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

Grove Street Playground Ready to be Redressed

It’s been sized and appraised. Now, how should the Grove Street Playground be dressed?

This month, the town will formalize a contract for a landscape architecture firm – familiar with Belmont – to begin the  creation a master plan for the 10-acre site on the Cambridge-townline used by numerous youth sports groups, residents and neighbors.

David Kale, Belmont’s town administrator, told the Belmont Board of Selectmen at its Monday, Jan 5 meeting the town was finalizing a contract with Dedham-based Activitas Inc. to create a master plan for the playground.

Currently, the playground is one of the most used in the town. With three dedicated ball fields, Grove Street is the base for youth baseball in Belmont. The soccer field in the lower section is used from early spring to late fall by Belmont Youth Soccer. In addition, the park has four tennis courts, a basketball court (used as a backdrop for a political ad by Maura Healey, the incoming state Attorney General) and a new playground. After any significant snow fall, the playground becomes a place many smaller children first learn to sled.

Yet the evolution of the playground from an open space to a location for many athletic facilities was completed with little planning. Responding to the concerns of residents and neighbors, the Capital Budget Committee submitted in June for Town Meeting approval $30,000 toward the creation of a comprehensive plan to determine if there are efficiencies in land use.

During the fall, a survey was conducted to provide a detailed overview of the playground and its current uses.

Activitas is best known in town for creating the Belmont Athletic Facilities Study as well as managed last year’s Belmont High School Track and Harris Field renovation.

Kale said the firm will hold public meetings to hear from athletic groups, residents and those who live close by for opinions and ideas.

“Anyone interested in Belmont parks should attend those meetings,” said Belmont Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas.

Belmont Courts Role in Attorney General Race

Maura Healey takes a three-point shot and “swish” – nothing but net.

The candidate for Massachusetts Attorney General who is battling long-time politician Warren Tolman to replace Martha Coakley (who Healey worked for as an assistant AG before resigning to run for the position) is seen taking the ball to the hoop on an outdoor court in her first television campaign ad released Tuesday, Aug. 6.

“When you’re a five-four pro basketball player, you learn to take on the big guys,” says a narrator as Healey stands under the basket as the ad recalls her time as an outstanding hoopster at Harvard and as a pro in Austria.

Upon closer inspection of the ad, Healey is hitting her shots on the basketball court at Belmont’s Grove Street Playground across from Belmont Cemetery.

Could it be that Healey selected the site due to her long-time friendship on and off-the-court with Belmont’s Melissa Hart?

“I’m not sure why she chose Grove Street and did not ask her when I saw her the other day, but I did tell her that was where I grew up shooting around and practicing on my own,” said Hart, a star athlete at Belmont High and Hamilton College and currently Belmont High’s girls’ basketball head coach.

As someone who first got to know Healey as a member of a competitive recreation basketball league the two joined to stay active in the sport, the Oakley Road resident believes the former Harvard basketball captain has the skill set to be successful in state-wide office as she has been on the court.

“I think Maura is a natural in the political arena because she is genuine, sharp, and willing to stand up and fight, but has a great warmth about her evident from anyone who meets her,” said Hart.

“I have not heard of someone who has met her and spoken to her that has not liked her and been impressed with her actually. She is committed to the law and to civil rights and justice. Maura does not want any political office she can be elected to, Maura wants the job of the attorney general,” said Hart, who invited Healey to participate at the Belmont youth basketball clinic last fall.

As for taking on Healey on the court, Hart said she is fortunate to have had the former pro on her side most of the time.

“Luckily Maura was always on my team, even if we were all just splitting up to play. I am not sure I can remember too many times she was on the opposite team or maybe wanted to forget!” said Hart.