Photo: Mike Widmer at the start of the meeting.
Virtual presentations, virtual line of people at the microphone, virtual voting: Welcome to Belmont’s third annual ZOOM Town Meeting as members came together, once again, in front of laptops and smart phones to conducted the business of town governance on Monday, May 2.
And despite a few technical hiccups – unintended raised hands, unmuted background noise and one or two false starts in remarks and presentations – the night went smoothly taking a tidy three-and-a-half hours to wrap up by 10 p.m. in the first of an expected three nights under Segment A which covers the meeting’s non-budgetary articles.
While the meeting would have the feel of a video conference, it didn’t mean the members would miss out on the traditional moments that precedes each annual assembly: a video flag raising and the Pledge of Allegiance by the Boys and Girls Scouts, an invocation from Dane Helsing of Beacon Community Church along with the acknowledgement of those long-serving members who did not seek or was not reelected – Sue Pew served for 45 years!
And the Town Meeting oath given by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman – “the bestist and nicest Town Clerk” as one of the Boy Scouts attested to – to 50 new members (a record of sorts according to Moderator Mike Widmer) acknowledging their pledge via their wireless voting devices.
During his talk to members on procedure and process, Widmer reminded the first night attendees to not allow discussions to get the better of their emotions
“It’s critical to keep our discourse civil and respectful,” said Widmer. “It is a healthy thing to have a healthy debate. Passion is fine, but let’s keep it civil.”
There was a lot of meat and potato articles on the menu on the first night. After sweeping aside the routine housekeeping articles, the articles
The 2017 bylaw established the town’s demolition delay regulations to provide up to a one year reprieve in pulling down 181 significant buildings listed by the town, said Lisa Harrington, chair of the Historic District Commission, in her presentation to the meeting.
The original bylaw has a “sunset” provision that will take effect at the end of 2022. The article would make the bylaw permanent via some minor language changes. The bylaw change will also deleted the appeals provision as the new provision does not add properties to the list. Just how effective the law has been, said Harrington, is that none of the the 181 significant buildings have not been taken down in the past five years.
During the debate, Jason Katola, Precinct 3, opposed the article for some of the same reasons members did five years ago; there is no compensation to the homeowner due to any delay and that it prevents the most productive use (a new structure on the site) of the land. Steve Pinkerton, chair of the Planning Board and Precinct 7, kept his statement brief and to the point: the new bylaw language will not be an impediment to development in town. Vince Stanton, Precinct 3, said that if the bylaw had been on the books at the turn of the century, four historic and architecturally important buildings – the Waverley Square Congregational Church and the Thomas Clark House, as examples – that he described as “real treasures” would have had at least partial protection. Not all that controversial, the article passed easily, 221-31-1.
Membership of Town Committees
Town Clerk Cushman told the meeting that many Belmontians believe that serving on boards, commissions and committees is a vital part of government and that it’s currently reserved for residents with some limited exceptions. But, surprisingly, there is only one reason that a member can be removed from said bodies: missing three consecutive meetings.
The bylaw change proposed by Cushman would create three reasons to remove a member; missing three consecutive meetings, non-compliance with the mandatory on-line state ethics training and they are no longer a Belmont resident. And it was surprising to discover that 18 volunteers are currently out of sequence with the ethic education requirement and 2 are no longer residents.
During the debate, Town Counsel George Hall said that town has no way of running off a volunteer who breaks the state’s ethnic laws – that’s up to the state – but can remove them if they don’t take the biannual test.
Meeting members had no problem with the bylaw change, passing it by a 247-1 margin.
Stormwater management and erosion control
Article 6 amends the town’s storm water management and erosion control bylaw of 2013 so that it aligns with the MS4 permit, which is issued by the US Environment Protection Agency authorizing discharges from Belmont’s storm sewer system into ”the waters of the United States.”
“We have provisions that require sewer and stormwater service connections to comply with certain regulations,” Glen Clancy, the town’s engineer and director of the Office of management. ”There are requirements that have to be in the bylaw in order for us to be in compliance with the MS4 permit so the proposal is to add wording to clarify definitions” said Clancy such as what the total maximum daily load requirement.
The article received overwhelming support from the residents who count, those who promote clean water and best practices for storm water management.
“We are lucky to have someone line Glen Clancy who was willing to put in the time to try to figure out how to conform the … bylaw to all the inconsistent and conflicting requirements of EPA and state DEP,” said Bob McGaw, precinct 1. And Clancy pitched a rare shut out with the amendment with a 254-0-3 vote of Town Meeting.
The town has a new public road when the once private Oakmont Lane was accepted by Town Meeting by a 165-61-17 margin. Unlike previous articles to accept a private way such as Carleton Circle, the cul-de-sac was built by the developer of the four residential homes which he purchased in 2015 from the town for a little over a million dollars. As part of the purchase and sale, the road would be brought before Town Meeting by the developer rather than the residents. The debate hinged on doing right by the new residents and accepting the road or let the developer continue to control the road and work it out between him and the homeowners on repairs and snow removal.
Retail Liquor Licenses
It may come as some surprise to newcomers that up until 2007, Belmont was strickly a teetotaling kind of town. For nearly 150 years, the Town of Homes was in the grip of our Victorian and Prohibition-era forefathers as liquor sales was strictly verboten. You’d have to hope the trolley to Cambridge to have wine with your dinner.
But by 2022, Belmont is more than willing to top off the number of alcohol and beer and wine licenses as high as they can. But only up to a point. The Select Board’s Adam Dash reported the article was a simple one: to go from two all-alcohol retail licenses to four and to increase the number of beer and wine licenses from four to six with an eye to increasing businesses and retail shopping. Why four and six licenses when an earlier version of the article called for seven beer and wine permits? Dash said it was pointed out that 4 and 7 total 11 and that additional license would have triggered a state law that requires the town to increase the number of marijuana retail sale licenses to three from the current two.
Dash noted that the fee for the licenses will remain steady: an annual all-alcohol license is $4,000 while beer and wine are $2,500 annually.
Town Meeting took no time in approving the article, 223-18-2, to bring in the booze.
Town meeting will return on Wednesday, May 4 with articles 10 and 3