes through town.

The five-member Implementation Advisory Committee (Leino, Vincent Stanton, Heather Ivestor, Michael Cicalese and Brian Burke) was created a year ago to develop recommended strategies for the design, construction and implementation of community path route options selected by the Selectmen, “diving deep” into the routes recommended by CPAC, focusing on any choke points including rough terrain or intersections on busy roadways.

In addition to the pathway, the committee looked into an underpass from Alexander Avenue to the south side of the commuter rail tracks that would allow residents and students transverse from the Winn Brook neighborhood to Belmont High School safely. 

After spending a great deal of time adhering to the mandate, “we are now at the stage to put pen to paper” by moving to a feasibility study,” said Leino.

During the initial process, the study will help determine “what things did we missed? What are things that CPAC missed? Are there alternatives that we should be thinking of?” said Leino. 

With the Selectmen’s approval in hand, a draft request for proposal (RFP) will be put out to bid in early January. Leino expects to hire a firm in late spring and have a completed feasibility study by the end of 2016. A group will decide on a final recommended route that will be sent to the Selectmen in the Spring of 2017.

The $100,000 to hire the engineering consultancy comes from a grant from the Community Preservation Committee that was approved by the 2015 Town Meeting.

In addition to the CPC funds, the Massachusetts legislature approved a $100,000 earmark that would pay for a study. If Gov. Baker releases the funding – no small feat in this time of fiscal restraint – the state money could replace or, supplement the town’s funds.

According to Leino, once the final route has been selected, the committee can then focus on funding a project, which could be the least difficult portion of the project. A Belmont community path is in line for both national and federal grants that would pay for nearly 90 percent of the total cost of approximately $10 million for the 2.2-mile route. 

Leino said because Belmont is a significant link to an extensive bike path from Somerville to Berlin, Mass and will lie close to other popular community routes nearby in Cambridge, Watertown, and Arlington, “we’d be right up there in priority for funding.”

The federal and state money would be available once the town invests about $1 million into the trail as they “want us to have some skin in the game,” said Leino.

Despite that the feasibility study is more than a year away, there is pushback from residents in two neighborhoods – Channing Road and homes on Clark Lane adjacent to Clark Road – to the path’s proximity to the property lines and the chance that homeowners on Clark Lane and the Boston Housing Authority could lose a portion of their land to the path.

Baghdady’s request for the feasibility study to look into using Concord Avenue and School Department land at Belmont High School came after some Channing Road residents felt the Community Path Advisory Committee did not give that proposal enough consideration.

Leino said that the Advisory Committee found the Concord Avenue route was “impractical” for several reasons including busy intersections, traffic, active driveways and other impediments. Also, a Concord Avenue route would effectively end financing plans for an underpass at Alexander Avenue, said Paolillo. 

But Baghdady did not see an additional route as overburdening the feasibility study.

“The objective is to have a community path and to me, the more options we have before us, the better decision we can make,” said Baghdady, winning the argument. 

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  1. jim Williams says

    The facts are and the video and written minutes will show that there was no vote by the BOS as the the agenda was organized as an update and that’s pretty much what happened. The RFP draft will be presented to the BOS in January and that’s when a scope vote will have to take place. Given a debate team background, I can appreciate any sides of any argument, but only in the context of constructive argument. When I think of how things might have gone differently in this matter, the following comments come to mind:

    1. The purpose of any “update” should be known in advance and put on the agenda so everyone knows what’s going on and why we are meeting.
    2. Decision making should be done in a two step or two meeting process where, in the first, we hear committee reports and public commentary and convene at the next meeting for the vote. This allows time for us to digest what’s been said; seek additional information; think about what we think should be done; and for advocates to continue advocating. The Board of Selectmen’s Mailbox is the best option for continued advocacy because it informs all of us concurrently and is a public record of what’s being said and who is saying it. .
    3. The Selectmen should be be queried as to who, what , when, where, why and how they have met outside of and in advance of the public meeting and what the outcome has been so far at the beginning of the discussion so everyone knows where they stand individually. It should go without saying we are prohibited from and don’t, in my experience, meet with each other outside of the public meetings as is prohibited by Open Access law and regulations.

    For now, my view is that, if Concord Avenue is to be considered again, all on-road paths need to be reviewed again as well. Fundamentally, the most straight forward way to connect Cambridge and Waltham community paths is to simply funnel path traffic around to Channing Road itself, under the bridge to Common Street, and onto Waverley Street to Waverley Square. Why not just do that? I think I know the answers to that, but I stand to be further informed. For now, we await the draft RFP at which time a scope decision will have to made by the BOS in an open public meeting. For the record, I am not in favor of abdicating my responsibilities as a Selectman or vote to a third party “expert” or “kicking the can down the road” for hypothetical political considerations since the expert has not been duly elected and the end of the road is a real, but not necessarily distant destination. Instead, there always comes a time when a decision must be made protecting and serving individual rights, the common interest and the public good.

    Best regards,
    Jim Williams
    Town of Belmont

  2. Anne Marie Mahoney says

    The $100,000 did not come from the Community Preservation Act funds but from the Capital Budget. The CBC was unaware that the state had allocated $100,000 for the same feasibility study when it voted to fund the study. We assume that the state funds will be used first and any unused Capital money will be returned to the Capital Budget.

    • Kim Slack says

      Thanks Anne, for that important clarification. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear at this time that the State funds will be available. This makes the addition of Concord Rd. even more problematic, since it entails many more technical challenges than the routes CPAC recommended.

      For instance, it will mean no tunnel under the tracks to keep kids safe in getting to the high school. So it’s baffling to see the Selectmen act like a Concord Ave. route is more important when they’ve all supported a pedestrian tunnel.

  3. Kim Slack says

    Mr. Baghdady in adding Concord Ave as a route that deserves to be included in an engineering study, showed poor judgement by ignoring the charter of the Implementation Committee, the findings of CPAC which studied Concord Ave,, fellow selectman and liaison to the CPIC, Mr. Paolillo’s concerns about money and time, and the numerous citizens who spoke in favor of off-road routes.

    His capricious and ill-informed decision has repercussions far beyond delaying the issuance of the RFP–it further divides the community rather than bringing it together and sends a message to those volunteers who have worked many years listening and studying the issues with the path: their efforts don’t matter. To Mr. Baghdady, it appears only power matters in the end.

  4. Peter Whitmer says

    Suggestion: The town pay for security fences for anyone who directly abuts the proposed path. As TMM I’d vote for that.

    • Erin Lubien says

      Mr. Whitmer and all concerned about the path where it abuts homeowner properties,

      This is a plea to inform yourselves. Please review the plans, including the remediations to those whose properties would abut the community path. The CPIAC went to great lengths to remedy all abutting neighborly concerns, including installing an 8′ security fence, adding earth berms to protect against cross-over, and creating more than a sense of security, but a true means of securing your properties against any concerns and issues expressed throughout the community input process.

      For those on Channing, imagine increasing your property line by 10′ of public land, enhanced by shrubbery and a security fence behind that landscaping. That is what is being proposed now before an engineering study validates it. There is plenty of information about the collected public input, the new plans, the reasons why an off-road solution is not only the best, but the most requested (by 85% of respondents!).

      Mr. Whitmore and others, please get informed – of facts, figures, plans made by the CPAC and CPIAC before casting conclusions that likely serve as fodder for more debate and confusion.

      Thank you.

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