Selectmen Chair: 2 1/2 Override ‘Possible’ on November Ballot

Belmont Board of Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas said he is receptive to a Proposition 2 1/2 override to secure long-term funding for town and school needs being placed on the November election ballot.

“I’m going to be pushing the Financial Task Force to move their work a little faster so we can hopefully see an override vote in November,” Rojas told the Belmontonian on Wednesday, June 4 before the final night of the annual Town Meeting.

Election day for state races in Massachusetts is Tuesday, Nov. 4, less than five months away.

“Now is the time to act,” he said.

But an early date for an override, which many advocates believe is critical to secure its passage, ultimately depends on how quickly the nearly year-old task force can complete its mission of producing a comprehensive report, said Rojas.

“We need the facts before us,” he said, adding that the task force’s report should be presented before the Selectmen and the public “at least a month” before any date is selected for the override vote.

Rojas response came after comments last week by several Town Meeting members and from outgoing “interim” Belmont Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston expressing concerns that both schools and town services need an infusion of funding to support needed academic courses and increased teaching levels to match anticipated enrollment growth that currently exceeds the available revenue from the town’s annual 2 1/2 percent increase in tax revenue, new growth and state aid.

” … [I]t’s time for us in the community to turn to our neighbors and say ‘This isn’t right.’ We need to fully fund our schools,” said Christine Kotchem at last week’s Town Meeting.

While the fiscal 2015 School budget, now $46.2 million, saw a four percent increase in available revenue from the previous year, the “wish” list created by the school department of teachers, courses and material needed to keep the schools within a top-tier Level 3 district, according to Kingston who made the statement at Town Meeting.

Rojas said Kingston’s statement concerning the need for an operational override “was the first actual request the board has had in the past four year.”

“I think we need to take it very seriously and I do,” said Rojas.

It has been a dozen years since Belmont voters approved an override, for $2.4 million in June 2002, with the last three attempts, in 2006, 2008 and 2010, defeated by close margins.

While flexible to override advocates in placing the measure in November when voters will also be casting ballots for state-wide offices including a contest governor’s race, Rojas said the board and the public should first review the recommendations from the Task Force, the 13-member “mega” committee created last year charged with creating a comprehensive review of the town’s finances, discover possible new revenue streams and develop a long-range financial and capital improvement plan.

“The preferred course of action is for the Financial Task Force to do its work, create a report and that would inform the decision of the board (of selectmen),” said Rojas.

“If they can do it quicker, great. It all depends on that,” said Rojas.

Yet Rojas also acknowledged that the task force will be required to do a great deal of work during the summer months when meetings and report schedules are impacted by vacations and travel plans of the 13 members.

“Summers are always tough on committees,” said Rojas.

Belmont Town Budget Nears Nine Figures in Fiscal ’15

Before the final session of the Belmont Town Meeting held on Monday, May 12, to discuss non-budgetary articles, the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved a fiscal 2015 town budget that will bring Belmont closer to reaching nine figures.

The budget – which includes the gross amount of both general government and the school district – which will begin on July 1, 2014, is pegged at $95,238,925, a 3.76 percent increase from last fiscal year’s total of $91,781,259, a difference in real dollars of $3.46 million.

The Belmont School Committee will discuss and approve the fiscal ’15 district budget tonight, Tuesday, May 13, at 7:30 p.m. in the Chenery Middle School. But that number was set back in February at $46,156,000 (excluding government grants). That is an increase of $1.8 million from fiscal ’14, an increase of 4.1 percent.

In comparison, a decade ago, the town’s fiscal 2005 budget topped at $76.6 million with the schools coming in at $31.3 million.

Housing Trust’s CPA Affordable Housing Plan Gets Mixed Results

For the majority of articles being brought before the Belmont Town Meeting tonight, Monday, May 5, the Warrant Committee and the Board of Selectmen are of one mind; they will be nodding in sync approvingly with nearly all the proposals facing the approximate 300 representatives.

But there is one article where the two groups have decided to take diverging paths on the Community Preservation Committee’s $375,000 grant to the Belmont Housing Trust’s first-time homebuyer’s proposal.

The plan will help three homebuyers –  it would target those making less than 80 percent of the area median household income which is approximately $92,000 – to lower their mortgages by approximately $125,000 each to make them affordable. In return, the three units will remain affordable “in perpetuity” due to a deed restriction that limits the amount the homeowner can receive in a resale.

“There are six units of this same housing in Belmont, on Oakley and B Street,” noted Gloria Leipzig, the Housing Trust’s vice chair at a Warrant Briefing meeting in April.

While the Warrant Committee – which is the Town Meeting’s financial watchdog – voted overwhelmingly against the plan by 10-3 in April, the Belmont Board of Selectmen, in a two to one vote, will be supporting the proposal when it comes before the Town Meeting likely at Monday’s first night.

The disagreement between backers of the Housing Trust’s initiative and those opposed is not based on support of affordable housing as all members believe that Belmont should push to increase the supply of this housing – Belmont has about 300 units or 3.8 percent of the total housing stock.

Rather it’s the approach the Housing Trust hopes to use to increase affordable housing that has come under fire. According to several Warrant Committee members and Selectman Sami Baghdady, using nearly $400,000 to move a limited number of people into moderate-rate housing is simply not cost effective.

With Belmont nearly 600 units away from reach the state’s goal of 10 percent affordability in housing (which will also prohibit developers from using the Chapter 40B law allowing developers of affordable housing to override most town zoning bylaws and other requirements), the money would better be spent as part of a larger expenditure to build a great number of units or on other causes. 

“[The Community Preservation Act] is all tax money and it shouldn’t be used as a slush fund” for ineffective programs, said Baghdady at a May 1 Selectmen’s meeting.

Supporters of the CPA request contend that any increase in housing is better than staying pat on this societal problem.

“Our goal is to increase the number of affordable housing in Belmont, just to show the state we are trying to meet its requirements,” said Leipzig. 

For Selectman Mark Paolillo, the realization that the town may “never” meet the 10 percent goal doesn’t mean that the town should seek the perfect at the expense of doing nothing.

“It’s not perfect but I support the concept,” said Paolillo.

“We need to show our commitment to affordability and this is a fairly easy way to do it,” said Selectmen’s chair Andy Rojas.

Brighton Street’s Loading Dock Lands Full-Liqour License … with Conditions

Citing a chance to bring economic development to Brighton Street, the Belmont Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a full liquor license to The Loading Dock at 11 Brighton St. during a public meeting held before 90 residents and applicants at the Beech Street Center last night, Thursday, May 1.

“This is what I wanted for the store since I [first] arrived seven years ago,” said The Loading Dock’s owner and Belmont resident Faud Nicolas Mukarker after the vote.

Mukarker beat out applications from Waltham-based D&L Liquors and the Craft Beer Cellar of Belmont Center for the coveted full-liqour license, the only one to be presented.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen; (from left) Mark Paolillo, Andy Rojas and Sami Baghdady.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen; (from left) Mark Paolillo, Andy Rojas and Sami Baghdady.

While granting the license, the Selectmen placed a number of conditions on their approval, the most significant is that Mukarker must end the sale of tobacco and lottery tickets at the location as he transforms it into an “international bistro and cafeteria,” according to the Park Road resident.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 10.12.36 AM

Drawings of the proposed beer, wine and liquor area in an anticipated renovated The Loading Dock on Brighton Street.

In addition, the store can not sell individual cans of beer or “nips” – a tiny taster bottle of liquor usually 50 milliliters which is about a shot of liquor – employees must under go training on controlling sales to minors, the portion of the store reserved for liquor can not exceed 750 square feet and the business must hold a certification of occupancy from the town when the long-anticipated renovation of the site is completed. 

Mukarker said he will complete renovations at the site – which is another condition the Board is requiring of the owner before he can operate with the license – by August, dedicating between 500- to 750-square feet (about a third of the store’s footprint) to beer, wine and liquor.

In a separate vote, the Board declined an application for a wine and beer license to LC Variety on Trapelo Road due to space, cleanliness and management issues.

The native of Jerusalem left a position at Fleet Bank to become the manager of the then-White Hen Pantry at the location in 2006 before buying the location in 2011.

Liquor, Beer & Wine Licenses to be Heard Thursday, Beech Street Center

The Belmont Board of Selectmen will hold a public meeting on Thursday, May 1, at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the four applicants for the full-liquor and beer and wine retail licenses.

These are the first new permits to be made public after the State Legislature voted to approve a 2013 town meeting bylaw increasing the number of licenses.

The meeting is a continuation of the hearings held at 8 a.m. on April 22 that brought more than 50 residents to show their interest in the four applicants.

There are three applicants for the single all-alcohol license available this year are:
• Nicolas Market and Deli doing business as The Loading Dock; 11 Brighton St.
• Craft Beer Initiative doing business as Craft Beer Cellar; 51 Leonard St.
• D&L Wine and Spirits Inc. doing business as D & L Wine Shop; 334 Pleasant St.

For one of the two wine and beer licenses available this year is:
• Shri Manohar Corp. doing business as LC Variety; 326 Trapelo Rd.

Those interested residents are invited to attend the meeting and provide public comment on the retail liquor licenses under consideration.

If an individual or organization is unable to attend the hearing but wishes to express a comment or concern for the record, they must do so in writing, send it to the Selectmen’s Office, 455 Concord Ave., Belmont, Ma or via e-mail to:

Written comments and concerns must be received in advance of the hearing if they are to be included.

A First Look: Four Vie for Full Liquor, Beer and Wine Licenses

Despite the early hour –  8 a.m. – and school vacation, the Board of Selectmen’s Room at Town Hall was filled with residents as the selectmen met on Tuesday, April 22, for the first of two public meetings in which four businesses presented their applications seeking a license to sell either beer or wine or a full slate of liquor in Belmont.

And this year, three of the four applicants are seeking the golden ticket from the Selectmen; a full-liqour license that will allow the sale of spirits in town, becoming the first licensed “liquor” store in the town’s 155 years.

“This is the first of two public meetings to discuss the available licenses,” Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas told the 50 residents who squeezed into the board room.

The next public meeting will take place on Thursday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. Because the board expects a considerable number of residents to attend the next meeting, a larger location has yet to be selected.

And while each of the three – The Loading Dock on Brighton Avenue, Belmont Center’s Craft Beer Cellar and D&L Liquors of Waltham – presented well-thoughout presentations (all would emphasize training their staffs on state laws controlling sales to those under 21), at first glance there already appears to be a front runner for the coveted full permit, the only establishment to win praise from the audience during the meeting.

Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow, owners of the Craft Beer Cellar at 51 Leonard St. in Belmont Center, came before the board with a proposal to expand “very lightly” their craft beverage concept to include small artisanal liquor companies such as Belmont’s Damnation Alley distillery as well as allowing their store to sell beers, such as Sam Adams’ Utopias, that exceed 12 percent alcohol content which they are currently barred from handling by state law.

They anticipate selling about 30 to 40 bottles each of liquor and strong beers taking up 200 to 250 square feet of the 1,500 sq.-ft. main

The two self-proclaimed “beer geeks” have overseen the store’s rapid success since opening in November 2010 – winning a Best of Boston award from Boston Magazine – to where now the business is franchising their craft beer concept across the state and around the country.

Belmont residents, Baker and Schalow discussed cultivating relations in Belmont’s business community, among residents and with local government, with Schalow stating she and Baker “feel very, very blessed” that they have the opportunity to build on their retail model from “our mothership” store in their hometown.

When asked by Selectman Sami Baghdady how much attention they can give managing the store with its new products if they are expanding their concept across the country, Schalow said the “one place that I really want to be is in my hometown,” saying that she and Baker will continue to be in the main store.

Of the four applications, which included LC Variety located on Trapelo Road which is seeking one of two beer and wine only licenses available, supporters of Craft Beer Cellars – including former Selectman Ralph Jones – hailed the business and the owner’s commitment to customer service and the town in calling for the town to provide them the license.

First customer speaks for Belmont business

Darryl King of Long Avenue said as the first person in line when the Cellar’s doors initially opened three and a half years ago, the owners have been “exemplary” in their service and training of employees.

“They even shoveled the sidewalk before they were told to. They have done everything right,” said King, who urged the selectmen to favor the two women.

On the other end of the spectrum, what would appear to be a strong candidate for the license brought out the largest contingency of residents seeking to block the proposal. D&L Liqour has been in the business since the first day after Prohibition in 1933 when Peter Dion’s grandfather took out a license.

Now in its fourth generation, the Dion family has grown the business to three locations in Needham, Woburn and its home in Waltham. The store would be less a traditional liquor store then a full-service retail operation with expanded educational services especially in wines which they are now emphasizing. A good corporate neighbor, the Dion family has garnered the support of Waltham town officials who vouch to the business’ cooperation with law enforcement in preventing underaged drinking.

Yet despite 80 years of experience and a good business record, many residents waited to speak out in opposition to the Waltham’s business from opening in Belmont. While the residents said they were not opposed to D&L or any similar company coming to town, they wanted the board to reject the proposal due to its location.

Homeowners and at least one business owner told the selectmen the proposed building D&L would renovate – currently the Mini-Mart at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets – is in the midst of an active residential neighborhood with many families with small children.

The most formidable challenge to the Dion’s efforts to come to the location a block from Route 2 came from a fellow business owner and resident. Representing Dr. Iris Chin Ponte who runs the four-year-old Henry Frost Children’s Program less than a block away, Adam Ponte of the Boston law firm Kenney & Sams said his client (and sister) would hope the board would invoke a Supreme Judicial Court decision to deny the sale of alcohol within 500 feet of a school or child care business.

Ponce added that due to its location near a highway and with the recent spate of panhandling at the intersection, a liquor store would “be another avenue for criminal activity.”

Homeowners who spoke worried that vehicle traffic from the site’s 12-space parking lot will significantly increase leading to congested streets and making it more difficult to cross these already busy main streets.

Former Boston school administrator Edward Mabardi, who said he built his house nearby 40 years ago in a residential area, asked “what value does a liquor store here give Belmont?”

Katherine Nelson of Bradford Street said of the 49 homes in her area – which 75 percent have “small kid” – 42 homeowners have expressed opposition to the proposal and 65 signatures on a petition to the board. 

In support of a “vital new business”

As a counter to the prevailing view, former Selectman Angelo Firenze said he supports D&L “a new and vital new business to Belmont” since it would rehab “a very, very tired building.” He noted that the decision will be a difficult one for the board, “so good luck,” said Firenze.

The one full-license applicant that did not elicited a public response from the public would be a newcomer to selling alcohol. The Loading Dock is undergoing an extensive renovation at its Brighton Street location which will be across a parking from the new Belmont Light substation.

Fuad Mukarker, who first managed the former White Hen Pantry then buying the store in 2010, said he wants to add a new 500 square-foot section of the 3,000 square-foot footprint for liquor sales as he moves away from the current convenient store business to “a family market that sells liquor” as a compliment to the food they purchase.

When asked by Rojas on the close proximity of Belmont High School (which has a troubled reputation of student drinking for the past three decades) to the store, Mukarker said he has been diligent in keeping students from “hanging around” the store and from attempting to purchase cigarettes.

“We are very, very careful with these things,” said Mukarker.

Only one applicant is seeking a beer and wine license in this cycle but there were concerns with this limited proposal. LC Variety at the corner of Trapelo Road and Walnut Street in Belmont’s Central Square will add 400 square-feet of space for alcohol sales, said owner and Belmont resident Pankaj Ghai.

“It’s a convenient store and this is [an added service],” said Ghai who has owned the store for the past 12 years.

Baghdady, who is a neighbor of Ghai and has been a customer of the store since he was a child, said the store continues to be frequented by small children and teenagers.

“You will locate the beer and wine in the back and you only have one employee in the store. How will you establish controls?” he asked.

“I know the parents and they all talk to me so they know I am watching what is going on. I know my duties,” said Ghai, who said his staff has not made any sales of cigarettes to minors since he’s owned the store.

Yet Rojas said the town’s health department has had issues over the years with the management and the store has been victimized twice by armed robbers in less than 12 months. And neighbors did not give Ghai much comfort on his application.

“This is a store that sells cigarettes, lottery tickets, pornography and potato chips,” said Jean Cabral of Walnut Street who said the garbage and trash are not kept in containers.

With a preschool in the VFW building down Trapelo Road and Pequosette Park nearby, this is not the time “to add beer and wine to a variety store,” said Cabral.

The Week to Come: Liquor Licenses, Kid-Friendly Library Events and Drug Drop Off

It’s a quiet week in Belmont with schools on recess and many families going away for spring vacation.

• The Belmont Board of Selectmen is holding an early morning meeting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, April 22, to fix next fiscal year’s water and sewer rates along with reviewing the application for four all alcohol licenses. One of the applicant’s most people already know, Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont Center. The other three include a new store called D&L Wine & Spirits (there are three D&L Liquors in Waltham and Woburn) which will be located on Pleasant Street, the Loading Dock on Brighton Street and LC Variety on Trapelo Road.

• Thank goodness that the Belmont Public Library has scheduled kid-friendly events during the school recess week!:

  • Meet kid’s author and illustrator Jef Czekaj for a wonderful children’s program on Tuesday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 8.23.39 AM
  • The British are coming to Belmont! Members of His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot (OK, the library doesn’t have a time machine; the soldiers are Revolutionary War re-creators) are coming to the Belmont Public Library’s Assembly Room from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 24 to tell the British perspective on the American Revolution and try an 18th century military drill under the guidance of their commander, Rob Lee. The group is dedicated to portraying the life of the British troops garrisoned in the Boston area during the War for Independence. For ages 10 and up. Sign up online or call 617-993-2870.
  • The library is sponsoring a children’s event associated with One Book One Belmont with a tour of the Jason Russell House in Arlington on Saturday, April 26, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Russell was killed at the doorstep of his Arlington home by British troops ransacking and burning homes on their retreat from Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.  Daniel Leclerc, former Belmont selectman and history teacher, will lead a tour of the house and tell more about that fateful day.  Recommended for families with children ages 8 and up. Space is limited so registration is required; sign up at 617-993-2880.
  • More on the musical end of the schedule, come hear the music from the country that is holding the World Cup in June: Sounds of Brazil with Sulinha Boucher is Brazilian music for the whole family. The show will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 26 in the library’s Assembly Room.

Belmont World Film 2014 will be screening “An Afghan Love Story” the story of an Afghan father who weighs his family’s honor against his allegiance to his daughter after she is seduced and impregnated by a handsome waiter. The movie, which was nominated for an Academy Award, will be shown at 7:30 p.m. at Belmont’s own Studio Cinema at 376 Trapelo Rd. on Monday, April 21. 

One Book One Belmont events continue this week as John Stauffer, Professor of English, American Studies and African American Studies at Harvard University, tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, a Boston slave born in Gambia, became one of the foremost poets in early America known for the revolutionary nature of her works. Co-sponsored by Belmont Against Racism, the Belmont Historical Society, and the Human Rights Commission, the talk will take place on Wednesday, April 23, from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Belmont Public Library’s Assembly Room.

• Belmont joins communities across the country participating in the Prescription Drug Take-Back Initiative on Saturday April 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Belmont Auxiliary Police will have a collection point set up at the DPW yard, 37C St. You can contact Belmont Police Lt. Daley at for more information.

Baghdady Pins Selectman’s Post; Pool Passes Swimmingly

The Baghdady’s knows a bit about being tough on the wrestling circle – two from the extended Belmont family fought their ways to state wrestling championships – and on Tuesday night, April 1, Sami Baghdady took to the political mat and battled his way to the close victory to succeed the retiring Ralph Jones on Belmont’s Board of Selectmen at yesterday’s annual Town Election.

At 8:30 p.m., Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman announced that Baghdady, who is a member of the Planning Board and Warrant Committee, beat Energy Committee Co-Chair Roger Colton, 3,033 to 2,784, as nearly 6,000 voters, or about 32.9 percent, took out ballots on a beautiful, sunny spring day.

Baghdady joins his former Planning Board colleague Andy Rojas and current Selectmen’s chair Mark Paolillo on the board. Tonight, Wednesday, April 2, the board will vote on this year’s chair and committee representatives.

In the co-main event of the night, the $2.9 million debt exclusion to pay for the majority of the $5.2 million new Underwood Pool proved to be extremely popular, approved overwhelmingly by Belmont voters, 3,377 to 2,093, as taxpayers decided to pay an extra $43 (for a house valued at $777,000) in the first of the 15 years of the bond, falling a dollar a year over the term of the loan.

In the other competitive race, newcomers Kathleen Keohane and Gail Mann beat out incumbent Matt Sullivan for the two open seats on the Board of Library Trustees in a close race: 35.6 percent for Keohane (2,908 votes), 34 percent for Mann (2,787 votes) and 30.3 percent (2,475 votes). But each of the candidates were “beaten” by the 3,718 voters who didn’t mark their ballot for either of the three challengers.

New Harris Field Price Tag Discounted

Want some good news, Belmont taxpayers?

The price to renovate Harris Field, the turf and track athletic facility used by Belmont High School and youth teams, will likely to be cheaper than first thought.

Maybe lots cheaper.

Action during Belmont High School's Grils' Lacrosse's 2014 season opener with Newton North.

Action during Belmont High School’s Grils’ Lacrosse’s 2014 season opener with Newton North.

David Kale, Belmont’s town administrator, announced at Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, March 31, that Quirk Construction of Georgetown, Mass. submitted the win bid of $815,300 for replacing the artificial turf field, refurbishing the track, repairing cement walkways and putting up new fencing at the major sports facility in town.

The amount is far below the $960,000 the special fall Town Meeting in November, 2013, set aside for the job.

Kale said the town received three bids for the project which Quirk – which has done work at schools in Weston, Newton and Marblehead – “gave the town a very favorable rate.” Kale added that the price tag does not include a contingency that could increase the cost of the project.

Because the town is accepting the bid now, the work on the field and track will start on June 16 with an expected finish date of August 15, a week before fall sports practices begin.

“This is a good deal for the town,” said Selectman Andy Rojas.

No Fooling: Belmont Votes Today, Tuesday, April 1

Today, Tuesday, April 1, Belmont voters will be casting ballots for town-wide office holders, town meeting representatives and on a $2.9 million debt exclusion for a new Underwood Pool.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Who can vote

Any resident registered  to vote: this is a non-partisan election; any party members can vote.

List of the candidates on the ballot

Check out who is running on the sample ballot provided by the Town Clerk. Precinct 7 voters will have some extra writing to do as they will have the opportunity to add six names as write ins as only six neighbors are on the ballot. Write-in candidates must be Belmont residents so don’t write in people such as Edward Snowden or Vladimir Putin in the ballot.


Transportation to the polls

Rides to the Polls will be provided by the Belmont League of Women Voters. If you would like a ride to a Belmont polling place, please contact:, or call 617-771-8500. Please include your name, address, precinct (if you know it), phone number, and what time you would like a ride.

Questions about or during voting

Most questions – including who is eligible to vote in Belmont – that arise during voting can be answered by the precinct warden at the polling station. Other questions should be addressed to the Town Clerk’s Office at 617-993-2600.

Voting Info

Polling locations: To find polling locations and precincts, click here.

Where do I vote?

Some questions voters may have today:

I’m listed as a voter, but it says “Inactive” next to my name. What does that mean?
Inactive status merely means that you did not return this year’s census which is mailed to every household in Belmont, per Massachusetts General Laws AND the voter did not return the pre-paid postcard notifying individuals of the change from active to active status.

Can I still vote even though I’m “Inactive”?
Yes, an “Inactive” voter may still vote but first must provide adequate identification proving the voter’s identity and current place of residence.

How do I return to “active” status?
There are two ways to convert from Inactive to Active Status. One at the polls on Election Day and one by appearing in person at the Town Clerk’s office at least 20 DAYS BEFORE Election Day. Whichever the voter chooses, proper identification must be shown and a form must be completed. Signing and returning the yearly census is the easiest way to keep your name on the active voter list.