Belmont Patch's new Sunday feature, "Meet Your Neighbors," is just that; discovering more about fellow residents or people that work in town who make Belmont a nice place to live.
Sami Baghdady who lives on Loring Street.
Chairman of the Planning Board since 2o10.
Sami Baghdady has a simple, heartfelt answer to how he can so actively participate in Belmont civic life while maintaining a busy, solo law practice and bringing up a large family.
“I love helping people,” he said. “So I make the time.”
As chairman of the town's Planning Board, Baghdady will be the person mediating in the next year the goals of both residents and real estate interests in the redevelopment of two key commercial quarters in town, the proposed Cushing Village project and the revitalization of south Pleasant Street.
If you don't know Sami now, you will.
When he’s not attending Warrant Committee meetings as a recently-appointed member, chairing meetings of the Planning Board, doing the extra work associated with those town groups and representing clients out of his offices in Arlington and Worcester, Baghdady is with his family.
That’s a full time job in itself.
Baghdady is an active father, participating in the lives of his five children.
A wrestler while a student at Belmont High School, he taught his two older sons the sport when they were about six or seven years old and continues to work out in the off-season with Sami, a junior at the High School, and freshman Roni, both of whom are well-known in town for their outstanding wrestling skills.
And he admits being a vocal and enthusiastic fan when attending their matches.
The joys of family life
“I went back to wrestling in my 40s,” Baghdady said in reference to working out with his sons. “My parents’ basement has a wrestling mat and weights that we use to keep in shape.”
He said he and his wife, Rola, emphasize academics with their children but believe physical activity is also a very important aspect of life.
“We’ve always instilled (a love for sports and movement) in them and it’s created a bonding,” Bagdady said. “We’re buddies.”
He also coached for Belmont Second Soccer and the Belmont Youth Soccer Association when his two daughters were playing the sport. These days, he said, fifth-grader Lou-Lou plays the piano and third-grader Julie is an avid dancer, studying tap and ballet.
The baby of the family, three-year-old Johnny, “holds his own with his siblings.”
The joys of having a large family are endless, Baghdady said.
“There’s always activity,” he said. “I love children. Admittedly, it’s expensive but, in the end, what are we here for?”
Baghdady grew up with four siblings with whom he remains close. He and his immediate family now live on Loring Street, a stone’s throw from his parents’ house on White Street where he was raised.
“It’s nice for our children to be able to walk right over and know their grandparents,” Baghdady said.
Heritage is important
He was born in Zahle, Lebanon, the largest city in the Bequa Valley and the third largest in the Mediterranean country.
Although his family moved to the United States when he was about one, Baghdady has been back to his birthplace – an agricultural hub 32 miles from Beirut and one of the largest Christian communities in the country – many times to see friends and family.
He met his wife there 18 years go and they have brought all of their five children back to be christened.
“It’s important to us that our children know their heritage,” he said.
College minor helps shape thinking
A Belmont resident for the majority of his life, Baghdady attended the Butler School, Chenery Middle School and Belmont High School.
After graduation, he matriculated at Boston University where he majored in economics and minored in philosophy. From there, he attended Cornell Law School and earned a Juris Doctor.
Badgdady said he loved studying philosophy in college and feels his extensive reading for courses remains a part of how he thinks and approaches his work for the Planning Board.
“We live in a democracy and I am guided by its principals,” he said. “As the one presiding over the board, I believe in listening to others’ ideas very seriously.”
That’s key to making the right decisions, Baghdady said. “I don’t claim to have all the answers.
And the dictates of a democratic society influence his view of how the proposed Cushing Village development, the 250,000 square-foot retail and housing project in the heart of the Cushing Square, will proceed.
“There’s a lot of common ground,” Baghdady said in reference to the development team, neighbors and town.
“Everyone wants a successful development; everyone wants the contamination cleaned up; everyone wants a project that will provide tax revenue,” he said.
“The differences are in how we are going to get there: bulk, massing and design. At this point, we don’t know what it’s going to look like in the end," he said.
Law work helps with perspective
As a lawyer practicing real estate and corporate law, Baghdady understands how developers approach their projects and has been before planning boards many times on behalf of his clients.
That experience, he said, allows him to know what both sides are thinking.
“The profit margin is what makes this country strong,” he said. “At the same time, the residents have to be happy so we need to allow growth while maintaining the flavor of Belmont.”
Baghdady said he can control the agenda of how the development of Cushing Village proceeds.
“This will be done in an open, orderly and transparent manner,” he said. “We are going to end up with a project everyone will be happy with and it will be the blueprint for the rest of the town.”