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Getting It Right in Cushing Square

The decisions made on Cushing Village will affect future development throughout Belmont.

As someone who has observed the creation of Cushing Village from the beginning, I’d like to thank the Planning Board for its careful deliberation on the project. Naturally many people are eager to see new life in Cushing Square, including the developer. It has been a long time since the discovery of a hazardous chemical spill under Tops Cleaners in 2003 propelled plans to redevelop that site and adjoining ones on Common Street and Trapelo Road.

Though I am not an abutter, I’ve paid close attention to the area for more than a decade, initially as chairman of the Belmont Citizens Forum’s Planning/Zoning Committee, which focused attention on the Trapelo Road/Belmont Street corridor beginning in 2002 as the town’s neglected main street.

A lot of good work has gone into the designs presented by Cushing Village developer Chris Starr to the town and the Planning Board. This spring and summer’s versions are the best yet. The complex is now three distinct buildings, connected only by the underground parking. The different designs keep the buildings from being a monolithic block suited only for a city.

The Planning Board has asked for a few more changes. Starr would be wise to comply. Withdrawing his application for the project, as he has threatened, would cost him the ability to build on the site of the municipal parking lot and on Horne Road.

Meanwhile, Belmontians cannot allow their eagerness turn into impatience at the process. This development is not just about one corner of town. The Planning Board’s vote will change Cushing Square from a predominantly one-story business center to, eventually, a predominantly three-story center with some four-story elements. The town accepted that possibility in 2006 when Town Meeting approved the Cushing Square Zoning Overlay District, which covers all four corners of the square, not just Starr’s property.

Town Meeting was promised that the Planning Board would exercise great care to see that anything built under the overlay district rezoning would be compatible with the character of the town. That’s why we don’t have to worry too much that the lovely Winters block will soon be demolished for a four-story monstrosity. The Planning Board can deny developers a special permit until the plans are exactly right.

Getting it right has implications for more than just Cushing Square. Whatever the Planning Board allows for Cushing Village is likely to be mirrored in the next decade in Waverley Square and Belmont Center. However much longer it takes, we must avoid making bad mistakes.

Understanding the stakes, the Planning Board has been patient with frequent, repetitive, long meetings to work on this project. Those of us who observe the meetings must match their patience and salute them for their hard work.

Sue Bass

Town Meeting Member Precinct 3

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