The fate of Belmont’s former incinerator site on Concord Avenue is moving closer to a resolution as the Belmont Board of Selectmen heard from its consultant who narrowed the number of viable options to a pair of recreational uses.
Yet a wild card in the form of a mysterious developer who continues to express interest in the site could alter the hopes of those seeking to add a long needed playing space for youth and adult sports and, subsequently, place a large roadblock before the construction of a new town library.
With Town Meeting's approval of nearly $1 million in May to begin the regulatory process to "cap" and site and take down the abandoned incinerator building, the board is working towards a conclusion of a decade long wait deciding the future of the landfill near the Lexington town line.
Bruce Haskell of CDM Smith, which has been consulting with the town on the future of the former incinerator site, returned to the board since last meeting with them in March with data on three preferred options for the 17 acres of usable land.
Haskell revealed an innovative plan suggested by the board in March to create a solar farm – which would produce one megawatt of electrical output daily – would not be economically feasible as the town's Municipal Light Department would only be able to recoup its initial expense after a quarter century under current federal and state subsidy formulas.
Mark Paolillo, the Board's chairman, said ownership questions "could be complicated" with a light field.
Of the two other options, a passive use for the site with grass and a trail would cost the least to create a cover – or cap – over the site at $3.5 million, said Haskell.
The recreational component studied – either a rectangular turf field for soccer and lacrosse or two softball fields – would require the town to pay between $5.2 million to $5.4 million. A significant portion of the site is reserved for the Department of Public Works for storage, snow removal and composting.
The total cost to transform the site will be mitigated by the town's $4.1 million landfill stabilization fund.
While there was some support of the softball arrangement, last month Belmont School Superintendent Thomas Kingston told a task force discussing the placement of a new town library that the school district would likely run afoul of the federal Title IX equal access law if a field on the site was reserved exclusively for either boys or girls sports teams.
Other interested parties
After some discussion, the Selectmen felt the best option for the town would be either the soccer/lacrosse field or a small park.
While the board limiting its official focus on the two recreation alternatives, hanging over the project is a proposal from an unidentified development team which has expressed interest in the parcel.
Selectman Ralph Jones noted an intermediary for the developer said it would take on the considerable expense of capping the site if it was selected to develop the landfill.
In return, the town would reap a $4 million windfall from the landfill fund in addition to a long-term boost in tax revenue from commercial development off the Concord Avenue site.
If the board ultimately goes with a private plan, it would put a serious dent into the , allowing for a new town library to be built on the land adjacent to the Mobil station.
Yet there is some concern that a private commercial building on the site may be hard for the state to swallow, said the town's attorney.
Haskell and Belmont Town Counsel George Hall said that once the selectmen decide on an option, the project would move into a "post-closure" period which will include negotiations with two state agencies – the Department of Environmental Protection and Division of Capital Asset Management – on resolving a long-running question of the parcel's legal ownership.
But according to both men, a commercial project on the site would raise another complication for the state agencies would not likely issue a deed to the town without some municipal use component.
The earliest the town can begin discussing their plans with the state will be in July, said Haskell.
"We are confident that it will be resolved but not quickly," said Hall.
"So it makes sense we have some ongoing dialogue" with those private companies interested in the site, said Paolillo.