The first session of Belmont’s 2021 Special Town Meeting resembled halcyon days of the legislative assembly as each article presented to the 290 members easily passed muster while only a few comments turned any heads.
Monday’s remote Zoom gathering may well seem like a floating nest in the Aegean as the body prepares to reassembles in two days time when the storm clouds gather to announce the pending clash over the future of civil service where the debate could make civil hands made unclean.
But on Monday, the eight articles and 11 votes were allowed to meander like a later summer walk with a good friend; taking their time with easy conversation with points made in polite chatter.
Under the expert hand of Town Moderator Mike Widmer, the meeting included a video tour featuring “Mayor” Stephen Rosales (Pct. 8) of the newly renovated DPW facilities – on budget and on time – a view forward of budgets to come as well as remembering two members who recently passed in Penny Schafer (38 years) and Henry Kazarian (29 years) and honoring Fred Paulsen for serving 62 years on Town Meeting, “obviously an all-time record probably never to be broken,” said Widmer.
“Serving as a town meeting member has been a rewarding part of my life in the Belmont community,” said Paulsen in a letter to the members. “I hope that I have helped to make Belmont the wonderful community that it is.”
The night would see four/fifths of the meeting done in little more than four hours.
Article 2: Carleton Circle adoption: It’s been 37 years since the last time the town accepted a private way – that being Middlecot Street in the Winn Brook neighborhood. So it’s not that common when a street is “adopted” as a public way.
The residents who are along Carleton Circle requested in 2018 that their road be accepted as a public way. And it was only when National Grid made upgrades to the street as well as each homeowner abutting the road pitched in $1,400 did the road meet the town’s standards of a public way.
The only question – from Jeanne Mooney (Pct. 6) – was if the adoption of the street will increase the property values – and it will, likely over time.
The vote: 237 yea and two opposed.
Article 3: Authorization for Temporary Easement – Wellington Elementary School Safe Route to School Project
This article authorizes the Select Board to grant eight temporary easements and one permanent easement for a transportation improvement for several approaches to the Wellington Elementary School as part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s “Safe Routes to School” program. The project, worth $1.4 million, includes sidewalk reconstruction, traffic signal reconstruction at the intersection of Common Street at Waverley and School streets, ADA compliant wheelchair ramps, pavement milling and overlay, pavement markings, signs, and minor drainage improvements.
All questions from the body were supportive. Lucia Gates of the Shade Tree Committee did ask if there could be funds to plant replacement trees for the ones which will need to be cut down.
The vote: 237 yes, 2 no and 2 abstained
Article 4: The five Community Preservation Committee Projects approved in the spring by the CPC. Each Special Town Meeting vote is next to the project.
- $680,624 Town Field Playground and Court Restoration. (241-5-4)
- $100,000 Homer House Window Restoration Project. (237-11-3)
- $173,000 Feasibility study for the redevelopment and creation of new affordable housing units at Belmont Village. (228-17-1)
- $100,000 Belmont Police Station Front Steps Historic Preservation (228-13-3)
- $100,000 Supplement to Emergency Rental Assistance Community Housing (221-20-2)
The most debate was directed to the $100,000 the Housing Trust would add to the $250,000 the CPC previously allocated in rental assistance to residents impacted by the COVID-19. Betsy Lipson (Pct. 6), co-chair of the Housing Trust said the money request is due to “the unprecedent need the pandemic presents.” This amount will assist between 25-30 additional residents – the assistance program already has qualified 37 applicants – seeking help to pay their rent and maintain housing stability.
While voting for the measure, Jack Weis, Pct. 2, didn’t question the use of the funds but questioned the Community Preservation Committee backing a short-term measure that didn’t support the larger goal of creating affordable housing.
“I find it very frustrating that the [Community Preservation Committee] does not act as stewards of the CPA money on behalf of the town” and “they’re the only committee that does not recommend, advise, or guide Town Meeting as to whether or not they think that the proposed action is prudent and warranted.”
Elizabeth Dionne (Pct. 2), CPC chair, said it was important for the CPC to be challenged at Town Meeting. She would vote against a permanent rental assistance program because long term housing is the much higher priority.
“We’re considering this a one-time emergency event,” said Dionne.
Article 5: Purchase Police Station Modular Units (Trailers) Using Water Retained Earnings
This article seeks to use Water Retained Earnings to purchase for up to $320,000 the modular units currently being leased for the Police Station Project located on DPW land off Woodland Street. Purchasing the units will alleviate severe space constraints for the Public Works Department and other town departments.
Ariane Goodman-Belkadi (Pct. 3) who lives on Woodland Street, expressed concern that the Select Board would have carte blanche on future uses of the modulars at the site located between the Light Department on Prince Street and the Water Department at the end of Woodland. She was worried about the possible overuse by town vehicles – many heavy trucks – of the private way and dead end.
Goodman-Belkadi said she and her neighbors want a commitment from all town departments that only Water Department vehicles and those owned by Water Department employees will use the roadway.
While the town is supportive of meeting with residents to address concerns, it’s unknown if the town can make those commitments.
Other questions included the durability of the structures. When asked the life span of the trailers, Belmont’s Director of Facilities Steve Dorrance said it would last for “decades” if the buildings are properly maintained over that time.
The vote: 212 yea, 19 nay and 5 absent
Article 6: Transfer Remaining Water Capital Balances
This article transfers the remaining funds from prior year(s) capital in the Water enterprise fund will be re- appropriated to be used for the FY21 Water Main Replacement. The total is $137,641.09.
This is an annual accounting clean-up.
Vote: 221 yup, 2 nope
Article 7: Transfer Remaining Sewer Capital Balances
This article transfers the remaining funds from prior year(s) capital in the Sewer enterprise fund will be re-appropriated to Community Developments Sewer & Drain fund $25,581.20 that is used for maintenance repairs and replacements to the Town’s sewer and storm water system.
Just like Article 6 but replacing water for sewers.
Vote: The first unanimous vote of the night: 228 oui, 0 non
Article 8: Amend Zoning By-law: Grammar in Zoning
Town Meeting adopted a revised nonconforming Zoning By-law for the Single Residence B Zoning District in 2019. It later came to the attention of the Planning Board that certain language in the by-law was ambiguous. The article makes the necessary revisions to state the intent of the bylaw more clearly.
Who needs Grammerly when you have Bob McGaw, who initiated this amendment?
Vote: 228 yes, no opposition and three abstained.