Six Citizen Petition Articles Approved for This Year’s Annual Town Meeting

Six citizens’ petitions ranging from a restriction on how tall a new house can be built, a slew of financial transparency articles and holding a non-binding referendum on solar power pricing will be before the annual Belmont Town Meeting in May.

The petitions were approved by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman before the closing of the Town Meeting Warrant on Monday, March 2, having secured at least 10 signatures from eligible voters.

One article has been in the news since January, as the Belmont Citizens for Responsible Zoning is seeking a one-year freeze on the construction of so-called “McMansions” in the neighborhood adjacent to the Grove Street Playground in the Shaw Estates neighborhood.

Four articles deal with financial reporting and why important opinions before Town Meeting are made. Jim Williams, a candidate for Board of Selectmen, said the “overriding purpose” of the language is to improve “the transparency around articles in the Warrant and thereby … improve the quality of Town Meeting decision making.”

The four articles will:
  • Require the Town Administrator to issue to Town Meeting Members a quarterly Free Cash account report including the amounts received and disbursed since the last report and the sources and uses of the funds received and disbursed. 
  • Require the Board of Selectmen, the Warrant Committee and the Capital Budget Committee – when they issue opinions on Town Meeting articles – to reveal the rationale for their recommendations in writing at the least one day in advance of the article being taken up.
  • The Town Administrator will now maintain a 30-year “steady state” projection model of the town’s budget.
  • The creation of a formal Risk Management Function in the Town Administrator’s office reporting on both the long- and short-term risks and opportunities identified to exist in the operations of the town’s governmental, school and enterprise activities. 

Finally, a group of solar power advocates is seeking Town Meeting approval to place a non-binding referendum before voters to gauge the community’s support for either the newly-created buy back pricing program approved by the Light Board or one which provides a greater payback to households using solar energy. 

Residents Group to Present Argument for ‘McMansion’ Moratorium

The newly-created Belmont Citizens for Responsible Zoning is hosting a meeting for Precinct 7 Town Meeting Members in the Flett Room at the Belmont Public Library tonight, Thursday, Feb. 5, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m where it will present its case for  a moratorium on construction of oversized single-family dwellings in a large section of the precinct.

Last month, the residents group submitted to the Town Clerk’s Office a citizen’s petition seeking to place a one-year suspension of oversized single-family dwellings in a portion of Belmont’s Single Residence C Zoning District. The amendment to the zoning bylaws has been accepted and will be presented to the annual Town Meeting in May. The petition will need to achieve a two-thirds margin of acceptance to be approved.

The area – known by long-time residents as Shaw Estate – includes single-families within the bounties of School, Washington and Grove streets and Grosvenor, Dalton and Bacon Roads.

See the group’s flyer here.

The group believe oversized replacement homes – popularly known as McMansions – change the character of neighborhoods by excluding middle-income families from buying single-family homes as assessments and values of surrounding homes increase, crowd out sunlight and natural habitats while taking advantage of zoning that is not as strict as existing rules for renovations and additions.


The group will also lead a discussion on recruiting candidates to fill vacancies in the precinct’s Town Meeting delegation.

Plenty of Town Meeting Positions Waiting for Candidates

With two weeks remaining for residents to throw their hats into the ring, a boatload of Town Meeting positions in several precincts remain waiting to be filled by candidates.

According to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, as of the Jan. 27th deadline for incumbent Town Meeting members to announce their intentions to seek election to the 290-member legislative body, there remains several open seats in each of the town’s eight precincts. (see below)

While traditionally-active precincts such as 1, 6 and 8 appear likely to have enough candidates to have contested races – more than 12 candidates for the dozen seats up for election – others are in serious need of residents willing to run to represent their neighborhoods.

“Right now, we have deficits of three candidates in Precinct 3 and six in Precinct 7,” said Cushman on Friday, Jan. 30. Precinct 3 is west of Concord Avenue and east of Trapelo Road, around Town Field and along Pleasant Street and up Mill Street. Precinct 7 is the Grove Street Playground neighborhood east to the Cambridge town line between Washington and Belmont streets.

If there remains a deficit of candidates on the Town Election ballot on April 7, the remaining Town Meeting slots will be selected with “write-in” candidates.

Cushman hopes to remind residents of the importance of Town Meeting as it is the legislative body of Belmont that approves or rejects new bylaws and determines the annual town budget.

“I would remind residents in Precinct 7 that their precinct is where a citizen’s petition to limit the height of residential houses will be voted at Town Meeting needing a two-thirds vote,” said Cushman.

Next deadline is Feb. 17, at 5 p.m. for all nomination papers for town-wide offices and Town Meeting members.

PRECINCT 1: 10 candidates for re-election, 2 residents took out nomination papers, 12 three-year seats available.

PRECINCT 2: 9 candidates for re-election, 4 residents took out nomination papers, 12 three-year seats available.

PRECINCT 3: 7 candidates for re-election, 2 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available.

PRECINCT 4: 10 candidates for re-election, 3 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available.

PRECINCT 5: 11 candidates for re-election, 2 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available AND 1 one-year seat available with 1 person taking papers out for that position.

PRECINCT 6: 10 candidates for re-election, 3 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available AND 1 one-year AND 1 two-year seat available.

PRECINCT 7: 7 candidates for re-election, 3 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available AND 4 two-year seats available.

PRECINCT 8: 10 candidates for re-election, 6 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available AND 1 one-year seat available.

Town Meeting Warrant Opening For a Month for Citizen’s Petitions

Always wanted to change Belmont? How about requiring new homes to be painted one of only eight colors (an actual petition in another state), force model aircraft operators to be licensed pilots (another one) and make dogs wear pants (that hasn’t been petitioned … yet).

Your chance is coming next week when the town warrant – the document which Board of Selectmen approved to call a Town Meeting – will be open for residents who wish to add their own article to be heard and voted by the 290-member Town Meeting which will begin this year on Monday, May 4.

“Citizens are welcomed to submit petitions,” said Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, who said the warrant will be open on Monday, Feb. 2 at 9 a.m. and will remain so until Monday, March 2, no later than 3 p.m.

Under Massachusetts law, residents may place articles on an Annual Town Meeting warrant without approval by the Selectmen by petitioning the Town Clerk to insert the article. Officially, it only requires 10 signatures on the petition from residents to secure a place on the warrant (although Cushman suggests getting 15 to be on the safe side.)

While not all petitions are successful, a good portion have succeeded before the Belmont Town Meeting. In the past few years, citizen’s petitions on banning smoking in town playgrounds, combining school and town building supervision, restricting yard sales and requiring residents to shovel snow from sidewalks have passed Town Meeting muster and included into the bylaws.

In fact, a citizen’s petition before this spring’s annual Town Meeting restricting the height of residential homes near Grove Street Playground was inspired by the successful passage of a citizen’s petition in 2013 halting for a year the tear down of single-family homes to build two-families structures in the Waverley Square neighborhood.

For those residents thinking about putting their stamp on the town’s bylaws, Cushman advise petitioners to do their homework and be prepared to work with town officials and government groups to construct their appeal to have the chance of a favorable vote before Town Meeting.

For those seeking changes to the town’s zoning bylaws should meet with the Planning Board and the town’s Office of Community Development while those looking to alter the town’s budget priorities need to get in touch with the Warrant and Capital Budget committees and the town’s financial departments, said Cushman.

With all petitions, the town counsel, George Hall, is required to review them, so they do not violate the state or US constitutions.

“So it’s important that citizens start the process earlier than later to receive advice in drafting their petitions and getting the support they need to give themselves a good chance before Town Meeting,” said Cushman.

New Group Seeking Moratorium on ‘McMansions’ Near Grove Street Playground

Photo: 185 Dalton Rd. is an example of an “overbuilt” homes near Grove Street Playground which initiated a citizen’s petition.

Building on the success of those who brought a temporary halt to residential teardowns in Belmont’s Waverley Square area, a newly-created group submitted on Jan. 11 a citizen’s petition seeking Town Meeting approval to place a one-year freeze on the construction of so-called “homes on steroids” or “McMansions” in the neighborhood around the Grove Street Playground.

According to one of the leaders of the Belmont Citizens for Responsible Zoning, the initiative could become a jumping off point for a more wide-ranging rethinking of Belmont’s residential zoning laws.

“This could be farther reaching than just this moratorium. We believe this group will have a broader appeal around town to re-examine the bylaw,” Stephen Pinkerton told the Belmontonian.

The BCRZ is seeking to place a one-year suspension of “oversized single-family dwellings in a portion of Belmont’s Single Residence C Zoning District,” according to the group’s press release dated Friday, Jan. 16.

The area – at times called the Shaw Estate – includes single-families within the bounties of School, Washington and Grove streets and Grosvenor, Dalton and Bacon Roads. (See map below.)

The moratorium would set a 32-foot height limit from the average grade to the roof ridge of structures built to replace demolished homes, also known as teardowns.

According to Pinkerton, the area has seen the construction of five large teardown replacements in the past two years. (See second map below.) One example is 185 Dalton Rd., newly constructed with 4,000-plus square-feet and 34.1 feet high. It replaced a Garrison Colonial built in 1952 with 1,600 square-feet.

The press release states concerned “oversized replacement houses will:

  • change the character of the neighborhood;
  • crowd out sunlight, trees, and natural habitat for song birds;
  • exclude middle-income families from single-family home ownership;
  • undermine the value of existing homes; and
  • take advantage of zoning that is not as strict as existing rules for renovations and additions.”

Pinkerton said he and the group are not opposed to developers building in the neighborhood.

“They have a right to make a living like the rest of us. But there should be some limits on what is built,” he said.

Pinkerton attributes the successful effort by neighbors in Precinct 3 and 4 who fought for a one-year moratorium two years ago as spurring the BCRZ to seek its stay.

“They set the precedence,” said Pinkerton.

Town Meeting in May 2013 passed a moratorium on single-family homes being replaced with two-family structures in general residence zoning districts with the majority located near to Belmont’s Waverley Square. In the five previous years, 20 single-family houses were torn down and replaced by 40 attached townhouses in the area.

The article will need to win two-thirds approval from the 290-member Town Meeting. If that occurs, the BCRZ “will work with the Belmont Planning Board and others to craft new zoning by-laws that will help preserve the neighborhood’s distinctive character,” said the press release.

The BCRZ will be holding a precinct meeting in the next few weeks to discuss the moratorium.

Pinkerton said the BCRZ’s moratorium effort could start a discussion on a possible comprehensive review of the town’s residential bylaw in the near future.

“We already see interest in that. Our expectation is this sort of discussion will only grow.”

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Moratorium Flyer