Christmas is looming to be a huge humbug to plans to save a big part of Belmont's history.
The holiday's importance to one of Belmont's leading charitable organizations in addition to growing concerns from homeowners on Royal Road, Clark and Thomas streets have placed yet another potential huge roadblock to one resident's effort to preserve a town historic treasure.
The issues came to a head at Tuesday's Planning Board meeting as architect Erik Rhodin presented an updated version of his grand plan to move the pre-Revolutionary War structure from its present location at 59 Common St. a few hundred yards closer to Belmont Center on land adjacent to the MBTA Commuter Rail Station and the Belmont Lions Club.
Rhodin's plan not only calls for moving the 1764-circa structure to recovered land next to the train station and the Lions but also reconfiguring the roads in front of the station and at the top of Royal Road where three 9,000 square-foot houses would be built to offset the projects cost.
The current plan – the project has been evolving in the past month – has 13 parking spaces in front of the Lions Club and another eight spaces that will be next to the new location of the house.
Royal Road will be narrowed and laid with paving stones heading from Concord Avenue towards Common Street around a refigured traffic island that will house the World War II memorial before making a hard right onto Royal, which Rhodin said will transform the road from feeling like a "major highway" as drivers now zip along up the street.
"It has a feature that's a very attractive space," said Rhodin.
"It gives the house a dignity it deserves," he added.
In discussions with the Clark House's new owner and developer, Mark Barons, Rhodin – who has lived on Thomas Street since 1983 – said he now has a commitment that the building will remain untouched until the spring, giving him at least seven months to secure the town land after winning Town Meeting approval and obtaining a series of critical OKs from town departments and regulatory boards and move the structure.
Yet one Planning Board member believes that the sheer amount of regulatory permissions is weighing against the proposal.
Andy Rojas told Rhodin that creating a RFP (a request for proposal) that places the town land – which was set aside for the recreational use – for sale is time consuming even at the best of times for property without wetlands issues that will need to be resolved with Rhodin's proposal.
Up to bid
And once the Town Meeting – Rhodin said he would like a warrant presented at the January Special Town Meeting – approves a measure allowing the land to be developed, it is then required to be put up for sale where any developer can then bid for the property, Rojas noted.
"It's a hard long row to hoe especially with competitors," he said.
But in the past month, opposition to the proposed project has run into stiff opposition by two groups most affected by Rhodin's project.
Rhodin told the Planning Board that the night before a presentation he made to the Lions Club where members were "pretty much opposed to the entire process."
While board members of the Lions Club did attend the meeting, they chose not to comment on the project. But according to other sources, the bulk of their opposition was based on the Christmas holiday.
The has been selling Christmas trees and wreaths for more than half a century, raising $50,000 last year from the sale of 2,500 trees and 1,500 wreaths. It is an annual community effort as club members, volunteers from the high school and residents work from around Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve stacking, sawing and bundling trees.
Hampering Christmas tree sales
The Lions Club reportedly believes Rhodin's plan to restructure the area by narrowing the roadway in front of the station and placing the 13 parking spaces will seriously hamper the flow of vehicle traffic which they view as critical in making sales. They are also opposed to the requirement of cars to maneuver a sharp right turn to return onto Royal Road.
Rhodin said he was going "to get back together" to find a reasonable solution to their concerns.
While Club members were reluctant to talk, neighbors to the project – about a dozen attended the meeting – were eager to express the plan's faults.
Vincent Stanton, Jr. of Royal Road said many of his neighbors and those on Thomas and Clark streets feel that placing the Clark House hard to the commuter rail station will lead to
Stanton pointed to a potential bottleneck of cars with the narrowing and redirection of Royal Road, backing up traffic up Common Street and on Royal as traffic attempts to move in and out of the vehicle tunnel at Common Street and Concord Road.
"It's unimaginable to go ahead with the project without a traffic study," said Stanton, pointing to another potential trouble spot with plans to narrow the roadways at the convergence of Royal Road and Clark Street, potentially taking away the area needed for a proposed bike path as well as effecting a Boston Housing Authority-affiliated group house for handicap men.
Saying the neighbors are not opposed to the idea of relocating a historic symbol of the town's past, Stanton said a better solution needs to be found, suggesting placing the house to town land across from the Lions Club adjacent to the First Church, Belmont.
But Rhodin told the Planning Board he would not "pursue the time and energy" if he didn't believe that he could preserve the Clark structure.