January 11, 2018 — Belmont Citizen-Herald
Now that Belmont is eight years into its ten-year Comprehensive Plan, community members might wish to think about which recommendations from that plan have been accomplished and which have fallen by the wayside. It would be unreasonable to expect that all recommendations would be pursued. There is never sufficient staff, time or money to pursue all recommendations. Those action steps that are taken, and those that are set-aside, however, do reflect the “high” and “low” priorities of Belmont’s decision-makers. It seems reasonable, therefore, to review those decisions to allow community members to assess for themselves whether the priorities pursued by the town’s leadership comport with the priorities residents believe to be most important.
The reference to Belmont’s “leadership” is not a reference exclusively to the Board of Selectmen. Rather, Belmont relies heavily on volunteer committees to assert leadership in the areas that are within their charge. Indeed, much of the progress that Belmont has made in pursuing the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan originates from the Town’s committees. Town Meeting Members, too, have a role to play in asserting leadership. They should not simply react to the proposals of others.
In this week and next, I will examine those Comprehensive Plan recommendations that have and have not been pursued. I begin with some of the more notable accomplishments since the Comprehensive Plan was prepared. They are considerable.
Preserving the character of Belmont was key to the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan recommended consideration of a demolition delay by-law to help protect the historic nature of the community. Under the leadership of the Historic District Commission, that by-law was adopted by Town Meeting. The Comprehensive Plan recommended “adoption of energy efficient building code standards and incentives.” At the behest of the Energy Committee, Town Meeting adopted the Stretch Energy Code (an energy efficient building code). The Comprehensive Plan recommended adoption of the Community Preservation Act. Town Meeting approved the CPA, as did the voters.
Addressing financial issues received substantial attention in the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan recommended that Belmont “undertake planning for the next phase of public building projects.” Just last year, for the first time, Town Meeting approved short- and long-term plans to move forward on the library, the DPW Yard and the police station. A high school building committee has been appointed, and is working diligently toward a new school.
Supporting our commercial districts was an important element in the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan recommended “improv(ing) the physical appearance of commercial areas.” Not without considerable pain in the process, Belmont Center and Cushing Square both received complete facelifts since that recommendation.
Open space was a critical Comprehensive Plan element. The plan recommended taking steps to “preserve and enhance active and passive recreation areas.” At the behest of the Conservation Commission, Clay Pit Pond has been subject to a master planning process with implementation steps now occurring. Through the leadership of neighborhood groups, the Grove Street Park and PQ Playground are both being subject to renovations, and Joey’s Park was completely rebuilt. Town Field is next in line for approval by Town Meeting, perhaps even this spring. The Comprehensive Plan recommended steps to “expand off-street recreational trails that interconnect. . .to inter-town trails both to the East and West.” The Board of Selectmen just recently approved a route for Belmont’s community path.
Energy and sustainability were addressed in the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan recommended that Belmont should “reduce the Town’s energy budget.” Belmont became a Green Community and has been receiving state funds ever since to reduce energy usage in town buildings. The BHS Building Committee has made sustainability one of its priorities for the new school. The Plan recommended new “zoning for by-right alternative energy equipment/installations.” Town Meeting approved a new solar zoning by-law and more than 250 residents have since installed rooftop solar units.
The list could continue. Frequently, it seems that complaining about what the Town is not doing is a favorite past-time among some Belmont residents. However, while there are certainly elements of the Comprehensive Plan that have not been pursued as aggressively as they should be (and should have been) (a topic I will consider next week), assertions that “nothing ever gets done” in Belmont are demonstrably wrong.