Whether it's $80,000 or $316,000, the conclusion of competing economic reports on the impact of the proposed residential/retail Cushing Village development in the heart of Cushing Square will be a net upside to future town budgets.
"Whatever number you take, it does have a positive (number) before it," said Belmont Planning Committee Chairman Sami Baghdady at the Committee's Tuesday, March 12 meeting, as the economic and fiscal analyses completed by the Planning Board's Elizabeth Allison and the developer, Smith Legacy differed in a single area; the impact of the three-building complex on Belmont schools, particularly in the number of students the 115 apartment unit complex will attract.
While the Partners defended their figures showing much fewer students coming to town, Allison was willing to defend her results by pushing her chips into the pot.
"The best test of expertise is to win a wager," said Allison who said she would take her concluding numbers against Smith Legacy's to see which could be defended.
"How much do you want to wager?" asked Allison – an Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard who holds a BA from Harvard College and a PhD in Business Economics from the Harvard Business School and Department of Economics – who added that she would be more than willing to allow "the opportunity to double down" on the results, a bet the Smith Legacy team did not take up, ignoring the invitation.
While there was a clash of research and economic conclusions on students, there was general agreement in both studies that, according to Chris Starr, developer of Cushing Village, the "development will have a positive impact on Cushing Square in particular and the town of Belmont in general" by spurring other businesses to locate in the square and increasing foot traffic.
"These benefits will take place while having minimal impact on the town's infrastructure, services, roads and schools," Starr told the Board.
The Allison analysis showed the one-time fiscal – the effect on town revenue and expenses – impact of building the project will total $1.3 million, a pot of money best directed into the Capital Budget which funds large ticket items for the town.One-time fiscal revenue Allison analysis Sale, municipal parking lot $850,000 Building permits $450,000 Total $1,300,000
"The Fire Chief can then get his ladder truck," said Allison, who headed the town's Warrant Committee which has long advocated that one-time revenue should be segregated from the general budget.
The long-run yearly revenue heading to the town coffers in Allison's report would reach $611,830 annually, slightly more than Smith Legacy's estimate of $569,089.Future fiscal revenue Allison analysis
estimatesNet property taxes $530,000 $492,000 Excise taxes $48,250 $18,244 Local receipts $33,580 $35,645 Other available funds - $23,370 Total $611,830 $569,089
Allison concluded that property taxes will be higher as the commercial rents will be achieve top rents, the inclusion of meals taxes for restaurants and any in-store services at the proposed food store, and that renters will each have a car and that those vehicles will be more in line with those vehicles owned by Belmont residents which are more likely to be high end autos.
"We have better cars than the developer thought," said Allison.
As to what a future Cushing Village will have on town services, both reports see the impact felt by four departments: Police, Fire, a limited cost from the Department of Public Works (as the developer has committed to performing most of the public work services around the complex) and the Schools.
According to Allison, annual municipal costs will top at $153,000 in fire, police and other services.
Where the two analyses did diverge is in the number of students and the associated costs that each student will bring to the system.
The issue of student population has become an issue this school year as the number of pupils in Belmont Schools has risen at a rate greater than the historical average resulting in two grades, one at the Wellington and the other in the Chenery Middle School, exceeding the District recommended pupil size.
Allison said that her analysis on additional students was based on post-recession data and on actual studies on apartments in similar developments in Belmont such as the 40 units at 125 Trapelo Rd., which is located across the roadway from the proposed development.
She concluded that Cushing Village would result in 35 to 41 additional students entering Belmont schools at $10,911 per student for a total of approximately $381,000 in additional costs to the school budget.
In the black
In Allison's study, Belmont would see an approximate $77,000 increase annually from allowing the developer to build Cushing Village.
The Smith Legacy report, presented by the developer's attorney Mark Donahue, resulted in a lower cost per student, at $8,417 – it did not include a capital charge for the expected wear and tear with more students – and calculated just a dozen or so new pupils entering the District system.Fiscal impact on schools Allison analysis
estimatesRevenues $611,830 $611,830 Costs: Municipal $153,018 $153,018 Schools $381,885 $130,932 Net revenue for Belmont $76,927 $316,969
Donahue said the developer's analysis used a much greater sample size from eight comparable mixed-use developments in eastern Massachusetts including Dedham, Westwood, Andover, Newton and Hingham which concluded that families are less likely to rent in a development that has several uses and lack open spaces like a backyard and open space.
In addition, Cushing Village two-bedroom rents are likely to be pegged at $3,000 a month, pushing many to seek lower-cost rentals with more extras, said Donahue.
Smith Legacy concluded that added annual education expenses would be nearly $131,000, just under a third of Allison's calculations.
After making her opening wager, Allison said that while the developer's housing examples are from developments similar in uses as Cushing Village, "they are not anywhere near being the draw as the Belmont schools are."
Just as the hard numbers show a positive impact on the town's books, Starr said just as important, the amenities Cushing Village would bring, including a food store, municipal parking, open space and a retail, "demonstrate that this smart growth project can meet the goals of the overlay district in a way that benefits residents and current business owners."