A few weeks ago, Planning Board’s Vice Chair Matthew Lowrie had just finished writing his resignation letter from the board. The longtime Belmont resident was preparing to move from the Town of Homes “in the not so distant future” and wanted to provide the board’s chair, Steve Pinkerton, time to fill his post on a committee facing a heavy agenda for the year ahead.
But as Lowrie prepared to press ”send” on his letter, “a funny coincidence occurred,” as he noticed an email from Pinkerton. The subject of that correspondence: Pinkerton’s own resignation.
Pinkerton’s sudden resignation along with Lowrie’s pending departure has highlighted the shortage of members and has brought to a halt a proposal by the Belmont Hill School to install a parking lot and facilities building near its central campus that was going before the board for a vote at the Planning Board’s Oct. 11 meeting.
Lowrie said Pinkerton had ”very good reasons” to leave his post on the board which he has led for the past two years with ”[grace] and aplomb,” noting his leadership as ”one of the real drivers” in changing town bylaws to address the trend of “supersizing” residential properties.
With Pinkerton’s departure, Lowrie has decided to step into the chair role – “we’ll see for how long” – until new members are appointed to allow the board to move forward with some semblance of continuity.
With so many changes over the past weeks, the proposal by the Belmont Hill School to add to and revamp its campus parking got caught up in the board’s turmoil.
“I think we’re highlighting that we’re in a little bit of a tenuous place at the moment,” Lowrie told the Zoom audience.
The parking plan – made up of a new parking lot and Facilities Building on land east of Prospect Street, a more formalized parking area adjacent to the Athletic Center and redesign of existing parking and drop off site at the front of the school at Prospect and Marsh streets – has received “a lot of input from abutters and others,” said Lowrie, noting that a greater number of participants were attending via Zoom.
The delayed vote was to begin the design site review, which requires three ‘yes’ votes to proceed. The site plan review process provides a level of review that ensures the project will meet development policies and regulations as defined in the town’s bylaws as well as design practices that are commonly accepted within the community.
With Pinkerton resignation, member Karl Haglund not at Tuesday’s meeting and member Renee Guo recusing herself from the process, the school would need to receive an unanimous vote from the remaining three members to move the project forward.
While that was likely, the board and the town began talks with the school to withdraw the application for the time being to “let us get our planning board back in order” said Lowrie with the Select Board adding at least one full-time member in the next weeks.
“Do you think it would be cleaner and neater if you were to withdraw?” Lowrie asked Kelly Durfee Cardoza, a principal of the Avalon Consulting Group who was representing the school at the meeting. “I don’t see it in anybody’s best interest for there to be a vulnerability to whatever decision we reach based on the composition of the planning board,” he said.
Cardoza told the board that while the school wished to proceed with the review vote rather than having to wait an undetermined amount of time, Lowrie’s suggestion along with the board’s assurances that the delay would be a short one, the school will withdraw the current application without prejudice to refiling at the board’s next meeting on Oct. 18.
The next step is to seat a full-time member and be prepared to once again accept the school’s plan in the first weeks of November.
“Sounds like a plan,” said Lowrie.