Police Station Renovation Project Passes First Test With Funding Challenge Ahead

Photo: Architect Ted Galante before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

It was smooth sailing as the renovation of the nine decades old Belmont Police headquarters at the intersection of Concord Avenue and Pleasant Street got its first thumbs up as it begins meetings to clear regulatory hurdles and obtain the funding for the historic preservation of the project.

“Step one done,” said Ann Marie Mahoney, chair of the DPW/BPD Building Committee which is overseeing the renovation of the police building and the facilities at the Department of Public Works after receiving unanimous approval from the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday, Dec. 3.

“And this [vote] was good and wonderful being unanimous,” she noted.

The committee was before the ZBA seeking approval of a pair of special permits which would allow the circa 1931 headquarters project to bypass town regulations and increase the structure’s height and adding an additional floor to a portion of the building. Architect Ted Galante of The Galante Architecture Studio in Cambridge told the board the additional space would improve the building’s function and allow for a sallyport and revamping of the unsafe holding cells. There will also be a need to reconfigure the entrance to the parking lot from the corner of the intersection to a new curb cut slightly up Pleasant Street. 

The changes will correct complaints of the safety of the cells and meet Americans with Disability Act regulations, said Galante, bringing the building into the 20th century. “We want a building and facility the town can be proud of,” said Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin.

ZBA Chair Nicholas Iannuzzi quipped that as Belmont is a “Town of Homes,” it’s unlikely any of the residents will ever be spending time in the new cell block, only out-of-town “visitors,” to which McLaughlin agreed.

Next up for the project will be a presentation before the Planning Board in January 2019 which will review the project specifically the building’s larger floor area ratio and the landscaping in greater detail. 

Earlier in the day, the committee delivered its final request to the Community Preservation Committee for a $700,000 grant to preserve the historic features of the building. While the majority of the $7 million budget will be paid for via a long-term bond financed by existing town revenue, the brickwork and other repairs to the facade is critical to complete the job.

But the request seeking funding comes during the most competitive grant cycle in the CPC’s short history. Already approved in  the 2019 grant round is $400,000 for the design of an underpass on the commuter rail line at Alexander Avenue while the Board of Selectmen is seeking $1 million to design and conduct an engineering study of a community path from Belmont Center to Brighton Street. In addition, six other requests are pending. The total requested by the nine projects if funded would exceed the nearly $2 million the CPC has to provide. 

“And we really need that money this [cycle],” said Mahoney.

After Three Years, Zoning Board OKs Dunkin’ Donut at Pleasant and Brighton

Photo: Nick Leo (left) and Attorney Joseph Noone before the Zoning Board of Appeals

They will be “making the donuts” at the base of Belmont Hill as the Zoning Board of Appeals brought a three-year-long saga to an end approving a special permit allowing a well-known franchise owner to place a Dunkin’ Donuts store at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets.

The unanimous vote of the four members held Monday, May 14 will allow the Leo Organization to push forward on placing a franchise in a three-store strip mall at 344 Pleasant St. The Leos – son Nicholas and father Vincent – purchased a closed service station/former gas station for $1 million in 2014 with the intention to run “an excellent business” like their stores nearby in Fresh Pond and Massachusetts Avenue.

“It’s been a long road and we are very excited and we are looking forward to show that we can be a great neighbor,” said Nick Leo after the meeting.

Leo said his family’s company will “push” to have the store open by December. “It will be a challenge because we have been looking at nine to 12 months [in construction].” The store will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. with daily deliveries between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.

The 25-minute meeting in front of nearly three dozen residents was the first in nearly five months as the public meeting had been continued since December 2017, as requests for additional data on traffic studies at the busy intersection requested by the board. In addition, the Leos were concerned the limited number of board members, in this case, four, who would vote on the permit would require a 4-0 decision to pass.

But in the end, the board’s verdict was almost anti-climatic after three years of at time heated debate and the initial rejection of the project by the Board in January 2016. Neighbors argued that a fast food restaurant at a congested corner just off of Route 2 would lead to increased traffic gridlock and reduced safety on the mostly residential streets. They also worried that a business known for its early hour operations would be burdensome to the tranquility of the area.

Attorney Joseph Noone, speaking for the Leo Organization, quickly reviewed the three major traffic-related issues the board sought clarification, including a peer review of the initial traffic study with a store in the location which reiterated the earlier findings which indicated a store would not have a great impact on the traffic flow in the area. The meeting was limited to the applicant as the public meeting portion had been closed months before.

While there were some issues with slight inconsistencies with some of the data, the board was soon faced with little ammunition to deny a special permit. Rather, members sought restrictions on time of operation and when deliveries could be made. Vice-chair Jim Zarkadas called the vote which went Leos’ way.

Nick Leo said he understood “that there were a lot of concerns [from the neighborhood]. We wanted to make sure they were addressed.” 

Town Election 2017: ZBA’s Iannuzzi Looking At School Committee Race

Photo: Nick Iannuzzi

Nicholas “Nick” Iannuzzi, the long-serving member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, has taken out nomination papers for a possible race for one of the two open seats on the Belmont School Committee.

A founding partner of the Needham-based law firm Orsi, Arone, Rothenberg, Iannuzzi & Turner, Iannuzzi is known for his defense of town residents against commercial business projects such as the proposed boutique hotel on Pleasant Street and placing restrictions on Airbnb rentals. 

In 2010, Iannuzzi ran an independent campaign to represent the third district on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, eventually losing to long-time incumbent Marilyn Davane of Watertown. 

Iannuzzi is a graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School. He  has been practicing law for about 20 years. Before becoming a member of the Belmont ZBA, Iannuzzi served on the Zoning Board of Appeals in Somerville.

As of Friday afternoon, Feb. 10, incumbent Tom Caputo is the only candidate to by certified on the April 4 Town Election ballot. Incumbent Elyse Shuster and Catherine Bowen, the chair of Sustainable Belmont, have also taken out nomination papers. Candidates must submit signatures to the Town Clerk’s Office by 5 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 14. 

Hotel Developer Sues ZBA After It Rejected Pleasant Street Proposal

Photo: Michael Colomba at the April ZBA meeting.

Saying it’s a “matter of principle,” the Waltham developer whose proposal to build a European-style boutique hotel at the corner of Pleasant Street and Brighton Road was rejected last month by the Zoning Board of Appeals, has filed a lawsuit in Land Court to reverse the board’s decision, calling the decision “an erroneous application of the law and constitutes an abuse of [its] discretion.”

Michael Colomba said he reversed his decision to place a small grocery store at the location – the former Mini Mart convenience store – after the board’s judgment on April 4 after reviewing the board’s ruling in detail. 

“After the dust settled, I really questioned the board’s process coming to its 3-2 decision,” Colomba told the Belmontonian. 

Colomba is seeking to renovation of the two-building, two-story structure at 334 Pleasant St. –  and offices – into a boutique hotel consisting of 19 guest rooms, a cafe for guests, a fitness room, a business center and offices on the 14,400 sq.-ft. site. Columba purchased the site in September 2015 for $1.9 million. 

Also, Colomba said for days after the verdict, “I received so many phone calls from residents and officials. They said, ‘Michael, this is nuts. How can they say you can’t come here? You need to appeal this’.”

The heart of Colomba’s complaint lies in the board’s view that the town’s zoning bylaws don’t explicitly mention “hotels” as an acceptable application.

“There is nothing in the bylaws that says a hotel can go anywhere in Belmont because there is no reference to a hotel use so how can we even hear arguments for the special permits,” said ZBA Chair Eric Smith in April, ending the meeting before hearing any appeal for four special permits Colomba was seeking to build the hotel. 

In the lawsuit filed April 22 in Land Court, a department of the Trial Court based in the Suffolk County Court House, Colomba claims that while there is no stated use for a hotel, “under the use category of ‘Business’ there is a catch all entitled ‘Other retail sales and services’ which requires a special permit.” 

Colomba told the Belmontonian that the ZBA could not “100 percent say what ‘others’ mean” suggesting this section of the bylaws was taken “word for word” using regulations from other municipalities as a template. 

“It is the town that need to spell out what ‘other’ mean, not me,” he said.

And, in fact, the town bylaws’ general regulations regarding off-street parking includes the phrase “hotels, motels, room and board, other commercial accommodations” thus confirming the town does allow hotels as a use. 

By closing down the process before hearing Colomba’s defense for the special permits was “an erroneous application of the law and constitutes an abuse of discretion” as the ZBA exceed its authority in a “whimsical, capricious or arbitrary” way causing him to suffer damages.

Colomba is urging the court to “issue a declaratory judgment” in his favor, “declaring that the hotel use, with the issuance of a Special Permit, is a permitted use in the town” in addition to “such further relief as justice requires.” 

For Columba, who filed the suit just under the time permitted to appeal such rulings, he hopes the courts will at least allow him to present his case for the hotel.

“I say let the state now decide. I believe that we will get a fair ruling,” he said. 

Citizen Petition Triggers Special Town Meeting Targeting Wireless Antennae at Plymouth Church

Photo: The Plymouth Congregational Church.

A group of residents, many who have led the effort to halt the installation of cellular antennae inside the steeple of Plymouth Congregational Church on Pleasant Street, have successfully filed a citizen’s petition that now requires the town to hold a Special Town Meeting in June aimed at placing a steep roadblock to the plans by the church and its telecommunication giant partner.

As the petitioners are pushing to add more stringent requirements on this and other future wireless projects, church leaders told the Belmontonian they are moving forward with a revised plan they anticipate will pass muster before a small governmental commission that is hearing the proposal.

The Special Town Meeting, which Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said will likely take place on June 8 during the budget session of the annual Town Meeting, will ask Members to change the town’s bylaw on the installation of internal wireless telecommunications facilities.

The language of the petition – signed by 242 residents – seeks to modify the town’s current zoning bylaws in which smaller cell installations are currently “allowed by right” – in which no town oversight is needed to obtain a building permit – to requiring property owners to get a “special permit” before commencing work, “giving interested Belmont residents an opportunity to provide input to the deliberations of the Zoning Board of Appeal.”

Precinct 4’s Judith Sarno – who with Karen Herosian, Danny Morris and Ron Creamer sponsored the petition – said the petition is a “modest amendment to bring the zoning for wireless telecommunications facilities into the 21st century and offer residents a voice,” and not an attempt to disallow these operations from operating in Belmont.

“[We] are simply asking Town Meeting to allow for more transparency and some notice to concerned neighbors, by simply changing [the bylaw] to a Special Permit,” said Sarno.

Under the special permit requirement, a property owner would be required to present its plan before the Zoning Board of Appeals to demonstrate that a cell tower would not place a burden on the neighboring community. The new requirement would also require notification of neighbors and allow for comments from residents before the ZBA.

In recent rulings, the ZBA has demonstrated a propensity to rule against commercial proposals, from some small day care operations to larger enterprises including a hotel, a Dunkin Donuts franchise and placing stringent restrictions on individual homeowners who put their properties on the popular Airbnb room sharing website.

There are nine existing wireless cell facilities in Belmont; in Belmont Center, a large tower adjacent to the new Highland Cemetery on Concord Avenue and on 125 Trapelo Rd. in Cushing Square, which handles four of the biggest cell providers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

The suggested change to the zoning bylaws after the church finalized an agreement with the telecommunication giant Verizon, which is about to present a revised plan to the Historic District Commission, which must OK any exterior structural changes to the steeple before the major construction can take place.

“Verizon will be presenting a revised design plan to remove the air-conditioning compressors and to retain the wooden louvers, thus eliminating the noise concerns of neighbors and preserving the current appearance of the steeple, respectively,” said 

Verizon has begun preliminary work in the area in January after the Planning Board approved the design and site plan review to place the antenna inside the steeple.

“As of now the work is related solely to Verizon and does not require a building permit,” Glenn Clancy, director of the Office of Community Development, told the Belmontonian in February.

“The Verizon work is allowed as it would be for any private property owner” with the owner taking the “risk onto themselves” if the permit is ultimately not issued, said Clancy.

From the church’s view, a majority of town residents will benefit from better cell reception.

“Town officials and Town Meeting members should take the actions that are appropriate to providing better-quality and reliable cell service to improve the ability of all its residents, visitors and businesses, alike, to conduct business, education and social interactions,” said Chet Messer, chair of the Board of Trustees of Plymouth Church.

ZBA Denies Developer Vote To Build ‘Boutique’ Hotel on Pleasant and Brighton

Photo: The Zoning Board of Appeals voting to deny vote on hotel proposal.

For the second time this year, the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals denied special permits which would have allowed the construction of a multimillion-dollar development on two lots at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Brighton Avenue.

This latest denial occurred Monday night, April 4, for the renovation of the two-building, two-story structure at 334 Pleasant St. – the former Mini Mart convenience store and offices – into a boutique hotel consisting of 19 guest rooms, a cafe for guests, a fitness room, a business center and offices on the 14,400 sq.-ft. site. 

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The ZBA Monday voted 3-2 not to even bring the five permits sought by Waltham developer Michael Columba before the board for discussion. Chair Eric Smith said the board did not have the authority to move the waivers forward since the town’s zoning bylaws don’t explicitly mention “hotels.” as an acceptable application.

“There is nothing in the bylaws that says a hotel can go anywhere in Belmont because there is no reference to a hotel use so how can we even hear arguments for the special permits,” said Smith.

The board dismissed the claim by Robert Levy, an attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott representing Columba, that the zoning bylaw’s parking requirements – which does briefly refers to a “hotel” – suggests the development’s “impacts” were similar to retail and service uses that are allowed at the site with a special permit.

“In my view, the mention of a hotel in the parking requirements was simply an error made at the time the bylaw was approved,” said Smith.

Not all the members held the same view as Smith as Associate Member John McManus said he “hates to see all these opportunities get squandered.”

While “disappoint,” Waltham developer Michael Columba said he was “OK” with the decision.

“I’ve always said that if the town did not want [a hotel], I have to put the building to good use with whatever tenants I can get,” Columba said, which will likely include a convenience store, garage and offices which are deemed “as of right” under the zoning bylaw and does not require town approval.

“I have to move on this project in a few months,” said Columba, who purchased the site in September 2015 for $1.9 million. 

Monday’s decision follows the rejection on Jan. 11 of a proposed 3,500 sq.-ft. Dunkin’ Donut franchise and retail space across Brighton from Columba’s property. The landowners and franchise, the Leo family who operates nearly 20 donut shops in Massachusetts and Florida, has suggested appealing the 3-2 vote denying them permits to renovate a former gas station and garage it purchased for $1 million in 2014. 

These latest board decisions have led some residents to complain that the ZBA is contributing to what many views as a negative business climate in Belmont, where the needs of commerce are pushed aside for those of residential housing.

Board members rejected the notion it is feeding the perception of an anti-business bias in town, saying it only follows what the Town Meeting – the legislative branch of town governance – has approved.

“In my view, we are trying to apply the bylaws which have been determined by Town Meeting what should be allowed and … if it turns out, in our opinion, it’s not, we are following [Town Meeting’s] edicts,” said Smith.

“This board definitely does not have an anti-business motivation,” said member Nicholas Iannuzzi, noting the ZBA approved “a ton of businesses along South Pleasant Street using the same bylaws which are on the books today.”

“But if something doesn’t fit within the zoning bylaws, then we don’t have much choice,” said Iannuzzi.

Changes to zoning laws would start at the Planning Board who would create a new bylaw before presenting it before Town Meeting for a vote. A current example is the rewriting of zoning language placing limits on the height and mass of new residential construction in the neighborhoods surrounding Grove Street playground.

But even if Town Meeting introduces hotel use under the bylaw, Columba is not interested in a do-over.

“No, I am not coming back for a hotel. That’s done. It’s no longer an option,” he said 

Vote On Proposed Hotel Delayed Until March Due to Paperwork Snafu

Photo: Developer Michael Colomba and his architect Andy Rojas before the ZBA.

To the disappointment of two dozen residents who ventured out Monday night, Feb. 1, to cheer or jeer a proposed new hotel at the corner of Pleasant Street and Brighton Avenue, the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals decided to delay by a month acting on the request of a Waltham developer seeking several zoning waivers because he and his team didn’t get their “homework” to the board in a timely manner.

Several ZBA members were a bit ticked off to receive a thick packet of documents including a traffic study just days before the meeting on a subject that is garnering a great deal of interest.

“I object opening this case and to have a public hearing on it,” said ZBA member Nicholas Iannuzzi, noting he did not have time to analyze the case or the traffic study on how many daily “trips” a hotel would generate.

ZBA Chair Eric Smith agreed that he and others received the document packet “quite late” after Jan. 22 and suggested developer Michael Colomba and his team make an introductory informational meeting for the board and residents.

The formal public meeting on the proposed hotel development will be part of the board’s March 7 agenda.

Former Belmont Selectman Andy Rojas, the project’s architect, presented an overview of the project, renovating the two-building, two-story structure at 334 Pleasant St. – the former Mini Mart convenience store and offices – and opening a boutique hotel consisting of 18 guest rooms, a cafe for guests, a fitness room, a business center and management offices on the 14,400 sq.-ft. site.

The building’s exterior will not be altered significantly in an attempt to “express Belmont’s agrarian history.”

Rojas said the hotel would have less impact on local traffic than what can operate on the site “as right” (without needing any zoning change) including a retail store, and will generate tax revenue from lodging and meals “without having an impact on the schools.”

“This is a much quieter use and will be a quiet neighbor” to the surrounding community, said Rojas.

Colomba, who purchased the property last year, said he rented rooms “to a lot of people visiting Belmont” at his first hotel, the Crescent Suite Hotel in Waltham, whether it was for a funeral, graduation parties or visiting patients in hospitals and believes there is a demand for “low key” European-style lodging: just a bedroom setting for people to rest and sleep during a stay.


ZBA members asked Colomba to bring his traffic expert to the next meeting. Smith also asked the team to have “an explanation how in your view how a hotel fits within the bylaw regardless of the merits of the proposal.”

“I’m asking them to convince the board why this rather than another use,” Smith said after the meeting.

For his part, Colomba told the Belmontonian after the meeting he understands why the ZBA will want to scrutinize the project “and we plan to follow as necessary their requests.”

If on March 7 the ZBA doesn’t agree with his belief that a hotel is the best use for the site, Colomba said his fall back plan is to lease the space to one of two firms that want to open a convenience store. 

“But I really think that this is a very good venue and the town should consider it. I think it’s a win/win for everyone,” said Colomba. 

The Loading Dock Starts Dinner Service as Bistro Increases Seating

Photo: The Loading Dock on Brighton Street. (Courtesy, Loading Dock)

When Fuad Mukarker received a full liquor license from the town a year-and-a-half ago in May 2014, he mentioned his new business, The Loading Dock on Brighton Street, “would become a destination for shopping and eating”

It took a while for his promise to come to fruition, but Mukarker is now just about ready to begin serving dinner at 11 Brighton St. within a week after the Zoning Board of Appeals approved on Monday, Dec. 7 his request to add 36 seats (30 inside, 6 outside) for a total of 60 on site.

The bistro/market with liquor sales held its grand opening in April. Since then, Mukarker has been slowing gearing up the operation, with an eye on serving dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on three nights, Thursday through Saturday.

“We are finally ready to ask for the seating,” said Mukarker, who came with more than 100 signatures of support backing his move.

The one big issue for the Board was that Mukarker could find the required 18 parking spots for the nearly 40 extra seats. With construction continuing across his parking lot on Belmont Light’s new electrical substation, Mukarker made arrangements with two local businesses, a nearby service center and a business across Brighton Street.

While his fellow commercial condominium client, attorney Joe Noone (whose office is located less than a block away from The Loading Dock), thought Mukarker was attempting to grab a hold on to too many spaces that were not sited adjacent to the bistro, the ZBA approved the request on the condition that Mukarker placed signs that clearly tells patrons where his spots are located.

With the parking issue resolved, Mukarker said he is looking to showcase events at the location, starting with a reading by four children’s authors this Sunday, Dec. 13 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Despite Dunkin’s Postponed ZBA Presentation; Owner Confident He’ll Get An OK for Store

Photo: An image of how the Dunkin’ Donuts on Pleasant Street would look like.

Belmont residents will need to wait until the New Year before getting their chance to debate whether the town wants to run with a third Dunkin’ Donuts, located at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets.

Belmont’s Joseph Noone, the attorney for Vincent and Nicholas Leo, asked the board for a postponement on Monday, Dec. 7, due to attorney/client “issues,” resulting in a dozen or so residents who came to speak to keep their powder dry for a month.

The ZBA rescheduled the hearing for January.

While the decision was a bit unexpected, according to the property owner, Vincent Leo – who also is a well-known Dunkin’ Donuts owner/operator – isn’t fazed by the delay, confident that once residents hear from him and his family, any “concerns” to having a donut shop as a neighbor will be set aside.

“We have been in business for over 35 years, and I am one of the premier Dunkin’ Donut franchisees in the system,” said Vincent, whose family business owns and operates 19 locations in both Massachusetts and Florida.

Vincent said the Pleasant Street property has been an eyesore for decades “and we are trying to make it right.” The Getty Corporation is currently remediating the land. 

“We are going to enhance that whole corner, elevating all of the property values in the surrounding neighborhood,” he said. The family purchased the property for $1,060,000 in July 2014.

Read about the proposed plans for the site here.

Leo said that the City of Cambridge had complimented his operations “many, many times for our passion with the landscape as well as the maintenance of the property.

He reiterated that there would “never be a drive through” at the Pleasant Street location. 

Leo said he believes a Belmont store “will enhance our little micro-market” that includes shops on Mass. Ave., Alewife and Fresh Pond.


Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner Vincent Leo (at the door, left) and his son, Nicholas, (door, right) listen to their attorney, Joe Noone, as he speaks before the Zoning Board of Appeals, Dec. 7, 2015.

“It’s just another niche we’re trying to protect and develop as an investment,” he said. 

As for issues of traffic – the intersection of Pleasant and Brighton is known as a choke point for both daily rush hours – Leo said a traffic study that he included with his application to the town, predicts no added vehicle trips due to the inclusion of a donut shop on that spot. 

While some residents have pointed to how close the site is to Route 2, Leo said his experience with his stores in Medford just off Route 93 shows that “no one gets off a highway to grab a coffee then heads back on it.” 

“It’s always a concern when they hear a brand like Dunkin’ Donuts is coming into a neighborhood. But at the end of the day, when the restaurant is in place, you’d be very surprised that it’s not a hindrance at all,” said Leo, noting there are several “as of right” businesses he could locate there that would increase traffic flow and litter. 

“With the type of building we are putting in, it will not be a barnburner regarding sales. This will be a nice neighborhood location that should be profitable and help us with the investment we made,” said Leo.

“It will be a nice place to come in for a cup of coffee,” he said. 

ZBA Grounds Airbnb, Punts Internet Lodging to Planning Board

Photo: The room that Joanne Sintiris rents for $85 a night as an Airbnb host.

Joanne Sintiris found herself uncomfortably close to the edge of a financial cliff. 

A divorce left the Betts Road resident wrestling to make ends meet and seeking some way to make a little extra money. 

“I needed some way to supplement my income. It was hard to see how I was going to do that,” she said.

Then Sintiris discovered the wildly popular online service Airbnb where homeowners can rent out one or more rooms in their house, condo or apartment for a nightly, weekly or monthly fee.

“It turned out to be a real savoir,” said Sintiris, who rents a spare room out for $85 a night, below the $135 average for the Boston area.

The “room” includes a private entrance, one bedroom, living room, private bathroom, use of a washer/dryer, a shared garden and patio with a grill.

“It was crazy. I was turning people away, many people who I didn’t want,” said the Cambridge native. 

And her guests raved about the experience.

“Joanne was a wonderful host, she was easy to communicate with, friendly, and we felt very welcome in the apartment. The location was quiet, relaxing, yet still easy to get to the best parts of Boston,” wrote a lodger who stayed in October.

Sintiris will now see her windfall slashed dramatically after the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals Monday night, Dec. 7, rejected her request by a single vote for a special permit to would allow her to continue renting the room for less than seven days.

In a debate that once veered off to include the threat of sex offenders and all guests requiring CORI background checks, the board Monday essentially punted the issue off to the Planning Board, which will be asked to create, or at least, modernize the town’s antiquated lodging and boarder bylaws for the 250 residents who host Airbnb visitors in Belmont.

“If it is correct that there will be 250 people with rooms to rent, then in that case it must be thought out in a comprehensive way which is the role of the Planning Board,” said ZBA Chairman Eric Smith. 

Sintiris’ case is the first of what could be several hundred the Office of Community Development anticipates to bring before the ZBA. The town contends that under existing town bylaws, anyone renting for less than seven days must obtain a special permit under the town’s bylaws. Sintiris just happened to be the first Airbnb provider plucked from the website to be required to rent the room for seven plus days. 

Since a majority of lodgers stay less than four days, Sintiris sought the special permit since those potential customers are decamping across the town line in Cambridge (with a 1,000 Airbnb listings), Boston (2,000), and other neighboring communities that have no or very limited restrictions.

“I need to have the flexibility to provide a room for a weekend or a week,” she said.

Airbnb is now one of the biggest success stories coming from the new internet service industry, reporting Monday a net worth exceeding $25 billion.

While there is the occasional sensational negative event, Airbnb have become the “go to” lodging experience for a rapidly growing number of travels around the world. In the seven years since Airbnb was founded, more than 60 million people have used the service, listing almost two million homes in 34,000 cities (Paris alone has 60,000 hosts) in approximately 190 countries worldwide.

Municipalities have scratched the surface of regulating these new fangled rentals; Somerville proposed a six percent tax (but had no way of implementing it) and Boston is pondering restrictions.

For the handful of residents who opposed the special permit, the issues created by this “disrubting ” range from noise to fear of those coming into the community. 

Opponents such as Patrice Shea of Talyor Street, who lives close by another Airbnb location, said her street has vehicles coming in “from all over the country” in addition to “Uber cars” – the online, on-demand car service – as people arriving at “very unusual hours,” while many strangers are seen walking with suitcases on the sidewalk. She also wondered if the town wasn’t loss of town revenued in taxes and fees.

“It’s just plain creepy,” Shea said after her testimony. 

“I get the fiscal benefit to the host … and the renter, they pay less money. [But] what does it do to me?” said JP Looney who lives eight houses up Betts from Sintiris, wondering if “a boarding house” in the vacinity will likely reduce his property values.

Looney also pondered safety issues with unfamiliar people coming into the area.

“Is Airbnb doing a criminal background check? That’s not what I understand from the website,” Looney ask. “We are opening up a can of worms by allowing this.”

Picking up on the critic’s line of questioning, board member Nicholas Iannuzzi said without CORI and sexual offendors background checks, “you should in fear of our own safety with anyone in your house for $85 a night.” 

Sintiris countered that she has had a “great experience with everyone,” including university educators and professionals who are coming to town for work or to visit children at school.  

In the end, the board voted 3-2 (Iannuzzi and Jim Zarkadas voting no) in favor of Sintiris’ special permit; while a purality, it was one vote shy of the necessary threshold for the issuance of the license. 

While Iannuzzi’s negative response was towards the distrubtor aspect of the technology, Zarkadas’ ran towards finding a more precise definition of the town’s lodging bylaws.

“It really is up to the Planning Board to make updated laws because there has been a lot of changes and I’m pretty sure they were written back in … the 1800s. While I’m open to business, but when it starts to cross the line of running and operating a business in a neighborhood, there is a lot of unknowns that need to answered,” he said.

Sami Baghdady, the current chair of the Board of Selectmen and former chair of the Planning Board, said it is incumbent for the bylaw writing entity to fill in the gaps in taxes, zoning and licenses that new technology brings to the town.

“The Planning Board needs to address this quite quickly, just because there is more than 200 units now doing business,” he said.

For Sintiris, the change to seven days minimum stay that began this fall “has already hurt me,” saying the current regulations has cut her income by $1,000 a month. 

“I’m not asking for much. Just enough,” she said.