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Special Town Meeting - Halftime

A recap of the first night of January Special Town Meeting, with a look to the second half, coming Feb. 8.

Right now we're between halves of the Special Town Meeting. (A week before the Super Bowl, I cannot resist making a crack about costume malfunctions.) A few of the articles were voted on or withdrawn on Jan. 18, and there are two left for Feb 8.

Done, January 18

I was a bit surprised that the the Planning Board sunk so much time into the bylaw article restricting solar energy systems. The claim was that with state regulations for this coming later this year, people would rush to get their non-complying projects started before then. I'd bet that number would be quite small. It is a solution in search of a problem. I feel quite sure this would not have gotten started if the house on Washington had not put that large collector on the front lawn. I voted no, but it passed easily. We're the only municipality in the state to do this.

As expected, the discussion about whether to allow the Selectmen to sell a piece of land on Royal Road along the train tracks took a fairly large chunk of time. It would provide a plot for the historic Clark house, one of Belmont's few buildings from the 1700s. Yes, we would lose some amount of open space, though some kept calling it "park land", which it is not - it's more of a small swamp. I was not crazy about it, but I felt that it is important to save a few pieces of Belmont history from that era. We'd get some tax revenue from whoever bought it, eventually. Whatever support there was for it quickly evaporated when we learned that the Board of Selectmen would allow the house to temporariily sit on the empty lot Belmont owns on Concord Ave while other options are exhausted. If those fail, this might come back to Town Meeting, where we'd have to re-hash everything.

I was confused by the reluctance of a few Town Meeting members to support pushing back the start of the annual Town Meeting by a week to allow some time between April school vacation week and Town Meeting. Some arguments were the typical "it works fine the way it is", and one or two were just lost in the weeds. As a Town Meeting member, it does not matter much to me - my family has never gone away on vacation for that week. But having served on School Committee, Warrant Committee, and Capital Budget Committee, I know that week will make a big difference in their prep for Town Meeting, and Town Meeting definitely needs their input. It was too much discussion for a small and easy to understand topic, and it easily passed.

To Do, February 8

The $50 million to $60 million electric substation project was punted to Feb. 8 to allow some key committees to get more detailed questions answered. I guess the idea is to get solid (unanimous?), enthusiastic support from all key groups. This is among the most important infrastructure issues for Belmont. We can all joke about the roads (and how many in Belmont have not planned for them over the decades), but the power supply affects everyone, every day, right inside our homes and businesses. This keeps dragging on, and from what I can tell, the most vocal opposition comes anonymously online. Town Meeting should totally disregard such distractions, stick to the facts presented by credible sources, and pass it.

The other article left to consider is about the timeline for budget milestones. This non-binding resolution is worth a thoughful discussion. Town Meeting is ultimately responsible for approving budgets, and should be driving at least some of the process. Of course no matter when a deadline is (whether for a budget or your kid's homework), it will often be worked on until the last moment. I would really like to have the Board of Selectmen and Warrant Committee not have their votes on Town Meeting articles an hour before Town Meeting, off-camera. Many of their question and discussions would be beneficial to Town Meeting members, and if done at their regular meetings a week before Town Meeting, we could at least hear those.

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David Chase February 01, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Some of our national parks and wild life refuges are swamps, don't see why we can't have one of our own :-). It could be the Tiny Dismal Swamp. I think Belmont zoning is broken, both because of this new unique solar energy zoning, and because it would not allow re-construction of the houses that we claim to like (not one of the cute little capes on our cul-de-sac meets all the setback rules), but allows looming maximum-size new construction that we're not so sure we're fond of (maybe it's just new and unfamiliar). Some towns (Palo Alto is the one we know of, because of friends there who added on to their house) have provisions for "daylight planes" that might be helpful in capturing what we really want, and also in preventing solar installations from intruding into a neighbor's sky (which is not quite the same as requiring that they be "unobtrusive"). It might be a hard sell for Belmont, because I don't think these are simple regulations. They add a little more work to designing an addition to a house, and probably slightly reduce the ultimate size of whatever could be built on a lot.
JMilton February 03, 2012 at 01:30 PM
What happened to the structure at the house on Washington St.? I know it's been gone for a while, but don't know if it got relocated to the back or side yard and is in use, or removed?

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