New Rink Committee In Sprint To Meet Aug. 1 Deadline; Public Meetings Set For July 14, 20

Photo: The design of the new municipal rink (The Galante Architecture Studio)

While the majority of building committees’ work resemble a long-distance race, the newly-formed Municipal Skating Rink Building Committee is like watching Usain Bolt in full flight as the 12-member committee attempts to sprint the project onto the Nov. 8 ballot.

Facing a list of tasks that would make Hercules blush, the committee is seeking to create a completed design of the structure, a plan to revamp the fields and manage parking while coming up with a detail price tag for the entire project, all of it done in less than a month.

”We have 25 calendar days to meet our [Aug. 1] deadline,” Committee Chair Mark Haley said at the committee’s Wednesday, July 6 meeting that focused on the latest project feasibility study. And during that compressed interval, the committee is looking to introduce the project to residents.

That part of the plan starts with a pair of public meetings – on Thursday, July 14 and Wednesday, July 20, sandwiched between critical joint meetings of the Select Board and School Committee on July 18 and an informational get-together with the Planning Board on July 19. The meeting on Bastille Day will be dedicated to the rink design, while the 20th will highlight parking and the three playing surfaces ”west of Harris Field.”

The committee has been meeting weekly almost since it was created on June 13 during Town Meeting and will continue through July with the specific goal of having a debt exclusion ballot question to fund the rink before voters in November. The rush is required as the Select Board faces an August 1 deadline to make a final decision on debt exclusion measures to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman who will seek state approval to place any on the general election ballot.

And while the committee could present what it hopes is a complete package, that November vote is far from a certainty as all that work will need to come up to scratch by the expectations of the Select Board.

“It may be very difficult to meet that next timeline … because there’s a lot that needs to happen between now and Aug. 1,” said Mark Paolillo, the board’s chair, pointing to a volumes of recommendations it must produce to the Select Board and School Committee to meet its mandate.

”I’m just suggesting that, perhaps, it could be challenging,” said Paolillo.

As of the July 6 meeting, the rink design is fairly straight forward with architect Ted Galante using the steel skeleton of the existing structure, more detailed – but not yet finalized – design with the building expanding more in the front and the rear with the programs enclosed with the building creeping closer to Harris Field bleachers in an attempt not to impact the fields and eliminate a small alleyway between the two structures.

Take a peak at the July 6 municipal rink feasibility study here

Galante of The Galante Architecture Studio brought to the July 6 meeting a blueprint that severed the project into two parts with the majority of the program – the rink, community room, restrooms, hockey locker rooms – to be built in a first phase with the Harris Field locker rooms for fall and spring sports left for a later date with separate funding.

The dual construction phasing was quickly scuttled by the committee. “If it’s not done now, it will never happen,” said Ann Marie Mahoney. “It needs to be a complete project” brought before the Select Board and the public.

The full range of locker rooms are necessary as the new Middle and High School only has two full-scale locker rooms, for boys’ and girls’ varsity a limit imposed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority in its partnership with the town. According to Superintendent John Phelan who met with Haley and School Committee Chair Meg Moriarty the day before, the four lockers at the rink will barely meet the demands of the school’s athletic teams.

While the design is moving forward, the west fields and just how much parking is proving to be stickier issues to resolve. The fields as well as the parking component were “inherited” by the rink committee when they were orphaned by the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee which abandoned the fields and the associated parking from its original plan to reallocate $5 million to its contingency funds.

“This complicates the picture,” said Tom Gatzunis, the committee’s owners project manager, with the committee forced to add the scope of the fields and the need for parking under its watch with a substantial increase to the building’s price tag and complexity.

With the BMHSBC washing its hands of West of Harris Field, the need for 120 parking spaces negotiated with the Planning Board more than four years ago has been taken off the board. With the ability to start anew, Galante said earlier analysis of the rink revealed a demand for 88 spaces on game days. Galante’s current intention is to utilize the ”jug handle” parking across Concord Avenue from the Underwood Pool along with new spaces where the White Field House currently sits.

Members noted that parking will be “a very hot button issue” for neighbors as they fought hard to take vehicles off side streets. Frank French, Jr. pondered the idea the committee could simply leave parking the way it is currently with patrons and fans using on-street parking along Concord Avenue when using the rink. The committee believes it will have a more detailed parking plan by the time it meets with the Select Board and School Committee on July 18 and for a critical Planning Board meeting the next day.

With the elements of the project increased with the addition of the fields and parking, the price tag on the expanded rink has increased by a third from the first estimate in of $19 million, currently in a range between $28-$32 million. Dante Muzzioli said the project must come in below $30 million, a price point that, if that number was breeched, would prove difficult for residents to support.

“We are going to get one bite of the apple,” said Muzzioli.

The members of the new committee are chair Mark Haley, Dante Muzzioli, Anthony Ferrante, Stephen Sala, Frank French, Jr, Catherine Oakes, Megan Moriarty, Bill Shea, Tom Caputo, Dan Halston, Ann Marie Mahoney and Dynelle Long.

First Public Say On Tenative Retail Marijuana Regs June 19

Photo: Interior of a pot shop.

Planning Board Chair Charles Clark said while “very strong” arguments were made on both sides of the opt-out marijuana sales debate during Town Meeting earlier in the month, the cases for and against the article was limited to a small number of the members. 

Now, the board wants to hear from the rest of the town on what should be the “time, manner and place” of the first pot shops in Belmont.

At its Monday, May 14 meeting, Clark said the process of creating a new set of bylaws needs to begin soon.

“While it’s more than half a year away, it’s really just around the corner,” said Clark as the board released a draft schedule on writing the local ordinance ready to be enforced by the beginning of next year. 

“We want to hear a range of opinions” from the public on the placement and times of operation “which we didn’t hear the first time,” said Clark.

Scheduled for June 19 at the Beech Street Center to catch people before they leave town on summer vacation, the meeting will have the feel of the public “forum” rather than a more formal public hearing, said Town Planner Jeffrey Wheeler.

“We’ll ask, ‘Is this [regulation] good?’ Should [the stores] be placed in LB1 (business) zoning districts? We want to hear ideas,” said Clark. He said the board will also present data on how other towns are proceeding with establishing regulations and restrictions. 

Clark said the forum will be the first, but not last time the public will have their say on the matter. The board will be holding public meetings on the new “pot” zoning before the Special Election on Sept. 25, where voters will either approve or reject the opt-out article amended to only allow pot sales in town.

The proposed zoning bylaw on the wheres and whens of the stores will be before the fall Special Town Meeting starting Tuesday, Nov. 13. If passed by a two-thirds majority of the members, the regulations will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

[Correction: An earlier version of the article indicated Special Town Meeting begins on Nov. 8. The Town Clerk has selected Nov. 13, a Tuesday, as the first night of the “Special.”]

Letter to the Editor: Planning Board Chaos Underscores Need for Accountability

Photo: The Planning Board

To the editor:

And then there were three. With the unexpected resignations this week of former Planning Board Chairwoman Liz Allison and Board member Barbara Fiacco, Belmont’s Planning Board has been reduced to just three members, having lost half its members to resignation in the past month – all three under clouds of controversy. 

The unraveling of this critical body as major projects, like Cushing Village, demand attention and others like Belmont High School loom poses a serious challenge to the Town’s leadership. It also offers a powerful argument in favor of a motion I have put before Town Meeting on Nov. 13 that will bring accountability and order to Planning Board by letting the town’s voters choose its members, as 35 of 39 other towns in Middlesex county already do.

For those readers who are hearing about this for the first time, I’ve taken the opportunity to answer some “frequently asked questions”. I hope this help inform you about this important, citizen-driven initiative. 

Why are you doing this? 

Amending our bylaws to have voters elect our Planning Board will bring transparency, accountability, and professionalism to a critical body whose jurisdiction extends to every private home and commercial property in town. Popular election of Planning Board will give voters the opportunity to evaluate all candidates for open positions on the Planning Board and to choose those who are best qualified and suited to represent the community’s interests. 

This critical change to our bylaws will also bring Planning Board in line with our Town’s other administrative boards and committees, namely: Selectmen, School Committee, Board of Assessors, Board of Library Trustees and the Board of Health, members of which are all elected by voters.

Do other communities elect their Planning Boards? 

Yes. If we consider Middlesex County of which we are a part, 35 of 39 (or 90 percent) of communities with Belmont’s form of government like Newton, Cambridge, Lowell, Somerville have opted for popularly elected Planning Boards. This list includes Winchester, Lexington, Lincoln, Sudbury, Weston, Natick, Sherborn, Stoneham, Wakefield, Westford, Holliston, Hopkinton, and on and on. Belmont is one of just four that still have Planning Boards that are appointed by the Board of Selectmen.  

Why Planning Board? Why now? 

Planning Board is one of the most critical public bodies in our town. It helps shape the town through its decisions concerning both residential and commercial development and has the power to shape public and private spaces within a town.  As it stands, however, there is no mechanism in Belmont’s bylaws to ensure that Planning Board is accountable to voters and the public in any way. This is a critical omission in Belmont’s bylaws that has directly contributed to the erratic and damaging behavior of our Planning Board in recent months. 

If elected, won’t Planning Board start kowtowing to voters instead of being independent?

Of course not. Elected Planning Board members, like other elected officials, will be expected to think independently and to use their best judgment and make decisions that they feel are in the best interest of the whole community. That’s no different than what we expect of appointed officials. 

Let’s face it: Planning Board is an unpaid, volunteer position. Election to Planning Board is no more likely to engender self-serving, short-term decision making by members than an election to other unpaid positions like Town Meeting or School Committee. Consider: the punishment for losing re-election to Planning Board for a decision that voters disagree with is that the individual is forced to volunteer less. That’s hardly the kind of punishment that will have members betraying their values and common sense.  

What’s wrong with an appointed Board? 

It is critical that voters in Belmont have a means to express their preferences for Planning Board as they do for other administrative bodies like School Committee or the Selectmen themselves.  Under our current bylaws, they do not. 

Consider: it is the Selectmen, not the public, who receive and review applications from community members who are interested in a seat on the Planning Board. Voters in Belmont are not privy to who has applied for open seats or their qualifications, nor are they given the benefit of the Board of Selectmen’s reasons for eliminating any particular candidate or ultimately appointing one over another. Yes, voters may appeal to the Board to choose a specific candidate, assuming they even know who has applied, but the Selectmen are under no obligation to heed the voters. 

Don’t we affect Planning Board with our choice of Selectman?  

It might be argued that voters can express their Planning Board preferences in their vote for a Selectman. As a practical matter, however, this never happens. Planning Board appointments are not an issue in Board of Selectman races nor have promised appointments been deciding factors – or even talking points – in selectman races. Our bylaws left unchanged will continue to shield the selection, decisions, and actions of the Planning Board from voters and any accountability. 

I hope you will support this citizen-driven effort to make an important change to Belmont’s bylaws and inject democratic accountability to this critical body. I urge you to contact Town Meeting members from your precinct and ask them to support the Planning Board article. 

Paul Roberts

Town Meeting Member, Precinct 8

Day School Ready For Planning Board Vote, But When Is Up In The Air

Photo: Brit Dewey, Belmont day School’s Board of Trustees president speaking before the Belmont Planning Board.

After nearly half a year and more than a half-dozen public hearing, the Belmont Day School’s proposal to build a new athletic and classroom building and a driveway/road on its property will be decided in early August by the Belmont Planning Board after acting Chair Barbara Fiacco said that when it holds the next meeting, “we are looking at a near final if not final plan.” 

But just which day the Planning Board will vote on the 90-year-old private K-8 school plans remain uncertain as the applicant is facing a dicey choice: move quickly and risk a devastating defeat or be patient and delay the development’s groundbreaking date.

With planning board member Karl Haglund unavailable to make the next hearing on Aug. 1, the Day School will face the bare minimum of three members to form a quorum.

As Belmont Town Planner Jeffery Wheeler noted, the Day School would need a unanimous “yes” vote for approval to move on the project. That could be a risky move since “It’s much easier to get a 3-1 decision than a 3-0 vote,” said Wheeler after the meeting.

But waiting for Hagland’s return would force the school to have to wait a fortnight for the subsequent Planning Board meeting. At issue is whether the school can afford to wait an additional two weeks before gaining the town’s OK to meet its commitment to its construction firm to begin work.

The frustration of supporters of the project of the longer-than-expected approval process came to the fore last week when Brit Dewey, the school’s Board of Trustees president, spoke formally for the first time since April when introducing the project.

“This project is about children,” said Dewey, with the school’s primary goal “to make an outstanding educational experience for children even more compelling.”

Dewey said the school had “consistently engaged in good faith and as an earnest and active partner with the Town of Belmont to move this project forward successfully” adding that the Day School had reached out to neighboring residents and the elected commission that oversees the cemetery.

“It’s time to make a decision in support of the project,” she said, adding that approving the development “is a vote to support excellence in education in Belmont; it’s a vote to support children.”

Opponents continued to focus on the proposed road that will skirt the boundary of the town’s Highland Meadow Cemetery. Those owning plots said the noise of what they contend would be 1,000 vehicle trips would destroy the serenity of the location and devaluing the burial sites.

Bellevue Road’s Joel Semuels asked that if approved, the roadway running close by a pair of burial spots he and his wife own be designated for emergency vehicles use only.

“This is not your ordinary ‘Not-In-My-Backyard’ NIMBY situation,” said Semuels, asking it’s unknown what will occupy the site of the school in 100 or 150 years, “but a cemetery … has its permanent residents and visitors to those residents and is forever.”

A homeowners group believes the added entryway to the school increase traffic and set back safety on a busy section of the upper Concord Avenue. 

The remainder of the meeting centered on construction schedules and the amount and type of landscaping that should be placed in the roadway and the graveyard, with an emphasis to “ameliorate the effect on the road to the cemetery,” said board member Charles Clark, joining Haglund in saying that the landscaping must provide a “peace of mind” to the town and residents. 

Hoping to provide something of a compromise to the board, the Day School decided to sacrifice 17 parking spaces it had planned to place along the roadway to allow a greater buffer area between the road and the cemetery’s border.

By the end of the 75-minute meeting, it appeared the next time they will meet could produce a final site plan or just another delay. 

Will Belmont Day School’s Extended Stay With The Planning Board End Tonight?

Photo: Barbara Fiacco, the Planning Board’s acting chair

Amidst the months of deep-in-the-weeds technical reports and legal speculation associated with the Belmont Day School’s proposal before the Belmont Planning Board, there was a “Miss Emily Litella” moment at the most recent public hearing held on Tuesday, July 10.

A person who owns a burial plot in the town-owned Highland Meadow Cemetery adjacent to where the school, spoke of the impact the development could have on his last resting place including displacing the wildlife while creating a great place “for kids to do drugs and have sex.” 

But his concern also extended to the construction of the school’s newest structure, a 25,000 sq.-ft, building known as the “Barn.”

“I thought we weren’t allowed to have farm animals in the town, horses, and everything. Do they have permits for this type of agricultural use? Am I going to go there and hear the roosters crowing, am I going to smell the cow’s feces?” the longtime resident proclaimed, as a quiet tittering made its way around the Beech Street Center.

“We can’t have a barn in Belmont,” he said.

For residents who have been following the extended stay of the private K-8 school on Day School Lane off upper Concord Avenue during its Design and Site Plan Review, the new gymnasium and classroom space is being dubbed the “barn” because, well, it resembles from afar a large grange.

When informed by the Day School’s lead spokesperson Kelly Durfee Cardoza from Avalon Consulting that it’s just called “the barn,” the resident didn’t say “Never mind,” but quipped that “that sounds awful cute to me.” 

While likely unintentional, the resident’s confusion has been the comic outlier from what has been hours of back and forth between the board, the school, two sets of residents opposing the plan, a town board and discussions between the town’s attorney and the school’s legal rep which has extended the school’s stay before the board well past the initial date the school had hoped to have the review completed.

That may change tonight as the board, and the school is expected to come to a possible agreement on what appears to be the final two components of the project that require a resolution.

At the end of the July 10 meeting, Barbara Fiacco, the Planning Board’s acting chair, requested the school’s representatives to provide a more extensive landscaping plan in an effort to shield the proposed roadway from the cemetery and provide a more detail plan on how Shawmut Design and  Construction – the school’s general contractor – will ferry workers on the site and where trucks and other heavy equipment vehicles will be parked during the construction.

For the school, the end of the public process is likely needed soon for the school to begin construction by the fall. The school recently accepted a $15.5 million tax-exempt bond from the state’s economic development and finance agency, MassDevelopment to begin construction with a construction team waiting for the word to proceed.

While many of the technical issues – including the building and maintenance of the proposed roadway running from Concord Avenue to a school parking lot – have been argued over to some level compromise, there remains one major sticking point that could continue to hold up closing the public meeting and issuing a ruling.

State General Law 40a (3) (2) – known as the Dover amendment – protects education and religious entities from land use regulations and limiting the town to “reasonable regulations” to mitigate the development’s effect on surrounding areas.

What would appear to be a straight forward legal issue remains somewhat muddled as the school’s attorney, Robinson & Cole’s Katherine Bailey, and town counsel George Hall have differing views on whether the roadway is protected by the Dover amendment, with Hall arguing there are not enough rulings to definitely say one way or another.

How the legal issue of the roadway’s status will be resolved could put another roadblock before the school with the new academic year ready to begin in six weeks.

Library Trustee Blasts Planning Board On New Library Placement

Photo: (from left) Raffi Manjikian and Liz Allison on the Planning Board speaking to Kathleen Keohane of the Library Trustees (foreground)

Kathleen Keohane was more than a bit perturbed outside of the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday night, July 18.

It wasn’t because she had a busy day at work and that she was missing dinner to attend the scheduled meeting at Town Hall. Just a few days previous, Keohane, the chair of the Board of Trustees of the Belmont Public Library, was told by a resident that the Planning Board had presented an ambitious plan last week to construct a new town library as part of a public/private partnership to be located at  the Belmont Car Wash in Waverley Square.

Just one problem with the proposal in Keohane view: no one told her or any other trustee about the project. And she wanted everyone in town to know that was unacceptable.

 “I am astonished and dismayed that there has been no outreach to the Library Director (or the trustees of substance to discuss this,” Keohane told the Belmontonian Tuesday. She said the Planning Board’s release of the proposal came after the Trustees spent 14 months and $40,000 of Town Meeting approved funds to conduct a far-ranging feasibility study for the construction of a new library.

Keohane said the study revealed that patrons and residents want the library to stay put at its current location on Concord Avenue near the Underwood Pool. And with 1,000 unique visits, the library attracts vehicle traffic which could hamper its use in the highly traveled Waverley Square.

“We have heard pretty clearly what residents want,” said Keohane.

Keohane said the only time she spoke to the Planning Board on anything close to a new library was when she “ran into [Allison] in the hallway” at the Chenery Middle School during the Belmont League of Women Voters’ candidates’ debate in March. 

“She said she left me a message on my home phone to introduced this idea, but since then there has been absolutely no outreach. I don’t even know what the concept is,” she said.

What makes the entire scenario difficult for the trustees is because they are on the cusp of moving forward with a major fundraising effort to pay for the $23 million building. But that effort has been delayed until the fall after the trustees agreed to a request to hold back its plans by the Capital Budget Committee at this year’s Town Meeting as it studied the major capital projects around town. 

“We have been open and transparent in trying to move things forward, and the courtesy of outreach would have been much appreciated,” said Keohane.

Keohane said she has not attempted to reach out to the Planning Board “because honestly, I thought someone would have the courtesy to reach out.” She was at the meeting “to learn as much information as I can.”

And 75 minutes after arriving, Keohane strode to the cable television microphone to express how awestruck she was about the proposal.

“We are eager to learn more because we have been put in a tough spot because we have been receiving a lot of calls from folks for more information,” Keohane told the board.

Allison responded by reminding Keohane of the “brief and even more informal conversation” they had in March.

“We had a hallway conversation … where you raised this issue to me and I said I was not speaking for the trustees and I expressed my concern that it was not the right site for a library,” said Keohane, calling the meeting “out of the blue.”

Keohane noted that the trustees had met multiple times with all the town’s major stakeholders on its path towards the construction of a new library “so we want to be in on the conversation and not feel like we’re left out on the side(lines). We were just caught off guard.”

Allison responded that the board’s feeling is it’s happy to have any conversation in any form.

“It’s an idea,” said the Planning Board’s Raffi Manjikian of the Waverley Square proposal. “It’s one to throw out on the table for consideration, and there are a lot of stakeholders that will need to be engaged and get their support and express their support.”

“We will have a better idea by the end of the month whether this has any reality to it,” Allison said.

Planning Board Parks il Casale’s Next Belmont Eatery

Photo: Dante de Magistris before the Planning Board.

Everything appeared to be going swimmingly for the local team seeking to open a new restaurant in the former Macy’s building in Belmont Center.

The site review application before the Planning Board which met on Monday, June 10 at the Beech Street Center couldn’t have come with a better pedigree. The de Magistris brothers (“We all grow up in Belmont,” said one brother at the introductions) who run the prestigious award-winning il Casale restaurant at 50 Leonard St. are seeking to open a second Belmont location, a new dining experience for residents to experience.

Likely dubbed Roast 75 (as in 75 Leonard St. the street address), the new site would be a “new warm, inviting neighborhood restaurant,” according to Dante de Magistris, the chef, and co-owner of il Casale, speaking for the family. The eatery would incorporate an inexpensive, farm-to-table concept “that you can go to every day,” he said.

The “front” door would be the back entrance facing the two parking lots along Claflin Street. ‘It’s a nice beautiful spot there,” said de Magistris.

Architect Neli Ialamov of South End-based McMahon Architects said little would be done to the brick exterior. The interior would consist of a lower basement storage area and a main floor dining area with an open “show” kitchen so diners can see the cooks in action. 

Architect Neli Ialamov of South End-based McMahon Architects.

But for the Planning Board, it wasn’t what the customers would be ordering that interested them; rather where those patrons would park their cars that held their interest.

Len Simons, an attorney for landlord Locatelli Properties assisting the de Magistris family with its application, told the board it would be seeking relief from the town’s zoning bylaw requirement of supplying one parking space for every two seats in the restaurant. With the new site set to hold 133 seats, the de Magistris family will need to provide 67 spaces.

That would be an issue as the landlord’s parking lot located adjacent to the operation only has 61 spaces total which needs to supply existing retail and restaurants.

In the family and Simons’ view, the restaurant could get by with 54 dedicated spaces in which several spots would be daytime permitted commuter parking in the nearby lot behind the Leonard Street fire station and the municipal location.

With a total of 382 parking spaces in lots and on the street in Belmont Center,”[t]he thought is that there should be enough parking to satisfy the requirements of the zoning bylaw albeit not on the same lot as the restaurant,” said Simons.

Simons also said 70 percent of the expected 25 employees would take mass transit to work and since a growing number of diners are arriving via ride-hailing companies such as Lyft and Uber, the actual number of spots the restaurant would need will be reduced even further.

But as Board Chair Elizabeth Allison noted, “the numbers [of space] are not the problem.” While not disputing the data presented to the board, Allison wanted to see “firmer” facts on the number of restaurant seats and parking spaces in lots and on the street in the Center in chart form rather than just off the top-of-the-head figures. She also said the board would be reviewing past actions on relaxing the parking bylaw for restaurants to be “consistent” if it would grant relief.

And while the board wishes to be “business friendly,” Allison said it also wanted to “be friendly to all business” in the center, not crowding out one set of retailers for another.

But it was when they realized that the board was not going to vote on the application Monday – scheduling a return visit of the application on Aug. 1 – that the faces of the de Magistris brothers took a distinctly anxious turn. And little wonder as it was revealed the board’s three-week delay on a possible vote was putting the il Casale team “between a rock and a hard place,” according to Simons.

Apparently, the de Magistris’ are “on the cusp of obtaining a liquor license” from the Board of Selectmen, said Simons, which, in turn, will allow them to finalize a financing package needed to begin construction on a space they are paying rent.

“At the risk of seeming aggressive,” Simons asked if approval of the site review application could be granted at present with conditions attached. But Allison nixed the suggestion, and Aug 1 would be the next time the team can plead its case to the board.

After spending 10 minutes discussing strategy with Simons in the Beech Street Center’s parking lot, Dante de Magistris summed up the board’s decision with a shrug of the shoulders.

“It’s an ongoing process. It’s a beautiful process,” he said without a bit of cynicism in his voice.


Tweaked: Failed Dunkin’ Donut Developer’s Back On Pleasant Street With New Proposal

Photo: The new design for the strip mall at Pleasant and Brighton.

The development team whose attempt to build a Dunkin’ Donut restaurant at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets was shot down by the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals in January 2016 is back before the town with a new proposal for the site.

Although “new” will be seen as a stretch for some as Nick Leo’s proposed strip mall does mention a Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant as one “alternative” in occupying the larger storefront at the former Pleasant Street Getty service station located at 350 Pleasant St. which Leo bought for $1,060,000 in July 2014.

But this time, rather than building a strip mall with one of his franchise as the anchor tenant that would involve what some contend is a zoning board not favorably disposed to business interests, the development’s retail spaces will be open to anyone.

‘Once site plan approval is granted and the construction schedule is set up, Mr. Leo will then seek out possible tenants,” said Joseph Noone, the Belmont-based attorney for the Leo Organization.

Leo’s plan this time is to build the structure under the review of the Planning Board and “if a future tenant use requires a special permit under the Belmont By-Law, the tenant will apply to the ZBA for a special permit if the proposed use is not permitted as of right,” said Noone.

The new concept comes before the Planning Board on Tuesday, July 11 at 7 p.m. for a Site and Design Review a year-and-a-half after the Zoning Board of Appeals voted down the application in January 2016 due to traffic and parking issues.

Leo, the owner of 20 Dunkin’ Donut franchises in Massachusetts and Florida, is seeking to build a 3,516 sq.-ft. strip mall with three retail spaces of 1,500, 1,000  and 746 square feet with 269 square feet of common space. The site will have 21 parking spaces, seven more than is required in an LB3 zone.

In many ways, the new design is similar to the failed plan which included a 3,500 sq.-ft. building with a pair of 1,000 sq.-ft. retail operations.

While an application is prohibited for two years to return to the ZBA after being rejected, the new project is considered just enough of a change to allow it back before the town.

“In essence, the footprint of the building is not changed from the plans previously submitted,” said Noone, noting that a small second-floor storage space was eliminated.

The big difference is what’s going inside the space, said Noone. The initial design came before the ZBA as it needed a special permit to use one of the retail spaces as a Dunkin Donuts. Since the new proposal only mentions two possible uses – or alternatives – the Planning Board will only review the proposed structure.

“The denial of the special permit for the use of a Dunkin Donuts [in 2016] does not preclude seeking site plan approval for the proposed structure,’ said Noone.

Noone said the new design incorporates suggestions and requests by abutters, neighbors and the town made during the ZBA hearings, including moving the new building closer to Pleasant Street. and the placement of the dumpster, transformer, and environmental remediation equipment.

Leo also hosted an informational meeting for the neighbors on May 9 at Noone’s office, which was attended by several neighbors. 

Belmont Day School, Residents Waiting on Dover Decision

Photo: Residents at the Planning Board meeting Tuesday night.

The Board of Selectmen’s Room in Belmont’s Town Hall was stuffed to the rafters with residents Tuesday night, May 2 as the Planning Board reopened the public hearing to hear from both sides of a now controversial development planned at a private school on Belmont Hill.

By the end of the 90-minute meeting, it was apparent the Planning Board’s next step rests on a legal interpretation by Belmont Town Counsel George Hall whether the Belmont Day School could be required to undertake a pair of potentially time-consuming and expensive independent reviews of the impact the proposed develop could have on local traffic levels and stormwater.

The Belmont Planning Board.

It is an action the Day School’s legal representative considers mute due to the state General Law 40a (3) (2) – known as the Dover Amendment – protecting education and religious entities from land use regulations; the same legal standard used more than two decades ago to build another contentious project in town, the Boston LDS Temple.

“We need to bear in mind the Dover Amendment, which means in situations like this, where there is a proposal to build a structure for an educational purpose, we are limited to imposing reasonable regulations,” said Acting Planning Board Chair Barbara Fiacco of the construction of an indoor gym/classroom space and a new road/driveway at the Day School, a private kindergarten/elementary/middle school located off Concord Avenue on Day School Lane.

The Day School has reported it would want construction on the project to begin in the fall of 2017 with a September 2018 opening.

Speaking of the Day School, Kelly Durfee Cardoza from Avalon Consulting opened the meeting telling the board the school had met with abutters and carefully attempted to address some issues immediately such as moving a dumpster away from the border with the town’s cemetery. 

Kelly Durfee Cardoza, Avalon Consulting

Cardoza also told the board the school would introduce a Transportation Demand Plan which when implemented would use a series of actions such as car pooling, traffic monitoring, establishing a commuter ride system and stagger arrival and departures to reduce the level of traffic to and from the school.

The two camps opposing the Day School’s plans – reportedly the two groups have no intention of joining their efforts due to longstanding animosity among certain neighbors – believe the construction of what is being dubbed “The Barn” will increase enrollment and subsequently bring additional vehicle traffic onto the section of Concord Avenue which residents note is jammed during the morning and evening rush to work and home.

Opponents also believe a new access road/driveway into the school off Concord Avenue will lead to unsafe driving conditions, possible drainage issues and disturb those visiting the town’s Highland Cemetery.

One group has hired an independent traffic consultant, Robert Vanasse of Vanasse & Associates, Inc. who told the board the Day School’s traffic study is insufficient in several areas of concern, including not mentioning the weekday half-mile queue of cars on Concord Avenue in the morning and afternoon, the causes of accidents in the vicinity of the school, and the high rate of speed along the roadway.

Robert Vanasse, Vanasse & Associates

Vanasse said while he was not opposed to having the new roadway to the school to be used for “emergencies only,” adding a new intersection on busy Concord Avenue.

Also, the town’s Cemetery Commission has written to the Planning Board on its concerns about stormwater, traffic and the loss of what many are calling “the decorum” of those who purchased plots in the graveyard as traffic on the new roadway will be mere feet from the site.

Stormwater management was also questioned whether the current infrastructure would be able to support a new road which would direct rainwater and snow runoff. 

But standing in the opponent’s attempts to restrict the effects of the new construction is how wide the Dover Amendment protects the Day School’s rights.

“The board should think carefully about whether they have the authority to request a peer review for the traffic study both under your site plan review bylaw and under the Dover Amendment” as both only allows for a review of “internal” traffic – within the school property – and not offsite matters, said Robinson & Cole’s Katherine Bailey.

Robinson & Cole’s Katherine Bailey

After a limited number of residents spoke mostly in favor of the school’s expansion, the Planning Board brought their own set of questions, including from the Board’s Raffi Manjikian who quired whether the school had an operation maintenance plan to ensure the previous material under the roadway will not fail after a limited number of years. 

Many of the questions posed by the Planning Board were seeking assurances from the Day School it would have plans in place and programs ready to meet all contingency issues regarding the main concerns of traffic, stormwater and being neighborly to the town’s cemetery. 

While the issue of requiring a third party peer review remained only conjecture at the meeting, Board member Joseph DeStefano asked the Day School to voluntarily submit to the second audit “as being part of this community” rather than seek legal advice from the town counsel.

When Fiacco said she wanted to hear from Hall on the board’s right to require the review, Bailey asked, “in the interest of timeliness” if the Day School could join in that discussion outside the public meeting.

If Hall decided a peer review is warranted, Bailey asked if the review could be started before the next public meeting “so to keep the process moving.” Fiacco tentatively agreed to the request if a Planning Board representative is present. 

Since the Planning Board determined at the beginning of the meeting it would not make a final decision; the next public meeting will be reopened on Tuesday, May 23.

Letter to the Editor: Belmont Day School Expansion A Traffic Problem

Photo: Belmont Day School.

To the editor:

I sent a letter to the Belmont Planning Board yesterday (April 4, 2017) from my neighbors and my wife and me.

[See letter below]

As you can see from the letter, we only learned last week that the Belmont Day School is proposing adding a 25,000 square feet buildings on its campus and constructing a busy new 1,000-foot roadway and parking lot that would border one side of Highland Meadow Cemetery into Concord Avenue. Besides disturbing the solitude of the cemetery, the new road would lead to serious traffic and safety issues.

Belmont Day School has grown from a small neighborhood grade school with a few children to a significant institution with hundreds of students. It recently added a middle school and is now planning on adding dozens of more students shortly. Four of my children attended the school, and I support its work and mission, but the school’s traffic is overwhelming the capacity of Concord Avenue leading to daily traffic jams and safety issues and, instead of facing and dealing with these issues, the school’s proposal and additional traffic will only make things worse.

The Belmont Planning Board is meeting Thursday night at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the Homer Building to review and possibly approve the school’s plan. The plan should not be approved in its present form, and it is time for the school, the town and residents to come to an agreement on handling travel to and from the school and incorporate solutions such as remote drop off and shuttle/bus services as most other hospitals and schools in the area have done to accommodate growth and reduce traffic congestion and safety hazards in the neighborhoods where they are located.

Tommy and Jane Driscoll

Concord Avenue

[Original letter]

Re: 55 Day School Lane (Belmont Day School) Development. 

Dear Mr. Wheeler, Planning Board Members, Board of Selectmen: 

Thank you for sending us the notice of the hearing on April 6, 2017, regarding the Belmont Day School Development (the “Project”). Despite the school’s claims in its application to have informed nearby residents of its plans, none of our households have been contacted, informed or otherwise given notice by the school of this massive Project before receipt of notice from the board last week. 

It is almost certainly the case that if our three households were not made aware of the Project, neither were most other residents in the nearby area. We ask that you not grant Belmont Day School the permits needed for the Project at this time – the school should explore other alternatives if it intends on continuing to grow its population and physical plant. At the very least, the Planning Board needs to delay action for at least six months while we and others in our neighborhood whose safety may be in endangered by the Project further research matters, seek legal counsel and have time to respond appropriately. There are going to be many upset people if adequate time is not provided by the Planning Board for the community to participate in this matter. 

Had Belmont Day School acted appropriately and taken reasonable measures to provide actual notice and awareness of this project many months ago to those in the community who are impacted, this would not be necessary. Given the importance of this matter, the Planning Board must delay under any reasonable interpretation of the facts and circumstances. 

Overall, Belmont Day School’s growth and ambitious expansion plans would seem to be exceeding the capacity of its location and threaten the tranquility our residential community. This is frequently occurring in the Boston area these days as schools and other non-profit organizations are driven to expansion due to growing funds and endowments. Other private schools and hospitals voluntarily acknowledge when their growth and ambitions are no longer compatible with the residential neighborhoods where they began decades earlier – one recent example is the nearby Carrol School in Lincoln which purchased an additional facility in a more compatible location to 

support adding a middle school to its existing grade school rather than expanding its footprint and imposing a burden on its local residential neighborhood. 

The characterizations and representations of the Project in the application appear to be disingenuous at best. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a driveway as a “short private road that leads from a public road to a house or garage”. What the school is proposing is hardly a driveway. It is a new roadway connecting to Concord Ave that will accommodate close to 1,000 cars per day (by the school’s estimate) and a new parking lot within 30 feet of graves in what is today a quiet and beautiful cemetery where relatives come to visit their loved ones in solitude on a daily basis. There are material safety issues and concerns that need to be fairly considered – the Planning Board cannot simply rely on one-sided reports commissioned and paid for by the School in fairness to us and other nearby residents. 

The traffic on Concord avenue today exceeds the road’s capacity in large part because of existing Belmont Day School traffic. Many mornings we are completely unable to access the road towards Belmont center because of the volume and back up in traffic. The proposed new roadway and increased volume would likely make it impossible at times for us to leave our homes when school traffic is backed up and create an unacceptable public safety risk for residents and children in the area. 

Also, the presence of the stone wall in the cemetery and plantings do not provide sufficient visibility for any roadway or driveway – especially one connecting to an extremely busy road such as Concord Ave where cars sometimes travel at over 60 MPH when the road is not backed up. Basic safety standards prescribed by law in Massachusetts for roadways with this usage and volume cannot be ignored simply by calling the proposed roadway a “driveway”. There are serious and legitimate safety concerns that need to be fairly studied and addressed impartially. The safety issues are not hypothetical – a pedestrian was struck and severely injured recently less than 300 feet of the school’s proposed roadway, and hundreds of bicyclists use the road as the main way through Belmont every week. 

Chip and Cindy Matthes, 711 Concord Ave. 

Laura and Tim Duncan, 699 Concord Ave. 

Tom and Jane Driscoll, 689 Concord Ave.