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First Group Backs Preservation Ballot Question

Not surprising Conservation Commission is supporting Community Preservation Act

Signaling its support of a ballot measure that would hike real estate taxes to fund preservation and affordable housing, Belmont's Conservation Commission declared at its scheduled June 29 meeting to support the efforts of the local group attempting to bring the Community Preservation Act to town.

Commission Chairwoman Miriam Weil and member Martha Moore are part of the group and attend its meetings, both of whom suggested commission members might want to help out by finding people to sign the petition.

The Belmont Community Preservation Act Committee must collect names of 800 people – or 5 percent of the town's registered voters – by the end of August in order to have the question on the Nov. 2 ballot.

If the voters approve the act, the town will receive $32 from the state for every $100 Belmont spends on affordable housing, open space, historic preservation and recreational purposes.

The commission unanimously voted to support the effort to gain enough signatures.

Belmont citizens are have been paying for the Massachusetts Community Preservation Fund since 2002, said Moore, explaining that money into the fund from any transactions conducted at the registry or land court.

"When the program started, the state was matching 100 percent," she said.

"Now that more towns and cities have gotten into it, the reimbursement is lower but it's still a substantial amount of money," said Moore.

Some towns that have adopted the act had to try several times (for voters to pass it), said Weil.

"It's important that the committee describe the kinds of projects (the CPA funds would help pay for) that people can relate to such as the Underwood pool," she said.

The money set aside for community preservation does not have to be spent right away, Moore pointed out. "It can be put in an account and used when the town is ready," she said.

According to the Belmont CPA Committee, the town's residents have paid over $600,000 into the Massachusetts Community Preservation Fund for other local community preservation projects.

With a surcharge of 1.5 percent and $100,000 exemption, the owner of a median value home in Belmont of $668,000 would pay $26 each quarter into the town's community preservation fund, Moore said.

The state match, at an anticipated 32 percent, would be $259,080 that would make $1,068,705 available for community projects.

"This might be a tough time (financially) to ask taxpayers to do this but we might as well try," Moore said.

In other business, the commission unanimously voted to grant two certificates of compliance to Belmont Manor at 34 Agassiz Ave. after the nursing home updated its storm drainage system as well as one additional catch basin.

The commission also unanimously voted to continue its discussion on whether to grant permission to Neal Johnson of Johnson Excavating to connect a property at 665 Concord Ave. to the town's sewer connection.

The commission, members said, has a policy of no building within 25 feet of wetlands and the property falls within that area. Members asked Johnson to return for the Aug. 3 meeting of the Conservation Commission with a written report of why they should override the policy and how the project could be done without disturbing the wetlands.

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