Despite stepping down from the board, Sue Bass doesn’t think the members of the will actually notice her absence.
“I’m not going anywhere,” said the former president and one of the founders of the non-profit organization. “I’ll still be supporting the Forum financially and working on the newsletter committee.”
And Bass said she won’t have time to miss anyone because she’ll “be right there in the middle of things.”
But having been so active since the inception of the Citizens Forum in 1999, Bass said she wants some time to do other things.
For one, she said she’d like to spend more time with her husband, Henry, and looks forward to their traveling together.
“I’ve done this for a long time,” Bass said in reference to her active participation in the work of the Belmont Citizens Forum for the past 12 years, plus the months when she was part of a group of people informally meeting prior to establishing the non-profit in the fall of 1999.
Bass will remain active in her quest to preserve Belmont’s natural and historical resources, both through the Forum and other endeavors.
“I want to spend more time working to see if it’s possible to save the Silver Maple Forest by buying it to save it from development,” she said. “I’ll still be involved with the Forum but not as deeply.”
Someone missing from the table
Belmont Citizens Forum president Grant Monahon said although Bass remains connected to the members and regularly emails them about various initiatives and issues, “something does not feel right” without having her in the thick of things.
He recalled a recent meeting of the board of directors and how strange it was not to have Bass sitting there.
“There was definitely a hole at the table,” Monahon said, describing how essential Bass has been to the Forum over the years because of her always being the person who “kept us on track and inspired the board to focus on the issues of the day.”
It’s impossible to detail all Bass has provided for the Forum, Monahon said, but describes her as “the spark plug” behind the organization.
“Sue is a person with a very definite personality and does not back down from any discussion or dispute,” he said. “She feels passionately about issues and you need people like that.”
Bass is a “big thinker” who looks down the road at issues that will impact the environment and living in a community such as Belmont on a long-term basis, Monahon said.
“Sue brings together thoughts and pushes an issue ahead, bringing all the reasoning to it that should be there,” he said. “She has ignited others to be that way and has always been the person to keep us on track and focused on the issues of the day.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of how Bass deals with others, Monahon, is with extreme manners.
“Sue is incredibly polite and there’s a difference between feeling passionate about issues and being a jerk,” he said. “She is never insulting to people she disagrees with and treats them as members of the community who have a right to their views.”
Much to be proud of in the past 12 years
As she looks back on the accomplishments of the Belmont Citizens Forum, Bass recalls the impressive work the organization has achieved to date.
In particular, she said she’s extremely proud of its attention to the Trapelo Road/Belmont Street Corridor.
“When you look at it now, it’s hardly changed at all but a huge amount has happened,” Bass said, explaining that the Forum started to look at the corridor’s potential nine years ago. “The town has utterly adopted this as its project.”
Years ago, the Forum’s Planning and Zoning Committee created a vision for making the thoroughfare a pleasant Main Street for residents and businesses instead of a commuter route.
In 2003, the Forum recruited Boston Architectural Center students to take on the corridor as a project and also invited town officials and regional planning experts to speak at a public forum titled “Redefining Trapelo Road.”
In 2004, the Forum enlisted a class of 20 MIT graduate students and funded their study of the Trapelo Road/Belmont Street corridor. They presented zoning, design, development and funding options in two public forums.
The two main issues of concern, Bass explained, are looking at the roadway itself and attending to zoning for buildings along it.
“It was just a gleam in our eyes in 2002 and Belmont’s planning work was inspired by it and is an outgrowth of that same effort,” she said in reference to the Forum’s decision to look at the neglected area and find ways to make it viable for the town and residents.
“The Traffic Advisory Committee has done volumes of work on how the roadway should work,” Bass said. “The planning is almost completely done and town has made major efforts to get this in the Transportation Improvement Plan for 2014.”
Acting as leaders for town safety
Bass pointed out that a lot of thought and energy went into the vision for the corridor as well as other work the Forum took on over the years including making a recommendation that the town adopt international-style crosswalks and the board voting to fund Belmont’s first five.
“Our Traffic and Transportation Committee studied pedestrian accidents and learned this would be a simple way to reduce them,” she said. “Now the town is converting all crosswalks to that model.”
In addition, Bass said the Forum called attention to Belmont’s need to improve its deteriorating sanitary sewer system.
“We wrote a lot (in the Forum’s newsletter published six times a year) about broken sewers, water pollution problems,” she said. “We brought things to the town’s attention and the town realized the importance of some of those issues and has taken them to heart.”
Bass pointed out other activities of the Forum she’s proud of such as how Katharine MacPhail – a member of the Traffic and Transportation Committee – and her husband, Michael, undertook an independent project.
The MacPhails conducted a contest out of their architectural firm for people to suggest designs for bus shelters. They advertised the contest through the Boston Society of Architects and displayed entries by the finalists in their office, formerly in Cushing Square, in April 2003.
Revived the bike path effort
Bass also said she’s extremely pleased with the Forum’s work toward Belmont’s bike path that will eventually stretch all the way to the Alewife.
“Many people in town had worked in the 1990s to extend the Mass Central Rail Trail through Belmont (the long-distance trail from Boston to Northampton),” she said. “But when the funding formula changed to require significant local money, the effort was dropped in 1998.”
To revive that effort, Bass said, in 2008 the Citizens Forum bought a strip of land between Channing Road and the railroad tracks to accommodate a bike path between Brighton Street and Belmont Center.
“The land was available because a second set of tracks, for the Central Mass Railroad, used to run on that embankment behind Channing Road,” she said. “We are continuing to work on completing a right-of-way for this stretch of less than a mile that will make it much easier for Belmontians to get to Alewife and connect to a large network of bike paths.”
Bass explained that the Brighton Street to Belmont Center stretch of bike path is the first step toward filling a three-mile gap in Belmont and Waltham between two segments of the Mass Central Rail Trail for which the state has taken primary responsibility.
“Since Belmont has approved the Community Preservation Act, local funds to contribute to the work are now available,” she said.